Anyone who watched Wednesday night’s Fox News interview with President Bashar al-Assad would tell you that it was a tag-team production. Fox News contributor Dennis Kucinich and Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot alternated in the role of interviewer, each one pushing the Syrian strongman on a number of issues relating to his handling of opposition fighters, reported use of chemical weapons against his own people and the diplomatic effort now underway with the United States and Russia to place his arsenal under international control. Kucinich kicked off the discussion with this question: “I want to talk to you about other major developments regarding the chemical weapons plan, which has been agreed to by the U.S. and the Russian government. Do you agree with this plan to secure and to eventually destroy the chemical weapons?”
Disregard that question, however. Or something. Prior to airing the interview, Fox News issued a statement saying, “Kucinich was not there in the capacity of a journalist nor was he representing FOX News in that role.” Fox News host Bret Baier dragged out that same 10-foot-pole in his introduction to the interview: “Kucinich was not there in the capacity of a journalist, nor was he representing Fox News in that role.”
The motives for Fox News’s attempt to distance itself from Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman and presidential candidate, aren’t tough to divine. Kucinich crusades on the topic of Syria. His Web site, Kucinich Action, leads with a large headline, “TELL CONGRESS: STAND FOR AMERICA – VOTE NO TO ANY ATTACK ON SYRIA.” In a piece for Huffington Post, Kucinich listed the “Top 10 Unproven Claims for War Against Syria.” He also drew some press attention a couple of years back for saying positive things about the Syrian president.
So the guy has opinions, strong opinions. How often in the history of Fox News have strong opinions disqualified someone from presenting an exclusive? This is different, though: Kucinich is a goofball lefty with strong opinions trying to present an exclusive. Thus the asterisk.
Though Fox News was insistent that Kucinich wasn’t representing the network as a journalist, someone apparently forgot to tell Kucinich. Here are five reasons why Fox News, whatever its motives, couldn’t de-Kucinichize its Kucinich interview.
1) Kucinich got the “get.” As the statement notes, Kucinich told Fox News that he could secure an exclusive with Assad. Go for it, came the answer from Fox News’s executive suite. As any practitioner will attest, scoring the interview accounts for some great percentage of this journalistic act.
2) Kucinich became a Fox News contributor in January. In cable news, “contributor” means you’re part of the network’s extended family. And in the interview itself, Kucinich posed approximately 50 questions to the Syrian president.
3) Kucinich said this at the outset of the interview: “Hello Mr. President, thank you very much for providing Fox News with this opportunity for an interview.” What non-Fox News representative says that?
4) Kucinich said this at the outset of the interview: “I’m joined by my colleague, reporter Greg Palkot, and we’re very interested in proceeding.” So if Kucinich is a non-Fox News representative/non-journalist and Palkot is his “colleague,” does that mean that Palkot, too, is a non-Fox News representative/non-journalist?
5) Kucinich said this in one of his questions: “Would you be ready to let our Fox News cameras have access to some of the chemical weapons sites so that the American people can see for themselves? Is that possible?” “Our Fox News cameras,” huh? Thought you weren’t representing Fox News?
Baier said in closing, “Our thanks to Greg Palkot, Dennis Kucinich and the entire Fox crew for their efforts in bringing this to us.”
Some folks on Twitter expressed similar gratitude:
The @FoxNews Kucinich/Palkot interview with Assad is really, really good. If you’re not watching it now, watch it tonight. The best by far.
— Byron York (@ByronYork) September 18, 2013
— Hands OFF Syria (@handsoffsyria) September 19, 2013
@HeatherChilders Bit of a yawner. Good job by Palkott and Kucinich , however, it was hard watching a mass murderer lie like a Persian rug.
— Jim Laney (@jamesrlaney) September 19, 2013
Impressed w/ Kucinich. Hannity could take interview lessons from him.
— Barbara (@Barstamp) September 19, 2013
There was some anti-Kucinich sentiment as well:
Maybe it’s Assad’s whispery voice or Kucinich’s awk style but this looks more public access than hard hitting news http://t.co/PSBEpM2OfR
— Dan Siegel (@realmandan) September 19, 2013
The reactions, however, nullify Fox News’s absurd opening statement: It may not declare whether Kucinich was acting as a journalist. That’s a judgment that the viewers reach. Meanwhile, journalism historians will have to consider whether this is the first time a broadcaster has claimed credit for an exclusive while at the same time sort of disowning half of it.