Jewish World Review April 4, 2003 / 1 Nisan 5763

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
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Right story, wrong TV station | Peter Arnett had the right story, at least in part, but entirely the wrong audience.

NBC and MSNBC fired the Pulitzer-Prize-winning war correspondent Monday from his job as their Baghdad correspondent after he criticized the U.S. war effort in an interview with state-controlled Iraqi TV.

Arnett was back at work later in the day, this time for Britain's Daily Mirror, a tabloid that openly opposes the war in a country where dailies don't often bother to keep their political slant out of their news coverage.

Maybe that's where he belongs. Arnett was on to the right story, at least in part, but he should have saved it for NBC, so the Iraqis could hear it at the same time Americans would.

I say he was "on to" the right story because he didn't quite get it. In fact, part of what Arnett said sounded downright goofy.

"It is clear that within the United States there is growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war," he said in the interview, which aired Sunday.

Oh? Clear to whom? While Peter's been dodging bombs in Baghdad, public approval of the war back here has remained predictably high and steady.

But the rest of Arnett's controversial quotes were hardly extraordinary to anyone who follows the reports and opinions of reporters and commentators back here in the states.

"The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance," he said. "Now they are trying to write another war plan."

Yup, no state secrets revealed there. While Arnett was jawboning with the Iraqis, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was making the rounds of Sunday TV talk shows defending his war plan against charges that he had grossly underestimated Iraqi resistance.

"Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces," said Arnett.

Right or wrong, we had none other than Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of U.S. Army ground forces, observing wearily a few days earlier that "the enemy we're fighting is different from the one we war-gamed against."

And the talk shows also were buzzing about this week's New Yorker magazine article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that suggests Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly rejected advice from Pentagon planners to add more troops to the war effort.

But Arnett made the mistake of blurring the role of reporter with that of commentator. That is not uncommon in today's 24-hour TV news cycles. But reporters usually couch their observations with fudge phrases like, "It has been said." "Some have noted.," or the ubiquitous, "Military experts say."

Unfortunately, too much of TV news, in particular, has mixed up news and opinion, following the pattern of some of the press in Britain and other countries lacking America's tradition of "objective" news.

NBC and MSNBC undoubtedly were feeling pressured by the high ratings of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel.

Fox stands alone among the networks and cable news channels for embracing the language of the Bush administration in its newscasts. It calls suicide bombers, "homicide bombers" and refers to the war to unseat Saddam as America's war to "liberate Iraq."

That's their right. Subjective reporting can be fun, as when Murdoch's New York Post retouches photos of French United Nations delegates as weasels, as in "axis of weasels."

Among the joys of a free press are the many choices it offers news consumers. But, if you really care about "objective" news, the consoling observation to be made about Fox's ratings is that most viewers are still watching something else.

Some people see a conflict between free speech and "supporting our troops." I don't. Back when I was a "troop" during the final years of the Vietnam War, I thought the best way to "support our troops" was to avoid sending them into hazardous situations unless it was absolutely necessary.

Like many Americans, I opposed getting into war against Saddam Hussein as long as alternatives held some hope. Now that the war has begun, I want us to win it as quickly as possible and bring our troops home.

But, troops in the field depend on the civilians back home not only to wave flags and sing our tearful anthems, but also to watch their backs.

If there are serious problems with our troops getting enough support from the higher-ups in Washington, the rest of us need to know. In that case, we need reporters, not cheerleaders.

And so do the troops. They're not allowed to criticize their leaders. That's our job. It's up to us civilians to hold their commanders accountable, all the way up to the commander-in-chief, the president.

If Saddam Hussein and his people mistake self-criticism in our free society for a lack of resolve, that's their fault. There's a lot about us that they don't understand, just as there's a lot about Iraqis that most Americans don't understand. But they are learning about us, just as we are learning about them.

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04/01/03: Remembering Moynihan's mind
03/27/03: A fog of war words: Shocking and awesome
03/21/03: A Moranic moment bites peace movement
03/18/03: Viewers beware when tv networks don't care
03/14/03: Powell's battle for Bush's ear
03/10/03: 'Embedded,' but not 'in bed with'
02/28/03: Bridging the black gender gap
02/19/03 Braun vs. Sharpton: A Dem dilemma
02/14/03: Bush's clean-up man
02/11/03: How feds fooled marijuana trial jurors
02/06/03: Time to re-think space shuttle's value
01/31/03: Why corporations like diversity, too
01/28/03: Shaq vs. Yao, a new world diss-order
01/23/03: Affirmative action will be remarketed under new name
01/13/03: Bond movie offers clues to Korea crisis
01/07/03: Dr. Frist to the rescue … of his party
01/02/03: Feeling a 'draft,' but not much
12/17/02: To rob a burning cross of its power
12/03/02: Closing black-white test-score gaps
11/19/02: Uncle Same wants your data
11/15/02: Marriage vs. 'player' impulse
11/11/02: How Oz can help the Dems
11/05/02: We reserve right to be complicated
10/22/02: What the pro-gun lobby and anti-gun lobby have in common
10/18/02: Take Sharpton seriously? For Prez??
10/15/02: A beauty and the bullies
10/08/02: Time to start 'fingerprinting' bullets
10/08/02: Poet laureate hater fell for Internet hoax
10/04/02: Keeping it real, despite howls from black 'leaders'
10/01/02: Revisiting the 'Jogger' horror
09/27/02: Sometimes freedom is a necessary nuisance
09/13/02: Foil Fidel with free trade
09/10/02: Measuring the myth of 'super weed'
09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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