In remarks ignored by the major media, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky called for correspondent Peter Arnett to be tried as a traitor to the U.S. “I think Mr. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested should he come back to America,” he said.
In his speech on the Senate floor (most of the text of the speech follows this article), Bunning said the media didn’t like to use the word “treason” in talking about Arnett’s pro-Iraqi comments to Iraqi television. “That would be an indictment of one of their own and a pock on their profession,” he said.
But some did so. New York Post columnist John Podhoretz called it treason, saying that Arnett’s remarks about a failed U.S. war plan, civilian casualties, Iraqi resistance, and the anti-war protests in the U.S. “might stiffen” the Iraqi resolve “and lead them to hunker down against allied forces.”
Columnist Jay Ambrose said Arnett’s interview was “simultaneously stupid and traitorously, hatefully anti-American,” while Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation wrote that Arnett’s comments were “outrageous and possibly treasonous.”
Professor David Lowenthal of Boston College told AIM that treason, as defined in the U.S. Constitution, means knowingly providing assistance to the enemy.
“Peter Arnett was certainly furnishing the Iraqis with assistance by bolstering their courage, by bolstering their resistance, by saying that the allies were faltering,” he said. Lowenthal, the author of the book, Present Dangers, on how the courts have misinterpreted the first amendment to allow subversive and revolutionary activities, added, “It was a clear case. He was doing it in the Iraq television studio.”
A key factor, he said, is whether Arnett, a naturalized American citizen reporting for NBC News, MSNBC and National Geographic, intended to betray his own country. Arnett may have simply been trying to curry favor with the regime to get an interview with Saddam.
“But the effect of what he did was certainly to give aid and comfort to the enemy,” he said.
Arnett himself explained how his own “reporting” was helping Saddam’s cause. “It is clear that within the United States there is a growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war,” he said to Iraqi TV. “So 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.” Arnett’s statements were broadcast to the Arab world.
Initially, NBC News President Neal Shapiro and Vice President Bill Wheatley defended Arnett’s comments.
Americans have to be thankful that Arnett was wrong, that his anti-American campaign failed, and that our military forces scored such a brilliant and quick military victory in Iraq. But if the military campaign had been prolonged, and if the enemy had been more formidable, it’s an open question whether some in the media and the anti-war movement would have undermined American political will to such an extent as to throw the outcome into doubt.
An assessment of the media’s role in the war effort is critical if former CIA director James Woolsey is correct in saying that the U.S. is engaged in an ongoing World War against terrorism and Arab/Muslim regimes that could last decades.
On the positive side, the “embedded” reporters with U.S. forces provided generally excellent coverage. Several journalists, including conservative columnist Michael Kelly, were killed or died during the war, and they all deserve our thanks for putting their lives on the line as well. But, as the Arnett case demonstrated, some of the coverage was reminiscent of the Vietnam War stories that undermined morale, gave aid and comfort to the enemy, and led to our defeat in that conflict. The Arnett view was common among the international media.
The premature criticism of the military campaign by retired military officers-“embedded” in television studios, as Vice President Dick Cheney put it-was annoying. But at least they were on the U.S. side and some had legitimate questions about the strategy employed to win the war.
The withdrawal of Fox News journalist Geraldo Rivera from the war zone, after he identified military movements to a television audience, was a case of reckless stupidity. The real problem came from those, such as Arnett, who seemed to delight in undermining the American war effort.
MSNBC’s use of Arnett, known as “Baghdad Pete” for his slanted coverage of the first Gulf War, was a strange decision that we criticized before the Iraq war started. His pro-Iraqi statements on Iraqi television on March 30 were so offensive that former CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling them “grossly irresponsible.”
Ironically, however, Cronkite had helped turn U.S. public opinion against the war in Vietnam, paving the way for a U.S. withdrawal from Southeast Asia and the slaughter of millions by the communists.
Cronkite had himself opposed the Iraq war, calling President Bush “arrogant” for proposing to launch a “dark doctrine” of pre-emptive strikes against dictatorships with terrorist ties seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Arnett was aware that, on the streets of America, the protests against U.S. Iraq policy were organized more quickly and had attracted far more people than those against the Vietnam War during a comparable time period. Here, hundreds of thousands participated in the demonstrations, which often featured Hollywood personalities such as Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon. Millions turned out abroad, with one poll in France showing that 25 percent of the people there-and France has a large Muslim population-actually wanted Saddam Hussein to win the war.
Here, the mounting protests clearly played a role in the decision by several Democratic presidential candidates, such as Governor Howard Dean and Senator John Kerry, to be openly critical of President Bush’s leadership of the war and/or the war itself.
On the brink of war, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle himself denounced Bush for having “failed so miserably” at diplomacy.
At home, on April 7, the protests took a violent turn when hundreds of demonstrators illegally tried to block a road near Oakland’s port, in an effort to block supplies being shipped to U.S. forces fighting in Iraq. Media coverage of the event through headlines such as “Cops Shoot Protesters” emphasized the minor injuries suffered by anti-war protesters dispersed by police firing wooden and rubber pellets.
While the Communist Party USA and Socialist Workers Party played key roles in the anti-Vietnam protests, it was the once-obscure communist Workers World Party (WWP) that took the leading role in the demonstrations against U.S. policy on Iraq. Iraqi officials frequently encouraged them to continue. Yet the major U.S. media consistently refused to explain the WWP role, its use of front groups such as International ANSWER and the International Action Center, and the fact that its top leaders had traveled to Havana, Baghdad, and Pyongyang. At best, the WWP was described as a “radical” or “socialist” group having a secondary role.
The major media showed no interest in where the money for the protests was coming from. But when Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation suggested a congressional investigation of the funding sources behind the WWP and the protests, civil libertarian and Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff immediately called the proposal “constitutionally un-American.” But Hentoff then acknowledged to radio host Bob Grant that many of the Iraq protests were being organized by “old line communists.”
“Some of the main marches have been organized by people in the shadows, who support North Korea [and] who think China was right in the massacre at Tiananmen Square,” he said.
The House Committee on Internal Security investigated the WWP back in 1974 and produced a report noting the group’s role in prison revolts and support for Arab terrorists. WWP leaders were pictured, including one who had traveled with the “Venceremos Brigade” to Cuba. WWP links to foreign communist regimes were also covered. But no congressional committee conducts such investigations today. Herbert Romerstein, an investigator for the committee and expert on communist subversion, says the FBI is still discouraged by bureaucratic rules and regulations from monitoring such organizations.
If the war against Iraq had dragged on for months or years, such protests here and abroad would have created the impression that more and more people were opposed to the American campaign, possibly leading to negotiations to end the conflict or even an American withdrawal.
Professor Lowenthal told AIM that, “During the Vietnam War, by allowing demonstrations to spread, what in effect we did was to weaken our war effort and give the enemy comfort, leading to our defeat. That’s a very dangerous thing for any country. We suffered a very bad defeat after going into a war with very good motives. We were against communism and the spread of communism.”
Lowenthal said that the anti-war demonstrations during Vietnam “had the effect of making it impossible to prosecute the war properly.” They also helped influence liberals in Congress to cut funding for the war, ultimately leading to the U.S. defeat.
At an anti-war teach-in at the Low Library on the campus of Columbia University, anthropology professor Nicholas DeGenova said, “The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military.” Newsday said DeGenova’s comments about defeating the United States in Iraq were cheered by an audience of 3,000. He also told the gathering that he would like to see “a million Mogadishus”-referring to the 1993 ambush in Somalia that killed 18 American servicemen.
At an anti-war demonstration in San Francisco, protesters were photographed holding a sign that said, “we support our troops who shoot their officers.” This photo circulated on the Internet but we didn’t see it in the major media.
This was too much for Lisa Dean, the Director of Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation. A civil libertarian who sometimes collaborates with the ACLU on privacy and first amendment issues, she said such sentiment crossed the line: “That banner isn’t expressing dissent and it’s not freedom of speech. It’s supporting sedition and is downright treasonous.”
The line between legitimate dissent and treason was obviously crossed when a black Muslim U.S. soldier, Sgt. Asan Akbar, was charged with killing two of his fellow soldiers by rolling grenades under their tents in Kuwait. Akbar is one of an estimated 15,000 Muslims in the U.S. military.
The Institute for Public Accuracy, a leftist group once funded by a foundation headed by Bill Moyers, responded with a release highlighting Luke Hiken of the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) as an “expert” for the media to consult on “fragging” (a soldier killing a commanding officer.)
Hiken had attended the 1971 trial of Billy Smith, a G.I. tried on U.S. soil for “fragging” two officers during the Vietnam War. The NLG features a Web site for its Military Law Task Force that hails Smith as someone who “exemplified” the revolutionary spirit of Che Guevara.
Some support for Akbar was actually expressed in the media. Writing in the San Francisco Bay View, a national black newspaper, James C. McIntosh offered a defense of Akbar’s action, saying that because he had been “ordered to perform murderous illegal war crimes?” his attack on fellow soldiers could be viewed as “an option” that also served to protest racism in the Army.
Such coverage-and opposition to the war by black figures such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Rep. John Conyers-may help explain why only 49 percent of blacks, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll published on April 8, supported the war, while 77 percent of the public as a whole supported it.
At the same time, there was an effort by some key journalists in the media to undermine support for the war by raising questions about the motives behind the “Rallies for America” to support the troops.
Ignoring the fact that the first amendment applies to conservative talk radio, Tim Jones in the March 19 Chicago Tribune said the pro-America demonstrations had “raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles” because Glenn Beck had used his Premier radio network program to help organize several of them. Jones speculated that Premier radio network, which is owned by Clear Channel, had ties to the Bush administration through several board members, and that they were orchestrating the pro-America rallies. But the board also included former Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan. Jones quoted Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, as saying she thought the company was supporting the rallies so it could get favorable decisions from the Federal Communications Commission and Congress. She offered no evidence for this charge.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on March 25 continued this line of attack, claiming that Clear Channel “appears to be using its clout to help one side in a political dispute that deeply divides the nation.”
On March 26, Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post followed with his own column quoting Krugman under the headline, “‘Rallies for America’ Draw Scrutiny.”
Many on the left insist that broadcasters are not responsive to the needs of citizens. But this demonstration of community involvement by a radio company was trashed because it was too patriotic. It was another indication that some in the media really didn’t want the U.S. to win the war.
Senator Jim Bunning’s statement, made on the Senate floor on April 1, was ignored by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the three broadcast network news programs. Fox News and CNN covered the speech, which included the following remarks:
“I rise today to comment on and express outrage over the recent actions and words of journalist Peter Arnett. In fact, I hesitate to even use the term ‘journalist’ when referring to Mr. Arnett. This word implies a certain degree of objectivity and balance, which this man knows absolutely nothing about. ‘Traitor’ is a better word to describe Mr. Arnett.
“This past weekend Mr. Arnett appeared on state-controlled Iraqi television. With a uniformed Iraqi anchor translating, Mr. Arnett told the Iraqi people that the American war plan had failed due to their continued resistance and that coalition forces were in the process of drafting new battle plans. To quote Arnett:
‘Clearly, the American war plans misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces.’
“Saddam Hussein couldn’t have written his script any better…
“This is the same man who reported in 1991 during the first gulf war that the United States had blown up a baby milk factory…The fact that Mr. Arnett conveniently left out was that this ‘baby milk factory’ was actually a biological weapons plant.
“I will never understand how and why Mr. Arnett always thinks he knows so much more than our military and intelligence officials…I hope Mr. Arnett is not getting his info from the same source who told him that U.S. forces used the nerve agent-sarin gas-against villagers in Laos during the Vietnam war.
“This story, reported in 1998 by Mr. Arnett, could hold no water and CNN rightly fired Arnett for his reckless words and actions. Now, six years after that bogus claim, Peter Arnett has once again found himself in search of employment.
“Both National Geographic Explorer and NBC News have fired Arnett for this latest stunt by Peter Arnett on Iraqi-controlled television. I am trying to figure out why these entities even hired him in the first place with his pathetic track record of recent years.
“We all firmly believe in the first amendment which protects the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. However, no U.S. citizen should be allowed to provide aid, and comfort, through false information, to the enemy during wartime.
“Of course the media doesn’t mention the word “treason” like many of us have over Mr. Arnett’s comments. That would be an indictment of one of their own and a pock on their profession.
“Mr. Arnett can apologize all he likes for being a “useful idiot” for Saddam and his barbaric regime, but that’s not enough for me and it’s certainly not enough for our soldiers and many Americans. I think Mr. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested should he come back to America.
“I dare Mr. Arnett to take a good look at our soldiers in uniform and tell them they have failed in this mission and objective.
“These men and women embody everything that is great about America and freedom…
“They love this nation and cherish its very idea so much that they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to ensure that we can live in a country free of government tyranny like that under which those in Iraq have lived…
“Mr. Arnett, you need to retire or think about a second career as a fiction writer…To those news organizations that have already picked up Mr. Arnett, and others that may hire him, I have two things to say: One, you have every right to hire him. Two, we have every right to call your news organization a joke and a sympathizer to traitors.
“I believe it is about time we made an example of Mr. Arnett’s lies and deceit and let the media know we are watching.
“While we are giving the media top access and protection in this war, we must demand that they not hang out to dry our soldiers and Americans. If they do so, there should be consequences.
“Some believe freedom of speech is an absolute right and that journalists have the right to say and report anything they want. I, and many others, do not believe this. I do not believe journalists should be allowed to lie and opine and aid our enemies in the time of a war.
“There is a line journalists are not meant to cross, and Mr. Arnett crossed this line many years ago, and he continues to do so. It is time we held this man accountable for his actions.