- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

While we don't question their patriotism, we certainly do question CBS' journalistic judgment in broadcasting the Dan Rather interview of Saddam Hussein. Any news outlet would justifiably strive to get such an interview, and under the extraordinary circumstances, might even have accepted Saddam's demand to use his own cameramen and editors (although no American or Western politician would be granted such a tactical advantage). What fell far below the minimal standards of even electronic journalism were the substantive questions themselves or more precisely, their absence.
There were no follow-up questions about Saddam's past use or present possession of chemical or biological weapons (or the state of his nuclear program) which, after all, is the central reason for the impending war. Saddam's denial of possessing any such weapons was given a pass, even though his administration had admitted earlier this week that it did find a bomb with chemicals inside it. If Mr. Rather did not have that fact readily to hand during the interview, surely the CBS News division could have provided it in time for Wednesday night's broadcast.
There were no questions about the brutal conditions of the Iraqi people. There was no mention of Saddam initiating two wars of aggression. There was no mention of 12 years of U.N. resolutions being dishonored by Saddam, even when he claimed he was following Resolution 1441. It was as if, had Edward R. Murrow gained a radio interview with Adolf Hitler in July 1939, he would have asked no questions about German re-armament in violation of the League of Nations, the Rhineland invasion, the seizing of Czechoslovakia, the demands on Polish sovereignty or the condition of the Jews. "My, what beautiful, straight roads you have built and what well-lit nighttime parades you organize, Mr. Hitler."
Saddam was permitted to convey the impression that he was a benevolent, peace-loving protector of his people. Mr. Rather's journalistic passivity was broken only on the issue of debates. When Saddam made his bid for presidential debates, Mr. Rather came alive, asking a fast-paced series of follow-up questions in an attempt to work out all the operational details for this absurd, never-to occur debate with President Bush. When Saddam emphasized his respect for former President Bush, Mr. Rather fell back into passivity and failed to raise the little matter of Saddam's attempt to assassinate the former president.
We do not share the view of some of CBS' detractors that airing an interview with Saddam constitutes purveying Iraqi propaganda. We only argue that broadcasting this particular interview falls into that category. Of course, it may well have been that CBS judged that a normal journalistic interview would not have been permitted. After all, with Saddam controlling the cameras, the video tape and the editing, if he didn't like the questions, he could have simply refused to give CBS the video tape which doubtlessly was the primary reason for that condition being insisted upon by Saddam. The price for that hit TV interview was bad journalism. But that is precisely where the tough journalistic judgments have to be made at the crossroads of journalism and profits.
Surely, at least a few viewers were misled by CBS' presentation of Saddam. But, it being near the end of sweeps month, for most viewers it was probably just one more hoot on current television's bizarre calliope show that on the night in question, offered interviews with convicted preppy killer Robert Chambers, unconvicted killers Bobby Blake and Saddam Hussein, and for even lighter entertainment, "Star Search" and "American Idol." For most of us, the interview with Saddam probably was just one more ride on the midway.


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