Every weeknight, PBS’s Charlie Rose sits at a round oak table and interviews some of the most influential people in the world. The setting is informal but the discussions typically serious. Middle East leaders and analysts are regular guests on the prestigious television program. Although he is renowned for both his Southern civility and intelligence, a recent April 2nd interview with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt betrayed a sharp lack of awareness of basic information about Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinians, and a deference to his guest that crossed into outright sycophancy. Although Mubarak has spent two decades as the unelected dictator of the region’s largest Arab country, one where civil liberties are severely limited, where the Christian minority is endangered by growing persecution, where the government-controlled press spews venomous antisemitism, Holocaust-denial, and attacks on America, where long efforts by Israel to normalize relations have been met with hatred – Charlie Rose either ignored such unpleasant realities entirely or touched on them with the greatest discomfort and haste.
In some instances, Mubarak uttered bald falsehoods – and Rose was silent. Mubarak was unchallenged when he declared that, regarding the holy places in Jerusalem:
…before 1967 there (was) free access for all people – Palestinians, Jews, Moslems, everybody could go there. So if it is going to be given back to the Palestinians I think there will be no problem about Jews to visit their holy places, or Moslems or Copts or Christians or other religions.
An interviewer may not be able to question every obfuscation by a guest, but such lies should have been challenged. The claim that Jews and Christians had free access to their holy sites in Jerusalem when Jordan occupied the eastern side of the city is absurd. Jews were unable to pray at the Western Wall or to enter the Temple Mount for 19 years. Israeli Christians too were severely limited in their access to holy sites.
But the interview got worse. Mubarak, a veteran handler of Western journalists, anticipated being asked about the virulent government-controlled Egyptian press, and so he took the offensive, charging that religious Israelis have defamed Muhammed. Only then did Rose broach, in notably stumbling language, the delicate matter of the Egyptian media. He asked:
Do you know what they write in Egyptian papers, about the anti-Israel diatribes? Even the secretary of state was attacked in Egyptian newspapers. They called him, you know, about the yarmulke and said the so-called Holocaust.
An unperturbed Mubarak interjected, "Charlie, Charlie…you know we have free press." Although Egypt has nothing of the kind, Rose promptly agreed: "Right."
Even more astonishing was the American interviewer’s response to Mubarak’s rejoinder that the Israeli press contains "nasty words" against Egypt. "It’s equally bad," Rose agreed. No impulse to put a guest at ease can justify such craven denial of the truth. Attacks on Islam and Arabs equivalent to the persistent pattern of anti-Jewish diatribes in the Egyptian press simply do not occur and are not part of the culture of the Israeli media. Moreover, in Israel a diverse and genuinely free press exists, as Rose well knows but evidently could not bring himself to say. In Egypt, where newspaper editors are appointed by the government, the fulminations against Israel, America, and the West are not simply a spontaneous reflection of a public inflamed with hatred; they are a governmental expression.
Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date.