NBC fired Peter Arnett after he told an Iraqi interviewer that the U.S. plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom had failed. Frankly, we were surprised to see Arnett reporting from his old post in Baghdad at the start of the operation. Beginning with Vietnam, Arnett has built a reputation for inaccurate reporting that has seldom been matched. His reporting for CNN from Baghdad during the first Gulf War in 1991 shamelessly replayed Iraqi propaganda. Eventually, CNN let him go because of his role in a 1998 report that falsely accused U.S. forces of using nerve gas during the Vietnam war.
This time around he had gone to Baghdad to report for the National Geographic Explorer, but when its other reporters left town, NBC began airing his pieces. After CNN’s crew was expelled from Iraq, Arnett bragged that CNN was gone, but he was still in Baghdad. He told TV Guide that the Iraqis permitted him to stay on because they respected him and saw him as a “fellow warrior.”
Arnett was summarily fired for granting an interview to Iraq’s state-run television. His host wore an Iraqi military uniform during the interview. Arnett lavishly praised the cooperation he has received from the Iraqi Ministry of Information and said how much he appreciated being allowed to cover the war “with the freedom” he had enjoyed in Baghdad. His remarks seemed particularly ill-timed in light of reports that two Newsday reporters have been missing from their Baghdad hotel for more than a week. They are believed to have been detained by Iraqi authorities.
He praised his hosts for their ability to control the Iraqi population and the “growing sense of nationalism and resistance” to U.S. military operations. He said that Iraqi resistance, which the U.S. had underestimated, had already caused the failure of America’s first war plan and was forcing the military back to the drawing board. He professed surprise that Americans had ignored his frequent warnings about the “determination of the Iraqi forces” to fight for their country.
He disputed U.S. claims regarding civilian casualties and blamed the U.S. for a missile strike on a Baghdad market that killed dozens. U.S. military spokesmen believe the attack was the result of errant Iraqi surface-to-air missiles or anti-aircraft fire. He bragged to his Iraqi interviewer that his reports about civilian casualties and Iraqi resistance was fueling the anti-war movement in the U.S. His reporting, he claimed, was contributing to growing opposition to President George W. Bush. But the polls show that public support is growing for both the President and the war.
NBC had initially defended Arnett’s interview saying that he had given it as a “professional courtesy” and that it had been analytical in nature. NBC spokesmen praised Arnett and his crew for “risking their lives to bring the American people up-to-date, straight-forward reporting on what is happening in Baghdad.” The next day, however, NBC changed its mind and said it was wrong for Arnett to give such an interview, especially in war time. Hopefully, we have seen the last of Baghdad Pete.