Wednesday, February 16, 2005

He's Not My Role Model

Editor's note: There have been two important updates to this post. Please scroll to the bottom for more information.

As some of you may remember, I was going to blog about an appearance by Peter Arnett on my college campus late last semester. Arnett couldn't make it then, but his speaking engagement was rescheduled for tomorrow. For those of you who can't place the name, Peter Arnett was a famed journalist who was in Vietnam from the start of our "police action" there through the fall of Saigon. He was also the winner of an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize, which places him in an elite category among journalists. Of course, those are his finer points.

The thing that makes Arnett so controversial is the interview he gave to Iraqi TV on March 30, 2003. At that point, Saddam Hussein was still in power and the ground war of Gulf War II had just begun. In the interview, Arnett stated (among other gems in his conversation) the following:
America is re-appraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week, and re-writing the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance now they are trying to write another war plan.

Don't take my word for it alone; I found CNN's transcript of the interview. The entire thing is mind-blowing. As you can imagine, CNN promptly fired him for his comments. Although we failed to find WMDs in Iraq, the actual battle plan was pretty succesful.

Oddly, Arnett is receiving a hero's welcome from WVU, particularly from fellow Vietnam correspondent Dr. George Esper (who, curiously enough, was the best man at Arnett's wedding). The DA spoke to Dr. Esper about his visit. I'm really hoping that Esper's comments were taken out of context, because if they weren't, then I have to disagree with him. I'd love to know Esper's direct quotes when he was paraphrased for this porton of the article:
"Indeed, he was more honest with the American public that its own government was," Esper said. Esper praised Arnett for taking his "government watchdog" role in the media seriously and for being an excellent role model for WVU students and others around the world.

Wait...did he really mean "role model", or was that how his actual words were paraphrased? If Dr. Esper did mean that, then with all due respect, he's wrong. Let me get one thing clear about my thoughts on this. I do not criticize Peter Arnett as a conservative or a liberal. Heck, I'm not even criticizing him as a journalist. I'm criticizing him as an American. To go to the enemy's press in wartime and condemn your country's war efforts borders on the criminal. (Note-see update at bottom-ed.) It's one thing to be "honest with the American public" and a "government watchdog;" it's quite another thing to play watchdog all over the enemy's TV screens, which is exactly what Arnett did in Iraq. I would take note of Peter Arnett's other, more upstanding accomplishments; however, he is not and will never be my role model. It's okay to have a negative opinion, but it's not okay to tell it to the enemy.

So where can you hear Peter Arnett speak? Well, if you attend WVU, he's already spoken to journalism students this evening. Don't feel bad if you missed it, because the time of that engagement was poorly publicized. However, he will speak in G-21 White Hall at 7:00 P.M. tomorrow. The title of his speech? "From Vietnam to Iraq: A Changing Media World." I have a feeling that telling the Viet Cong about how we had "failed" wouldn't have been well-received back then, either.

UPDATE: Dr. H himself informed me that Arnett is actually from New Zealand. That doesn't improve my opinion of him completely, but it does blow some huge holes in my second-to-last paragraph. I still don't agree with what he did in Iraq, but knowing he isn't from the country he so openly criticized makes me feel a little better. At least I don't consider him to be treasonous now. My most sincere apologies to everyone, as I have a pretty decent amount of egg on my face. This is the power of the blogosphere; had I sent this article to an editor, it may not have been fact-checked in time to be corrected. Out here, corrections may take place at a moment's notice.

SECOND UPDATE (2/17/05) : The DA is reporting that Arnett's speaking engagement is tomorrow. This information is inaccurate. As I reported previously, Arnett will be speaking tonight at 7:00 P.M. in G-21 White Hall. His presentation is open to the public. If anything else changes, I'll let you know.


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