Dan Rather-a-Joke,

or the free press at its best


PressInfo # 174

 March 10, 2003


Jan Oberg, TFF director


Some time ago, CBS's Dan Rather interviewed President Saddam Hussein who at one point suggests that he and President Bush ought to have a televised dialogue to avoid war and to give their frank views so people could judge their arguments and views. This is how it was stated and how Rather reacted (excerpts):

Saddam Hussein If-- the American people-- would like to know the facts for what they are, or as they are, through a direct dialogue, then I am ready to conduct a direct dialogue with the President of the United States, President Bush, on television. I will say whatever I have to say-- about American policy. He will have-- the opportunity to say whatever he has to say about policy of Iraq. And this will be in front of all people, and-- on television, in a direct-uncensored - hon - honest manner. In front of, as I said, everyone.

- - -

Rather: Are you speaking about a debate?

Rather: This - this is new. You-- you are suggesting, you are saying, that you are willing, you are suggesting, you're urging a debate with President Bush? On television?

Translator For Saddam Hussein: Yes. That's my proposal.

Rather: Well, that's an interesting (UNINTEL).

Then we will either go (UNINTEL) to peace, to choose the path of peace, which is what we look for, and hope-- Then we will spare both our people the harm and the loss. Or otherwise, the-- whoever wants to decide anything other than peace, then he will have to convince his own people, with whatever-- avenues--

Translator For Saddam Hussein: This is the-- the gist of my proposal, my idea.

Rather: This is not a joke.

Translator For Saddam Hussein: No, this is something proposed in earnest. This is proposed out of my respect for the public opinion of the United States. And it is out of my respect to the people of the United States. And to the people of Iraq. And in-- out of my respect to mankind in general. Humanity at large. I call for this, because war itself is not a joke. Whoever chooses war as the first choice in his life, then he is not a normal person. I think the - the debates would be an opportunity for us to insure peace and safety.


What makes this so interesting, so revealing?

Dan Rather has worked with the spoken and written word for more than 50 years. At first, it seems that he is surprised and needs to clarify the President's proposal, not sure that he has understood what he hears. When it is explained again to him, he hints that it could be a joke - or perhaps recognises that what he thought may have been a joke was not a joke.

Then, patiently, the Iraqi President explains why it is not a joke and why people should be able to listen directly to both sides. War is no joke, he says.

Think of it! Here is a professional of words whose first thought is that conflict-resolution through words, through dialogue, is either a misunderstanding or a joke. The mere thought of listening to Saddam Hussein, of the American President kind-of degrading himself to speak with the other President seems, spontaneously, to revolt in the mind of Dan Rather, considered a super advocate of objective journalism and the free word.

Here is what I came to think. What a difference it would make if there were as many journalists trained in understanding conflicts as there are war reporters. They would interview leaders about why we repeatedly end up in the trap of warfare. They would explore with decision-makers how to solve conflicts before they erupt in war and how to create "peace by peaceful means" according to the UN Charter.

Why would that be less "objective" than focusing on war? Until war happens, it is hypothetical. So is peace until that happens. The media deal with all kinds of military aspects, explore how wars are planned and talked about and various war scenarios. Why should media be less objective if they explored peace rather than war, Mr. Rather? Words rather than weapons, Mr. Rather?

Think if we had conflict journalism liberated from the male, the militant, the money-making and (implicitly) violence- and power-promoting mind-set.

George Bush of course ignored the proposal. You may guess why. Instead he got upset because CBS did not let him comment on the interview. Quite a few of us think that dialogue is an important tool and should be tried as an alternative to violence. Tell you what, I think Saddam Hussein should be taken up on his proposal.

Mr. Rather, the world is waiting - - waiting for you to ask President Bush whether his words and his arguments for the war are also either a misunderstanding or a joke.


You can listen to the interview here or read the transcript here


© TFF 2003


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