September 18, 2013
yrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking to Russian television
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (European Pressphoto Agency)

Below is a statement from Michael Clemente, executive vice president of news at Fox News Channel. The apparent purpose of the statement is to describe how Fox News scored an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that’ll be aired this evening. To a certain extent, the statement achieves its objective: Dennis Kucinich, a Fox News contributor and a former congressman and presidential candidate, pursued the interview, which took place on Sept. 17. But beyond that, the statement leaves a number of questions unanswered. Have a look at it and see for yourself.

“On Saturday, Sept. 7, FOX News contributor Dennis Kucinich advised me that he believed he could secure an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he had met on previous occasions. At the time, it appeared that an American military attack on Syria was imminent, and I decided that Kucinich should pursue the interview, on condition that FOX News journalists would also be included. We were presented with an opportunity for access to a volatile part of the world and felt that footage of Assad speaking would be of unique news value.

Over the course of the next 10 days, the situation in Syria changed drastically. When our interview with President Assad finally took place on Sept. 17, Russia’s proposal to secure Syrian chemical weapons had, temporarily, reduced the likelihood of an American attack.

The interview, shot by agreement by a Syrian camera crew, was conducted with no restrictions on the questions that could be asked. FOX News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot, a veteran of Middle East coverage, conducted the interview beside Kucinich and I was present in the control room and studio at the Presidential Palace in Damascus for the duration. Kucinich was not there in the capacity of a journalist nor was he representing FOX News in that role.

Given the change in circumstances between first learning of the possibility of an interview and the actual event, we believe our crew performed admirably.”

And so, the questions:

1) If Kucinich wasn’t there in the capacity of a journalist, what was he doing “beside” Palkot?

2) If Kucinich wasn’t representing Fox News “in that role,” what role was he representing?

3) Is Fox News saying that a Fox News contributor isn’t a journalist? If not, what is a Fox News contributor? Isn’t the pursuit of an interview an act of journalism?

4) Another portion of the Fox News statement says this: “The interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was conducted by FNC Senior Correspondent Greg Palkot and FNC contributor Dennis Kucinich and will run from 6:30-7:30PM/ET, followed by a panel of analysis from 7:30-8PM/ET.” That makes it sound as if Kucinich participated in the interview, but Fox News perhaps wants to distance itself from his role? Maybe?

5) The “panel of analysis” will include Fox News host Bret Baier along with Juan Williams, Charles Krauthammer and Stephen Hayes. Fine, can those fellows please explain what went on with Kucinich?

6) Could a press release ever do a more effective job of raising anticipation about an interview?

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.