In the latest abuse of journalism, “60 Minutes” and host Charlie Rose should be ashamed of an interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the brutal dictator who has led his country into a murderous civil war that has left more than 200,000 dead and more than 4 million refugees.
The once-renowned magazine program has been engaged in several cases of journalistic malfeasance that should have brought down any other news show. These include Steve Croft’s softball interviews with President Obama to Lara Logan’s egregious reporting on Ebola and Benghazi, which in the latter case brought a forced leave of absence rather than outright dismissal.
The malfeasance also includes the erroneous attack on former President George W. Bush concerning National Guard service, which occurred on the Wednesday edition of the program and ultimately led to its cancellation and the removal of several key news personnel, including anchor Dan Rather.
Although you wouldn’t know it from Mr. Rose’s interview, Mr. Assad has been accused of the following:
• An August 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, that left hundreds dead;
• The imprisonment of thousands of opponents of the regime’
• The use of torture against many of his enemies but leaving the self-proclaimed Islamic State alone because it also is fighting his internal enemies.
Aaron Yelin of The Washington Institute provided an excellent primer just days before the interview. “It is a shame then that Assad is fooling Washington arguing he is the lesser of two evils compared to ISIS,” he wrote. “Assad’s regime is just as bad as ISIS.”
Mr. Rose asked Mr. Assad about the use of barrel bombs and chlorine gas — devastating tools of war but not as deadly as sarin nerve gas, which was used in Ghouta. Although the United Nations documented the use of sarin by the Syrian army, Mr. Rose failed to press the point — as he did on many issues throughout the interview.
Mr. Assad was allowed to launch propaganda attacks against Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other opponents. He assailed Saudi Arabia as providing the religious basis for the Islamic State, and he decried Turkey for supporting the Sunni rebels against his regime.
Mr. Assad also praised the support of Russia and Iran — two adversaries of the U.S. — for helping his embattled regime.
“They do it for the region and for the world. ‘Cause stability is very important for them,” Mr. Assad said.
Without a challenge from Mr. Rose, the Syrian president even compared his and his father’s dictatorships, which date back more than 40 years, to the democratically elected presidencies of the Bushes, which lasted for 12 years.
Finally, Mr. Rose allowed the Syrian president to say, without challenge, that he wanted to have negotiations with the U.S. “They should be ready for the talk; they should be ready for the negotiation,” he said.
Apparently, Mr. Rose missed the long-held Syrian position that Israel must give up any territory since the 1967 war before any talks could begin. That would mean evacuating East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights overlooking northern Israel and the West Bank. That isn’t going to happen any time soon.
That lack of understanding about the Syrian policy was only part and parcel of another awful interview on “60 Minutes.” Perhaps it’s time to turn off one the most popular programs in journalism until it gets itself back in tune with afflicting the powerful and comforting the afflicted.
• Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @charper51.