Jewish World Review March 4, 2003 / 30 Adar I, 5763
Dan and Saddam
CBS News constantly referred to Dan Rather's interview with one
of the world's cruelest tyrants as a "coup."
A coup? For whom? Was it a coup for the American viewing public?
Of course not. Other than the lengths to which Dan Rather went to be
obsequious to a tyrant, Americans learned nothing from his interview with
Saddam Hussein. Was it a coup for the news profession? Again, no. No news
was learned, nor was any likely to be.
No, it was a coup solely for CBS News and Saddam Hussein. That
the world of television news (not only CBS) regards it as a major
achievement shows the depths to which television news has sunk. Obviously,
the industry sees ratings as its reason for being.
The moment it was announced that Dan Rather had secured an
audience with Saddam, I suspected (and said so on my radio show) that the
only beneficiaries would be Saddam and CBS. The only way it could have been
newsworthy is if Rather had asked hard questions.
For example, Rather might have asked the world's most powerful
- You claim to have received 100 percent of the vote in your
last "election." Do you think the world believes that in a nation of 24
million people, there aren't 24 people who want another president in Iraq?
- Eight years ago, your two sons-in-law, Hussein Kamil, the
former minister of defense, and his brother, defected to Jordan. We are
quite certain that they were told that their entire extended families would
be murdered if they did not return to Iraq. And when they did return, they
were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets of Baghdad. How do
your daughters feel about what you did to their husbands?
- Was it you or another Iraqi official who came up with the
idea of having the children of suspected dissidents tortured in front of the
- Have you seen any photos of the thousands of Iraqi Kurdish
families you ordered gassed?
- Do you regret having invaded Iran and causing the deaths of
about one million Iraqis and Iranians?
- How many more hundred-million-dollar palaces do you plan to
build for yourself while Iraqi children die of malnutrition?
- Where are the billions of dollars Iraq has been allowed to
earn for humanitarian needs?
Now, of course, few, if any, reporters would have asked Saddam
Hussein these questions. (Television reporters tend to restrict tough
questioning to democratically elected leaders they don't like.) But 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 fuehrer 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.
All this is sad, even angering, but not surprising. For decades,
television news has largely been a failure, almost entirely avoiding many of
the world's great events -- from the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the
Chinese crushing of Tibet, to the mass murders and slavery in Sudan, the
genocide in Rwanda, and the slide of middle-class Argentina into
destitution -- in favor of drama and entertainment in the pursuit of
ratings. Just think how much time television news devoted to the O.J.
Simpson murder trial.
That most Americans get almost all their news from profit-driven
television news is bad news. And non-profit, government-owned newscasts (as
in Europe) are even worse. With the exception of image-driven events such as
the 9-11 attacks, television news is a failure.
If you want to know what is happening in the world, read good
newspapers, listen to quality talk radio, watch quality TV talk shows, and
spend time on the Internet. But don't rely on TV news for news.
And if the Dan Rather-Saddam Hussein interview prompts people to
get their news elsewhere, that will truly be a coup.
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JWR contributor Dennis Prager hosts a national daily radio show based in Los Angeles. He the author of, most recently, "Happiness is a Serious Problem". Click here to visit his website and here to comment on this column.
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