Tuesday, April 01, 2003

The unbearable insincerity of Peter Arnett. If nothing else, Peter Arnett certainly seemed sincere when he appeared on the Today show right after he'd been let go by NBC for giving an obsequious interview to Iraqi television. And not just sincere -- anguished, abject, humiliated, devastated, fully comprehending that he'd made a terrible mistake.

In response to a gentle grilling by Matt Lauer (no publicly available link), Arnett was only slightly defensive, noting that his assertion that the US war plan had failed was no different from what others, including NBC's Tim Russert, had said. But he was full of apologies -- to Lauer and co-host Katie Couric, and to NBC, MSNBC, and National Geographic Explorer. He continued: "And I want to apologize to the American people for clearly making a misjudgment over the weekend by giving an interview to Iraqi television."

Arnett closed with this:

There's a small island in the South Pacific uninhabited which I'll try to swim to, Matt. Now, I'm not kidding. I don't know. I will leave here. I don't really intend to stay in this locality. I'm not a supporter of the Iraqi government. I'm not paid by the Iraqi government. I am a reporter. I came here to report the story. Now that I can't report it for really the best news organization in the world, NBC, I'll leave. You know, I'm embarrassed to -- to question the judgment of your company in hiring me in the first place, is that I came to do a great job. I had a wonderful team of young people helping me to do that job. My stupid misjudgment was to spend 15 minutes in an impromptu interview with Iraqi television. That has been received with anger, surprise and -- and -- and -- and clearly, you know, unhappily in the United States, and for that I'm sorry. I'm an American.

So what are we to make of his debut column in Britain's Daily Mirror? Gone is the contrition, the humility. Instead, Arnett lets out a full-throated cry that he'd been screwed by the right wing. Arnett writes:

The right-wing media and politicians are looking for any opportunity to be critical of the reporters who are here, whatever their nationality. I made the misjudgment which gave them the opportunity to do so.

I gave an impromptu interview to Iraqi television feeling that after four months of interviewing hundreds of them it was only professional courtesy to give them a few comments.

That was my Waterloo -- bang!

And what of his embarrassment over having let down NBC? "I don't blame NBC for their decision because they came under great commercial pressure from the outside," he writes. Yesterday, NBC was "the best news organization in the world." Today, the network got rid of him because its executives cower in fear of advertisers. What about that island in the South Pacific? "I have not yet decided what to do, whether to pack my bags and leave Baghdad or stay on," he writes.

Obviously Arnett didn't mean a thing that he said when he apologized yesterday. One wonders what else he has said that he didn't mean.

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