How warm a handshake would CNN's most well-known interviewer give to Holocaust denier David Irving? How hospitable a platform would the network give to anti-Semite David Duke?
It's hard to say. These extremists aren't often invited to CNN headquarters. But when it comes to Holocaust denier and anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who appeared Sept. 23 on Larry King Live, we do know the answer. The handshake he received after the interview was quite warm, conveying to millions of viewers a subtle but powerful message about the acceptability of his extreme opinions. The platform offered was hospitable and virtually unhindered, in line with Larry King's typical style.
One can reasonably question whether such an extremist should be given any platform at all. There are, after all, lines that aren't (and shouldn't be) crossed. Most people with such extreme, violent views and policies aren't given the gift of so prominent a soapbox from which to promulgate their warped worldview. Those who take every available opportunity to revive the themes of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion aren't often afforded an audience of millions of Americans.
Jerusalem Post columnist Calev Ben-David argued that "Ahmadinejad is too important a newsmaker not to get such extensive coverage, and I don't know many journalists, myself included, who wouldn't jump at the chance to interview him." Nonetheless, he sensibly added:
This is not to say that every journalist should interview him, however as became painfully clear watching CNN's Larry King this week. While King's patented soft-ball interviewing style which mainly consists of letting his subjects have their say without being made to feel too uncomfortable - can be appropriate with certain personalities, Ahmadinejad surely isn't one of them. His lies, evasions and slanders should be forcefully challenged, a task King clearly wasn't able or willing to do. ...
I don't know what genius at CNN thought that King was the most appropriate interrogator for Ahmadinejad, but this was clearly not one of the news network's finer hours. While the Western press should, by all means, engage Iran's fanatic leader, it must only do so with the journalistic rigor and responsibility demanded when confronting someone who today surely deserves, more than any other, the title of most dangerous man in the world.
CNN and Larry King fell far short of any such journalistic rigor and responsibility. The interview was essentially a monologue by Ahmadinejad, during which he pushed, without serious counterpoint by King, the most extreme version of anti-Israel "history." Americans were told that more than 5 million Palestinians "were forced out of their homes;" that "the Zionist regime" is the source of all trouble in the area and that the Palestinians are completely innocent; that "Zionists are not Jewish people;" and, of course, that we can't really be sure the Holocaust happened.
Larry King not only neglected any substantive challenge to this false litany but actually appeared eager to help rehabilitate the Iranian president's image. He bizarrely told Ahmadinejad what Ahmadinejad doesn't mean: "You've called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Now, since you say that you are a peaceful nation, you don't mean militarily."
King was obviously uninterested in all the available evidence of the Iranian leader being "militarily" against Israel. Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad praised Hamas's attacks against Israel as "a source of pride for all Muslims," telling Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that he would support the terrorist group until the "collapse" of Israel. There were no questions about Iran's moral and financial support for anti-Israel (not to mention anti-American) terrorism.
And instead of asking about Iran's partnership with Hezbollah, a terrorist group whose leader had announced that the gathering of Jews in Israel "will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide" and which, along with Iran, is responsible for the mass murder of Jews in Argentina (not to mention the brutal murder of numerous Americans), King told Ahmadinejad that Ahmadinejad was against the death of Israelis (and at the same time tacitly supported the Iranian President's comparison of Israel to the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa): "Even if the Soviet Union [collapsed] without violence. South Africa [collapsed] without violence. What's the solution? How do we bring about this concept of peace everywhere? You don't want to see Israelis die. I assume you don't want to see Israelis die."
Nor did Ahmadinejad's Holocaust distortions and his schemes to eliminate the Jewish state prompt appropriate rebuttal by King.
Larry King has assured himself a steady supply of celebrity interviewees with his non-confrontational format, but applying this approach to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reflects a lack of news judgement by CNN that recalls the network's egregious "God's Warriors" series with Christiane Amanpour of a year ago.