Stengel writes of Ahmadinejad,
The invitation was on creamy stationery with fancy calligraphy: The Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran "requests the pleasure" of my company to dine with H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The dinner is at the Intercontinental Hotel — with names carefully written out at all the place settings around a rectangular table. There are about 50 of us, academics and journalists mostly. There's Brian Williams across the room, and Christiane Amanpour a few seats down. And at a little after 8pm, on a day when he has already addressed the U.N., the evening after his confrontation at Columbia, a bowing and smiling Mahmoud Admadinejad glides into the room.
This is now an annual ritual for the President of Iran. Every year, during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, he plots out a media campaign that — in its shrewdness, relentlessness, and quest for attention — would rival Angelina Jolie on a movie junket. And like any international figure, Mr. Ahmadinejad hones his performance for multiple audiences: in this case, the journalists and academics who can filter his speech and ideas for a wider American audience.
This is appalling on a number of fronts. Stengel admits right at the beginning of his puff piece that this entire event is a media opportunity for one of America's greatest enemies to use the American press to get his message out to the American public. He understands exactly what Ahmadinejad is trying to do and enables it anyway! This is the same press that continues to preface United States military announcements of progress with the word 'claim', yet they have no compunctions whatsoever about swallowing Ahmadinejad's propaganda whole. During the event, Stengel writes of Ahmadinejad,
When it comes time for him to address the comments, he does so by citing each speaker by name — 23 in all, he notes. In contrast with what he calls the lack of respect and dignity accorded to him at Columbia — where, he says, he found it odd that an academic institution which prizes tolerance would treat him without any — he addresses each person carefully and patiently. Some highlights
- The US and Iran can play a positive role together in Iraq. "If the US withdraws from Iraq, good things will happen," he says. "I believe that the Iraqi people can rule themselves."
- In the Middle East, Ahmadinejad says the world must allow the Palestinians to decide their future for themselves: "That is the human solution to sixty years of instability." He refers to Israel only as "the Zionist regime" and does not mention the Holocaust.
- Ahmadinejad claims there are thirty newspapers published in Iran that are opposed to his government, citing that as evidence of press freedom in Iran.
- In answer to a question about how he viewed Hitler's legacy, he says, "I view Hitler's role as extremely negative, a despicably dark face."
- He notes that Americans don't understand Iranian history, saying that the movie 300 — with which he seems intimately familiar — was a "complete distortion of Iranian history." Iran, he says, has never invaded anyone in its history.
Stengel allows Ahmadinejad to state each of these ridiculous propositions, and does not question a single one, though his profession is one that seems to demand confrontation, especially in the case of U.S. Republican office-holders. Can anyone imagine an allied foreign leader receiving a similarly approving reaction from the press? Of course not. In fact, as reported by NewsBuster Geoffrey Dickens, Afghani President Hamid Karzai certainly did not receive a friendly welcome from the U.S. press corps, as Meredith Veiera asked repeatedly what was won in Afghanstan. Yet many of the press' major figures allowed Ahmadinejad to make his statements with not so much as a single challenge.
For example, if Stengel and his colleagues were honest reporters, they could have challenged Ahmadinejad on his statement that Iran has never invaded anyone by asking about the ten-year war with Iraq, when both nations did indeed invade the other at times. And the fact that Persia (the ancient name for Iran) did indeed invade a number of other countries (including Greece) is a matter of historical fact. In addition, since Islam's conquering of Persia, Iran has been involved in a number of Islamic invasions of the West, including 1683 at Vienna. And Islam has the most comprehensive record of invasion and destruction of other cultures in history. Yet no reporter asked Ahmadinejad about that.
In addition, Stengel or one of his counterparts (perhaps Christiane Amanpour of CNN, who is so concerned about God's Warriors) could have asked for clarification on Ahmadinejad's comments about allowing Palestinians to decide their future for themselves. Isn't that precisely what Israel is doing? And allowing the Palestinians to decide their own future does not allow them to decide Israel's as well, which has been the sticking point- both Hamas and Fatah call for Israel's destruction as a prerequisite for a Palestinian state. Yet not a single reporter asked Ahmadinejad about that small problem- which the Iranian did not address.
Finally, why did not a single media member at the event ask Ahmadinejad about his comment that if the U.S withdraws from Iraq "good things can happen". What good things, Mr. Ahmadinehad? Good things for whom? Why did not a single reporter try to get clarification?
Stengel ended his piece by writing of Ahmadinejad,
Finally, in response to a question about whether war with Iran was growing more likely, he says, "Mr. Bush is interested in harming Iran. But I believe there are wise politicians in America who will prevent such a war. We hate war. We would not welcome it. But we are prepared for every scenario. Yet I don't think war will happen."
With that, Ahmadinejad says he has an early morning appointment the next day, and that he welcomes greater dialogue like this evening. And then, still composed, and with the same slightly mysterious smile that never leaves his face all evening, he bows deeply and heads upstairs.
I can well imagine he smiled. He had just succeeded in presenting his version of events to a group of American media sheep, and knew that he would receive valuable media time for his propaganda. The American media should be ashamed of themselves. Once, this kind of thing would have been unthinkable. Would the U.S. press have interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1943? Or Tojo Hideki in 1942? Of course not. Why then are the U.S. media so willingly compliant in allowing a man who espouses the destruction of a free Jewish State, whose government is actively engaged in killing American soldiers in Iraq and whose government is attempting to gain nuclear weapons to use them to advance his horrific goals? The only answers I can think of are either political partisanship or simple naivete. Neither bodes well for the future of American journalism. Cross-posted on NewsBusters.