The New York Times turns in an excellent story on how the brutal Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad bought its way into positive coverage in the Western media.
With the help of high-priced public relations advisers who had worked in the Clinton, Bush and Thatcher administrations, the president and his family have sought over the past five years to portray themselves in the Western media as accessible, progressive and even glamorous.
Included in the treatment is this graph:
Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert with the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies in Washington who once worked for a charity sponsored by Mrs. Assad, summed up the appeal the Assads had for some news outlets: “He speaks English, and his wife is hot.”
That quote right there may force me to review my rules on experts — i.e., stay away from them; never let them inside your story; they’ll say anything to have their names printed.
This particular expert, too, delivers a scolding take on the actions of ABC’s Barbara Walters, who assisted a former media aide to the Assad regime, Sheherazad Jaafari, with a stateside job search. Walters sent e-mails to contacts at CNN and Columbia University on behalf of Jaafari, who’d helped her to score her huge December interview with Bashar al-Assad. (Jaafari, the daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, was accepted at Columbia, contrary to what Walters said and what many outlets — myself included — reported). The Rolodex treatment from Walters apparently came after Jaafari had fallen from grace with the Syrian regime. Expert Tabler found the assistance unseemly:
“At that point, how many had been killed — 7,000?” he said. “This is an attractive young woman, and she speaks English. Maybe you help her with an introduction. To get beyond that is a little difficult to swallow.”
The New York Times reporters, Bill Carter and Amy Chozick, appear to agree with their expert, noting that Walters’s outreach has left a “shadow” hanging over the December interview, though the video still looks free of haze.
Also pounding on Walters this past weekend was Howard Kurtz, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” Walters’s actions, said Kurtz, emitted “the air of a quid pro quo.”
Who cares about the air? If there’s a quid pro quo, then condemn. If there’s not, then do not condemn.