NEW YORK — CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who got in hot water last summer over the network's Operation Tailwind report that later was retracted, is leaving the network after executives decided to exercise an exit clause in his contract.
Arnett, who drew both praise and condemnation for reporting from inside Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991 and who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam War reports for the Associated Press, has been conspicuously absent from the cable network's coverage of the current conflict in Yugoslavia.
In a statement it released Monday, CNN said the two sides "reached an understanding that will bring Arnett's 18-year service to an amicable conclusion." CNN said it was grateful for Arnett's contributions; Arnett said he was "proud to have been a part of this great news organization."
CNN spokeswoman Sue Binford said two weeks ago that Arnett wasn't reporting on the Kosovo conflict because he had little expertise in the region compared to the network's other reporters, even though CNN had previously sent him to cover other conflicts in the area.
Whether the cable network should fire Arnett, a CNN employee since 1981, had been an object of heated internal debate following the Tailwind report debacle. The June 1998 report, which was the first program in CNN's highly touted "NewsStand" series, alleged that the U.S. military had used the nerve gas sarin against U.S. defectors during the Vietnam War. The story, which also ran in Time magazine, was intensely criticized and denied by the military. Three weeks later, after an internal investigation, CNN retracted the story and put in place a new vetting system for its pieces.
Arnett, the story's correspondent and co-author of the Time article, angered CNN executives when he tried to distance himself from the piece, saying he had contributed "not one comma" but had fronted the story anyway because he was a team player.
Two producers of the report were fired, one executive stepped down, and Arnett was reprimanded. He has been seen on air only once since, in December, in a series of reports on Algeria.
There was industry speculation Monday that Arnett, who didn't return calls for comment, would end up at another all-news network such as Fox News Channel, but an official there said, "We have no interest in Peter Arnett."
A native of New Zealand, Arnett has been covering conflicts around the globe since a coup d'etat in Laos in 1960. His 1994 memoir was titled "Live From the Battlefield, From Vietnam to Baghdad: 35 Years in the World War Zones."
It was in Baghdad that he attracted international notoriety, remaining to report for CNN after other correspondents left when the Gulf War began. Because his reports were subject to censorship by the Iraquis, he was branded an enemy sympathizer by some critics, including a U.S. senator. He defended his efforts, explaining that "one man's information is another man's propaganda."