Journalist Peter Arnett pleaded for freedom for a kidnapped colleague and defended his reporting from Iraq, saying covering both sides of a war serves the public well.
"I guess the American people weren't quite clear about what we were doing," the Cable News Network correspondent said Tuesday at the National Press Club, where he got a hero's welcome from hundreds of journalists."I don't think the U.S. public really has a real concept of what the press does," he added. He said the news media are partly to blame for not making it clear.
Arnett also said the U.S. government and the media must do more to win the freedom of Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press.
Anderson was grabbed six years ago on a Beirut street and is believed held by pro-Iranian Shiites. Of six U.S. hostages held in Lebanon, Anderson has been in captivity the longest.
Arnett had been called an Iraqi sympathizer by Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and many other Americans questioned why Arnett reported from Baghdad throughout the six-week war. He was the only U.S. journalist to do so.
The American news media have a history of covering both sides of wars, from Vietnam to Central America to Afghanistan, he said.
Arnett said an advantage of having a journalist in Baghdad was that the world saw first-hand the rapid deterioration of Iraq during the air war.
In his last report out of Baghdad, Arnett spoke of blood in the streets, indicating the revolt beginning to take place inside Iraq.
"I have no apologies," Arnett said. He said he tried to play the story straight down the middle.
U.S. warplanes bombed what Iraq called a civilian bomb shelter. The Pentagon called it a command and control center for the Iraqi military. Scores of people were killed in the attack.
Arnett said the only change he made in his reports as the story unfolded was to delete the word "civilian" in reference to the facility and to simply call it a shelter.
He said he appreciated journalists rallying to his support, but that others have covered "messy little wars" and been forgotten.
Iraq released four CBS journalists detained during the war and freed another group taken into custody after the fighting ended.
Arnett, who has covered 17 wars, won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam conflict while a reporter for The Associated Press.