Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ahmadinejad on CBS

Mike Wallace interviewed Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week in Tehran, which was aired today evening on CBS 60 Minutes. Ahmadinejad doesnt speak to western journalists, but he made an exception this time. Mike Wallace is remembered for his interview in 1979 with Ayatollah Khomeini.

The most anticipated questions were of course about Ahmadinejad's proclamation for wiping out Israel and calling the Holocaust a myth. Ahmadinejad evaded these questions, and quite clumsily so. Though he did make his point about Israel by counter-questioning Wallace why Palestinian should give up their life and homes for the Jews when they didnt have anything to do with the Holocaust. He called Israel "an imposed regime" and wondered why America offered it unconditional support.

On the troubles in the Middle East and America's role in it, Ahmadinejad was blunt. Like his friend Hugo Chavez, he summed it up by saying that America was trying to create an empire and wasn't willing to accomodate others, and it was its attitude that was the root cause of the problems. He evaded the question of Iran supplying weapons to Hizbullah by pointing out the hardware that the US is supplying Israel with. He bemoaned the fact that his letter to Bush has gone unanswered, and hinted that it only goes to show that Bush likes to speak with bombs.

If at all the interview was designed to look like a confrontation, the scores are:
Ahmadinejad=10, CBS/Wallace=0

The conduct and production of the interview was pathetic. Wallace apparently seemed high on his reputation as a no-holds-barred interviewer, but for a viewer who doesnt share America's cultish adulation for TV show hosts, he seemed plain condescending and rude. To show off your balls by asking tough questions is admirable, but scolding your guest for peripheral things like the length of their answers ("keep your answers concise") is just showmanship in bad taste and disrespectful of the man's position. The editing was poor; Doordarshan's editors in the 1980s would have done a better job.

Rider: A very interesting notion was put forth by Michael Slackman in his syndicated article 'Yes' means 'no,' maybe in talking to Iranians in which he points out how the Iranian cultural principle of 'taroof' dictates the practice of insincerity - of praising people when you dont mean it or inviting people when you dont want them over. The article tries to point out how this cultural norm gets in the way when no-nonsense straight-talking Americans try to communicate with Iranians. For Indians it would be an interesting read because many things that qualify taroof hold true in Indian society too. In the case of this interview, it might explain the vagueness that peppers Ahmedinejad's answers.

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