Monday, February 12, 2007

Another opportunity, another botched interview with Ahmadinejad

Kash Kheirkhah

Diane Sawyer of ABC News has joined the ranks of other US celebrity journalists who, despite claiming to have nailed Ahmadinejad on a wide range of issues, failed to truly take the Iranian President to task. Sawyer's interview with the Ahmadinejad, in particular, doesn't seem to have won any points with its American audience at all since it was frustratingly obvious that she hadn't done her homework on it, to the extent that even Ahmadinejad saw it fit to teach her a journalism lesson when she botched a very important question and that clearly speaks for itself:

Sawyer: Does Iran deserve the right to send Iranians in ... Americans have said they had false identities that they were trying to shave their heads, trying to flush evidence ...

(She could have told Ahmadinejad about the identification card found on an Iranian revolutionary guard agent arrested last month in Erbil. The card was presented yesterday along with other evidence of Iran's involvement in Iraq by the US military.)

Ahmadinejad: I don't think that in the legal system in the U.S. you have this postulation that if you arrest someone you have automatically accused someone, only people who have committed something wrong can be taken to court. I think it was childish for the U.S. government to do something like that to arrest defenseless people, not allowing them to talk to anyone and to publish information in a biased way. I think that this is not a solution to the problem in Iraq; the solution is somewhere else...

Our diplomats are now in Iraq... (Sawyer could have quoted Iranian ambassador in Iraq who admitted those arrested in Erbil were not diplomats. She could have also quoted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari who also said those arrested there were not diplomats.)

Sawyer: Are you here to solve the problem of the American government in Iraq?

Ahmadinejad: These are some points that must be discussed at the diplomatic level. You are just a journalist. And of course we think that the Iraqi government has asked the U.S. administration to hand in security to the Iraqi government. And we think that it will help us in solving the problem.

(Sawyer could have followed up on that question by quoting the Iraqi President from his interview with CNN in which he said he was sure Iranians were behind attacks on Americans and asked both sides to settle their scores outside Iraq.)

But here is when Sawyer really drops the ball:

Sawyer: You said you have 52,000 suicide bombers. Where would you deploy them?

Ahmadinejad: Did I say that?

Sawyer: One of the Iraqi officials said that ...

Ahmadinejad: Who was that?

Sawyer: Mr. Sharafi.

Ahmadinejad: Well I don't know him, he has quoted me you mean? But what I said is quite clear who has he quoted ...

Sawyer: He is speaking from his own information, we supposed, we assumed ...

Sawyer: Ahmadinejad was right to challenge me, it was not a statement by an official, but a so-called unofficial organization dedicated to suicide bombing. So we asked, is it not true?

Ahmadinejad: ... [Laughs] Well I think that you should check your source because people say different things. One of the interior ministry officials from Iran said that all of these terrors are done by American forces, and that was an official. He had an official position in Iraq.

(This mix-up, in particular, deals a huge blow to Sawyer's credibility. First of all, the suicide bombers claim was made by Mohammad-Ali Samadi, spokesman for the government-backed "Headquarters to Commemorate the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement" who claimed that 52,000 volunteers for martyrdom-seeking operations have been registered by his organisation, which also calls itself “Estesh’hadioun”, or martyrdom-seekers. This was an IRANIAN spokesperson which had the backing of the Iranian regime not an IRAQI official as Sawyer said. Second, Jalal Sharafi was the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad who was snatched by unidentified gunmen and has nothing to do with this question. Sawyer sounded like she had no idea what she was talking about, prompting Ahamdinejad to not only mock her--embarrasing her enough to try to add a little explanation later to the interview--but dodge the issue completely.)

All I can say is that it is really frustrating to watch these interviews done by some of the most reputable journalists in America. In all honesty, I really like ABC News and Diane Sawyer. I believe with the US military presentation yesterday, Sawyer should have gone for the kill and cornered Ahmadinejad with some solid questions backed up by the fresh evidence at hand.

That, unfortuantely, never happened.

Wasn't there anyone from ABC News with Diane Sawyer to tell her who Sharafi was?

Wasn't there anyone in the ABC News team to do a 40-second google search about the suicide bombers question so that Sawyer wouldn't botch that very important question?

Are these poor interviews indicative of all US journalism has got to offer when it comes to the world coverage and dealing with rogues such as Ahmadinejad?