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WAR WITH IRAQ / COVERING THE CONFLICT

Reporter Tells Iraqis His Work Aids Antiwar Effort

National Geographic and NBC defend Peter Arnett's comments to state TV in Baghdad.

March 31, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Correspondent Peter Arnett, who is reporting from Baghdad on the U.S.-led bombing for NBC News and cable TV's National Geographic Explorer, gave an interview to Iraqi state television Sunday in which he said his reports from the city are helpful to the U.S. antiwar movement and praised Iraq's treatment of foreign reporters.

Arnett said in a separate interview last week that although his reports weren't being censored as they were in 1991, his ability to move about the city was strictly limited and, like other reporters, he was required to travel with official minders.

CNN, whose reporters were expelled from Baghdad last week because authorities were unhappy with the network's coverage, aired excerpts of the 10-minute interview and posted a report about it on its Web site. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Arnett helped boost CNN's reputation with his reports from Baghdad but later left the network under a cloud after CNN was forced to retract a controversial documentary he narrated.

A CNN spokeswoman would say only that the network aired the excerpts because it found them newsworthy.

NBC and National Geographic, in a statement, defended Arnett, saying he and his crew have risked their lives to provide "up-to-date straightforward information on what is happening in and around Baghdad. His impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy and was similar to other interviews he has done with media outlets from around the world. His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more. His outstanding reporting of the war speaks for itself."

At one point, according to a CNN-provided transcript, Arnett said: "In answer to your question, it is clear that within the United States there is a 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 when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments." An NBC News executive, who asked not to be identified, said Arnett's comments included nothing not reported by many other news outlets.

Later, Arnett said that "clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces" and that his reports on the determination of the Iraqi forces to fight for their country "were not listened to by the Bush administration."

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