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Last Updated: Friday, 4 April, 2003, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Peter Arnett: Under Fire

By Chris Jones
BBC News profiles unit

Peter Arnett under another war cloud
Sacked by his employers for giving an interview to Iraqi television, the veteran war correspondent, Peter Arnett, has become another casualty of war. The Pulitzer Prize winner says he just wants to tell the truth.

"I'm not anti-military. I don't want to give aid and comfort to the enemy," says Peter Arnett.

He maintained his observation that America's original timetable for taking Baghdad had fallen by the wayside was simply what everyone knew, but said giving the interview had been "a stupid misjudgement".

On America's most popular morning TV programme, NBC's Today, he apologised for "creating a firestorm".

"What choice did I have? I followed a young woman who was crying over the loss of her husband in a suicide attack."

Arnett had been reporting from Baghdad for NBC News and the MSNBC cable channel while on assignment for National Geographic Explorer.

All three have now terminated their relationship with him, but in London, his services have been snapped up by the anti-war Daily Mirror, enabling him to stay in Baghdad.

Peter Arnett is now 68. Little more than five feet six tall, most of his hair has gone, but he seems to retain the vigour with which he has pursued the realities of war.

His defiant jaw and his bent nose, a legacy of his amateur boxing days, suggest a stubbornness to stick to the job, despite the inevitable obstacles.

A naturalised American for many years, Arnett was born and educated on New Zealand's South Island, but dropped out of school at 17 for a journalistic career that began in Invercargill and progressed, after a spell in the army, via the Wellington Standard and the Sydney Sun.

Known for resourcefulness

In 1957 Arnett confirmed the unconventional streak that was to be a hallmark of his life, boarding a tramp steamer bound for London and disembarking in Thailand to become the editor and only reporter for the English-language newspaper, the Bangkok World.

There's a small island, inhabited in the South Pacific, that I will try to swim to
Peter Arnett, on what he might do after being sacked by NBC
And it was in South-East Asia, as a roving reporter for Associated Press, that he began to develop his reputation for unusual resourcefulness.

Covering the Vietnam war, he learned never to rely on announcements by the American embassy. Instead, he would spend nights and days in the jungle and rice paddies, trying to ascertain what had really happened.

Inevitably, he drew the ire of Washington officials, and of President Johnson. On one occasion, he was beaten up by South Vietnamese secret police.

In 1966, Arnett won the Pulitzer Prize for his reports on the war.

Saigon falls

"We shared the war with the soldiers, and we laughed and cried with them," he said.

US helicopter leaves Saigon
Fall of Saigon, but Arnett stays
"But always would come the day of reckoning, when you would have to write that those great, technically-perfect helicopter assaults were contributing little to the successful prosecution of the war, because the enemy usually got away."

In 1975, Arnett witnessed the fall of Saigon, ignoring AP's orders to join the American exodus. He was still at his typewriter when a North Vietnamese major walked into the office.

Arnett's interview with the officer appeared in his last report from the city.

Sixteen years later, by now working for the fledgling CNN station, Peter Arnett featured in another episode of derring-do.

Born in 1934, New Zealand
In 1991 he was accused by Congressmen of 'unpatriotic journalism'
in 1997 he was first westerner to interview Osama Bin Laden
While other American reporters were ejected from Baghdad soon after the start of the allied bombing, he stayed at his post behind a locked door in the Al Rashid Hotel.

Divorced from his first wife and mother of his two children, a Vietnamese, Arnett returned to the States to announce his impending marriage to a CNN journalist, Kimberly Moore, but also to defend himself against accusations that he had aided the enemy's cause.

His interview with Saddam Hussein had provoked widespread criticism, but it was the baby milk story that incensed the White House.

While most of Arnett's reports confirmed that American missiles had been finding their designated targets, he told viewers, after visiting one shattered building, that it had been producing milk powder for Iraqi children.

The Pentagon was out to get Arnett. He was not on side
Author Phillip Knightley
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater insisted the building had been a biological weapons factory and said Arnett was "a conduit for Iraqi disinformation".

Now Peter Arnett is at the centre of more controversy.

The increasing sophistication and portability of war correspondents' high-tech equipment has made politicians in Washington even more anxious.

Months before the current hostilities began, Phillip Knightley, author of a book on war reporting, The First Casualty, said Gulf War II would mean the demise of the war correspondent "as an objective, independent person trying to find out what is going on".

And Knightley believes his fears are being borne out, with "embedded" correspondents being cared for by public affairs officers "maintaining contact" with the journalists' bureau chiefs.

"The Pentagon has been out to get Peter Arnett ever since he reported from Baghdad in Gulf War One," Knightley tells BBC News Online. "It hates war correspondents being there and has pressurised all their employers to withdraw them.

"This is the new Pentagon. No more Mr Nice Guy. Report it our way or we'll get you."

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