WASHINGTON — Competition took a sharp and nasty turn Wednesday in the TV news biz, with Fox News Channel airing a promo that ridiculed MSNBC for its connection to veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett.
In Iraq, there also was a surprise turn — Arabic all-news satcaster Al Jazeera suspended all reporting in that country after the Iraqi government expelled its Baghdad correspondent.
On the home front, the Fox News missive was lobbed after MSNBC refused to correct information appearing on the net’s crawl regarding Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who was asked by the Pentagon to leave Iraq earlier this week after reporting troop location.
Just as the Rivera story was breaking Monday, NBC News was announcing that it had severed all ties with Arnett for appearing on state-controlled Iraqi TV and declaring that the U.S.’s war plan had failed.
Arnett, one of the few Western TV journalists remaining in Baghdad, had been providing exclusive coverage for MSNBC and other divisions of the Peacock’s news empire.
The Fox promo showed a clip of Arnett’s interview on Iraqi TV, with the following narration:
“He spoke out against America’s armed forces. He said America’s war against terrorism has failed. He even vilified America’s leadership and worked for MSNBC. Ask yourself: Is this ‘America’s news channel?'”
MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gains said it was “amazing that Fox would put this on the air and continue to employ Geraldo Rivera.”
Rivera left Iraq voluntarily after U.S. military officials took issue with a report during which Rivera drew a map in the sand indicating troop movement and location. The Pentagon’s ground rules prohibit journalists from revealing such details.
Without referring to Rivera, MSNBC began running a promo Tuesday night promising viewers that its correspondents would never compromise military security or the life of a solider. At one point, the spot ran immediately after a news report on Rivera’s departure from Iraq.
Fox insiders said the promo taking MSNBC to task didn’t come in response to anything that appeared on air; rather, it came in response to MSNBC’s refusal early Wednesday to correct information about Rivera.
“So we fired this artillery shell over them in the afternoon,” an exec said.
Exec made it clear there is plenty more artillery to be fired at MSNBC.
“I find it interesting that Fox now deems us relevant, considering that just a few weeks ago, Fox said we were irrelevant,” Gains said.
On Capitol Hill, one lawmaker also took issue with Arnett. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky) suggested that Arnett –who quickly signed on with Britain’s Daily Mirror after getting the boot from NBC — should be tried for treason.
The U.S.-led war on Iraq, and the unprecedented access given to journalists by the Pentagon, has fueled intense debate over media bias.
Many in the Western media have previously considered the Qatar-based Al Jazeera to be a propaganda puppet of the Iraqi government and even Osama bin Laden.
Al Jazeera said the expulsion from Baghdad was unacceptable from a journalistic standpoint, but that it would continue to operate stationary cameras in Baghdad, providing footage widely used by U.S. news nets.