Aired January 17, 2003 - 19:30:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
In this edition, uncovering Mugabe's secrets; how one international journalist, masquerading as a golfer, managed to chip away at the horrifying truth in Zimbabwe.
Plus, Gulf War veteran James Hewitt and former lover to Princess Diana, heads back to the Gulf, but this time not as a military man, rather as a member of the media, who says he's a journalist.
But first, facing the press and facing his own party, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came under intense pressure this week defending his support for military action against Baghdad if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not disarm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The threat seems to some people to be remote, but I passionately believe that we must disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. We must uphold the authority of the United Nations. We must show rogue states and terrorist organizations that when we say we intend to deal with the issue of weapons of mass destruction, we mean it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MACVICAR: but while the British media continue to voice their concern, and at times contempt on the issue, can the same lee said of the American press, particularly the liberal elite?
To discuss this now, I'm joined by Leonard Downie, executive editor of "The Washington Post," and Matthew Engle, columnist and Washington correspondent with Britain's "Guardian" newspaper.
Matthew, let me begin with you. You published a long article this week in the "Guardian," which I have to say is generally considered to be a left-leaning newspaper, in which you lambasted newspapers, like Mr. Downie's "Washington Post," basically saying the liberal elite has rolled over and died in the face of the Bush administration's sophisticated manipulation of the press.
MATTHEW ENGEL, "GUARDIAN": Well, I certainly wouldn't want this to be a question between me and "The Washington Post," or any criticism of anybody personally.
But I think that there is a point, that the press is not doing a good job of invigilating the White House now. I don't think it's a matter of partisanship. I think it comes down to two reasons.
One is that I think the American press, looking at it from an outside perspective, has a very rigid and old fashioned concept of what constitutes news, which makes it very vulnerable to being manipulated by politicians who are determined and clever enough to do so.
And secondly, of course, the American press is essentially a monopolist press, and we know what happens to monopolies in any form of business. They get a little bit complacent.
MACVICAR: Now, Len Downie, I have no doubt that you want to take issue with what Matthew Engel has said, but do you think that there's any justification for the criticism that newspapers, like "The Washington Post," which have a great old liberal tradition, have been -- there voices have been, if not silent, but certainly muffled, since September 11 in particular.
Let me say two things about that.
LEONARD DOWNIE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": First of all, we aren't a liberal newspaper, and the myth of liberal media in the United States is just that, a myth.
It was begun by the conservatives when they objected to certain kinds of reporting, beginning, I think, with Watergate, with the reporting that led to the resignation of a Republican president, Richard Nixon.
In the United States, we separate editorial opinion from reporting. There's a strict separation between reporting the news and giving opinions on the news, quite different from the British press, where the same ideology permeates the newspaper on both its editorial page and in its reporting.
And what has happened in this country is that editorial pages that did tend to be more liberal in the past, although they were always a minority - - most editorial pages in this country have always been more Republican than Democrat -- but those minority editorial pages, the more liberal ones, have tended to become more conservative as indeed to some extent thought, political thought in this country, has become more conservative over the last decade or two.
But in terms of our reporting, we remain as aggressive as ever in trying to hold the president accountable to the American people for his actions.
For instance, since September 11, most of what people in the United States and the world know, for instance, about the intrusions on civil liberties of various anti-terrorism policies in this country, come from aggressive reporting by the media. The administration has been trying to keep everything secret. We've been unlocking some of those secrets of, for instance, the detentions of both Americans and non-Americans in this country suspected of terrorist activity.
MACVICAR: I mean, that is a valid point, Matthew Engel. Where certainly in Britain you do tend to have, if you would, what might be called house newspapers, newspapers which go along with the political line and do tend to buy into that political line, all the way down the line. Even if you think back to the Falklands crisis, where, you know, it was clearly a different time, but they clearly ate it all up.
ENGEL: Sure. Wed, I'm certainly not going to defend everything that has ever happened in the British press, but I think one effect of our system is that if you take a wide range of newspapers, you get a different range of perspectives.
I certainly don't think in the quality press you get much slanting of the facts. You might get slanting of emphasis. Certainly people at the "Guardian" might tend to put in rather more prominently what it thinks its readers want to read, and so would a paper like the "Daily Telegraph" on the other side of the argument.
But I think if you take the two, you get a pretty good brawl, and a lot of intellectual debate.
What I find is that you don't get this in the United States, and I think this is particularly true in the newspapers.
The fact is that in almost every other form of the U.S. media you've got incredibly lively and vibrant competition. But what you have in the newspapers is essentially notional competition. Sure, I know -- of course the "Post" wants to beat the "Times," but that doesn't actually effect the "Post's" core business, whether it beats the "Times" of a particular story. You've just competing out of, you know, out of professional need.
And I think this is actually central to what's happened to the American press over a long period of time.
MACVICAR: Leonard Downie, the executive editor of "The Washington Post," is this part, do you think, of the transatlantic disconnect, the distance, the difference of opinion that is clearly emerging between the Bush administration and some of its closest allies over seas? Between the American people and some of their closest friends over seas?
DOWNIE: Yes, I think you've put your finger on it.
There are two different disconnects here. Clearly this administration is a unilateralist administration in many ways, who believes it can push on where it needs to push on in the world recollect with or without backing or help or coordination with allies. That's causing one disconnect.
I think the other is between the publics. I think that the American public is focused primarily on the danger that terrorism poses to this country. The effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks, I think, are very deeply felt in this country, probably not well understood outside how deep those feelings are.
Whereas on the other hand, Americans are not very sensitive to European concerns about a war that essentially -- if there is a war with Iraq, would be fought in Europe's back yard and would have profound effects on not only the economies in Europe, but also the many immigrants from the Middle East who live in Europe.
MACVICAR: Matthew, it does seem as though where the discussion begins in Europe, when you talk about the (AUDIO GAP) probability of war, what you read in the European media is why this war and why this war now. It does seem that the starting point of the United States is a little bit different than that.
ENGEL: Yes, well, I don't think that this is an issue between the publics. I think this is a media matter.
I've spent time in both London and in the American heartland in the last few weeks and I don't they think that there's such a great difference between the two as people imagine.
The question is not what should we do about terrorism. The question is what has Iraq got to do with terrorism and is this the right way to go about defeating terrorism, and I think the public all over the world is asking that question, and asking it very dubiously.
I don't think the media in this country is reflecting that debate, and I think that debate is going on in a lot of American households as well as the press in Europe and elsewhere is reflecting it, and I think it's a simple matter of that.
MACVICAR: Well, Len Downie, executive editor of "The Washington Post," Matthew Engel, Washington correspondent for the "Guardian," thank you both very much for joining me.
Coming up, on a course to uncovering the secrets of the Mugabe regime. We talk to a British journalist posing as a golfer who got inside Zimbabwe and got at the truth.
MACVICAR: Welcome back to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
It's such a telling story, yet so hard to tell.
Zimbabwe and its continued struggles under the regime of President Robert Mugabe remain in the media spotlight. Only with the international press banned from the country, getting a true picture of what is going on is extremely difficult.
But one British journalist managed to get into the country, and disguised as a golfer, he was able to uncover some frightening facts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER OBORNE, "SPECTATOR": Here they are bringing out what was literally the only edible thing in the village.
This is what their eating, how do you eat it?
This was called (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Apparently it staves off hunger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sort of like peel it off, then you cut it into slices and.
OBORNE: It's a sort of chunk of wood, really.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
OBORNE: This is wood. They're living on wood. I'm trying to see how you can possibly eat this. It doesn't seem possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MACVICAR: Peter Oborne is political editor of the "Spectator," whose documentary, "Mugabe's Secret Famine," ran on Britain's Channel 4 this past Sunday.
Peter, this is truly an extraordinary piece of work, and I really want to congratulate you on what is a truly gutsy piece of reporting.
How did you hit upon the motion of going in disguised as a golfer? It was apparent to all your viewers that you are not naturally a great golfer.
OBORNE: No. I think my golf swing was not really of much use. Actually, I was a golfing stockbroker. I can tell you my stock market investments are even worse.
But, it was simply that journalists are not allowed in. You can't be a journalist and operate. Even the local journalists have a very difficult time and they get killed from time to time, and attacked and threatened and so on.
So, I mean, we had to have an alibi, and that's what we did, which in a funny way revealed one of the best stories in the film, which was when we were at Bulawayo Golf Club and going around and discovered the shallow grave.
OBORNE: . where the five bodies had been found a few weeks before.
MACVICAR: I mean, it really was quite extraordinary. You're on, what, the 17th hole.
OBORNE: The 17th hole of Bulawayo.
MACVICAR: And suddenly your looking at the site of a mass grave.
OBORNE: You see, and also what made it even more macabre is this phrase (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the banality of evil.
I mean, there was a tournament going on, the business community in Bulawayo, which is the most prosperous city perhaps in Zimbabwe, not that that's saying anything. But, you know, there they were, drinking beers and going around in the tournament, and yet they're all passing this place where just a few weeks before there had been these five bodies, decapitated, signs of torture, and they'd been found on the course.
And the police came and took them away. There was no inquiry. There was no news in the press.
MACVICAR: Completely hushed up.
OBORNE: I mean, this was just hushed up. And this is what shows, you see, the lawlessness and the terror of the regime, that the fact that five bodies are found, there's not a question of scandal. It's just something which nobody wants to know about.
MACVICAR: You were also able to uncover some really very extraordinary information about the level of deprivation and poverty and hunger in what was once an extraordinarily prosperous country.
OBORNE: Yes. The thing about Zimbabwe is that it's never had a famine before. It's been the breadbasket of Africa.
Whenever these droughts happen, Zimbabwe has bailed out the rest of the area. This time, it's far worse hit, and the reason it's worse hit is because Mugabe -- these people -- he's deliberately starving his political opponents to death. That's what's happening.
We went to the north of the country, to the Binger (ph) area, where the opposition won a number of seats, and he's punishing them, the people there, for voting for the MD -- the Movement for Democratic Change. And we could prove that by showing that the aid agencies have been banned from operating in the area after the recent elections.
MACVICAR: Now, presumably, given the kind of information that you came out with, there should be something of an international outcry. Your story ran just about a week ago now, and the only story we've heard from Zimbabwe this week has been these allegations that perhaps Mugabe may be under some pressure to step down.
OBORNE: There is certainly pressure, I think, domestically for him, because the country is in collapse. The economy has ceased to exist. There's no petrol ready, for instance. I mean -- I think this is disturbing for the, you know, for the army and so forth, and I can see a possibility of something happening.
But really, I do think that the world community, in it's fall sense, must -- if Mugabe is determined to starve people, to prevent food reaching his own people, the world must intervene to make sure they get that food.
And actually there's been some very good words from the State Department. I think Americans -- the U.S. have been very, very strong on this, and there have been good words, saying that we will deliver today if Mugabe is going to stop that.
I do they think it is time that the world said we are going to stop something which amounts to a genocide, and it is time the world stopped that.
MACVICAR: Did you find what you expected to find when you went there? Clearly you knew there was a story. Clearly you knew you would get some extremely powerful stuff. Did you find what you thought you would find? Or did is exceed your expectations?
OBORNE: Well, what was so frightening actually, and was -- we immediately found it. There was no difficulty. Everybody -- everybody we met had not had any food for days or weeks.
It wasn't like -- it was just everywhere. It was the universality of it. The -- and it -- literally, it breaks you down. You see, you meet -- and there a fantastic people. They're a beautiful people. They're incredibly well-mannered, nice, resourceful. But they are -- everybody you met was -- you met people picking leaves off trees to boil them up. You met people cutting down bits of wood to eat. Just desperate food substitute situation.
The message I would like to send out, actually, as I've got the privilege of appearing on CNN, is that it is not yet a great famine. You can stop it. We can stop it happening. We can stop it happening in the next few weeks. But if we don't act now, there is going to be a terrible famine of the kind that happened in Ethiopia, you know, a few years ago, that maybe is happening now there.
It is still time for the world to move in and make -- and save so many lives.
MACVICAR: Peter Oborne, political editor of the "Spectator," thank you very much for agreeing to appear today, and thank you also for a piece of really committed and courageous journalism.
OBORNE: Thank you.
MACVICAR: Still ahead in INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, he's back in the news, quite literally. We look at how Princess Diana's former lover, James Hewitt landed a job as a journalist when we come back.
MACVICAR: Welcome back.
James Hewitt, the former lover of the late Princess Diana, is back in the news. And no, it's not just the princess's 64 handwritten letters that he told Larry King he was willing to sell.
This time, he is the news.
The Gulf War veteran known to the British tabloids as "the love rat" is going back to the Gulf, but as a journalist. The American network FOX NEWS has signed him up to be a television reporter.
He has no journalistic experience other than dodging the tabloid press. So, do you have to be a journalist to be in journalism? And will a possible war in the Gulf be more about the people reporting the news than the news itself?
I'm joined here in the studio by a veteran war correspondent, Marie Colvin, of the "Sunday Times," and in Washington, D.C., Howard Kurtz, media critic with "The Washington Post."
Good afternoon to you both.
Marie, let me start by asking you. James Hewitt. We've all seen those pictures, top of the tank, Gulf War. And now FOX says that he's their latest television correspondent and will be riding a microphone for them. Can he do the job?
MARIE COLVIN, "SUNDAY TIMES": Well, I think -- I think it's -- I mean, it's really star journalism, isn't it?
He's -- his one qualification for being a journalist seems to be -- at least we know he keeps his notes, doesn't he. But, I mean, he's -- journalism isn't standing in front of a camera, and you know, having a pretty face. I mean, I was -- we've all been in war zones.
You need, you know, you need to know the political context, not just - - he does have military background, so I suppose he can, you know, count the planes in and count them out. He'll know what kind of, you know, cannon that was that just fired.
But I just don't think -- that's not -- you know, that's not what is the most important thing in a war. You want to report what's -- tell people about what's happening to people on the ground. What is the situation of people under the bombing, of people who, you know, have to live there. Where is the war going. What's the political context.
You know, welcome to James Hewitt, but I just find it difficult to imagine him doing that.
MACVICAR: Howard, why other than the obvious ink that FOX has got out of this do you think that Roger Ellis (ph) has made this decision? He is sort of, do you think, redefining who can be a journalist or what is a journalist?
HOWARD KURTZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, sources at FOX tell me that this is not a done deal. Apparently, not everyone at the network thinks that putting Diana's former lover into a war correspondent role is going to necessarily add to the credibility of the network.
But, look, let's face it, all of the television networks play this celebrity game, where being famous for something -- it doesn't matter whether you know how to take notes and know how to conduct an interview -- is more important than perhaps years of experience.
I mean, it was CNN's HEADLINE NEWS that last year hired Andrea Thompson, an actress from a detective show here called "NYPD Blue" to be an anchor on headline news. That only lasted about nine months.
Presidential candidates and other politicians seem to go back and forth between being television anchors and being in the world of politics.
So this is just an extreme manifestation, if it happens, of this fascination that television networks have with the aura of celebrity.
MACVICAR: And is it just television networks, do you think, Maria? Do you think also we can see it in the print press as well?
COLVIN: I think you do see it in the print press. Of course, we're not sort of, you know, innocent, or worthier.
But, you know, and I think it also depends on what's the topic. If you have a star name, and they're commenting on, you know, parties in London, or even, you know, London politics from a quirky angle -- I think the difference in this -- I think, fine, you know, I'm not sort of a puritan about that.
But this is -- if this war happens, and it looks increasingly likely, you know, this is a war that could involve so many issues, and potential dangers, that actually what you -- and what you say in print or report could affect that.
So I think there is a sort of serious issue there for that reason.
MACVICAR: Do you think, Howard, that the -- broadening out from the narrow issue of James Hewitt and whether or not he becomes a FOX NEWS correspondent, do you think that the networks are -- the news organizations are really thinking about the kinds of obligations that they may have in covering this war and the very difficult issues, as Marie has pointed out, they may have to confront -- the kind of people who will be best suited to deal with that stuff? Or are they looking for kind of flash and trash?
KURTZ: Well, on one hand, obviously, all news organizations, print and broadcast, are having to think seriously about the risks involved in sending people into this war, to the extent to which they'll have access or not have access to American troops. There's some serious planning and agonizing going on here.
But at the same time, television has become a very competitive ratings game. And so this whole idea of celebrity is one way to kind of short circuit and attract attention.
It's funny, because it used to be that for people who already were journalists, going off to war was a way of becoming famous. There was a CNN correspondent in the first Gulf War who was nicknamed the "Scud Stud" and that of course helped his career. Geraldo Rivera jumped to FOX NEWS to cover the last war, the war in Afghanistan.
But now it seems that, you know, why wait the few weeks or the few months that it takes to gain that kind of notoriety when you can go get someone off the shelf, and you can get someone who's already famous for doing something else in some other realm of life.
Obviously, I'm not a fan of using non-journalists as war correspondents. But it is part of this larger celebrity culture that the media just seem to be swimming in these days.
MACVICAR: Marie, you know what it's like out there. There's a relatively small group of people who tend to turn up at conflicts over and over again and have known each other in some cases for a long period of time. How do you think that fairly tightly knit group would react to somebody with the notoriety of a James Hewitt walking into their midst?
COLVIN: Well, I think it is -- you're right, Sheila. It is, often, like a little traveling family. But we're a pretty forgiving bunch. I mean, I think he's certainly not going to be shunned. I'm sure there'll be a few jokes.
MACVICAR: And he probably will have to bear the brunt of it while he tries to get his feet wet, I guess.
Marie Colvin of the "Sunday Times," Howard Kurtz, media critic at "The Washington Post," in Washington, D.C., thank you both very much for joining me.
That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. You can e-mail us your comments and suggestions at international.correspondents@CNN.COM.
I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Thanks for joining us.
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