On Friday's CBS This Morning, former Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel unexpectedly zeroed in on a part of Nelson Mandela's legacy that apparently wasn't sufficiently left wing. Moments after he lionized Mandela as "the George Washington of South Africa", Stengel asserted that "he [Mandela] had not been very progressive about HIV and AIDS when he was president".
Veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon also sang Mandela's praises, to the point that he made an eyebrow-raising comment about the supposed extent that the former South African president stands apart in recent history: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]
BOB SIMON, 60 MINUTES CORRESPONDENT: ...[I]t's even more relevant, I think, to realize – and this is the sad part – that there's no one around today anywhere like him. If one wants to think of the last great politician, we're going back to the Second World War. There's been nobody like that, and there's nobody around today – which has – just goes to show where our world has gone.
Anchors Charlie Rose, Norah O'Donnell, and Gayle King brought on Stengel, Simon, Professor Yvette Christianse of Bernard College on for a panel discussion about Mandela, who died on Thursday. O'Donnell introduced Stengel as the "former Time magazine managing editor", and that he "wrote the biography, 'Mandela's Way', and collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography." She added that "Stengel also wrote Mandela's obituary for a commemorative edition of Time magazine." However, like CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday, the CBS journalist failed to mention that her guest is also an Obama administration nominee, who likened his future boss to the deceased South Africa leader.
Near the end of the 13-minute segment, Rose asked Stengel, "How did he [Mandela] handle – after he left the presidency – all this adoration that he knew was his – with bemusement; with what?" The print journalist first replied with his Washington comparison, and continued with his critique:
RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER TIME MANAGING EDITOR: No. He enjoyed it, Charlie. I mean, he enjoyed a certain percentage of it. I mean, he – in many ways, he was, really, the George Washington of South Africa – and not just because he was the father of the nation, but because he willingly stepped down from the presidency, which set a precedent for the rest of Africa. He liked the fact that he had gone back to the farm, a la George Washington, and that people feted him.
But he also learned a lot even after he left office. I mean, he had not been very progressive about HIV and AIDS when he was president. [Former South African President] Thabo Mbeki had made a number of mistakes. He learned all of that. He criticized Thabo after his presidency. So, he still remain engaged until the last few years.
It should be pointed out that Mandela forwarded a quite left-wing social agenda during his time in office. John Smeaton of the Society For the Preservation of the Unborn Child, a pro-life group in the U.K., pointed out how Mandela's government legalized abortion on demand in 1996. Rorate Caeli blog also noted how the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute labeled the South African law "one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world", and highlighted how the "vast majority of black South Africans (64%)...think abortion is 'always wrong' even in the case of 'serious defect'"
Simon then made his debatable claim about the former South African president having no equals among post-World War II leaders. One example that stands out – if the journalist's "politician" qualifier is extended to include all world leaders – is Pope John Paul II's and his impact on global affairs, especially with his role in liberating Eastern Europe from communism.
Despite this, Rose and King voiced their agreement with their colleague. Moments later, she complimented Simon as she ended the segment: "Bob Simon, you have the last word on that – very well put".
[Update: the transcript of the relevant portion of the panel discussion from Friday's CBS This Morning can be read at MRC.org.]