GMA's Sawyer Allows Iranian President’s Wild Statements to Go Unchallenged

As already reported on NewsBusters, ABC’s Diane Sawyer continued her Dictator ‘07 Tour on Tuesday with a stop in Iran to interview President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although the "Good Morning America" host did press the Iranian leader, it’s hard not ask some difficult questions to a man who repeatedly calls for the destruction of Israel.

However, the questions were nowhere near as tough as in November 1998 when she interrogated special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. In that case, Sawyer told the Clinton investigator that "There is something about certainty that scares a lot of people" and wondered if he "went too far." In comparison, while the veteran journalist did challenge Ahmadinejad, she frequently let absurd statements go without a follow-up. When Iran’s President insisted that "death to America" chants shouldn’t be taken personally by United States citizens, Sawyer didn’t call him on it:

Diane Sawyer: "So now, the nuclear questions. What about those 3,000 centrifuges and the gaps in reporting to the watchdog IAEA? And the Bush administration contention if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it's a desire for a nuclear weapon. If you could have a nuclear weapon today, tomorrow, would you want one?"

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Well, our position is clear: We are opposed to any proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. We believe that the time is now over for nuclear weapons. It is a time for logic, for rationality and for civilization. Instead of thinking of finding new weapons, we are trying to find new ways to love people. And if talked about ‘Death to America’ slogan, I think you know it yourself, it is not related in any way to American public. Our people have no problem with American public, and we have a very friendly relationship."

Sawyer: "So this should be solved before the 10 days in which the sanctions will be imposed? Additional sanctions?"

Ahmadinejad: "I think my answer was clear. We’re always ready to talk within the framework of regulations and as long as the rights of the human nation is, are safe guarded. You see, tens of millions took to the streets yesterday and insisted to have what belongs to them. We are a member of the agency and we would like to benefit from what– the rights we're entitled to. Within this frame work we are ready to negotiate."

Notice how the GMA anchor simply moved on? Wouldn’t it be sensible to ask how "death to America" chants are not related to the American public?

Sawyer began the multi-part interview, the first segment airing at 7:13am on Febuary 13, by being on the receiving end of tough questioning. After an introduction, she asked Ahmadinejad about the death of Saddam Hussein:

Sawyer: "What did you think when you saw the hanging of Saddam Hussein? He was your enemy."

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Yes, but who equipped this enemy? Who made him fight with us for eight years? Who supported him? The U.S. administration. The U.S. administration could support us."

Sawyer: "Did you feel sympathy?"

Ahmadinejad: "What about you? Did you have any kind of sympathy?"

Sawyer: "I'm a journalist."

Ahmadinejad: "But you've come here in the disguise of politician, I guess."

Sawyer: "No, I am a journalist, solely a journalist. Excuse me." [Sawyer adjusts her hijab.]

Ahmadinejad: "Well, naturally, when a criminal is eliminated, all the people will be happy, but we think that if the U.S. administration had not supported Saddam he would never have attacked Iran or Kuwait."

The exchange between Sawyer and Ahmadinejad over "death to America" chants followed. Sawyer then teased her next interview by recounting a sexist reprimand that the Iranian President delivered at the close of the interview. The ABC anchor seemed remarkably unfazed by the comments:

Sawyer: " In our next half-hour, what about threats that Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth and that the Holocaust was a myth? [Clip of Sawyer question to Ahmadinejad] Would you be willing to go to Auschwitz and see their documentation? And we'll have all of that coming up in the next half-hour. But I got so many e-mails and questions from those of you who left before the second hour of the show yesterday, asking me what were the president's final words to me. Here they were: He turned around to me and said, ‘Your questions are combative. Women should not be asking tough questions about war, women should ask about love, culture and family.’ Chris?"

Imagine if a Republican or, say, a conservative special prosecutor had said such things to a journalist.

In the second segment, which aired at 7:42, Sawyer asked about Ahmadinejad’s harsh rhetoric towards Israel:

Sawyer: "You have said Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth. You have said that ‘anyone who recognizes Israel will burn in fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.’ Do you still say those things? And if the Palestinian issue is solved, and the parties to those talks agree that there should be two states with Israel as one of them, will you accept that, and accept Israel and the United Nations?"

Ahmadinejad: "What we have said about the Palestine is quite clear. We say that based on the charter of the U.N., and based on the current international regulations, let Palestinians decide."

Sawyer: "You- You-"

Ahmadinejad: "Please allow me- Please allow me- Please allow the Palestinians to decide and please respect their decision. But, please give them the opportunity for decision making. What happened to the former Soviet Union? It disappeared, disappeared from the face of the Earth. Was it because of war? No. It was through the decision of the people. And what we say is quite clear."

Sawyer: "But burn in the fire?"

Ahmadinejad: "I would tell you, wait a little while. Just be patient. Just be patient and listen. We believe that in Palestine, there should be a referendum. And Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, any Palestinians, and this is based on international regulations. And I think that this is their right to determine the future. Any decision made by Palestinians must be respected. And I think that this is a very clear proposition. Why are people opposed? What we say is clear. If you continue massacring innocent people and if you continue to make them refugees and if you continue attacking neighboring countries then the countries, then the countries and the people of those countries in the region become angry, because the Zionist regime was imposed upon the region. You know many families, they don't function normally. We have families where their members are either incarcerated or killed. Many mothers now are mourning the death of their children. Even the Palestinian government, which was elected by Palestinian vote, is attacked by the Zionist regime. Members of the Parliament are arrested. Cabinet ministers are arrested. Israel is not following any international regulations. When nations of the region ask for justice and Some American politicians support oppression, here is no other solution for people."

Sawyer: "So, it seemed to us a nuanced change where he says that the right of Israel to exist is a question for Palestinians. That’s what he’s now saying, a change in the words, despite whatever he may feel and whatever he may want."

Notice how the GMA anchor politely allowed Ahmadinejad to ramble on for so long without interruption or challenge. Also, apparently simply not advocating for Israel’s obliteration while he’s sitting in front of Sawyer is enough of an effort to be described as "nuanced."

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