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Arkin: 'We need to have Trump-free days'

William Arkin, fresh off his decision to leave NBC, levels a blunt media critique. The "Trump circus" is getting too much attention, he says, at the expense of in-depth reporting. "Part of our responsibility as journalists is to cover the government, not just the president," he tells Brian Stelter.

Posted: Jan. 7, 2019 3:59 PM
Updated: Jan. 7, 2019 4:25 PM

NBC News national security investigator William Arkin raised eyebrows last week by how he walked away from the network. He left a parting message urging his TV news colleagues to avoid the "circus" of constant reporting about the president and provide more in-depth reporting on America's wars.

On CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday, Arkin discussed the 2,228-word farewell letter he wrote to his NBC colleagues. and the reasons behind his departure. He said "management decisions," "horse race" coverage and a lack of in-depth reporting made him discouraged.

"Investigations just fell to the wayside, and I needed to go and do something else," Arkin said.

His critiques are not specific to NBC.

"We need to have Trump-free days," he said. "We need to have actual investigative correspondents working on actual investigations. We need to have some courage to criticize the military and criticize the national security community."

NBC News declined to comment.

Arkin worked for NBC on and off for three decades, sometimes as a military analyst, sometimes as a reporter and consultant. He said he chose not to renew his contract with the network. Arkin has authored numerous books about national security, most recently "Unmanned," subtitled "drones, data, and the illusion of perfect warfare." He is currently working on another book.

"I am concerned about the status of our national security," Arkin told Brian Stelter on CNN. "I just don't believe that Donald Trump is the complete and utter story behind it. The national security community itself has gotten stronger and has gained strength under Donald Trump, and part of our responsibility as journalists is to cover the government, not just the president."

Arkin argues that reflexive opposition to Trump has helped institutions like the Pentagon, the FBI or CIA gain strength.

"Even amongst liberals today, they look at the CIA or the FBI as institutions that are somehow going to save them," he said Sunday. But every arm of the government "deserves the same kind of scrutiny that the president receives, and it just doesn't happen."

Arkin has been a critic of "perpetual war" for years. He argued in his goodbye note that "ho-hum reporting" about military conflicts essentially condones those conflicts.

"On a day-to-day basis, right now... we are bombing nine countries around the world," Arkin said on CNN. "I defy you to even name what they are."

"I can't," Stelter responded.

"That's how bad our coverage of warfare is," Arkin said.

Arkin said the United States is "mucking around in all parts of the world."

In a follow-up email, he named nine countries where there has been US military action in the Obama and Trump years: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Niger, and Mali.

"Frankly, when Donald Trump says, why are we in Syria, or what are we doing in Africa, or can't we change the situation in North Korea, I am sympathetic to him. I would just like to have a more intelligent debate about those very issues," he said.

Stelter said on "Reliable Sources" that he thinks there are some top-notch Pentagon correspondents and outstanding news outlets devoted to covering the military, but newsrooms don't always prioritize coverage of foreign entanglements.

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