Wednesday, April 2
Arnett Paid a Price for Being Truly Neutral
by Robert Jensen, Newsday, April 2, 2003
Peter Arnett has an overblown sense of his own importance and lousy political judgment. That's been true ever since he became a television "personality," and he's hardly the only one with those traits.
But Arnett's pomposity and hubris are not what got him fired by NBC and National Geographic this week after giving a short interview to Iraqi state television. When the controversy first emerged, NBC issued a statement of support, which evaporated as soon as the political heat was turned up and questions about Arnett's patriotism got tossed around. In short: Arnett was canned because he took seriously the notion that, even in war, journalists should be neutral.
The assertion of neutrality is central to the credibility of U.S. journalists, who say, "Trust us, we don't take sides." Whether one believes journalists live up to that standard - or that it's possible at all - it is the bedrock on which reporters build their claim to special status.
Except, it seems, in time of war. In those situations, many U.S. journalists do not hesitate to say they are on the American side. They are quick to say that patriotism won't stop them for reporting critically about the United States and its war effort, and the degree to which they make good on that varies widely.
But the point remains: One can't be neutral and aligned with one side at the same time. [...]