The recent reports that David Frost had taped a TV interview with the shah in Panama caught my eye. It was of more than casual interest to me because I happen to be the father of a hostage in Iran.
As a journalistic coup, it's quite an accomplishment. Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and now Mohammad Reza Pahlavi! There's no question that it will get Frost the kind of ratings sponsors understand, to say nothing of print headlines. Yet in the midst of my admiration, there are a few nagging thoughts that will not go away.
The shah has been out of the country more than a month, and I think it is agreed that his departure tempered one of the most intense points of conflict with the revolutionaries in Iran. With the shah in Panama, the question of the United States' compelling his return was beginning to fade. He was ceasing to be a daily headline.
Now Frost is bringing him back to the United States -- coast-to-coast, in prime time, into millions of American homes and ultimately millions more around the world. After all we have tried to do to defuse this particular issue, he is returning the shah to our midst -- in living color.
As a professional newsman, Frost has an acute sense of the significance behind facts, actions and timing. I must ask: how does he think the Iranians, given their inflamed state of mind against the United States will react? In their present paranoiac isolation, will they appreciate the distinctions between a remote tape and a live appearance? Will they understand his program, as we do, as the product of enterprising journalism, or will they see it as the latest plot by the "satanic" Americans to return the shah to power? Will it advance our efforts to free the hostages, remote as it may seem at the moment, or set the whole effort back still further? Might it not possibly affect the hostages themselves?
These are not hypothetical questions; they are the possible harsh consequences that he and we may have to live with after the show.
When he appears on his interview with Frost, the shah undoubtedly will look good -- the makeup men will see to that. He will certainly be alert -- Frost's questions will see to that. Watching the shah, many people -- certainly the Iranians who see the tape -- will ask themselves: What gall bladder operation? What cancer? What terminal illness? Was the business of his coming to the United States for medical treatment a cover for other purposes? Were the American people whose sympathies went out to a presumably dying man dupes? Are we liars or gulls or both? Will this help our dealings with the Iranians? Will it enhance our credibility with the rest of the world?
It is entirely possible that the shah does not come off too well in the interview; after all, Frost has not earned his battle ribbons with a butter knife. But it is also likely that the shah got off more than a few good shots at the ayatollah, the militants and the revolutionary movement. You can bet on the fury of their response. And since they cannot get their rage, where do you think they might find a handier one?
As Frost must know, it is one thing to cover a news event; it is another to make one. In making available an interview on so inflammatory an issue, he is moving in on one of the most delicate and explosive international problems this country has ever confronted. He is not reporting on national policy; he is intruding on it, and I trust he appreciates the difference. Nobody questions his right to inform; some people might question his right to affect; still others might shrink at his timing.
David Frost is a British subject, and perhaps thus a degree removed from the intensity of our concerns. I am sure he will understand that many Americans might be distressed at the thought that our national interests, and perhaps the welfare of our hostages, were up for grabs.