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Profile: Peter Arnett

Peter Arnett was a participant or observer in the following events:

Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11.Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11. [Source: Corbis]In early May 1998, Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviews bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During the interview, bin Laden tells Mir that he will be holding a press conference soon and invites Mir to attend. Mir will later recall that bin Laden showed him a list of journalists invited. More than 22 names are on the list, including CNN reporters Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett, and an unnamed reporter from the BBC. Mir says he will not attend, explaining that he is worried the press conference will be bombed. “I think that you are inviting a lot of Pakistani journalists. No doubt I have contacts with the intelligence guys, but I am not their informer. They will go back; they will help the intelligence agencies to bomb your compound.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 200-202) The press conference will take place later in the month and while al-Qaeda’s three top leaders bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef attend, only three journalists show up (see May 26, 1998). Presumably the press conference presents a rare opportunity to take out al-Qaeda’s top leadership in one fell swoop, perhaps as they are coming or going to it, but there is no known debate by US officials or officials in other countries about ways to take advantage of this gathering. The 9/11 Commission’s final report will not mention the press conference at all.

Peter Jennings.Peter Jennings. [Source: ABC / Pop Stars Plus]While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” (de Moraes 3/21/2003; Rich 3/30/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 73)

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly says that those who oppose the Iraq war, such as actor Sean Penn and journalist Peter Arnett, are traitors. (Unger 2007, pp. 290)


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