Jewish World Review April 1, 2002/ 28 Adar II, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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When we got it bad, that was really good | It's only Tuesday, and already it's a bad week for the blowhards and doom criers of the media. George W. bruised feelings in the White House press room, Peter Arnett lost his Baghdad gig, and Jerry Rivers got the hook.

Worse, the news from the front is getting better, and some of our most august sages and savants suddenly find themselves in a quagmire of dashed hopes that the war in Iraq would be a reprise of Vietnam.

Only last week Johnny ("Three Lunches") Apple, who ordinarily writes about gluttony for the New York Times, was detached from his duties in the sauce, where he was wrestling with a beurre blanc, a bercy and several expensive burgundies, to set the world aright about what's really cooking in Iraq.

"The war in Iraq is just a week old," he wrote, "but it is clear that Saddam Hussein has learned a lot since his forces were routed in the Persian Gulf war in 1991."

Two days later, with the Marines trying to secure Nasiriyah without hurting civilians and the British trying to protect women and children against Iraqi goon-squad atrocity in Basra, the story of doom-and-gloom seemed to be getting better and better:

"... For two years," quoth Mr. Apple, who famously predicted that the Afghanistan campaign would become a "quagmire" a week before it became a rout, "[George W.] has ridden high in public esteem. ... Is his luck about to turn in the winds and sands of Iraq?"

Well, one could always hope. And it's true that 11 days into the war, Saddam Hussein was not yet a certified rotting corpse, Iraqi television was putting on a daily diet of civilian casualties (mostly of Iraqi making), and streets that were supposed to be strewn with welcoming roses could be made to look like paths strewn merely with primroses.

You could hardly blame the Iraqis for a bit of swagger. They, too, can read the New York Times and The Washington Post online. "The enemy advance has stopped," said the army spokesman. "We have inflicted heavy losses. The Americans are asking for reinforcements. Everything points to their defeat."

Peter Arnett, whose antipathy to everything the American military does can be traced to Vietnam, was bubbling over with schadenfreude in the interview with Iraqi television that got him canned.

"I'd like to say from the beginning," Mr. Arnett told his interviewer, a uniformed Army officer, "that for the 12 years I've been coming here I've met unfailing courtesy and cooperation, courtesy from your people and cooperation from the Ministry of Information. President Bush says he is concerned about the Iraqi people, but if Iraqi people are dying in numbers, then American policy will be challenged very strongly. ... It helps those who oppose the war, when you challenge the policy, to develop their arguments."

But for his girth and shiny bald head, Mr. Arnett might have been mistaken for Tokyo Rose or Axis Sally, or even Jane Fonda in drag, and yesterday morning, he was on NBC's "Today" show, trying to salvage his career with an apology, sort of. But it was too late. For his part, Jerry Rivers, aka Geraldo Rivera, was escorted out of Iraq and deposited on the Kuwait border for breaking an agreement the correspondents make not to divulge troop movements or tactics. Mr. Rivers learned that his celebrity did not stretch from Manhattan to the desert, after all.

None of this is seditious, of course. It's merely the hubris that comes with a swollen head and access to printer's ink and cathode tube. The media, particularly the television networks, have invested a lot of money in a story that was supposed to be over in a matter of days, and now George W. and Tommy Franks and the troops have strayed from the story line. The race across the desert was supposed to be a reprise of the liberation of Paris, with flowers and cries of joy and proffers of fine old wines hidden in cellars for lo, these many years. (Well, maybe not the wine.)

A correspondent for Arab News, an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia, of all places, drove into the town of Safwan in southern Iraq and found chaos. "Iraqi men, women and children were playing it up for the TV cameras, chanting: 'With our blood, with our souls, we will die for you, Saddam.'

"I took a young Iraqi man, 19, away from the cameras and asked him why they were all chanting that particular slogan. ... His answer should not have surprised me, but it did. He said: 'There are people from Ba'ath [Party] here reporting everything that goes on. There are cameras here recording our faces. If the Americans were to withdraw and everything were to return to the way it was before, we want to make sure that we survive the massacre that would follow as Ba'ath go house to house killing anyone who voiced opposition to Saddam. In public, we always pledge our allegiance to Saddam, but in our hearts we feel something else.' "

This was real news, fit to print even in Saudi Arabia. But probably not Manhattan.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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