Sometimes television can do something truly newsworthy. While the staggering amount of reality TV shows may make it hard to prove that fact, Dan Rather’s interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein broadcast Wednesday night was a breakthrough in journalism and a service to the American people.
Facts don’t lie. Hussein has committed unbelievable atrocities against his own people, but Rather’s interview was about getting the other side of the story, which is what all worthy journalism should strive to do. Not to be outdone, the White House is crying foul, claiming that it should have been able to have a representative to refute Hussein’s statements after the interview. Making a fuss about one-upping Hussein is giving more credence to the interview and implies that the White House and therefore the Bush administration are afraid of what he said. If they were certain that the American people were behind them in the imminent war in Iraq, fussing about Hussein’s comments wouldn’t be necessary.
CBS did concede that it would let President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney refute Hussein’s statements on camera, but the Bush administration wanted Press Secretary Ari Fleischer or Dan Bartlett, the White House’s communication chief, to speak instead. CBS should be congratulated for holding firm against the White House and sticking to its guns. Carefully crafted responses to Hussein’s comments are not what make good journalism. Honest answers from the men who make decisions are what Americans should be hearing and what journalists should cover.
CBS and Rather performed the media coup of the century by getting an interview with Hussein, the first one he has done with a Western journalist in 12 years. The network also proved that television doesn’t have to be about Joe Millionaire or who Trista decided to marry. It can be about the stories that really matter and issues that effect everyone. And journalism, like an interview with Hussein, is what the American people should expect from its reporters.