BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week a notable television event. At the request of the Bush Administration, the networks had refrained from airing taps of Osama bin Laden produced by Al Qaeda. The U.S. government did not want to offer Bin Laden a platform from which to proselytize or possibly pass coded messages. But this week the nation had an extended look at Bin Laden, not standing stoically in front of a cave with a prepared address and a gun, but relaxing with friends recalling September 11th with self-congratulatory giggles. The Bush Administration had no problem with this broadcast.
BOB GARFIELD:The Middle Eastern satellite channel Al Jazeera had been heavily criticized by the Bush Administration for repeatedly airing Bin Laden's earlier messages. Hafez Al Mirazi is the network's Washington bureau chief. Earlier this week he said he saw hypocrisy in the actions of the American government.
HAFEZ AL MIRAZI: [TAPED REMARKS: "The irony now is the same people who were criticizing Al Jazeera for putting bin Laden to get the other side of view, are the same people now who aer watching and waiting excitedly for the U.S. government to release the bin Laden tape. That will be a tape - a message of hatred, uh, laughing or whatever about the tragedy, all of the things that criticized Al Jazeera doing, mainly because of political gains they would like to get out of them."
BOB GARFIELD:Joining us now is Marvin Kalb, former chief diplomatic correspondent for CBS News and NBC News; now head of the D.C. office of Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Professor Kalb, welcome to On the Media.
MARVIN KALB: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you.
BOB GARFIELD: Bin Laden has long since been tried and convicted in the court of U.S. public opinion. Do you think the release of this tape will improve our standing with people who might have had lingering reservations, especially in the Arab world, where the criticism of bin Laden has been somewhat mealy-mouthed up until now?
MARVIN KALB:I think that's a very good question, because, obviously, when the administration got hold of this tape, there must have been an immediate question, "How is it going to help us?" And I think that for those people who had - and I would put myself in that category - you had a degree of skepticism about it, I think it helps eliminate that skepticism. And I think it will be very helpful in the Middle East, where even people who do not like the United States, many of them don't like terrorism and therefore don't like Osama bin Laden. And maybe it will help some of those understand that this is someone who specializes in terrorism and someone who is not like them.
BOB GARFIELD:Hafez Al Mirazi, the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera claims that the United States government is engaged in a double standard, and a New York Times editorial from earlier in the week says approximately the same thing --the government doesn't want the media to use Osama bin Laden tapes when they are contrary to our political purposes but with this smoking gun in hand it's, you know, run all Osama all the time. Do you see a double standard?
MARVIN KALB: Yes, I do. I think that the administration was very foolish and shortsighted when it turned to the networks and then a couple of newspapers a few months ago and said don't run bin Laden and by the way, they were very successful with that appeal, because the number of times since then that you saw Bin Laden on the air was very, very limited. But at this particular point what is clear is that this is a tape that the administration believes will help them sell their case, but above and beyond that, prove their case, the case being that Bin Laden knew all about it and planned the horrors of September 11th.
BOB GARFIELD:Previous Bin Laden video, staged as it was, portrayed a serene figure, confident in his righteousness. This candid Bin Laden chuckling about mass murder is a maniac! Can you even imagine how this tape could redound to America's detriment?
MARVIN KALB: Not to America's detriment necessarily, but I can see any number of people in the Middle East who are very anti-American, very anti-Israeli attaching themselves to the idea that perhaps this tape was contrived. Mohammed Atta's father has been quoted as saying in a report from Cairo that this was all a forgery and that how would Bin Laden ever come upon his son's name? And the timing of it is exquisite from the point of view of the administration. But if this is a legitimate tape, and I accept it as that, I think it is the smoking gun.
BOB GARFIELD:Let me ask you one more thing. The government has had this tape for about a week, as we speak today, and lo and behold on the day of its release the administration announces that it is going to unilaterally abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia -- a story that is certainly going to be buried on television if not on the front page of the New York Times. Do you think this was a coincidence or was this all part of the strategy?
MARVIN KALB: This is an administration that works very hard on its public image. The image of the administration breaking away from a 1972 agreement creating fissure in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia at this point when we are so dependent on Russia and many other countries -- it could be that the administration's announcement on the ABM Treaty was, was linked to the release of the tape because it does tend to downplay the importance of the ABM abrogation. So yes, I believe that there probably was premeditated strategy involved in the release of both stories.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well thank you very much.
MARVIN KALB: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Marvin Kalb is the director of the Washington office of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. [MUSIC]