Diane Doesn't Challenge Despotism of Syria's Assad

When a despot you're interviewing denigrates the value of democracy in another country, wouldn't your journalistic instincts prompt you to ask him about the utter lack of democracy in his own? Not in Diane Sawyer's case.

The ABC powerhouse is in Syria this week. This morning's GMA aired an interview she scored with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Joe Biden would surely declare Assad "articulate;" the tyrant does speak excellent English and has a mild-mannered, urbane demeanor. But, in his case, appearances are definitely deceiving. Assad is the ruthless ruler of one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. On a scale of 1-7, Freedom House recently gave Syria its lowest possible rating of '7' on political rights. Bashar is of course following in the bloody foosteps of his father, Haffez. Among other acts of rule by terror, the previous tyrant infamously erased from the face of the earth the Syrian town of Hama, massacring an estimated 10-25,000 people in the process.

At one point during the interview, Assad asserted that when the US discusses political power, "they only talk about troops and power, not about political process."

Sawyer: "Americans would say they voted. They now have the beginning of a democracy there." Note: "Americans" would say the Iraqis voted? Would anyone say they didn't?

That's when Assad denigrated the value of democracy: "What is the benefit of democracy if you are dead? After the war, more than 700,000 Iraqis were killed. [Assad is no doubt alluding to the much-debunked Lancet report. Are the British an American anti-war propagandists who fabricated the findings happy to hear them in the mouth of a tyrant?] So is it democracy for killing, or for having a better standard of life? For starvation? For insecurity? For all of this? Democracy is a tool to have a better life."

This would have been the point at which you would have expected a good journalist to call Assad on the complete lack of democracy in his own country. But Sawyer blithely forged ahead with a question about how talks involving Syria and Iran would work: "What would happen then? Talks take place: you, Iran, the neighboring countries. So the influence of the neighboring countries can create a cease-fire [in Iraq]?

Assad assured Sawyer it could, and in doing so implicitly accused the US of ignorance: "this is something that many don't understand. It doesn't matter how strong economically [you are] or what kind of army you have. It's a matter of credibility. We have credibility."

Ah, credibility. Sawyer could have done a lot to enhance her own had she had the courage to challenge the despot in his den.

Note: Sawyer did challenge Assad on reports that he is permitting terrorists to infiltrate across the Syrian border into Iraq. Assad responded by citing the US's inability to control its Mexican border, then risibly claimed that he wanted to cooperate with the US and Iraq in controlling the Syrian-Iraqi border. Right.

Mark was in Iraq in November. Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.