Two things come to mind about this Arnett business. First, I’m kicking myself because a reader from the Gulf who watches Arab TV told me about Arnett’s interview in general terms before news broke here and I didn’t follow-up.
Second, I really like NBC’s initial defense. In a statement, NBC said: “Peter Arnett and his crew have risked their lives to bring the American people up-to-date, straightforward information on what is happening in and around Baghdad. His impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy and was similar to other interviews he has done with media outlets from around the world.” [Emphasis mine]
Hmmmm. Am I the only one a bit perplexed by this? Does/did NBC really believe that “Iraqi TV” is simply another “media outlet”? The criticism of Arnett from the media criticism crowd has focused on Arnett’s bad judgement. But that is a known quantity. NBC’s judgement is an open question. In their about-face statement NBC said today “It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV, especially at a time of war. And it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview.” The statement was issued by Allison Gollust, the same woman who on Sunday described Arnett’s comments as a professional courtesy. One wonders, however, If Arnett had given an uncontroversial interview, would NBC stand by its “professional courtesy” stance?
Tom Rosenstiel, who runs the Project for Excellence in Journalism, tells Howard Kurtz , “this is even more alarming or damaging for him. . . . Blurring the line between reporter and actor in the drama invites that same confusion and maybe even makes it worse.” Well, what about blurring the line between a Goebbelsesque propaganda outfit and a credible “media outlet”? Is Iraqi TV — owned by Saddam Hussein’s family — just another “professional” outfit? Arnett apologized this morning, explaining why it was a mistake. It would be nice if NBC explained itself similarly.