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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

April 01, 2003

Puffery as "news"

To: letters@nytimes.com

CC: Bill Borders - NY Times , Editorial Board - NY Times , Foreign Desk- NY Times , New York Times

Dear Editors--

With all due respect, Walter Cronkite ("Speaking With the Enemy,” Apr. 1, 2003) misses the salient point regarding Peter Arnett. Yes, his lack of judgment contributed to his downfall, Pulitzer Prize notwithstanding.

His anti-American interview on Iraqi television, however, represented only the worst symptom of a Western news system run amok.

Arnett mistook himself for the news. This is not the same as cozying up to a source, which every reporter must do. Nor does it equal “spinning” a story, also a common technique to favor an underdog or given point of view.

Unfortunately, Western news reporters now seem to believe their own opinions more important than facts, which they are supposed to report to their ultimate constituency, the public. Particularly in coverage of the volatile Middle East, major networks and newspapers routinely omit data, quotations, sources, words--and facts, those stubborn things--that would provide actual (as opposed to perceived) balance.

In that sense, Arnett’s sin was all-too-common, albeit more pronounced than usual “news.” Long gone are the days when Walter Cronkite demurred from stating his political allegiances on air. Remember? Now, prideful reporters think their own opinions are wanted and necessary. They’re neither, especially without hard data to back them up.

Arnett’s downfall is symptomatic. People read papers and watch news for facts. Opinions, they can get elsewhere. Thanks to the Internet, facts are available elsewhere, too.

Alyssa A. Lappen