Historian Paul Johnson refers to the American left’s behavior during the Vietnam War as “America’s suicide attempt.” The firing of NBC reporter Peter Arnett this week proves the nation has fully recovered. Now we don’t have to wait 20 years for a history book to tell us that Walter Cronkite was wrong about the Viet Cong’s Tet offensive being a smashing success. The sedition lobby can’t compete with the truth available in the new media.
As American servicemen swept through Iraq, securing oil fields, rescuing POWs, risking their own lives to protect Iraqi civilians, Peter Arnett went on Iraqi television-the propaganda arm of the enemy-to proclaim that the Americans’ “war plan has failed.”
Though U.S. forces were in shambles, Arnett cheerfully reported, the Iraqi regime was in good shape. He rambled on and on about “the determination of the Iraqi forces, the determination of the government, and the willingness to fight for their country.”
Arnett also bragged about the demoralizing effect his reporting was having back home: “Our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.”
Any journalist who boasted that his reports were helping demoralize the enemy the way Arnett was boasting that his reports were demoralizing his own country would be brought before the Columbia School of Journalism on ethics charges. What journalists mean by “objectivity” is: relentlessly attacking your own country while engaging in mindless boosterism of the enemy. At least now we know.
With three U.S. journalists missing and believed kidnapped by the Iraqis, Arnett praised the way the Iraqi regime treats journalists: “I’ve met unfailing courtesy and cooperation, courtesy from your people and cooperation from the Ministry of Information.” The Italian government treated Ezra Pound pretty well, too.
Days before Arnett’s boffo appearance on Iraqi television, he was on NBC’s “Today” show, saying how well American and British POWs were being treated. At that point, videos of the POWs had been posted on the Drudge Report. Across the globe, anyone with a modem could see that POWs had been shot execution-style, their pants pulled down and their corpses defiled. Yet Arnett assured viewers that “President Saddam Hussein had personally ordered that these prisoners be treated well. . . . Saddam wants them given the best medicine and the best food.”
Arnett’s most comical promotion of enemy propaganda came during the first Gulf War in 1991. The Iraqis claimed a chemical weapons factory bombed by the Americans was an infant-milk factory. Arnett somberly reported that the United States had bombed a baby-milk factory, remarking that the factory “had been producing 20 tons of powdered milk a day and was the only source of infant formula food for children 1 year and younger in Iraq.”
As usual, Arnett went the extra mile, adding his own credibility to the preposterous “milk factory” story, saying the plant “looked innocent enough, from what I could see.” When pressed by a CNN anchor quoting a U.S. military spokesman who said the plant had been heavily guarded and was “associated with biological warfare production,” Arnett insisted that the plant had only one guard at the gate when he arrived and that workers were “bringing out a cart full of powdered milk.”
Arnett’s report on the “milk factory” was such a joke that the New York Times later tried to cover for him with an extraordinary rendition of the facts. William Prochnau wrote an article in the Times magazine stating: “Arnett, never a sucker for anyone’s official line, had gone to great pains to point out (slipping it by the censor at his elbow) that the factory’s ‘baby milk’ signs were printed in English.”
Alas, the facts did not fit the Times‘ Herculean defense of their boy. Weeks after his report, Arnett gave an interview to Newsweek magazine in which he was still doggedly insisting that the plant was a baby-formula factory. “I think that was a mistaken bombing . . . I think the U.S. just miscalled it. . . . There was no doubt in my mind that it was unlikely to be a supersecret facility … I just cannot conceive [of their having] the limited kind of security that they had if it was such a secret installation.”
Arnett even had an innocent (and incoherent) explanation for the English-language signs, which, he said, “seemed to make sense to me.” So much for-as the New York Times put it-Arnett’s not being “a sucker for anyone’s official line.”
Thirty years ago, Arnett would have won a Pulitzer Prize for his seditious performance in Iraq-as he did for similarly accurate reporting on the Vietnam War. NBC initially tried to stand by him, but the reaction of the American people was too strong this time. The sedition lobby had a good long run, but their ascendancy is over.