Joe Conason's Journal

Peter Arnett is arrogant, not anti-American. Plus: Ex-New York Mayor Ed Koch's casual disregard for Arab lives.


Salon Staff
April 1, 2003 9:26PM (UTC)

Neither hero nor traitor
Peter Arnett offers a personal perspective on being fired in the pages of today's Daily Mirror, his new employer. While he hasn't withdrawn his apology, he doesn't seem overcome with remorse. The Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent still calls his interview with Iraqi TV a "misjudgment," although what he seems to mean now is that he misjudged the reaction here. (Romenesko and the Poynter site carry copious opinions and debate on whether and how badly he screwed up by airing his personal views of the war on Saddam's station. The Wall Street Journal quotes former NBC News president Larry Grossman, one of the best in the business, wondering whether celebrity correspondents like Arnett suffer from "frazzled" brains.)

At the risk of annoying readers who consider Arnett a hero, I can't criticize the decision to dismiss him by NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic. To agree to an interview that he knew would be used for regime propaganda -- without bothering to consult his employers -- was undoubtedly a firing offense. By giving his opinions about domestic opposition and the "failure" of the Pentagon's war plan in that environment, he made a stupid decision still worse. And praising the Iraqi bureaucrats' treatment of journalists in the wake of their expulsion of his former CNN colleagues, as Arnett did, went well beyond any necessary courtesy and came very close to publicly smooching the regime's boot. Arnett isn't anti-American or un-American, just blindly arrogant.

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Why "they" hate us
Consider the casually homicidal musings (not available online) of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato in the current edition of New York magazine. These two men, who served as high-ranking public officials for many years, clearly have no regard for innocent Arab life and no concern about the razing of Muslim holy places, not to mention such minor issues as the destruction of one of the world's oldest cities. In this exchange, former Public Advocate Mark Green appears as sane interlocutor:

Koch: I sent a letter to Rumsfeld saying he should advise the Iraqi government that if it wants to declare Baghdad an open city, there are ways to do it under the Geneva Conventions -- removing all soldiers, removing all artillery. And if they don't want to do that, then we ought not to fall into their trap. We should say to the Iraqi people living in Baghdad, "You have 48 hours to evacuate. After that, we're flattening the city with bombs."

Green: But how do we "liberate" a city we've flattened? And why inflame a billion Muslims worldwide who already see us as the devil?

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D'Amato: I say it's a lot of bullshit to worry about their public opinion. That doesn't mean that you just go out and kill civilians. But there comes a time when if they refuse, and if it looks like we're going to get bogged down, better that we say, "Clear out, folks! Because we're gonna start bombing street by street!"

Green: I think you two are, in effect, recruiting agents for Al-Qaeda.
[8:34 a.m. PST, April 1, 2003]

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