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.