Bad Interview

Ah, a prime candidate for an entry in my book on stupidity. Here’s the quiz. You’re a reporter, working for an American media organization (owned, incidentally, by one of the United States’ largest defense contractors) in a war zone with an enemy giving the United States government fits because it won’t just lay down and die. If you want to keep your job, should you sit down for an interview with the media of the enemy, knowing full well it’s tightly controlled by the very man the United States is trying to decapitate via bunker buster, and say comments like the US “war plan has failed”?

a) Oh, absolutely.
b) Hmmm, probably not.

Peter Arnett chose a), and of course he was fired by NBC for doing so. As well he should have been. It’s not a question of free speech (that concept having several levels of irony here because Arnett’s in a war zone in a country where the leader would murder people for having incorrect thoughts if he could), it’s a matter of simple common sense. Were I an executive at NBC, I would personally prefer to have someone working for me who has the presence of mind not to make like an ass at historically difficult times. Hell, even Dan Rather wouldn’t have been able to pull off this maneuver; Peter Arnett, despite the Pulitzer in his pocket, doesn’t even begin to rate.

Peter Arnett commented during his corporate-mandated apology Monday something along the line that he was just saying what everyone was thinking, but this is neither here not there. As I mentioned, this isn’t about what he said, which was fairly obvious, but where he said it. That and the fact that Arnett was either oblivious to the fact of the propaganda value of having a prominent western journalist go on Iraqi TV and armchair quarterbacking like he was on a Sunday morning talk show, or wasn’t oblivious to it, and decided to do it anyway. If Arnett wants to do that, it’s fine, but he shouldn’t have seriously expected his work contract to be there when he came back.

I personally have a hard time believing that Arnett could have been oblivious; he’s not a stupid or a naive man, just a contrary one. Either he believed that NBC would keep him no matter what (and indeed, on Sunday, when the story broke, NBC News supported him, suggesting strongly that the decision to squash him like a bug came from executives higher up the food chain, who are less interested in journalistic privileges and more interested in not having their company tainted by an association with someone who doesn’t care if he makes the company look bad), or it was just a matter of pure ego: I’m Peter Arnett! Hero journalist of the first Gulf War! I know all! I see all! I am untouchable! The third, and very real, possibility is that Arnett is actually just on loan to NBC (he’s in Iraq for the National Geographic Channel, and was picked up by NBC after their people got the boot) and simply doesn’t care what NBC thinks about anything he does. Whichever, the firing and the attendant slagging to come will hopefully be a bracing bit of perspective for the man.

It’s also the sort of thing that, as to use the current military euphemisms, seriously degrades his capabilities. Corporate news is fairly tolerant of reporter’s personal quirks — the fact that Geraldo is still employed by a major American new operation when he is only slightly less freakish than Michael Jackson gives an indication of how laissez faire that market really is (Geraldo, incidentally, just got kicked out of the war zone because he draw a map in the sand pointing out where the 101st was headed. Speaking of oblivious). But this is probably the sort of thing corporate news organizations will remember. I don’t know how high Arnett’s stock was anyway (no offense to National Geographic, but it’s probably not a first stop choice for most seriously journalists), but this doesn’t help him out much.

At least in the US. It could revive his career in other markets. Maybe that’s why he did it. Hmmm.

Update: National Geographic Fires Peter Arnett. Hope the interview was worth it, Pete.

12 thoughts on “Bad Interview

  1. It’s great to see our reporters and “news” agencies continue to remain the top story of this war. We’d never know people were dying, or have the slightest inkling of the political upheaval across the globe this conflict could induce, without yet another 10 minute “Cool! We can broadcast crummy videophone pictures of tanks driving really fast over the desert – live – from half-way around the globe” story, or having the Fox News news ticker in downtown NYC being used for right-wing comedy tryouts. Thank the media gods we have the best and brightest managing our airwaves!

    By the way, I’m hoping for an on-camera moment of Geraldo running around sand dunes in an attempt to lose some hungry, microphone-pushing clone of himself asking if his ‘strategic lines in the sand’ stunt gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Now that would be engaging TV!

  2. Well, as a news professional — albeit not one even close to Arnett’s level — I think I spied something else here. Was that sunshine blowing up the collective Iraqi ass? Yes, I believe it was.

    I think Arnett was shamelessly flattering his interlocutor, hoping to get an interview with Moustache Man himself. And I just heard Eleanor Clift say the same thing on Fox, so you know I’m right.

  3. I saw on the news a day or so back where he had offered an apology to the American Public. Should we forgive him, even though he basically degraded the U.S. in front of the enemy…whether he meant to or not? Maybe..since, (as was pointed out in an earlier post), “he was making an attempt to get an interview with “moustache man” himself.

    But then again, maybe not. I mean hell, we’re at war with a country and he has the nerve to go on one of their news stations and say the American war plan is failing. What gives him the right to say that? Nothing. Even if he hoped to get an interview with Saddam himself, he shouldn’t have said that.

    But, I guess I’ll let you make your own decision on the matter….I’ve already made mine.

  4. Oh and let that “sunshine blow up the collective Iraqi ass” they don’t know what to do with it anyway.

  5. I’ve the advantage of having been born relatively late in the 20th Century, so I’m not blessed/infected with the jingoism and “my country first!” attitude that a great many of my fellow Weterners seem to share.

    Or, to put it less offensively, I’m rather mystified at the way people call for any anti-US move to be considered treason. What gives him the right to say that? Why, simple! He’s a human being expressing his opinion!

    He has the right to do that, I think. He doesn’t necessarily have the right for others to pay to have it broadcast (witness NBC and NG both sacking him), but he certainly has the right to hold and express his opinion. If he thinks the American war plan is failing, why shouldn’t he say so? I don’t agree with him — but I don’t think he’s betraying his country by telling “the enemy” such things.

    Now, if he were in a position of influence in the US (say, Rumsfeld telling Al Jazeera “we’ve got no fucking clue what we’re doing,”) that would be a different matter — it’s not being born, or even living somewhere that gives you a responsibility to your country. It’s actually *being in a position of responsibility*.

    Ahem. I assume that made sense?

  6. Because Mr. Arnett’s words can be (and will be) used in the Iraqi propaganda, which in term will make this war more difficult and almost guarantee to cost more lives on both sides. Certainly we should respect someone’s freedom of speech, but one should also exercise certain degree of self control under the circumstances. Mr. Arnett, given his reputation and experience, can express his opinion anywhere, yet he choose to express it on a TV station controlled by an enemy of the US. You have to doubt the motive behind his actions. Personally I pay absolutely no respect to someone who knowingly aiding an the enemy at the expense of his own country, just to satisfy his own ego and vanity.

  7. “John, come on — if Arnett gets a Saddam interview, he’ll find an outlet. Or one will find him. Trust me.”

    Well, sure — just not a US outlet.

  8. Not being American, I’m not certain of the situation: but surely you can get BBC and Deutsche Welle (sp?) over there?

    If Mr Arnett gets his interview (unlikely), and Beeb or DW offer to carry it (much more likely), I’m sure he’ll get it broadcast in the US. And, who knows, maybe such an interview (depending on how he pulls it off) will increase is rep in the US to the extent he can find work again (I don’t have a clue how likely *that* is).

    (Not to be taken as a defence of his actions)

  9. “Not being American, I’m not certain of the situation: but surely you can get BBC and Deutsche Welle (sp?) over there?”

    Heh. Actually, no. There *is* a BBC America channel, but it’s one of those channels you get only if you have the “all the channels” package on cable or satellite TV. Other than that, the only foreign language channels one typically gets here in the US are the Spanish Language ones that based here in the States.

    Bear in mind that if Arnett *gets* a Saddam interview, it will be news in itself, although I don’t suppose it’s terribly likely that any US channel would show it in its entirety, they’d just pluck out the highlights.

    My understanding is that Arnett does have a new gig, with the UK Newspaper The Mirror. I don’t know the details, but my understanding is that the Mirror is quite against the war, so that would seem to be a likely fit.

  10. I get HBO en espanol. Hell, even if you’ve seen the movie a million times, there’s nothing like watching it in Spanish for the first time…

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