In times of peace, CNN talk-show host Larry King's interviews with
celebrities, including political figures, can perhaps be dismissed as
inconsequential fluff. In times of war, when he gives key Middle East players a
forum to dispense outright distortions, journalistic standards surely require
him to show both a modicum of knowledge of the issues and a bit of spine in
challenging the anti- Israel and anti-American canards his guests purvey.
A striking exchange among several guests on the October 15 edition of
"Larry King Live" demonstrated the difference between a journalist
who adds to viewers' understanding of a dangerous world and King's fawning
avoidance of facts which may make his guests feel uncomfortable.
New York Times correspondent and bioterrorist expert Judith Miller
joined several other guests, including Dana Suyyagh from the Qatar-based
Al-Jazeera television network, which has gained prominence in the Middle East
as a freewheeling network not subject to the strict state censorship that
blights other Arab media. Yet Al-Jazeera has also played a major role in
inflaming the Arab masses against Israel, broadcasting lurid, one-sided scenes
of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Americans have also been concerned about the
network's part in presenting a distorted picture of US actions. In a curious
role-shift, the CNN host left it to Miller to ask the serious questions. She
first challenged Suyyagh over Al-Jazeera's providing a platform for Osama bin
Laden's video-taped invective against America, and then she questioned the
coverage of Israel: "Do you call people who blow themselves up on the West
Bank and in Gaza and in Israel martyrs?" Suyyagh: "Yes, we do. We
do." Miller: "And do you think that's objective?" When Suyyagh
answered, "Yes," Miller continued, "Did you call the people who
blew the Twin Towers up martyrs?" "No. We never called them martyrs.
That is an act of terror. We go with international opinion on that one... The
West Bank is a different issue altogether," said Suyyagh. Miller pressed
the point: "So terrorists who kill people, civilians in Israel, are
martyrs, and terrorists who kill Americans are terrorists? Is that your news
standard?" The Al-Jazeera reporter replied, "No. We have a standing
policy that people who are martyrs are people who give themselves for a cause.
What happened in New York and Washington, we believe, was causeless."
Miller continued to challenge Suyyagh about the contradictions of Al-Jazeera
Unfortunately, this exchange, providing valuable insight about an important
issue, would never have happened were it not for Miller's presence. Far more
typical was a lineup of panelists two days earlier on the subject of Islamic
anger that included, among others, Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi. To
her claim that the Palestinian issue is the "heart of the disaffection
with the US," King offered not a word of dispute. At one point, referring
to Islamic fundamentalists, he asked of Ashrawi: "You've got to be taught
to hate, Hanan, is that correct? And the only way to stop it is to not teach
it?" He did not, of course, even hint at the role of Palestinians
themselves as purveyors of hatred.
Ashrawi's reaction to King's query was to prattle about how "the real
antidote is genuine democracy, respect for human rights, the transition to an
inclusive and tolerant culture." Finally, King asked solicitously:
"Hanan - who has gone through so much, seen so much on both sides - are
you optimistic at all that we will live in peace?" The Palestinian speaker
said she was "extremely concerned," then picked up the cudgel against
Israel once more, denouncing the "decades of brutal and cruel occupation
that has led to so much hostility and fear and hatred." Without a murmur,
the CNN host went to his next guest.
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date.