The Book of the Week is “Live From the Battlefield” by Peter Arnett, published in 1994. This is the career memoir of a Darwin Award candidate.
Arnett was a war correspondent for wire services and then on TV for CNN. He had “nine lives.” He was the first to report on Laos’ August 1960 coup because he swam across the Mekong River to get to Thailand to file his story. Reporting the story before all other competing news outlets was his employer’s major goal. For the rest of the 1960’s– more than eight years– he was stationed mostly in Jakarta and Vietnam. He braved thick, slimy swamps, snipers, red ants, napalm, violent antiwar street protests, wiretapping and censorship.
General William Westmoreland and his ilk had hubris syndrome. Unfortunately, they were originally provided with the power to orchestrate how they wanted the U.S. to fight the Vietnam war. Needless deaths resulted because Westmoreland failed to break the enemy’s will. In late 1967, “In the year end assessment the AP asked me [Arnett] to provide, I seemed to describe a war on another planet…” compared to the propaganda released from the General’s public relations team. After the author witnessed and reported on the damage and casualties of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, Westmoreland “… confidently proclaim[ed] that American forces were on the offensive and the enemy was on the run…”
In the autumn of 1981, videos of news stories had to be shipped from El Salvador to Atlanta for editing about every two days while Arnett was at CNN, so he couldn’t report live. However, CNN scooped the three major TV networks on stories in the United States.
Fast forward to the beginning of 1991. CNN was able to do live reporting. During the first Gulf War, it was the only news organization allowed to have a special conference-call setup between Baghdad and its headquarters in Atlanta, thanks to its special relationship with the Iraqi government. However, most of its staff left before the war started; there was a scary rumor afoot that the luxury al-Rashid hotel in Baghdad where they were stationed would be hit by friendly fire. The journalists were also afraid they would be taken hostage, tortured or killed on false charges, such as spying– because Iraq was the enemy. The Pentagon’s press office reported the official start of the war 27 minutes later than CNN. Even so, Iraq banned Arnett from using CNN’s high-tech equipment shortly after the war’s first bombs fell. He had to use a (voice-only) satellite phone instead, that had been smuggled into Iraq. Making the complicated calls involved using a gasoline generator, satellite dish, keypad, modem, and a ground station in Norway.