WASHINGTON — The intense strain of war coverage showed through Monday, with both Fox News Channel and the NBC news weathering some blinding sandstorms of their own.
Initially standing by its man in Baghdad, NBC News reversed itself and severed all ties with veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett for stating on state-controlled Iraqi TV that the Bush administration’s war plan had failed.
By late Monday, Britain’s Daily Mirror, one of the most ardent critics’ of that country’s involvement in the war, announced it had snatched up the veteran reporter.
Fox News Channel also made headlines, with word breaking that correspondent Geraldo Rivera had been ordered out of Iraq by the U.S. military after drawing a map in the sand of troop locations. Rivera, although not one of the Pentagon’s embedded reporters, was traveling with the 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad.
There was conflicting information throughout the day as to Rivera’s fate, especially when Rivera continued to file live reports. The Pentagon, also fuzzy on details, provided no info on Rivera’s potential removal.
In the early evening, Fox News spokesman Rob Zimmerman said the news net was in contact with the Pentagon.
The nature of the discussions between Fox News and the Pentagon were unknown, or how high up in the chain those talks went.
During one live spot from Iraq, Rivera denied that he was being booted and blamed those “rats” at NBC for spreading the rumor.
CNN and Fox, meanwhile, were quick to report the flap over Arnett’s unusual appearance Sunday on Iraqi TV. During the interview, Arnett said that the U.S.’ “first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance and now they are trying to write another war plan.”
MSNBC prexy Eric Sorenson said Monday that Arnett’s comments were “inappropriate and arguably unpatriotic.”
Arnett was on assignment in Baghdad for National Geographic Explorer, which is aired on MSNBC. He was able to provide exclusive war coverage to NBC and MSNBC, since the other networks had no correspondents in the Iraqi capital when the war commenced on March 19.
Late Sunday, NBC said it was sticking by Arnett.
But early Monday ayem, NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro issued a statement severing ties after speaking with Arnett by telephone.
“It was wrong for 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 in that interview. Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC,” Shapiro said.
Arnett issued a personal apology via satellite on NBC’s “The Today Show.”
“I want to apologize to the American people for clearly making a misjudgment,” Arnett said.
The New Zealand-born journalist said he would try to leave Baghdad, joking that he would swim off to a small island in the South Pacific.
Geographic cuts ties
National Geographic Society, which partners with MSNBC in producing National Geographic Explorer, also said it had terminated its relationship with Arnett.
“The Society did not authorize or have any prior knowledge of Arnett’s television interview with Iraqi television, and had we been consulted, would not have allowed it,” according to a brief statement.
Only a week ago, MSNBC, NBC News and Arnett were basking in Arnett’s placement in Baghdad. Arnett even stuck it to former employer CNN on a conference call from Baghdad. Arnett broke the news that the war had begun on March 19 — just as he did in the 1991 Gulf War — and helped lead the Peacock’s war coverage to the top of the ratings.
Until Monday, Arnett was filing frequent reports for the NBC News family, whether MSNBC, “Nightly News With Tom Brokaw or “The Today Show.”
“I do get a perverse pleasure out of it. CNN did dump me, I thought unfairly,” Arnett told reporters on the call, which was set up by MSNBC.
Arnett was booted from CNN in 1999 after the ill-fated “Tailwind” report he narrated on U.S. commandos in Vietnam was criticized for shoddy research.