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Monday, March  31, 2003  10:41:57 p.m

NBC fires Peter Arnett over Iraqi TV interview

WASHINGTON - American television network NBC said on Monday it had severed its relations with veteran reporter Peter Arnett after he told Iraqi television that the U.S. war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed.

"Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC," NBC said in a joint statement with National Geographic, for whom the Pulitzer prize-winning reporter was also working.

"I said in that interview essentially what we all know about the war, that there have been delays in implementing policy, there have been surprises," Arnett told NBC's Today show.

"But clearly by giving that interview I created a firestorm in the United States and for that I am truly sorry," added Arnett, widely known for his dramatic live reports during the bombing of Baghdad on the opening days of the 1991 Gulf War.

"My stupid misjudgment was to spend fifteen minutes in an impromptu interview with Iraqi television," he said.

"It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview with state-controlled Iraqi TV, especially at a time of war and it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions," NBC said in a statement.

"His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more," the network said.

In 1998, Arnett was fired from CNN after the Pentagon pressured the news channel over a documentary in which Arnett alleged that U.S. commandos had used sarin gas on American troops who had defected to Laos during the Vietnam war. He disavowed the story after his producers were also fired.

Arnett told the Iraqi television that American war planners had underestimated the determination of Iraqi troops to fight U.S. and British troops and that the Pentagon seemed to be amending its original strategy.

"Now America is reappraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week and rewriting the war plan," Arnett said in excerpts of the interview aired on U.S. networks. "The first plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another plan."

He added there was a "growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war."

That view echoed similar comments in many U.S. media after the rapid advance of U.S. forces through southern Iraq slowed south of Baghdad amid disruptive attacks on its long supply lines persistent resistance, particularly in the towns.

Arnett's remarks were received with anger by the administration in Washington. One White House source said they were based on "a position of complete ignorance."

Arnett, while apologetic on NBC, said he has granted many interviews in the past and that his remarks were not "out of line with what experts think."

"Maybe some people think I'm insane, but I'm not anti-military," he added. "This is the biggest story of my life."

Asked what the future held for him, Arnett said: "There's a small island, inhabited in the South Pacific that I will try to swim to."

"I'll leave, I'm embarrassed," he said.

A joint venture of TODAY newspaper and ABS-CBN Interactive

Addressing stuff floating out there
There is stuff floating around in the swimming pool of public opinion that ought be in a toilet instead. That stuff has gotta be addressed before it is mistaken for a bar of Baby Ruth, with which it bears an uncanny resemblance, and someone takes a bite of it. One of them is what to call it. Only ABS-CBN has had the mental honesty to call this war as it can only be seen: an “Attack on Iraq.”

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