Sawyer Gushes Over ‘Peaceful’ First Lady and ‘Quiet’ Syrian President
On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," anchor Diane Sawyer continued to gush over the dictator of Syria. As already noted on NewsBusters, the ABC anchor gingerly questioned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the country’s political and cultural repression. But she also defended him, reminding American viewers that "change must come slowly."
A second segment focused on Assad’s wife, Asma. In this piece, Sawyer’s most laudatory yet, she profiled the Mideast power couple and a viewer could be forgiven for assuming that this was a look at the wife of a 2008 presidential contender and not the spouse of a dictator.
Sawyer informed her audience on just what an amazing couple they make and closed the segment with a direct appeal for more understanding of the Syrian dictatorship:
Diane Sawyer: "So, while the world debates the intentions of her husband on the world stage, the two of them are clearly symbols of a new generation in the Middle East. The former doctor, the former banker, schooled in England, steeped in Syria. And she might say, asking the West for a new conversation about a new day."
Sawyer began the segment, which aired at 7:43am on February 6, by showcasing just how much Bashar Assad and his wife love each other:
ABC Graphic: "A Peaceful First Lady? Who is Wife of Syrian Leader?"
Diane Sawyer: "And here again from Damascus, there is someone else by the side of the president here who is a child of democracy. And you may remember, yesterday, I asked him about his decision to marry her."
Bashar Assad: "Yeah, yeah. We decided together, I didn't decide. We decide."
Sawyer: "Stand corrected. 'We decide,' he said. And off camera, he talks so admiringly about the work she is doing in this country. The 31-year-old former career girl who once lived in New York City, worked on Wall Street. Her name is Asma. Her Syrian title is [Arabic phrase], simply, the president's wife. But make no mistake, this elegant, athletic woman is part of her country's future. We first saw her at one of her charity projects here and she sent word she's not ready to give an on-camera interview, though she greeted us warmly. And in her perfect British accent, ventured a phrase about the cause.
Asma Akhras al-Assad: "It’s a real example about the way that Syrians from all walks of life have come together, taking responsibility and are making a real difference to their communities."
Sawyer: "Later, we met her at one of her private offices overlooking Damascus at sunset, where we sat for hours, talking about her country in the new century, and her life. She grew up very much part of two worlds. Born in Britain, the daughter of a Syrian cardiologist, speaking perfect Arabic and French and Spanish. After college, she said she loved working on Wall Street in New York and in Paris and London as a banker with JP Morgan. She was contemplating an MBA at Harvard, when she decided in 2000 to marry a family acquaintance, the tall, quiet man, already President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. After the small wedding, she stayed private, spending three months traveling quietly, sometimes anonymously, in jeans and a t-shirt, to meet the people of her country, take note of hopes and needs, sitting among the farmers to ask about their crops and to devise plans for micro loans she passionately tries to promote today. Her official introduction to the world came when she and her husband returned to England to meet the queen. They famously live in a modest home and with three children they drive to school themselves, protecting family dinners, even biking together through villages. She’s already begun programs here to excite Syria's children about business, challenging them to compete in a global world."
Thala Khair (Founder of Syrian private school) "She's an amazing woman. I'm telling that because ever since she got here, she really got deep into things in every single sector. As much as she's working on women's rights, as much as she's working on children's rights, as much as she's working on culture."
Diane Sawyer: "The cancer center where we first met her is ground breaking. The private and public sector working together. The children show her pictures they drew in therapy, drawings with names like magic. The charity called Basma, which means smile in Arabic. So while the world debates the intentions of her husband on the world stage, the two of them are clearly symbols of a new generation in the Middle East. The former doctor, the former banker, schooled in England, steeped in Syria. And, she might say, asking the West for a new conversation about a new day."
It’s certainly nice that this power couple eats dinner together and goes bicycling. But one wonders, during her travels around the country, did Asthma Assad talk to her Syrian countrymen about the fact that Freedom House ranked her country seven out of seven (the worst possible score) for political rights and civil liberties? That probably didn’t come up. And Diane Sawyer didn't ask.