BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Last week in a network exclusive, a paranoid, reclusive man opened up his palace to an unassuming Englishman and the prying eyes of the world media. [CLIP FROM INTERVIEW W/MUSIC UNDER PLAYS]
MICHAEL JACKSON: Peter Pan to me-- you know, he represents youth-- never growing up-- magic--
MARTIN BASHIR: You don't want to grow up.
MICHAEL JACKSON: No. I am Peter Pan.
MARTIN BASHIR: No you're not. You're Michael Jackson.
MICHAEL JACKSON: I'm Peter Pan in my heart. [MUSIC FADES]
BOB GARFIELD: Well the King of Pop did speak with British journalist Martin Bashir on ABC, but he wasn't the recluse I was referring to. [CLIP OF SADDAM HUSSEIN SPEAKING IN ARABIC]
TRANSLATOR FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN: Please tell the British people if the Iraqis are subject to aggression or humiliation, they will fight bravely and steadily, just as the British people fought in the Second World War to defend their country.
BOB GARFIELD:Iraqi president Saddam Hussein spoke with Tony Benn, a former British left wing MP in an eleventh hour attempt to sway global opinion in his favor. The interview was bought by Channel 4 in Britain and CBS here in the States. Fawaz Gerges is the Christian A. Johnson Chair in International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, and he watched excerpts of the interview when it was broadcast on 60 Minutes II. Fawaz, welcome to the show.
FAWAZ GERGES: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Well if you were Saddam Hussein, and you were trying to cultivate the anti-war movement in the West, would you have made the choice of opening your palace up to Tony Benn who has made a career being an anti-war activist and who has expressed if not sympathy to his regime a certain tolerance that is probably not shared by the average Briton -- would you have called in a, a Tony Benn or a-- a Wolf Blitzer, for example.
FAWAZ GERGES: Well I think what we need to understand, because of his obsession with security -- he knows Tony Benn. Tony Benn went to Iraq during the 1991 crisis with the United States. But Tony Benn is not a journalist. Tony Benn is an activist. I mean he basically starts with the premise that Iraq is not guilty --that Saddam Hussein's views can be swayed!
BOB GARFIELD:One of the most conspicuous aspects of the interview is how inconspicuous it was in the, certainly in the American media. Excerpts were run on 60 Minutes II-- but it wasn't as though everybody stopped in their tracks to see what Saddam Hussein would have to say. Were you surprised by how little attention the interview seemed to generate?
FAWAZ GERGES:No. No, I'm - I was not surprised at all. The media have not taken the time to tell the American audience about the Iraqi perspective. I think the media have joined the establishment's attempt to demonize the man. The man is a bloody dictator; no doubts about it. But at the same time, we need to listen to what the Iraqis have to say. You know, what am--what amazes me, Bob, is that the American media interview Kuwaitis, Saudi Arabians, Egyptian scholars -- how many Iraqi professors have we interviewed?
BOB GARFIELD:And, and yet if you're doing an interview, and you know with a certainty that the interviewee will express pro-regime points of view because to do the opposite would mean imprisonment or death, why go through the exercise to begin with?
FAWAZ GERGES: Well, first of all, because we are giving the administration all the time in the world. And the administration perspective is that the Iraqi regime is guilty, period. And secondly it's a question of balance. No one is suggesting that the media should defend Saddam Hussein. There is a great deal of blood on Saddam Hussein's hands. But this is what democracy is all about.
BOB GARFIELD:Now you've said that you're disappointed that the interview didn't get more play and attention in the West. Did that have something to do with the fact that the Iraqis sold the program to the highest bidder --CBS - which has been loathe to distribute it elsewhere?
FAWAZ GERGES: Partly. Partly. I think the Iraqi regime has been extremely inept in trying to use the media as an effective weapon in its campaign to change world public opinion. Let's remember, Iraq did its cause a considerable damage in 1990/1991 when it kept a tight lid on the flow of information of Iraq. In fact the United States was able to use the media very effectively during the war in '90/'91. But I doubt very much whether Saddam Hussein would be able to capitalize by using this interview because of the question of credibility -- because of the question also that I think the world already sympathizes with Iraq, but at the same time they would like to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Fawaz, thank you very much!
FAWAZ GERGES: It's a pleasure, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:Fawaz Gerges is the Christian A. Johnson chair in International Affairs and Middle East Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and author of America and Political Islam: A Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?