| Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett reports from Baghdad for National Geographic Explorer and MSNBC. (Reuters)
Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett is back in Baghdad reporting the US bombing of Iraq’s capital just as he did 12 years ago — but this time he’s not alone, not being censored and not with CNN.
And his goal is not just the story — he sees it as a chance at professional redemption. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting from Vietnam, Arnett was CNN’s man in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War but left the network under a cloud four years ago in the fallout over the retracted documentary Operation Tailwind.
The documentary alleged that the US military had used the nerve gas sarin against American defectors in the Vietnam War. It was strongly denied by the Pentagon, and Arnett tried to distance himself from the programme he narrated. CNN ended up letting him go after 18 years.
While CNN was expelled from Baghdad last week, Arnett has remained one of the few broadcast correspondents still working there for a US network — in his case two — reporting for NBC and its cable outlet MSNBC which is linked to his current employer, National Geographic Explorer.
“Of course it is ironic, particularly that CNN is not here,” he said in a call with a small group of reporters on Tuesday. “I do get a perverse pleasure out of it because, after all, CNN did dump me four years ago, I thought unfairly.”
“I think Tailwind was almost a death blow to my career as a correspondent,” Arnett said. “I felt that being hit like that for Tailwind, it was something I had to dig myself out of. And actually, in the four years since, I’ve been trying to find a way how best to redeem myself.”
The 68-year-old New Zealand-born broadcast journalist has more company in Baghdad this time — competition from scores of other journalists. And, unlike 12 years ago, he is reporting free of the censorship that led some critics to brand him as a propaganda tool. Indeed, one could make the argument that Arnett and other Western reporters in Baghdad enjoy greater freedom to tell their stories without prior restraint than their colleagues “embedded” with US troops. “They require no censorship at all. ... There are no minders around us when we broadcast. I’m sitting here in the hotel and ... we can talk on the phone freely,” Arnett said.
Still, Arnett said he and other foreign correspondents do work under restrictions. Except for rare circumstances, they are permitted to transmit TV footage only from Iraq’s ministry of information building.