by Lars Svalbard
On Monday, NBC fired its prize-winning Baghdad correspondent Peter Arnett. Arnett had given an interview on Iraqi television, in which he commented that the American Military's "first plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another plan."
Pro-war Americans were furious, calling Arnett "un-American," "unpatriotic," and "a disgrace." They complained to NBC by the thousands, and Arnett got the boot. NBC executives said Arnett had lost his "objectivity."
Clearly NBC felt Arnett had failed to do his job, or they wouldn't have fired him. But isn't it a journalist's job to report the truth, unpleasant though it may be? Arnett's comments followed on the heels of Lt. General William Wallace's admission that "the enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we wargamed against." Was it really so out of line for Arnett to conclude that that wargame was part of a "plan" that had "failed?" Let's recall that the initial bombing of Baghdad in the early morning of March 20 was an attempt to kill Hussein and thus "decapitate" the Iraqi regime. That seems to have failed. Then followed a massive bombing campaign designed to "shock and awe" the Iraqis into submission. Sure looks like that one failed too.
So Arnett was fired even though he told the truth. Could it be that NBC doesn't want its reporters telling the truth?
It turns out NBC isn't a disinterested party in all of this. It is owned by General Electric, one of the biggest defense contractors in the United States. Among other things, they make engines for F-16 fighters and Apache Longbow helicopters. (www.geae.com/engines/military/index.html) As long as people perceive that the war is going smoothly, and it remains popular, orders for those engines will keep rolling in. If people begin to have doubts about the war, it could hurt GE's business. It is therefore in their best interest to paint the war in as positive terms as possible.
Can we really trust news agencies owned by defense contractors to provide unbiased news in wartime? Take a look at the war coverage at NBC or MSNBC. It's liberally plastered with the slogan "Operation Iraqi Freedom"--the U.S. government's official euphemism for the war. Are we really there to bring freedom to Iraqis? Or are we lashing out in misdirected vengeance for the 9/11 attacks? Might we be invading Iraq to serve the interests of oil companies and defense contractors with suspicious links to the administration? Difficult questions to be sure, but well worth considering. By labeling the war in Iraq "Operation Iraqi Freedom," NBC is answering these questions before they are asked, and thereby short-circuiting the process of debate so vital to our democratic tradition.
It's not so hard to see why NBC served Peter Arnett a piping hot cup of shut-your-face. But he wasn't out of a job for long. A British tabloid by the name of the Daily Mirror quickly offered him a job. Sad times indeed when honest reporters are forced to take refuge in the tabloids while the mainstream press becomes an echo-chamber of unreflective jingoistic slogans.
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