The Reagan administration yesterday denounced NBC News for airing an interview with Mohammed Abu Abbas, who is sought by Italian, Israeli and U.S. authorities on charges that he orchestrated the Achille Lauro ship hijacking.
"Obviously, terrorism thrives on this kind of publicity," State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said yesterday. "This is the type of interview that gives terrorists the platform that they seek. Such publicity may, in fact, encourage the terrorist activities which we are all seeking to deter."
Abbas, who was interviewed by NBC reporter Henry Champ in an unnamed Arabic country, vowed that terrorist attacks would be launched inside the United States in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Libya last month.
Calling NBC "accomplices" for agreeing to meet Abbas at a secret location and labeling the interview "reprehensible," Robert Oakley, head of the state department's counterterrorism section, told Cable News Network that "when a media outlet makes deals with a terrorist not to divulge his whereabouts, the news organization is saying, in effect, 'we've become his accomplices in order to give him publicity.' "
"That is insulting to the American public," responded NBC vice president Timothy J. Russert. "If they are suggesting that this interview is a favorable one and put him [Abbas] in a favorable light with the American public, that doesn't appear very likely.
"It is also indeed ironic that the department that said to the Soviets 'Let there be a free flow of information' on Chernobyl suddenly suggests that there should be censorship . . . . If we are only going to cover the good news or only cover people who say things that we as a country hope they are going to say, then we don't have a free press," Russert added.
Russert said that the State Department has not contacted NBC about the interview, and that NBC will not divulge where it took place. "That would not be appropriate," he said.
Russert said that the network requested the interview three months ago, and that "Immediately before and after the interview, we had no idea where [Abbas] was."
In the interview, Abbas said that President Reagan had "placed himself as enemy number one" with the U.S. raid on Libya. When asked about the safety of Americans traveling abroad, he said, "It is the American taxpayer who is financing the American policies that decide his fate . . . . "