The ritual slaying of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the altar of wartime political correctness is meant as a warning to "mainstream" journalists: this could be you. Either "embed" yourself in the American propaganda machine, or choose exile.
No one disputes the veracity of what Arnett actually said. It is true, as the veteran war correspondent put it, that
"Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces."
American military officers in the field are saying the same thing even as I write but try firing them! And who can dispute the following?:
"My Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain are doing."
We don’t need Arnett or the Iraqis to tell us that resistance to the invasion is motivated by nationalism. Invasions invariably provoke resistance, even in the most decadent of nations. But here is what really stuck in the collective craw of the War Party, and demanded nay, cried out! for punishment:
"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. So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments."
When a reporter, in the course of developing a story, instead becomes the story, some grand journalistic ethic is said to have been breached. But who made Arnett the story? NBC claims to have been inundated by 8,000 emails in response to Arnett’s broadcast a paltry number, given that it would be no mean feat of technology for a single person to generate that many within hours. Arnett, intones Walter Cronkite, " hangs by a rope of his own weaving," and various and sundry professors have been trotted out particularly on NBC – to verify that he "crossed the line" between advocate and journalist.
This, from a television network that has U.S. government propaganda designed into its logo!
Beneath each and every talking head or battle scene, in NBC’s continuous war coverage, the words "Operation Iraqi Freedom" are vividly emblazoned as if "freedom" had anything to do with the American imperial project. A loud brouhaha was raised over the military attire of Arnett’s interlocutor even as our own airwaves are filled with strutting generals in full uniform, aiming their pointers at battlefield maps, like rapiers stabbing at the heart of Iraq.
Is it just me, or is the fiction that we are supposed to be bringing "democracy" and freedom to the benighted peoples of the Middle East somewhat undermined by the ideological cleansing of the American media? The uniformly propagandistic tone of American television coverage resembles a Soviet propaganda film, circa 1936. Fox News, with its all-braying-all-the-time format, was the precursor of this Sovietizing trend, and now MSNBC is taking on the same Leninist style. The race is on between Aaron Brown of CNN and Dan Abrams of MSNBC to see who can parrot the party line most faithfully: the winner so far is Brown, for his David Horowitz-like interrogation of Dan Ellsberg. But Abrams is doing his best to keep up: the other day, he answered the query of a journalism professor as to the provenance of the "Operation Iraqi Freedom" logo wasn’t that "crossing the line," too? Oh no, opined Abrams, because, you see, "that is the actual name of this operation"!
Jack Shafer, media critic at Slate.com, thinks Arnett should have been fired but not because of anything he said about the failure of the U.S. war plan, or unexpected Iraqi resistance:
"It was nothing Democratic foes of the war haven’t been saying for a week and some Republicans are sharing anonymously today with the Washington Post."
Arrnett’s real crime, according to Shafer, is speaking at all to the Iraqis, in an Iraqi venue:
"That Arnett took his star turn on Iraqi state television and spoke seriously to a uniformed member of the Iraqi military indicates that he possesses the credulousness of a child, not the judgment of a seasoned reporter."
At least the Iraqi interviewer had the honesty to wear a military uniform: some of our own "journalists" might as well be wearing U.S. military uniforms, for all the objectivity they bring to the unfolding story of this war. Shafer has the temerity to compare Arnett to Lord Haw Haw – for the high crime of pointing out that the Iraqis have been granting him access for 12 years, and for referring to their "courtesy." The Enemy must never be presented as anything but murderous never mind courteous! This interferes with the demonization process, and, if it became widespread, would undermine the war effort: it might even be construed as providing comfort to the enemy. That senile old crock Cronkite even raised the specter of "treason."
If this be treason, then what Cronkite and his fellow television reporters did during the Vietnam war is equally so, and there is no statute of limitations on such a serious crime, as far as I know. But of course it isn’t treason: it is truth-telling. As Arnett pointed out in his piece for the [UK] Mirror, the U.S. didn’t want him transmitting pictures and viewpoints from besieged Baghdad in 1991, and they don’t want it now.
Shafer gives voice to the pro-war intelligentsia’s latent desire for a wartime dictatorship by taking Arnett to task for even reporting the Iraqi claim that the U.S. has started using cluster bombs. According to Shafer, this was supposedly refuted by NBC’s Pentagon reporter a few hours later. But so what? A cynic might look at Arnett’s reporting as quite useful if the goal is to underscore the laughable incompetence of Baghdad’s propaganda campaign.
Arnett is in Baghdad, not at "coalition" headquarters in Kuwait or Washington, and is naturally reporting on the Iraqi perspective. The point is that there is to be no Iraqi or Arab perspective on this war, at least on American television. No other perspectives but the semi-official one, granting a subtle variation or two here and there.
Shafer is outraged that Arnett considers the antiwar movement a significant factor. Why, it was "rattlebrained" to have said so. But that oft-cited 70 percent-plus in favor of the war is decidedly soft, and the center is notoriously fickle. They are just now waking up to the costs of this war, and the opposition, on the other hand, is considerably more hardened. The pundits and the pollsters smugly assume that what is happening, today, will continue indefinitely, but such hubris is what got Rummy and the war planners in trouble with their own soldiers in the field to begin with.
NBC, for its part, at first defended Arnett, and then caved in less than 12 hours later, which lends credence to his claim that NBC "came under great commercial pressure from the outside" to fire him. Arnett is not the first person to lose a job due to war hysteria, and he won’t be the last. The neocons have Bob Novak in their sights, and I’ll be greatly surprised if Pat Buchanan and Bill Press are allowed to stay on at MSNBC unless they button their lips in both cases, I trust, highly unlikely.
And so we are to be given a diet of straight war propaganda, 24/7, a thin tasteless gruel of televised hectoring and verbatim reading of Pentagon press releases. There is to be no end to this, at least until the present phase of the war comes to a climax with the taking of Baghdad and that, alone, is reason enough to hope for a rapid American "victory."
Sans Arnett, the tedious unanimity of televised reporting on this war is like the droning of cicadas on a warm summer night, lulling us all into a troubled sleep. As we go about our business, pretending that God is with us and the U.S. military will make it all right, dreams of disaster steal into our brains, subverting the national sense of certainty under cover of night. Yet even if expression of these doubts is expressly forbidden, instead of merely enforced by means of strong social and economic sanctions, there is no way for the War Party to achieve its dream of a war without patriotic dissent. The media elite may have signed on to "Operation Iraqi Freedom" with no questions asked, but Operation American Freedom still commands the allegiance of millions.
I suppose I could go into a little spiel, right about here, explaining why "alternative" media like Antiwar.com are so vitally important in wartime, and especially for the duration of this war. I could tell you, once again, that if we don’t raise another $20,000 in this quarter, you may come up with an error message the next time you try to log on to this site.
But I’m so damned depressed about the prospect of having to listen to Aaron Brown, Christiane Amanpour who lied her way straight through the Kosovo war and the rest of the usual clowns droning on for months if not years, that I just can’t bring myself to do anything but direct your urgent attention to this link. Click, my friend, and give Antiwar.com your support in the form of a contribution. In the meantime, I think I’ll go curl up with a good book perhaps the newly-released collection of Garet Garrett’s antiwar editorials, beautifully packaged by the Caxton Press and treat myself to some peace and quiet.
NOTES IN THE MARGINS
For a useful collection of tidbits documenting the latest idiocies of the War Party, Check out the new weblog at Chronicles magazine, Winds of War.
While we’re on the subject of antiwar conservatives, Bill Berkowitz, over at WorkingforChange.org, notes David Frums smear of right-wingers opposed to this war, including myself, but can’t really bring himself to utter a word of protest. Ill remember that when John Ashcroft and his newly reconstituted Red Squads start rounding up troublemakers like Berkowitz and his leftie pals. Gee, whatever happened to "the people united will never be defeated"?