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Archive for Thursday, February 14, 1991

HIS CREDENTIALS ARE SOUND

February 14, 1991

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So many things in this world aren't quite what they seem. Only time lets us know the reality of many situations.

Peter Arnett, the CNN television reporter operating out of Iraq under the noses of censors, is being admired, accused and analyzed extensively. Some think the New Zealander who once was the top Associated Press war reporter is performing a valuable service in providing at least some information from the closely controlled Iraqi environs. Others are inclined to label him as a traitor, for apparently providing what is being described as ``aid and comfort to the enemy.'' There are the in-betweens.

But before anyone leaps to judge Arnett and his dispatches, some background is in order.

During the Vietnam War, Arnett ran many risks to report frontline activities, often on a firsthand basis, involving American forces and the responses by the opposition. The world has produced numerous outstanding war correspondents, but there are many able observers who contend that Arnett long ago established himself as among the finest, if not THE finest, of all of them. He is noted internationally for his ability to gather facts, remain objective and organize reports so they are valuable in letting people know what is going on. What he is broadcasting from Iraq has to be tempered by the fact Saddam Hussein's people are watching every move he makes, and naturally will do anything they can to project their story in a favorable light.

Arnett, at the same time, is crafty enough to find ways to get around some of these shackles, if not all of them. He may have a far different set of stories to tell once he is able to provide his data in unfettered fashion.

Arnett, as it turns out, is among the first to realize that what seems to be and what actually is may be drastically different. Let's hark back to the Vietnam period of the Pentagon Papers for a solid example.

The Pentagon Papers were pilfered by an ex-Marine captain named Daniel Ellsberg who had access to them through a high governmental position. Ellsberg and Arnett were among the personalities at an Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. meeting in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, and their observations to a Journal-World staff member at that meeting showed how much difference there can be between facade and fact.

Ellsberg said he read the papers carefully, and noted that four straight American presidents had the opportunity to act to prevent the tragedy that Vietnam became for the United States. Not one had taken bright or bold enough action to prevent it, Ellsberg noted. He admitted that is when he decided to accept whatever penalties the theft and publication might incur and chose to ``go public'' with the papers.

Arnett responded. He said he personally had been covering the war on various fronts and in dealing with U.S. military people and officials had concluded the United States was doing exactly what it should do, or had to do, given the circumstances.

``Then I came back to the States for a break, read the Pentagon Papers, and changed my mind about it,'' Arnett said. ``There was a lot more to it than I ever dreamed from my vantage point in the combat regions, and it reminded me of the importance of always looking beyond a given situation and trying to find out more. It is so often that something is not what it seems to be.''

Peter Arnett for all his accomplishments in journalism is only human. He has, does and will make mistakes, as do we all, no matter how skilled, dedicated, diligent and able we might be. But he does have an impressive track record as a skilled, objective reporter, particularly on war issues, whose never-ending goal is to get "just the facts, ma'am,'' as legendary detective Joe Friday used to say.

We need to know far, far more about the Peter Arnett reportorial status in Iraq before we condemn or lionize him. Nobody would be quicker to point up the value of a full assessment than Arnett himself, who more than once has recognized that many things are not what they seem.

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