ABC’s Sawyer Portrays Dictatorial Syria as a Pro-Family Welfare Paradise

"Good Morning America’s" Diane Sawyer, who is now reporting from Iran, last Thursday finished her trip to Syria by interviewing women of that country and portraying the brutal dictatorship as a pro-family paradise. Included in this group of females was the top woman in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s cabinet. Rather then ask her about the country’s repression of human rights, "Parade Magazine" recently ranked Assad the world’s tenth worst dictator, Sawyer chose to highlight the country’s low pregnancy rate and "safety on the streets."

During the February 8 segment, the veteran ABC journalist repeatedly found America lacking in comparison to what seems to be a socialist paradise. Sawyer began by asking the collected group of Syrian females about their opinion of American women:

Diane Sawyer: "What do they think of American women? They say we have so many opportunities, yet they'd give us something from Syria, safety on the streets, family to help with children, and the government helping too."

Bouthaina Shaaban (Top ranking female in President’s cabinet): "They could be a lot better, family and professionally-wise in making family life in balance with the profession. I feel the U.S., as a very rich and strong country, could have offered a lot more for working women."

Dana Dbbous (Violinist, Syrian Natl. Symphony Orchestra): "I think relationships here are much better, like family-wise. The children stays (sic) at their parents' home 'til they get married. So this is really a very, very different point, like, it's not like in the United States."

Shaaban: "We have a, a very cheap and much better kindergarten and nursery. I put my children in nursery since they were two-month old, and that's how I was able to keep my career and have a family. It's much easier for me to, to be a career woman with a family in Syria than it is in the U.S."

Sawyer: "What about marriage? These women say family influences your choice, but if there's someone you love, there's always a way."

Shaaban: "I think, Diane, if you want to find someone who love somebody in Syria and wasn't able to marry him because of family pressure, you wouldn't find any. There are always ways. You - you talk to your uncle and to your aunt and to grandmother and the father, and the uncle interferes. You know, I loved an Iraqi, you know, I came from Britain. I loved him in Britain. And I came here and managed to marry him."

Would it be too much for Sawyer, in the midst of all the America bashing, to point out that while Syria may have a fine kindergarten system, women of that country, according to Human Rights Watch, "have little means for redress against sexual abuse or domestic violence"?

The "Good Morning America" anchor quickly shifted into a discussion of talking up Syria’s pro-family atmosphere, including a low pregnancy rate. She also encouraged the women to take American television to task for its excessive display of sex:

Sawyer: "Too much talk about sex on American television?"

Dbbous: "I don't think so, basically."

Shaaban: "Too much talk about sex?"

Dbbous: "No."

Amal Mouradi (Homemaker and Translator): "In a way."

Shaaban: "Yes, I think so. Yes, I think so. And I think it, it has to be done properly and to be put in perspective."

Sawyer: "Contrast that to Syria, they say, where there's far less teen pregnancy, possibly because a young man knows he's facing not just her but the whole family. Is it that Syrian men are more respectful?"

Shaaban: "Yeah. Yeah."

Sawyer: "They don't try anything?"

Dbbous: "Not that they don't. They do, but I mean, they respect the - the ladies and everything because they know it might bring some problems."

Sawyer: "With the families?"

Dbbous: "With the family."

Sawyer: "I can hear right now American parents saying what is the secret of these families that you don't have teenager rebellion?"

Dbbous: "No."

Sawyer: "You don't have teenagers storming off and saying, 'I never want to see you again?’"

Khair: "No. And let me tell you, no. I'll tell you something. Rebellion is something every generation goes through. It all depends on the level of rebellion. It could be expressed in so many different ways. It could be, I mean, there are levels of rebellion."

Sawyer closed the interview, which aired at 8:44am, by telling her GMA colleagues just how much these women prefer Syrian family values to that of America's:

Sawyer: "Again, I can't stress enough how they kept saying, 'We, we look at your culture and you don't, you can't keep the family together just geographically.’ And it makes such a difference that everyone lives at home. Men and women into their 20's, until they get married. So the family stays intact. And, again, you've got to answer to the whole family, I say, for whatever you do out on the town."

Robin Roberts: "What did you take away from being around these women?"

Sawyer: "Well, you know, they are remarkable. And I do take from them the - First of all, they know everything about us. Everything. They see American television. There was a Paris Hilton picture on the cover of the Syrian newspaper when I was there. We know virtually nothing about them."

Sam Champion: "Nothing. And that, when I was watching your interviews, your things that you are bringing us, I'm sitting here thinking, we're so surrounded by American culture. We forget everyone's dealing with the same issues, keeping the family together, is there too much sex, conversation, how do you educate? We're all dealing with the same things. Your interviews point that out."

Sawyer’s right in one sense. Thanks to her report, "Good Morning America" viewers know "virtually nothing" about Syrian oppression of women. Human Rights Watch’s 2006 report summed it up this way:

"Discrimination against Women: Syria’s constitution guarantees gender equality, and many women are active in public life, but personal status laws as well as the penal code contain provisions that discriminate against women and girls. The penal code allows a judge to suspend punishment for a rapist if the rapist chooses to marry his victim, and provides leniency for so-called 'honor' crimes, such as assault or killing of women and girls by male relatives for alleged sexual misconduct. Wives require the permission of their husbands to travel abroad, and divorce laws remain discriminatory."

So, while Sawyer chose to laud Syrian family values and safe streets, she didn’t seem interested in the honor killings and leniency for rapists.

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