(CNSNews.com) - Media experts Monday said they saw it coming - the firing of NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic war correspondent Peter Arnett - but said they found NBC'S original defense of Arnett's comments on Iraqi television shocking.
Arnett, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Vietnam War for the Associated Press, appeared on Iraqi television over the weekend, asserting on the network controlled by Saddam Hussein's regime that the U.S. and U.K.-led coalition war plans against Iraq had failed. He added that his reporting on the civilian casualties in Baghdad "helps those who oppose the war."
"Well it shouldn't come as any surprise," Tony Blankley, editorial page editor for The Washington Times told CNSNews.com. "My recollection from the last Persian Gulf war was that his reporting certainly appeared to be sympathetic to the enemy, Saddam.
"This latest performance really was appalling. It is actually going to cost not only American lives but Iraqi civilian lives because it will be used as propaganda to mislead the Iraqi people as to the actual state of military affairs and gives moral support to the enemy," Blankley added.
Footage of the Arnett interview with Iraqi television began airing on cable news networks Sunday.
"I think the American policy and strategy is the weakest when it comes to the Iraqi people," Arnett said during the interview. "The U.S. administration is concerned with the possibility of killing civilians, because the international community is very concerned about the Iraqi people. President Bush says he is concerned about the Iraqi people, but if Iraqi people are dying in numbers, then the American policy will be challenged very strongly."
NBC initially defended Arnett, issuing a statement Sunday labeling his interview with the Iraqi network as "professional courtesy," and calling his remarks "analytical in nature."
National Review Online Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez said she was "shocked" by NBC's statement Sunday. "You would have to be completely delusional, or completely anti-American to say the things that (Arnett) said," Lopez told CNSNews.com. "Any pretense he ever had of being a fair reporter is gone ... he definitely put the nail in his professional coffin."
The initial NBC statement held no water either with Blankley, who said he couldn't believe NBC had failed to issue stricter guidelines to its reporters out in the field covering Operation Iraqi Freedom. Blankley said it was clear that the decision to issue the Sunday statement was "made at the highest level."
Following a torrent of criticism over Arnett's comments, the correspondent sought to repair the damage, appearing on NBC's Today show Monday morning to "apologize to the American people for clearly making a misjudgment."
Arnett's bosses at the network had already changed their minds, however.
"It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV-especially at a time of war-and it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview," Neal Shapiro, NBC News president said in a statement Monday. "Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC."
Reed Irvine, chairman emeritus for media watchdog group Accuracy in Media, pointed out that this is not the first time Arnett has been accused of anti-American bias.
According to Irvine, even Saddam Hussein himself said of Arnett's performance in the first Gulf War that it was "useful to Iraq," and that he would "pull the plug on Arnett when his usefulness ended." Irvine noted that Arnett himself confirmed Hussein's remarks during a speech he gave at the National Press Club.
Irvine also mentioned the 1998 Arnett report, claiming that U.S. Special Operation Forces had used nerve gas against American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War. "That turned out to be absolutely false," Irvine said. CNN fired Arnett over the incident.
Lopez said she had "no idea" what NBC or National Geographic had in mind when they initially hired Arnett. "I would think that they especially wouldn't want to get their hands messed up with him, but that they've done," Lopez said.
"Making himself available to the enemy's propaganda ministry is by definition not a project that he should be involved in," Blankley said. "It doesn't matter whether what he actually said was accurate-though it was clearly inaccurate-you don't participate with Dr. Goebbles for any purpose," a reference to the infamous Nazi doctor.
While some are complaining that Arnett's comments on Iraqi television were treasonous, Lopez said it would be enough for Arnett to be "professionally blackballed."
"It's one thing if he was reporting from Baghdad giving equal time to their ridiculous propaganda," Lopez said. "But you can't even pretend that he was just trying to be objective by going on Iraqi TV blasting U.S. war policy"
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