DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
14 July 98

Peter Arnett: American True and Blue?

CNN still stands, but the hallways of its Atlanta headquarters run deep with blood and network staffers around the world ain't happy. Three CNN producers who concocted the once-upon-a-time-nerve-gas-was-used-in-Laos fairy tale have bit the dust. But Peter Arnett remains standing.

Arnett, like every occupant on death row, protests he's not guilty. He says he "contributed not one comma to the story." Duh. Who then was the fast-talking New Zealander who said on the TV program, " We've nailed down the fact that nerve gas was used and American defectors were killed in the course of the war?"

The talking head looked like Arnett and he sounded like Arnett. Yet, he now claims "I didn't know whether (the story) was true or not."

And was this the same "reporter" whose name was on the Time Magazine story claiming our Special Operations warriors were guilty of heinous war crimes in Laos? Col. Art Bishop, one of the pilots who supported the Green Berets during their daring raid in Laos, says he told Arnett before the stories ran that "Sarin gas had not been dropped." Why would any reporter put his name on any report, especially a story that painted Americans as war criminals, if he didn't know he was signing off on the whole truth?

Perhaps the answer is Arnett- style "journalism." I've seen him report from the bloody streets of Port-au-Prince while standing behind a palm tree in Haiti's safe Montana Hotel; report from the sniper-infested alleys of Sarajevo while on a hotel roof in far away Belgrade. His credibility and license to stretch the facts are not exactly up to "60 Minutes" standards. I met Arnett in Vietnam in 1965 right after he published a yarn saying U.S. Marines used "poisonous chemicals" against innocent civilians. Arnett was referring to tear gas. The same nonlethal stuff every grunt gets a whiff of during basic training. His source was Communist Radio Hanoi.

Immediately, peaceniks around the world claimed that Americans in Vietnam were using weapons of mass destruction against the Communists. Many soldiers who fought in Vietnam consider war correspondent Arnett a traitor. We were "All the way with LBJ" but he was from the school that "Ho Chi Minh has got to win." In one unit in my "Kill a Commie for Mommy" 101st Parachute Brigade there was actually a price on his head. You could bet money that had he accompanied that unit on a mission he wouldn't have returned. This hatred still exists among tens of thousands of Vietnam vets with long memories and after his recent phony story, they aren't going to take any more Arnett lies.

In the old days, it wasn't only the warriors who roiled against him. Both LBJ and Richard Nixon complained about his anti-American reporting. During that war, Arnett joined the anti war propaganda campaign and made a pilgrimage to Hanoi. At least to his credit, he didn't climb into a Red gun position for a photo op as did his Siamese twin "Hanoi Jane."

During the Gulf War, he was for a time the only U.S. journalist allowed to stay in the Iraqi capital, where he nightly presented "The War According to Saddam Hussein." Remember his "baby milk" factory story which showed the pummeled plant and Iraqi workers with curiously convenient English lettering on their coveralls? The facility was a Pentagon-confirmed Iraqi intelligence unit.

Angry CNN journalists say they have no confidence in Arnett's reporting because of past journalistic sins and his long-term obsession that Americans used nerve gas during the Vietnam War. It doesn't help that many of his peers think he didn't get canned because he's still connected ideologically at the left hip with Jane Fonda-Turner.

Gen. Perry Smith, the former consultant who quit CNN over the now retracted story, says, "We don't need a liar like him reporting news to us."

CNN star Christiane Amanpour says "I believe, contrary to what Peter Arnett appears to believe, that a network correspondent should be responsible for what he or she says on the air." Roger that Smith and Amanpour!

Scores of other good CNN journalists agree. They're "grievously wounded by this shoddy piece of journalism," says CNN's Jamie McIntyre.

And I don't blame 'em. So are a lot of folks!