Ahmadinejad's New Ambassador: Brian Williams

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams acted as a conduit for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's propaganda message of conciliation as NBC Nightly News led Monday with about seven minutes of comments from the Iranian leader's interview with Williams in Tehran, such as how “for more than 50 years now the policy of American statesmen has been to confront the Iranian people.” Williams seemed quite pleased with himself, introducing the interview excerpt:

It was clear in just the opening few minutes of the conversation that the Iranian President had a message he wanted to impart to the U.S. and to the wider world. In various answers to our questions, he talked about common ground with the United States. The Associated Press today described his words spoken to us as "unusually conciliatory," and said he raised hopes for a breakthrough.

Though, based on a look at the posted transcript, less than a third of the session made it onto the Monday night newscast, NBC made sure to include Ahmadinejad's praise, possibly tongue-in-cheek, of Williams (through a translator):

It’s very interesting. Before this meeting that is going to take place, you are aware of what other people are going to do, apparently. This tells me that you are a very able reporter and very active. Congratulations are very much in order. Before something happens, apparently you know what’s going to happen. This is interesting.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the beginning of the Monday, July 28 NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS, IN OPENING TEASER: On the broadcast tonight, from Tehran, behind the wall. Our conversation with Iran's President Ahmadinejad. He granted us an exclusive interview here today, and he arrived ready to make news.

...

WILLIAMS: And good evening from Tehran, which is in itself a rare broadcast event for any American television network. We came here today for an exclusive one-on-one interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was our third meeting with him in three years' time, and our second on-the-record interview. And it was clear in just the opening few minutes of the conversation that the Iranian president had a message he wanted to impart to the U.S. and to the wider world. In various answers to our questions, he talked about common ground with the United States. The Associated Press today described his words spoken to us as "unusually conciliatory," and said he raised hopes for a breakthrough. The White House response was that his words need to be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. Here now some of our conversation here in Tehran today on the grounds of the presidential compound.

The questions from Williams aired in the NBC Nightly News interview excerpt:

Is your message to the world, is your message to the United States one of confrontation or cooperation?

[AHMADINEJAD: Well, this question which I am asking from American statesmen, when it comes to the Iranian people, what road do they want to choose? What approach for more than 50 years now the — the policy of American statesmen has been to confront the Iranian people. And our people, to a large extent, have become acclimated with this situation, and we have tried to work around it.

Today, we see new behavior shown by the United States and the officials of the United States. My question is: Is such behavior rooted in a new approach; in other words, mutual respect, cooperation, and justice? Or this approach is a continuation in the confrontation with the Iranian people but in a new guise?

If this is the continuation of the old — process, well, the Iranian people need to defend its right, its — its interests as well. But if the approach changes, we will be facing a new situation. And the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one.]

So you don't deny there has been a substantial shift in U.S. position toward Iran. Sir, the question, would you be willing to meet that with a substantial shift of your own in attitudes, policies toward the United States?

Is Iran's goal to have nuclear power or to be a nuclear power, in the sense of possessing weapons? It is obviously the great fear of Israel and others in this region, and it seems to stop the prospect of talks and better relations again and again. The group in Geneva seems to be asking you, by this coming Saturday, whether or not you are willing to suspend activities. And, one more time, I want to allow you the opportunity to answer.

WILLIAMS, AFTERWARD:

Some of our interview earlier today with the man in the trademark tan jacket, the president of Iran. As we mentioned, the reaction from the administration at the State Department and the White House was mostly skepticism. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino saying, quote, "We have to approach this with a big grain of salt." We have posted the entire interview on our Web site tonight. Again, that's nightly.msnbc.com.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center