GMA’s Sawyer ‘Grills’ Syrian Dictator on Shania Twain, Video Games and His Ipod

As already noted on NewsBusters, ABC’s Diane Sawyer threw softballs to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in an interview for Monday's "Good Morning America." However, GMA featured a section segment that was, amazingly, even worse. In the piece, the hard-hitting journalist probed the dictator about pertinent issues such as his favorite movies ("Pursuit of Happyness"), music (Shania Twain and Faith Hill), and whether he enjoys video games (no). Rather then press Assad over points such as the fact that Freedom House recently gave the country its worst scores (7 out of 7) for both political and civil liberties and ranked it "not free," Mrs. Sawyer allowed the Syrian leader to play film critic:

Diane Sawyer: "And American movies?"

Bashar Assad: "Sometimes. Not– Not– Not very much to movies in general. I don’t have time actually."

Sawyer: "But you like true stories?"

Assad: "True stories and historical stories. Want to know the names?"

Sawyer: "Yes."

Assad: "Yeah. ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.’"

Sawyer: "And you liked it?"

Assad: "Yeah. It tells you a story that you– Maybe there’s many beneficial things to learn from, about real life. Providing that it's accurate about the story. The real story."

So, Bashar Assad enjoyed the uplifting aspects of the 2006 drama, provided that the producers stayed true to the "real story?" (Perhaps Will Smith could use that quote in his Oscar campaign?) Sawyer introduced the segment, which aired at 7:45am on February 5, by touting how cultured the Syrian leader seemed:

Diane Sawyer: "We are standing here in Damascus. And this is Souk which is the market place. Such a blend of the old and the new in this country. And as we said before, the 41-year-old president, President Assad seems to know pretty much everything about American politics, as well as American popular culture. He studied in London to become an ophthalmologist. His wife was a hedge fund manager with European banks. I had a chance to talk to him a little bit about popular culture in America. But he told me, among other things, when he was in London one of his greatest pleasures was to be anonymous and ride the bus. When you were studying in England you would take the bus?"

Bashar Assad: "Yes, yes. For a while, then I would car."

Sawyer: "And you met your wife there? But, you decided to marry when you were there?"

Assad: "No. After I came back."

Sawyer: "After you came back."

Assad: "Yeah. Yeah. We decided together. I didn't decide, we decided. [Laughs]"

Sawyer: "Stand corrected. You have talked about the internet. You like video games?"

Assad: " No. No. I use internet for information, actually. Not for games."

Sawyer: "Do you have an iPod?"

Assad: "Yes."

Sawyer: "What’s on it?"

Assad: "What’s on it? Plenty of songs. Arabic and westerns. Some French, because my foreign language used to be French before English."

Sawyer: "And you're a country music fan. Faith Hill? Shania Twain?"

Assad: "[Laughs] Yeah. Is it– Is it considered as ad? [Laughs]"

Sawyer: "Yes. That’s true. They get free advertising. Free promotion. And American movies?"

Assad: "Sometimes. Not– Not– Not very much to movies in general. I don’t have time actually."

Sawyer: "But you like true stories?"

Assad: "True stories and historical stories. Want to know the names?"

Sawyer: "Yes."

Assad: "Yeah. ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.’"

Sawyer: "And you liked it?"

Assad: "Yeah. It tells you a story that you– Maybe there’s many beneficial things to learn from, about real life. Providing that it's accurate about the story. The real story."

Sawyer: "Another ad."

[Both laugh]

Sawyer’s friendly questioning followed a long media tradition of coddling dictators. In Febuary of 2003, the MRC’s Tim Graham noted how Dan Rather gushed over how strong and respectful Saddam Hussein seemed when he interviewed the Iraqi leader.

Finally, the iPod query appears to be a reoccurring theme for media puff pieces. In January, CNN noted how much Senate Majority Leader Harry enjoyed his MP3 player. One wonders if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prefers country music or jazz.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org