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Monday, March 31, 2003

Stockholm Syndrome or Mad Max Beyond Ego-Dome, it doesn't matter

As a resident broadcast journalist in your daily blog reads, I feel I should have something to say about NBC's termination of its relationship with the infamous Peter Arnett.

For those who don't closely follow war correspondents' careers, New Zealand-born Peter Arnett is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who came to fame during the Vietnam War era. Younger folks probably came to know him during Gulf War 1, when he and the other Boys of Baghdad broadcast live reports from a Baghdad Under Bombs. Later in that short war, he became persona non grata in American military circles after reporting Americans had bombed a baby milk factory. The U.S. military said it was a strategic military site.

Arnett re-emerged in 1998 as the face and voice of a controversial (and ultimately inaccurate) CNN story that accused Americans of using serin nerve gas during Vietnam. The producers of the story were fired, and Arnett recevied a fairly public reprimand.

As Gulf War II began, Arnett came back to life, reporting for National Geographic and, essentially, freelancing for NBC. When other reporters were getting kicked out of the country or arrested, he continued to broadcast. Unfortunately for NBC and the future of Arnett's career, he also provided Iraqi state-run TV with an interview. He told interviewers in Iraqi miliatry uniforms that America's first battle plan had failed due to an unexpectedly strong Iraqi resistance.

The veracity of that statement will be debated for a long time. My guess is, Arnett has no independent verification of it. That makes it unreportable in my book. And to say it on the propoganda arm of the Iraqi government serves little purpose other than to encourage more Iraqi resistance.

One of three things happened here: 1) Iraqis held an RPG to Arnett's head and told him to say it. 2) Arnett has a twitching case of Stockholm Syndrome... or 3) Arnett's ego took about a week and a half to over-inflate and allow him to believe his opinion and analysis were more important than the basic tenets of journalism.

NBC faced a huge loss in crediblity and did the right thing by severing its ties with Arnett.

The worst thing any journalist can do right now is wave a flag...American or Iraqi.

Arnett will now find himself back under the New Zealand flag and it is unlikely you'll see him on an American TV outlet ever again.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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