CNN REPORTER Peter Arnett's solo work on the Baghdad beat leaves some thoughtful local television viewers uneasy.
Mark Pimentel, for example, is the news director for Baltimore station WBFF-Channel 45. The station's planned 10 p.m. newscast willnot begin airing until summer, so Pimentel is currently removed from making day-to-day decisions about news content.
But he says he has been inevitably absorbed by Arnett's reports, such as this week's interview with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"As long as everybody looks at it for what it is, and how he's getting the information he's getting . . . there's probably some advantage to hearing the inside propaganda line," says Pimentel.
He adds that viewers should understand Arnett "is getting preferential treatment and is being force fed." But he faults CNN for not always putting Arnett's reports in context by stressing Iraqi censors have approved the transmissions.
"I think they've glossed over it sometimes for public relations reasons," says the news director.
Richard Vatz, a speech and mass communications professor at Towson State University who is a frequent media-watcher guest on radio and TV talk shows, says Arnett's reports are clearly news.
"One has to step back and ask, 'Is Peter violating the conventions of reportage?' Unarguably, it is news," says Vatz. Thus he has no problem with Arnett reporting Hussein's allegations about American bombing actions, such as the claimed strike upon a baby milk formula factory.
But Vatz also suggests Arnett's interview style "is much more ingratiating than one would wish." He contends the reporter's talk with Hussein seemed "almost obsequious," and adds, "I was very disappointed by the lack of probing questions."
Dorothy Swanson, who founded a grass roots organization called Viewers for Quality Television, says of Arnett's work that, "I find myself muting it [the TV] or leaving the room when he gives his reports because it makes me nervous."
Swanson, who lives in Northern Virginia, has a son who is a tank driver stationed in the gulf, and she knows that contributes to her unease.
"I do respect him as a journalist," she says of Arnett, and she recognizes the fascination of news coming from inside Iraq, however tightly controlled. She also thinks CNN has been careful to stipulate Arnett's censorship restrictions.
"Still, the thought of Baghdad-censored information coming over our airwaves offends my sense of patriotism. I just really don't want to hear it," says Swanson.