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Arnett and Geraldo
Wednesday April 2, 2003
The Peter Arnett/Geraldo Rivera episodes led me to wonder what the rules are for reporters covering the war. It will not surprise you to find out that the rules depend upon where the war is being covered from.
Peter Arnett, who was reporting for NBC, is in Baghdad. The only rules he was required to follow were those of common sense - if not common decency. Geraldo is (as of this writing) in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division and IS covered by the ground rules proposed by the Pentagon and agreed to by reporters before they were permitted to embed with combat troops.
When the US military was preparing operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, there was considerable discussion in US media circles about how to cover the action.
In that Talmudic way of both senior reporters and college freshman, the edges of where the rights of journalists crunch, like tectonic plates of logic, against the responsibilities of journalists, were matters of much serious and intense discussion.
Some suggested that, if details of an upcoming operation were to become available to them, they were obligated as journalists to report some or all of those details and leave it to the military to decide whether or not to proceed.
NBC's Tim Russert, on the other hand, when asked what he would do if he discovered a unit were in danger of an ambush, said "I'd tell the commander. I'm an American first."
Peter Arnett, has been in and out of Iraq as a freelance reporter for at least a year. When just about all the US broadcast crews left Baghdad, MSNBC expanded its relationship with Arnett to include war reporting.
According to broadcasting sources, Arnett was doing good reporting. Until he forgot FOR whom and TO whom he was reporting.
The interview Arnett gave to Iraqi television was treasonous in the sense of the first definition of the word "treason" in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary:
1: The betrayal of a trust or confidence; A breach of faith.
But not in the second - legalistic - definition:
2: The offense of attempting, by overt acts, to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance.
Arnett was fired by NBC on Monday morning, but immediately hired by the virulently anti-war British Tabloid, "The Mirror." This is how he began his first report for The Mirror titled, "This War is Not Working:"
"They [the US government] don't want credible news organisations reporting from here because it presents them with enormous problems."
Which ignores the fact that just this past Friday, according to David Bauder of the Associated Press, "Four CNN staffers constituting the last staff members of a U.S.-based TV network left in Baghdad were ordered out of the country by Iraqi authorities" perhaps because they presented the IRAQIs with enormous problems.
Here is a segment of the Pentagon's position on reporting:
These ground rules recognize the right of the media to cover military operations and are in no way intended to prevent release of derogatory, embarrassing, negative or uncomplimentary information.
The ground rules for journalists were made available to Mullings by the Pentagon and are available on the Secret Decoder Ring page.
On the Geraldo front: Geraldo, while on the air, drew a crude map in the sand showing where the unit was located, and where it was going.
If true, this violates the following ground rules which are under the heading: "The following categories of information are not releasable since their publication or broadcast could jeopardize operations and endanger lives:"
4.g.5. Names of military installations or specific geographic locations of military units ...
If Geraldo, broke the rules, it appears to have been an error of exuberance.
That, it seems to me, is a far cry from what Peter Arnett did, which was to sell out the US military for the dreadfully cheap price of endearing himself to the Iraqi government and the European press corps.
Quagmire Watch: According to Shirley & Banister Public Affairs the word "quagmire" has occurred in 605 articles about Iraq since March 19.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: The Pentagon's Ground Rules for Reporters; equal time for Aggies; the entire Mirror column by Peter Arnett.
4.g.6. Information regarding future operations.
Copyright © 2003 Richard A. Galen
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