free press at its best
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,
- - -
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
Rather: Well, that's an interesting
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
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
You can listen to the interview
here or read the transcript
© TFF 2003
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