[NOTEBOOK]War reporters and objectivityI don’t want to be an advocate for Peter Arnett.
He accepted an interview with Iraqi national TV as a citizen of the United States. He criticized the arrogance of his adopted homeland’s army and called the early stages of the operations of the U.S. Army a failure. If his comments stirred the energy and courage of the Iraqi people, it was a case of providing aid to the enemy. He defended himself by saying, “I gave an impromptu interview to Iraqi television, feeling that after four months of interviewing hundreds of Iraqis working in broadcasting, it was only professional courtesy to give them a few comments.” But he cannot avoid the accusation that he was careless. Regardless of who was responsible and whether the interview could be justified, the United States is now at war.
During the 1991 Gulf War, Mr. Arnett was the only American journalist who stayed in Baghdad, and by reporting vividly on the U.S. air raids on the city, he became a household name. His dream to revive the glory of those times was ruined by a second’s carelessness. NBC, an American broadcast network that employed Mr. Arnett, fired him the day after the interview. In 1991, Arnett was an idol of mine because of his televised reporting with flames and bomb bursts illuminating the background. I was in Amman, Jordan, at that time and followed his reporting carefully on CNN. At that time, I respected his professionalism; he was risking his life to do his job as a journalist. It seemed to me that his courage and passion were a fitting counterpoint to the commercial considerations of CNN and the strategic interests of the Iraqi government. During the Vietnam War, Mr. Arnett won the Pulitzer Prize and in the Gulf War he became a mythical figure to all war correspondents.
After the incident, he admitted that he had made a mistake, and when NBC fired him, the Daily Mirror, a British daily newspaper, hired him as their correspondent in Baghdad. He wrote in the next day’s newspaper, “The right-wing media and politicians are looking for any opportunity to be critical of reporters who are here, whatever their nationality. I made a misjudgment that gave them the opportunity to attack me.” He went on, “‘I’m also awed by this media phenomenon, but it has made me a target for critics in the United States who accused me of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I didn’t want to do that; I just wanted to be able to tell the truth.”
Journalists seek the truth through facts. Neither announcements made by the United States nor by Iraq are “facts” to journalists. They are merely one-sided claims until a journalist is sure of the truth after checking himself and analyzing them with a cool mind. Therefore, journalists are anxious to go to a battlefield that other people are so anxious to leave. If what the U.S. military says is true, there was nothing wrong with the U.S.-led coalition forces’ initial operations. For all the controversies over media control, we can approach the truth because hundreds of correspondents are looking at the war closely. Is it right to judge journalists by the yardstick of patriotism? There are controversies over the patriotic reporting by U.S. news organizations. Some say that a new McCarthyist hysteria is sweeping America once again. A U.S. journalism professor told Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto, who stands at the forefront of the patriotic coverage of the Iraq war, “Your obvious support of U.S. and coalition troops and your rah-rah patriotism is an insult to hard-working reporters everywhere. You have no right having a show and even less right calling yourself a journalist.” The Fox newsman replied that he was “an American first, a journalist second.” But Mr. Cavuto is both an American and a journalist. If he listens to one side and does not pay attention to the other, he may be a broadcasting expert but not a journalist. Even a war does not change that.
I advocate the journalist, Peter Arnett.
* The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok