Courage Of Peter Jennings As We

Courage of Peter Jennings

As we comemorate the late Peter Jennings, one of the country’s great broadcast journalists, it is worth remembering, as Lila Rajiva does, that he was perhaps the first major news figure to break with the cheerleading consensus on the Iraq War. He was blasted by the US Right for doing so.

Jennings once called me in my office when planning a trip to Iraq. He was so kind and gracious– he wore his celebrity like a gentleman. We reminisced about Beirut in the old days. He said, “Are you sure we have never met?” I assured him we had not. He asked about Shiite politics and the movers and shakers. I told him who I thought was important. He asked at one point about my critique of Ahmad Chalabi. While we were talking a bomb went off in Baghdad, and he read me the wire service account. He cared about the Iraqis, you could hear it in his voice, they weren’t just data to him. Later I recounted the conversation to my teenaged son, and he said, ‘Dad, do you realize that Peter Jennings read you the news?’

Peter dared already on May 27, 2003, suggest that “the occupation is not going well,” at a time when euphoria was still the rule in the US media on Iraq. (I mean to take nothing away from John McWethy in the following report, but I take it Peter agreed with the thrust.)

‘ ABC News Transcripts

SHOW: WORLD NEWS TONIGHT WITH PETER JENNINGS (06:30 PM ET) – ABC

May 27, 2003 Tuesday

LENGTH: 559 words

HEADLINE: OCCUPATION NOT GOING WELL

BODY:
JOHN MCWETHY, ABC NEWS

(Off Camera) It doesn’t, Peter. US intelligence sources are insisting, however, despite the rising violence against American troops, that they see no new organized Iraqi resistance.

JOHN MCWETHY (CONTINUED)

(Voice Over) What they apparently are seeing, officials say, are pockets of Iraqis with ties to the old regime, who are realizing they have nowhere to go. They cannot escape Iraq, borders are closed. As a result, they are now fighting, often using guerrilla tactics. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld today urged patience.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

The transition to democracy will take time. It will not be a smooth road. There are folks that are still out there who, obviously, do not wish the coalition forces well.

JOHN MCWETHY

(Voice Over) Keeping the peace promises to be very labor-intensive. There are 146,000 American troops in Iraq today. Tens of thousands were supposed to be home by now. ‘

Peter’s program was where you could hear this realism in May of 2003, and not very much of anyplace else.

One of the greats has passed from among us. He left us his example, though, of careful honesty in reportage and deep respect for knowledge of the region about which one is reporting, values increasingly under fire in the highly politicized world of contemporary American journalism.

I was on his show twice. I’m putting up the transcripts for old times sake.

‘ ABC News Transcripts

SHOW: WORLD NEWS TONIGHT WITH PETER JENNINGS (06:30 PM ET) – ABC

April 5, 2004 Monday

LENGTH: 328 words

HEADLINE: WHO IS AL-SADR? CLERIC STIRS UP SHIITE MUSLIM REBELLION IN IRAQ

BODY:
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS

(Off Camera) Before the US invaded Iraq, any number of analysts said that the single, most dangerous possibility was that the US would lose the support of the Shiite Muslims who make up the majority of Iraq’s population. Al Sadr’s ability to stir rebellion has brought that possibility very much to the forefront. ABC’s Jim Sciutto tonight on the man who has now made himself into an American enemy.

JIM SCIUTTO, ABC NEWS

(Voice Over) The man who is promising to revolt against American tyranny today is still a religious student. But 30-year-old Muqtada al Sadr has turned his political skills and family name into a position of growing power. His father was one of the most influential Shiite clerics in Iraq until he was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999. The younger al Sadr inherited many of his father’s followers and a network of charities and schools. When al Sadr issued the call for violent resistance this weekend, thousands responded, a danger for the US.

PROFESSOR JUAN COLE,

HISTORIAN, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

At a time when they are facing and untamed insurgency in the Sunni Arab areas, they simply do not have the troops on the ground to control a Shiite insurgency at the same time.

JIM SCIUTTO

(Voice Over) Al Sadr commands a loyal street following among poor young men, a group he whips up with angry sermons. His calls for an Islamic state and the immediate withdrawal of US forces resonates among Shiias across the country.

LAURA SANDYS, MIDEAST ANALYST

He has ownership of people who are in need. But, secondly, he offers them a sense of empowerment.

JIM SCIUTTO

(Voice Over) Those same young men make up al-Sadr’s armed militia, the Mahdi Army. Numbering just a few hundred last fall, it is now believed to be several thousand strong. Al-Sadr has demanded that his voice be heard. His supporters are making it clear they will not be silenced either. Jim Sciutto, ABC News, London. ‘

‘ ABC News Transcripts

SHOW: WORLD NEWS TONIGHT WITH PETER JENNINGS (06:30 PM ET) – ABC

August 29, 2003 Friday

LENGTH: 510 words

HEADLINE: FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES MOSQUE BOMBING

BODY:
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS

(Off Camera) A relative of the Ayatollah who was killed today said recently that, quote, “People in Iraq fear chaos. If the occupation forces could achieve results fast,” he added, “that will prevent violence and assassinations.” Well, the bombing today raises the specter of a development that many who know the history of Iraq have long feared, violent conflict among Iraqis themselves. Here is ABC’s Jim Sciutto.

JIM SCIUTTO, ABC NEWS

(Voice Over) Najaf is Iraq’s holiest city, yet it is locked in a sometimes violent power struggle among factions of Shiite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population. The battle pits the older clerics, who are open to cooperation with the coalition, and a younger, more militant faction, seeking an Islamic state here similar to that in neighboring Iran. The militants are suspected of carrying out a series of attacks, including this bombing last weekend on the home of a leading Shiite cleric. In April, a mob stabbed to death an imam who had preached unity among Shiites.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN,

EDITOR, AL QUDS AL ARABI NEWSPAPER

It is political fighting and also religious fighting. They are trying to actually manipulate the population by saying that we are the true Shi’a.

JIM SCIUTTO

(Off Camera) The recent violence has lent credence to prewar predictions that without Saddam Hussein’s iron-fisted leadership, it would be difficult to unite Iraq’s disparate religious and ethnic factions.

JIM SCIUTTO

(Voice Over) In the north, Kurds have clashed with the region’s Arab residents and with members of the Turkoman minority. Eight were killed last weekend. Islamic fundamentalism is also growing, and that has led to scattered violence against Iraq’s one million Christians. In June, Muslim mobs ransacked nine Christian-owned distilleries near Baghdad. “The mob came here in the name of religion,” said the owner of one, “and destroyed everything.”

PROFESSOR JUAN COLE,

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN HISTORIAN

The potential is there for people to mobilize along sectarian lines and to fight one another.

JIM SCIUTTO

(Off Camera) Refereeing those conflicts puts further strain on US troops, already on high alert for their own safety. Terry?

TERRY MORAN

(Off Camera) Jim, today’s attack is the latest in a series of these atrocities. They’ve no doubt shaken Iraqis across the country. Who will get the blame for this violence?

JIM SCIUTTO

(Off Camera) No matter who is responsible, as with the UN bombing, the US will get at least part of the blame for not making Iraq safer. Terry?

TERRY MORAN

(Off Camera) All right. ABC’s Jim Sciutto. Many thanks.

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