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Peter Gregg Arnett, ONZM (born November 13, 1934 in Riverton, New Zealand) is a New Zealand-American journalist. Arnett worked for National Geographic magazine, and later for various television networks, most notably CNN. He is well known for his coverage of war, including the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. He was awarded the 1966 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for his work in Vietnam, where he was present from 1962 to 1975, most of the time reporting for the Associated Press news agency. In 1994, Arnett wrote Live from the Battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World's War Zones. In March 1997, Arnett was able to interview Osama bin Laden. The Journalism School at the Southern Institute of Technology is named after him. Read Full Bio >>
Some of Arnett's early days in journalism were in Southeast Asia, particularly Bangkok. He started out running a small English-language newspaper in Laos in 1960. Eventually he made his way to Vietnam where he was a reporter for the Associated Press. He worked with other AP staff in their Saigon office writing a number of important articles, like Death of Supply Column 21, which attracted the ire of the American government.
He went on dozens of missions with troops, including the traumatic battle of Hill 875 in which a group of soldiers went to try to rescue another group of soldiers that was stranded in hostile territory. They themselves were nearly killed during the rescue. In September 1972 he accompanied a group of U.S. peace activists, including William Sloane Coffin and David Dellinger, to Hanoi, North Vietnam to bring three prisoners of war back to the United States.
Arnett got into trouble for writing in an unvarnished manner when trying to report the stories of ordinary soldiers and civilians. This style of writing often was perceived as negative. General William Westmoreland and president Lyndon B. Johnson and other people in power had battles with the AP over trying to get Arnett removed from his assignment.
Arnett's most famous act of reporting from the Vietnam War was his quoting, on February 7, 1968, of an unnamed United States officer as saying of the village of Ben Tre that "it became necessary to destroy the town to save it." Some, such as conservative commentator Mona Charen in her 2004 book Useful Idiots, claim that Arnett fabricated the quote. Three decades later, after his rise to celebrity status at CNN, Arnett was fired for his part in narrating the infamously fabricated "Operation Tail Wind" story produced by April Oliver.
Arnett was one of the last reporters in Saigon after its fall to the NVA, and met with NVA soldiers who showed him how they had come into the city.
Arnett worked for CNN for 18 years ending in 1999. During the Gulf War he became a household name worldwide when he became the only reporter with live coverage directly from Baghdad. His dramatic reports were often given with air raid sirens blaring and the sound of Baghdad bomb explosions in the background. Together with two other CNN journalists, Bernard Shaw and John Holliman, Arnett brought continuous coverage from Baghdad for the 16 initial intense hours of the war (January 17, 1991). Even though 40 foreign journalists were present at the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad at the time, only CNN possessed the means to communicate to the outside world. Very soon the other journalists left Iraq, including the two CNN colleagues, which left Peter Arnett as the sole reporter remaining there. His reports on civilian damage caused by the bombing were not received well by the coalition war administration, who by their constant use of terms like "smart bombs" and "surgical precision" had tried to project an image that civilian casualties would be at a minimum. On January 25 the White House claimed that Arnett was being used as a tool for Iraqi disinformation and CNN received a letter from 34 Members of the United States Congress accusing Arnett of "unpatriotic journalism".
Two weeks into the war, Arnett was able to obtain an uncensored interview with Saddam Hussein.
The Gulf War became the first war to be seen truly live on TV, and Arnett was in many ways the sole player reporting from the "other side" for a period of five weeks.
One of Arnett's most controversial reports during the Gulf War was a report on how the coalition had bombed a baby milk factory (officially the Abu Ghraib Infant Formula Production Plant). Shortly after the report, an Air Force spokesman stated "Numerous sources have indicated that is associated with biological warfare production". Later that day, Colin Powell stated "It was a biological weapons facility, of that we are sure". White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater stated "That factory is, in fact, a production facility for biological weapons," and "The Iraqis have hidden this facility behind a facade of baby-milk production as a form of disinformation." The image of a crudely-made hand-painted sign reading "Baby Milk" in English and Arabic in front of the factory, and a lab coat dressed in a suit containing stitched lettering reading "BABY MILK PLANT IRAQ" only served to further the perception that purportedly civilian targets were simply being made to look like that by Saddam Hussein, and that Arnett was duped by the Iraqi government. The sign appeared to have been added by the Iraqis before the camera crews arrived as a cheap publicity ploy. Newsweek called the incident a "ham-handed attempt to depict a bombed-out biological-weapons plant near Baghdad as a baby-formula factory."
Arnett remained firm. He had toured the plant in the previous August, and was insistent that "Whatever else it did, it did produce infant formula". Described as being a veritable fortress by the Pentagon, the plant, Arnett reported, had only one guard at the gate and a lot of powdered baby milk. "That's as much as I could tell you about it," he added carefully. "It looked innocent enough from what we could see.".
A CNN camera crew had been invited to tour this plant in August . They videotaped workers wearing new uniforms with lettering in English reading, "Iraq Baby Milk Plant." The correspondent, Richard Roth, was suspicious at that time and expressed doubts about the authenticity of the plant when he aired his report. Arnett expressed no such suspicions.
Interviewed later, Michel Wery, the plant's French contractor who helped build it, gave an interview in which he stated that the plant was producing solely baby milk when it started up in 1979, and was not equipped to breed pathogens. The plant closed in 1980, he said, when the last French technicians working for his company left Baghdad. No one from Wery’s company has been back since then. Wery said he had heard that production had restarted after the United Nations embargo put in place in the fall of 1991, but he doubted whether that was possible after a 10-year lull. Two dairy technicians had been in the plant at least four times since to make repairs; one stated that, during a visit in May 1990, said that it was all normal dairy equipment and that the plant was actually canning milk powder. The suspicious uniform stitching was actually part of the original uniforms supplied by the French, and in fact the footage showing the uniforms was shot in August, 1990.
Part of the problem in reconciling the various U.S. and foreign accounts is that administration officials said they were constrained by security considerations from revealing exactly how they knew about the plant. At the same time, the New Zealand technicians and the French builder were not at the plant after May and cannot be certain of what happened after their departure.
White House reports diverged at this time. One official claimed that the plant was converted in 1990. Another claimed that it was a "backup" bioweapons facility, which had not yet been converted. A third said that it was not a bioweapons facility, but that it was used to make items crucial to bioweapons research; all three claimed insider information. In a confidential memo from December 1992, a State Department employee discussed the issue of the plant and reported that there were no hidden chambers or inappropriate machinery, and that it appeared to be a perfectly normal factory for producing powdered milk.
The Iraqi “Baby Milk Factory” camouflaged on the right
The plant had undergone security modifications since May 1990. Amongst these were camouflage paint on all the buildings in the complex, a security fence, and the positioning of two SA-2 Surface-to-air missile batteries. In addition, the Iraqis had claimed that they were getting powdered milk for the plant from Nestlé, but Nestlé said that was false. They said they had supplied no products to this plant.
Colin Powell gave the president a briefing a week before the plant was bombed. Powell told President Bush that intelligence based from agents inside Iraq stated that the Iraqis had altered the plant into a biological weapons plant.
The Iraq Survey Group visited the facility in May 2004 and found that it was inoperable and had been out of operation for some time prior to the invasion. The plant was searched extensively and no evidence was found of WMD production, although the production facilities and factory floor were littered with remnants of baby milk production, including large piles of powdered baby milk that had congealed into solid masses.
In 1998 Arnett narrated a joint venture between CNN and Time Magazine called NewsStand, which described what he called "Operation Tailwind." The report falsely claimed that the US Army had used Sarin against a group of deserting US soldiers in Laos in 1970. In response, The Pentagon commissioned another report contradicting CNN's. CNN subsequently retracted the story after conducting an internal investigation and three or more of the individuals responsible for the contrived war crimes report were fired or forced to resign. Arnett was reprimanded by his employer and even though he didn't stand by the story in order to save his job he was still fired.
CNN Producer April Oliver was promtly fired, along with Producer Jack Smith, as a result of fabricating the false investigative report. Sr. Producer Pam Hill, and others resigned. Oliver and Smith co-produced the "Valley of Death" program televised about Operation Tailwind broadcast by CNN. Oliver was later quoted by the World Socialist Web Site (International Committee of the Fourth International) as saying that:
In December 2001 and January 2002, Arnett broadcast exclusive high definition television reports from Afghanistan of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan for the then new HDNet network.
On assignment for NBC and National Geographic, Arnett went to Iraq in 2003 to cover the U.S. invasion. After a press meeting there he granted an interview to state-run Iraq TV on March 31, 2003, in which he stated:
When Arnett's remarks sparked a "firestorm of protest", NBC initially defended him, saying he had given the interview as a professional courtesy and that his remarks were "analytical in nature". A day later, though, NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic all severed their relationships with Arnett.
In response to Arnett's statement on Iraqi TV, the corporation stated:
Later that day, Arnett was hired by the British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror, which opposed the war. A couple of days later he was also assigned to Greek television channel NET television, and Belgian VTM.
"I don't care of the consequences, Allah is beside me in this struggle." -Saddam Hussein in response to a question from Peter Arnett, if he realized he had made a mistake by not withdrawing from Kuwait at the insistence of the coalition
"There's a small island, inhabited in the South Pacific, that I will try to swim to." -Peter Arnett when asked what he intended to do after being fired from NBC in 2003
"I am still in shock and awe at being fired." -Peter Arnett after being fired lampooning the Bush Administration's Iraq strategy
In 1964 Arnett married a Vietnamese woman, Nina Nguyen. They had two children, Elsa and Andrew. In 1983 Nina and Peter separated after twenty years of marriage.
Born in Saigon to Peter's wife Nina Nguyen, Elsa went to Stuyvesant High School in New York. As an accomplished student, she went on to Harvard University. After graduating she went into journalism, became a reporter, worked for several months on The Washington Post as an intern and then joined The Boston Globe. Elsa married conservative law professor John Yoo. << Less Bio
|1984||CableACE Awards||Documentary Series||"CNN Special Reports" (1980).||Nominated|
|1983||CableACE Awards||Single Program - Public Affairs or Magazine Show||Poisoning for Profit (1983) (TV).||Won|
Collateral Movie Premiere
Collateral Movie Premiere