In February of 1991 AIM unleashed unrelenting criticism of Peter Arnett’s CNN broadcasts from Iraq. Arnett was dubbed “Baghdad Pete” as AIM warned of the inevitable negative repercussions of allowing Arnett to continue to report under what were obvious controls by Saddam Hussein’s Ministry of Information. AIM detailed the misreporting and how it dovetailed into a planned propaganda war by Saddam whose effects reached the White House.
Hogwash, said the media. The Washington Post claimed that that Arnett was doing a “respectable job” and that he had “become an object of hysterical hatred to a lot of people.”
Harrison Salisbury, a former New York Times reporter and author, said on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, “It is [Arnett’s] business to find out exactly the kind of things that Reed Irvine does not like to have him report.”
Dick Feagler, a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal wrote on Feb. 17, 1991: “The wacko title goes to Reed Irvine, a vicious little blatherer who runs an organization called Accuracy in Media. Irvine is the kind of man who, if he bit you, you’d have to get a shot?.[Arnett is] not Saddam’s messenger?Arnett is history’s messenger.”
And a CNN spokesman told Irvine CNN planned to assemble all of Arnett’s broadcasts and submit them for every prize imaginable. So there.
AIM, being a shareholder in the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), then requested a shareholder proposal it crafted be included in proxy materials distributed at TBS’s annual corporate meeting in July 1991. That proposal requested in part that CNN not station its correspondents in a country the U.S was at war with “if their movements and reports are so completely controlled by the enemy that they are essentially enemy propaganda.”
Saddam eventually pulled the plug on Peter Arnett and all the other journalists reporting out of Baghdad. Arnett told news audiences that their usefulness to Iraqi officials had come to an end. “[T]hey feel the best way for the time being is just to get rid of us until they find a role for us in the future.”
It would be a full twelve years before CNN’s Eason Jordan admitted the cable giant had routinely suppressed stories of gruesome atrocities in Iraq?”things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff. . . . I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me.”
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote, “It is scandalous that a network calling itself ‘the most trusted name in news’ would sanitize the truth about a dictatorship it claimed to be covering objectively.”
Months prior to CNN’s confession, Franklin Foer had reported in The New Republic that fear wasn’t the only factor in CNN’s self-censorship. They wanted to remain on good terms with Saddam’s Ministry of Information, in order to keep their CNN Baghdad bureau. “Nobody has schmoozed the ministry harder,” Foer wrote, referring to Jordan’s multiple trips to Baghdad.
(Unfortunately CNN was not unique in their submission to the dictator. They are simply the only news agency that has so far confessed.)
Jordan’s mea culpa triggered a firestorm of criticism in media?twelve years after AIM was castigated by the very same media for telling the truth about CNN’s pro-Saddam reporting. While no one will ever forget Jordan’s grisly revelations, AIM’s role in exposing the journalistic fraud over a decade earlier should not be forgotten.