Friday, October 23, 2009

And speaking of making fools of the American media...

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By Barry Rubin

Many years ago I read a true story about the visit of the American novelist William Faulkner to Japan. At one point, Faulkner made a joke and the translator, who was putting his talk into Japanese for the audience, merely said: "Mr Faulkner has just told a joke. Would you all please laugh."

I imagine some American columnist or TV "personality" meeting with a radical Arab or Iranian leader and breathlessly reporting the scoop that he is really a very nice person and wants world peace. (Actually, I don't need to imagine it as I've seen it many times.)

But this television network piece on Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Asad is priceless. I couldn't stop laughing. It is the mother of all puff pieces. In fact, the state-controlled Syrian newspaper the next day must have been headlined: "President Asad meets with really stupid American journalist."

Here's how one of my readers sums up the interview (which I think was in 2007)\:

""When you were student in England, you rode the bus?" Wow.

"You talked about the internet. You like video games?"

"Do you have an ipod. What's on it?"

"And you're a country music fan. Faith Hill... Shania Twayne."

"And American movies."

"You like true stories?"

These are the actual questions she asked.

My personal favorite was when the American journalist said--with absolute awe and hero worship  in her voice--"He knows everything about American politics!"

Goodness, who does she think Asad is, Obama?

Haven't these people ever heard of staff briefings? Like when a journalist is going to interview a national leader there are people to prepare him for the questions.

True story. A famous American columnist once told me that he had interviewed Dan Quayle, an American politician made much fun of for allegedly being dumb. But he was quite surprised at how much Quayle knew.

Asked I, "What did you talk about?"

"Defense issues," replied the columnist.

"And did he know you were coming to interview him on that subject?"


Hmmm. Staff briefings beforehand. I've written and given some of them myself. Best thing in the world other than having a teleprompter with all the words written on it.

Yet aside from this general goofiness, there is also some mystique--call it the Che Guevera complex--that clings to murderous tyrants, at least if they aren't pro-American ones. Perhaps it is because these are men of action who fascinate journalists, who just watch other people doing stuff, or policy wonks, whose main adventure is to go to academic conferences.

Or maybe it is also Third World worship. But reporters who would jump all over an American politician, accuse him of lying, and pummel him with tough questions seem to go all to pieces when encountering some truly horrible tyrant (as long as he's anti-American) as if they were meeting Brad Pitt or Angela Jolie. Come to think of it, if Brad Pitt or Angela Jolie met Asad or Ahmadinejad or Arafat they'd probably ask for autographs.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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