Senator Simpson's Low Blow

February 12, 1991

Sen. Alan Simpson, the Republican whip from Wyoming, is noted for his anti-press comments. They often have a jovial, you-versus-us quality to them. Most journalists accept this. If you dish it out, you have to take it, too. But the senator's remarks last week about CNN correspondent Peter Arnett went beyond the normal punch and counter-punch of politics and journalism. He hit below the belt.

Senator Simpson said Mr. Arnett's reporting from Baghdad was "repulsive. . . My question is, why is he the only one there?" His own answer strongly implied that he believes Mr. Arnett is there because he wants to help the Iraqi government. He reinforced this by saying that when Mr. Arnett was in Vietnam for the Associated Press, he "won a Pulitzer [Prize] largely because of his anti-government material. And he was married to a Vietnamese whose brother was active in the Viet Cong. I called that 'sympathizers' in my early days in the Second World War."

Washington-watchers with long memories see this as a page right out of Joe McCarthy's book. He was the Wisconsin senator who in the 1940s and 1950s raised innuendo and smear to such heights as to get his name in the dictionaries under "McCarthyism." Mr. Arnett's Pulitzer was for combat coverage of the sort that is the non-ideological wire services' stock in trade. His wife's brothers were of no demonstrated consequence, even if they were in the Viet Cong, which, according to her family, they were not. Senator Simpson says he did not try to confirm the allegation, which he said he heard from an anonymous friend.

As for the senator's line about his "early days in the Second World War," if it was meant to suggest that he has earned the right to such criticism by wartime valor, it is very much in the McCarthy style. Senator McCarthy was elected to the Senate in part on a fake record as a combat Marine tail-gunner. Senator Simpson was 13 years old when World War II ended.

Pre-pubescents may not know the importance of reporting from behind enemy lines, but most adults do. Peter Arnett's reporting via CNN has provided Americans with a good idea of what and how well our aviators are doing. He deserves praise, not low blows. Grow up, senator.

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