Twelve years ago, almost to the day, CBS News sent Dan Rather to Baghdad to broadcast an interview with Iraq’s tyrant, Saddam Hussein.
I wrote at that time:
Other than the lengths to which Dan Rather went to be obsequious to a tyrant, Americans learned nothing from his interview with Saddam Hussein. . . .
If one is not going to ask a dictator anything approaching the truth about his actions, why bother interviewing him? Isn’t the whole thing morally compromised and journalistically meaningless? What would we think of a radio network that had nationally broadcast an interview with Adolf Hitler in 1944 in which the Führer was asked nothing about Nazi anti-Semitism or the concentration camps? An interview in which the American reporter had warmly clasped the Nazi leader with both hands? An interview that had been procured through the services of an American Nazi sympathizer (as the Rather interview was procured through the services of the longtime friend of America’s enemies, Ramsey Clark)? Would we have deemed such an interview a “coup,” or a moral fraud which only gave Hitler an opportunity to portray himself as a decent human? That is what CBS News and Dan Rather did — and the news community is giving them high-fives.
Three years later CBS sent Mike Wallace, the star of its news program 60 Minutes, to Tehran to interview Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Here is what I wrote then:
Interviews with evil leaders are meaningless at best and destructive at worst. Few reporters will ask real questions or challenge the propaganda responses of these leaders. These interviews merely offer them invaluable ‘humanizing’ time and ask questions that reconfirm the low state of television news.
Here are some of the tough questions Mike Wallace asked one of the vilest leaders on earth today: What he thinks of President Bush, why he is concerned about how his jacket looks on television and what he does for leisure. Never once did he challenge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attacks on America — such as America’s loving war, seeking to be an imperial power or oppressing its own people.
When asked about his statements that the Holocaust is a “myth,” Ahmadinejad replied, “What I did say was, if this is a reality, if this is real, where did it take place?” Wallace did not respond to the leader of a country saying “if” the Holocaust “is real” with a single question. But he probably laughed more with Ahmadinejad than any American news reporter has ever laughed on camera with the president of the United States.
NBC News decided last week that it was its turn to give a tyrant — in this case, the representative of tyrants — extended time on American television when NBC’s Ann Curry interviewed Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Like the CBS interviews, the NBC interview was a farce — both morally and in terms of news. It served no purpose other than to give Zarif extended time to lie on American television.
There was not one question about his regime’s suppression of dissent in Iran.
Not one question about Iran’s role in two terror bombings in Argentina: of the Israeli embassy in 1992, when 29 people were killed and 250 injured, and of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, when 87 were killed and 100 injured. Not one question about Iran’s engineering the recent coup in Yemen, overthrowing a strategic American ally; or about Iran’s efforts to destabilize the governments of other U.S. allies such as Bahrain and Morocco; or about Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad. Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to get a short-and-sweet answer to the question “Do you consider Bashar Assad a dictator, or the freely elected leader of Syria?”
Nothing about Iran’s continuing violation of 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, which “demands that Iran halt all enrichment activities.” Not one question about Iran’s increasing military presence in Venezuela and Bolivia, the least free and most anti-American nations in the Western Hemisphere outside Cuba, where Iran also has increasing influence.
Not one question about Saeed Abedini, an American citizen and Christian pastor, imprisoned in Iran solely for preaching Christianity there. Abedini is particularly loathed by the Islamic regime for having committed the ultimate sin in Iran — converting from Islam.
Why didn’t Ann Curry ask something like, “Mr. Zarif, you represent a regime that forces women to be veiled. We in the west consider that practice dehumanizing. What is your view?” Or, “Why in Iran today does a woman need a male guardian’s approval for marriage or to obtain a passport?” Or, “Do you personally support having blasphemy laws in your country that imprison people for years for ‘insulting Islam’?”
These obsequious interviews with tyrants and their spokesmen are a stain on our already stained news media. Moreover, everyone knows that any mainstream-media interviewer would have been far harder on the prime minister of Israel. Which, among other things, proves the veracity of the ancient Talmudic dictum that those who are kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind.