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Journalists Face the Challenges of Wartime Ethics: Journalists Pay the Consequences of Revealing "Too Much"

Journalists Face the Challenges of Wartime Ethics: Journalists Pay the Consequences of Revealing "Too Much"

By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor

Philip Smucker

The first reporter to be expelled from Iraq by the U.S. military for revealing
military secrets was Christian Science Monitor reporter Philip
Smucker. According to the Associated Press, Smucker revealed the location
of a Marine unit during a television interview on March 26, 2003 with
CNN. The Los Angeles Times reported that Smucker also revealed
similar information during an interview with National Public Radio. A
freelance journalist, Smucker worked not only for the Monitor but
also the Daily Telegraph in London. He was traveling with the First
Marine Division, but was not officially embedded with the unit.

Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, wrote in a statement to the Christian Science Monitor, "My understanding of the facts at this point from the commander on the ground is that this reporter was reporting, in real time, positions, locations and activities of units engaged in combat. The commander felt it was necessary and appropriate to remove [Smucker] from his immediate battle space in order not to compromise his mission or endanger personnel of his unit."

Christian Science Monitor editor Paul Van Slambrouck disagreed and defended Smucker in the newspaper's March 28 edition, writing "[I]t does not appear to us that [Smucker] disclosed anything that wasn't already readily available in maps and in U.S. and British radio, newspaper, and television reports."

"We are disappointed Smucker has been removed," Van Slambrouck continued. "He is an experienced war correspondent who understands the gravity of such situations and would not knowingly put U.S. troops - and himself - in jeopardy."

Before he was expelled to Kuwait, Smucker's belongings were searched and his equipment was confiscated by Marines. A photographer who was accompanying Smucker, Andy Nelson, was allowed to stay in Iraq with the division.

Peter Arnett

As a result of critical remarks made during a March 30, 2003 interview on Iraqi state television, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Peter Arnett was dismissed from NBC News and MSNBC's "National Geographic Explorer." According to the May 2003 issue of Air Force Magazine, Arnett stated during the interview with Iraqi television: "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."

Arnett continued, "Clearly the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces. . . . The first war plan failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan." Initially, Allison Gollust, a spokeswoman with NBC, issued a statement in support of Arnett. It said, "His impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy. . . . His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more." However, overnight NBC was inundated with e-mails and telephone calls complaining about Arnett. According to the New York Times, Gollust followed her first statement with a second one 14 hours later that read: "It was wrong of Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV, especially at a time of war. And it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview."

NBC News President Neal Shapiro also issued a statement, saying, "When you give an interview to a guy in an Army uniform who works for a dictator whose government we're at war with, it raises some real questions about your judgment."

On March 31, Arnett was interviewed via satellite on NBC's "Today" show. "I want to apologize to the American people for clearly making a misjudgment," he told interviewer Matt Lauer. "I created a firestorm in the United States, and for that, I am truly sorry."

Although born in New Zealand, Arnett stated that he has been an American citizen for 25 years, adding that he is neither anti-war nor an Iraqi supporter. However, Arnett cited other journalists who have issued reports critical of the war effort, including NBC's Tim Russert, a political analyst who had given a report immediately preceding his interview with Lauer, and comments by Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes" questioning the need for U.S.
involvement in the war. Kelly McBride, an ethicist with the Poynter Institute, was quoted in an April 1 Hartford Courant article as saying, "It was the particular combination of what he said and where he said it," that resulted in Arnett's being fired.

Arnett may have agreed to the interview on Iraqi television in order to maintain access to Iraqi news sources and avoid expulsion, a possibility suggested by the Hartford Courant. However, Walter Cronkite wrote in an op-ed piece that ran in the April 1 edition of the New York Times, "Clearly Mr. Arnett, in granting the interview, was cozying up to the sources he depended on . . . . In this regard, Mr. Arnett was a valuable correspondent in the enemy's capital. . . . It is even conceivable that his inside look was of some value to our own military. . . . . His long experience make it all the more difficult to understand how he could have been so grossly irresponsible in granting that interview. He besmirched his reputation, offended a nation and lost his job . . . . "

Arnett's career has been marked by similar episodes. According to the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., Arnett was expelled from Indonesia for "angering despots" before the United States' involvement in the Vietnam war. He won the Pulitzer for "telling the truth in Vietnam when most journalists followed the government line," and is credited with quoting an Air Force major who said, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it."
Such reporting "enraged" then-President Johnson.

Arnett continued to be controversial. During the 1991 war with Iraq, Arnett was the only Western reporter in Baghdad for some time. Arnett reported that U.S. forces had bombed a "baby milk factory" which the United States claimed was actually a biological weapons factory. A 1998 report Arnett helped prepare contained claims that during the Vietnam war, the U.S. military killed 15 to 20 defectors; killed approximately 100 members
of a single Laotian village; and used nerve gas. The report was later repudiated by CNN, and in 1999, the network did not renew Arnett's contract.

According to the New York Times, Arnett was then hired by BNN, an independent production company, to cover the Afghanistan campaign. In the latter part of 2002, "National Geographic Explorer," which is shown on MSNBC, sent Arnett to Baghdad. In February 2003, when war appeared imminent, MSNBC and NBC News reached an agreement with National Geographic to use Arnett as a reporter. There was speculation that Arnett was trying to redeem his tarnished reputation when he swore to stay in Baghdad even after NBC, CBS and ABC ordered their correspondents out. As bombs fell on Baghdad on March 21, Arnett was one of the only two reporters for American networks on the scene, and he filed a live report on the air with Tom
Brokaw.

Only hours after his dismissal from NBC and MSNBC, Arnett was hired by the British tabloid the Daily Mirror, which informed its readers with the headline, "Fired by America for telling the truth." In his first article with the Daily Mirror, Arnett wrote: "I report the truth of what is happening in Baghdad and will not apologize for it. I am still in shock and awe at being fired. . . . The right wing media and politicians are looking for an opportunity to be critical of the reporters who are here. I made the misjudgment which gave them the opportunity to do so." The New York Post reported that in addition to the Daily Mirror, Arnett also began working for VTM, a Belgian television station that broadcasts primarily in Dutch, but which has many viewers who understand English. Arnett has also agreed to broadcast reports for a state-run television
channel in Greece.

Geraldo Rivera

On March 30, 2003, Emmy Award-winning Geraldo Rivera, correspondent for Fox News Channel, began drawing a map in the sand to illustrate his report during an interview via satellite by Fox News anchor John Gibson. Rivera's map depicted the location of the unit with which he was traveling, the 101st Airborne, as well as the direction the unit was heading. This appeared to violate ground rules set by the military for embedded journalists.

According to a posting on the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Web site, Rivera was not embedded with the troops, but was told by military officials that he was "no longer welcome" to accompany the 101st Airborne.

However, the Bergen (N.J.) Record reported that Rivera made another broadcast from the Iraqi desert, surrounded by members of the unit, denying reports that he had been expelled. "It sounds to me like some rats at my former network, NBC, are spreading lies about me . . . trying to stab me in the back. . . . MSNBC is so pathetic a cable news network they have to do anything they can to attract attention," Rivera is quoted as saying.

On March 31, the Pentagon's Bryan Whitman initially said that Rivera was being expelled. But following the Pentagon's announcement, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes called the Pentagon and afterwards, according to the Record, Whitman said the situation was under review. The Associated Press reported on April 2 that Rivera volunteered to go to Kuwait where, according to the New York Post, he was assigned as a "general war correspondent." According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rivera issued an apology from Kuwait, saying, "I'm sorry that it happened, and I assure you that it was inadvertent. Nobody was hurt by what I said. No mission was compromised. I should have been more careful." In a satirical column in the Hartford Courant, Jim Shea wrote that the Pentagon was too hard on Rivera. Citing a report Rivera had filed during the war in Afghanistan, Shea reminded his readers that Rivera had stood on the place where Americans had died as the result of "friendly
fire" and wept, saying he was standing on "hallowed ground," but which later was revealed to be a location hundreds of miles away from the place where the incident had really occurred. "After reviewing the tape of his latest misdirection," Shea wrote, "we think Rivera is innocent. We think the video clearly shows that rather than the 101st Airborne, Rivera is actually embedded with an Israeli army unit in the Gaza strip."

The incidents with Arnett and Rivera resulted in a short-lived promotional battle between Fox and MSNBC. The New York Post reported that MSNBC fired the first volley, airing a spot that stated: "We won't report anything that puts our troops in harm's way." Fox responded with an ad showing Peter Arnett and stating, "[Arnett] said America's war against terrorism has failed. He even vilified America's leadership and he works for MSNBC. Ask yourself, is this America's news channel?" Fox officials reportedly
said that the rivalry was a momentary distraction from the "grim reality of war coverage."

11/09/09