- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Is it a scoop, or was he duped?
CBS newsman Dan Rather landed a three-hour interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Monday, revealing "Saddam's feelings on his own people, the American public, Osama bin Laden and what his own fate might be," according to CBS, which quickly went into showbiz mode.
"There are just two men in the world now who can prevent a new U.S.-led war in Iraq, and CBS news anchor Dan Rather sat down with one of them," CBS said yesterday.
But did the interview become a vehicle for Iraq's agenda in the process?
"We're aware of the CBS tape. We'll watch the tape, and we believe in freedom of the press," a State Department official said yesterday. "Will it be factual? We have to wait and see. Saddam has a track record of not being upfront."
Shortly after September 11, the White House and State Department became alarmed that Western journalists could be manipulated by media-savvy terrorists. At the time, White House adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested that broadcasters use careful judgment when airing material released by bin Laden.
Grumbling about First Amendment rights all the way, broadcasters complied for a time. But the climate has changed.
Since Monday, Mr. Rather's interview has been teased on CBS radio and television, with substantial portions to air tonight on "60 Minutes II." The interview was heralded as "one of the news coups of the year" by the Hollywood Reporter trade publication.
The newsman said it was all because of "hard work and luck," though an Associated Press report said Mr. Rather had the help of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, now an anti-war activist who met with Saddam on Sunday.
Mr. Clark has his own agenda. In January, he drafted articles of impeachment against President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and other officials, who he says he believes must "answer to the people."
Meanwhile, Mr. Rather's interview is not as rare as it may seem: ABC's Peter Jennings and NBC's Tom Brokaw also tried to reach Saddam. All three were outfoxed by former British Labor leader and peace activist Tony Benn, who interviewed Saddam for Arab Television three weeks ago.
Mr. Benn described Saddam as "courteous and forthcoming."
Mr. Rather also used personal observations, calling Saddam "a tall man."
"He walked a little stiffly. I think that may be because of these reports he has a bad back. But he was very calm."
The Media Research Center took Mr. Rather to task yesterday for saying he had a startling scoop: Saddam had "challenged" President Bush to a televised debate. No such scoop, the center pointed out. Saddam had proposed the same thing in a 1990 interview with Mr. Rather.
The CBS "appetite for promotion is plugging up its nose for news," noted Tim Graham of the research center.
The interview may be a bona fide scoop for Mr. Rather and a legitimate promotional tool for CBS, said Robert Steele, a media ethics analyst for the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a journalism research group.
"What shouldn't happen, however, is to hold back meaningful news to benefit promotional strategies," Mr. Steele said yesterday.
And when short on meaningful news, some extrapolate.
ABC News issued a report yesterday on Saddam's troubled psychological background. Saddam's "difficult childhood leads to 'wounded self,' a fragile personality who is very sensitive to perceived slights," ABC said.
MSNBC, in the meantime, is crafting a new wartime footing. The network fired prime-time host Phil Donahue yesterday because of poor ratings, replacing him with an expanded version of "Countdown: Iraq," with Lester Holt.


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