Aired April 25, 2003 - 19:30:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London.
Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big issues of the moment.
Something personal, or just plain politics? The Palestinian leaderships and prospects for a Palestinian state hanging in the balance this week. Following a heated face-off between these two men, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen.
But 11 hours before the midnight deadline where Abu Mazen was required to create a new cabinet, an Egyptian-brokered deal allowed for Abu Mazen to take the post of prime minister. He has called for a special session of the Palestinian Legislative Council to confirm a new cabinet within a week.
But did the Israeli press and even some of the international media really reflect what was behind this power struggle?
Joining me now from Jerusalem, editor of the "Jerusalem Post," Brett Stevens, and here in the studio, Jonathan Freedland, columnist with Britain's "Guardian" newspaper.
Brett, let me begin by asking you, did the Israeli media do a good job of covering this internal power struggle? Or has the fact that you've been locked out of the West Bank and Gaza made coverage much more difficult?
BRETT STEVENS, "JERUSALEM POST: That's a very good question.
I think that on the whole, the international media tends to have -- the overseas media -- tends to have better access to the Palestinian areas and to Palestinian figures than the Israelis do, and so the truth is that the Israeli media is often a patchwork of guesses and political speculation, and also political wishful thinking. And I think that was very much the case with the Abu Mazen-Arafat power struggle.
RODGERS: If I could ask you the same question with a one-line headline, what was the headline, or what should the headline have been there?
STEVENS: The headline was "Abu Mazen Becomes Prime Minister in Power Struggle with Arafat."
RODGERS: And what happens -- subhead. What happened to Arafat? Has he lost? Is he fading even further?
STEVENS: Look, I think that at this point, it's very difficult to speculate, and it would be irresponsible to speculate.
No one knows whether Arafat is going to continue to pull the strings. I mean, our Palestinian reporter believes that this is a silent coup and that Arafat has essentially -- has been edged out.
But I think it's much too soon to tell whether or not that's true. The fact is that to get to Abu Mazen, international leaders, foreign ministers, still have to go through Arafat. He still wields enormous power, and I think that at this point it's irresponsible to speculate whether Abu Mazen has really seized the reigns of power, whether this really was the silent coup that some say it was, or whether Arafat has installed a new bureaucrat who's going to do his bidding.
It really -- I think it's not clear yet.
RODGERS: Do you agree -- Jonathan.
JONATHAN FREEDLAND, "GUARDIAN": I wouldn't agree with the notion that it was a silent coup against Arafat. I think this is where the media, in a way, got it wrong. They went for the easier headline, which said "New Man Takes Over From Arafat."
Actually, if anything, Arafat emerges from this a winner and in a position advanced from where he was before.
Think about the last two years, he was deemed by Israel in particular, but many countries around the world, particularly Washington, as irrelevant. Arafat is now irrelevant.
This week, every European leader, just as Brett says, was on the telephone. Britain's own Prime Min. Tony Blair called him twice, we understand, on the phone to this irrelevant man. Suddenly, according to one Palestinian I spoke to just a few hours ago, he's been relevantized (ph). He's been made relevant again. The proof was, to get Abu Mazen, you have to go through Yasser Arafat, and the lesson is, you don't get anything, this guy's not going to get anything, unless Arafat approves.
The whole kabuki dance about this new cabinet has proved that still the ultimate decision-making power rests with Arafat.
RODGERS: Brett, you said it was wrong to speculate. What do you think of what Jonathan said?
STEVENS: Look, I think there's something to do it.
I mean, in the Israeli media, people have been saying that Sharon is the winner and people have been saying, in fact, the opposite of what Jonathan said, that this proves that -- that this proves that Arafat has been made irrelevant, that clearly when foreign ministers visit, the real man they want to see is Abbas and not Arafat.
Others are saying that this proves that Bush is the winner, because this is the triumph of his reform agenda, his insistence that a prime minister be appointed.
Everyone is claiming that Abu Mazen's appointment is a victory somehow for them, and it's using the appointment for -- to basically advance their political view of the situation.
It's still a black box. Nobody knows.
RODGERS: Jonathan, let's go on with the peace process. Do you think the Bush administration is serious this time, after neglecting the Israeli- Palestinian issue? Or is this just going to be more benign neglect coming from the Bush White House and leaving the Israelis to manage the Palestinian issue?
FREEDLAND: You know, that's a $1 million question. It's the one that all European diplomats and politicos, when they gather, they all ask each other that question.
I think here I would take a sort of Brett-like line and say it is one of those things you have to speculate on, because we don't yet know.
The interesting, intriguing thing about it is, there's a pile of evidence for either side. If you want to say they're going to be involved, you look at what President Bush said when he visited Tony Blair in Belfast. He turned to Blair and said, "I'm going to give as much energy to the Middle East as you gave to peace in Northern Ireland."
You look at the promise to publish the roadmap and the refusal, it seems, to take amendments from Israel.
So that would say they're going to go for this thing and do it properly.
Then you speak to other people who say the politics are just not right, they've got a presidential election breathing down their neck. Here's a thing where there's no constituency for peacemaking in the Middle East. It only gets you in trouble. Don't hold your breath, there'll be nothing until December `04 at the earliest.
RODGERS: Brett, do you sense that same schism within the Bush White House, about whether to talk or not talk, or whether to put this atop the agenda now?
STEVENS: Yes, I think there's no question that Bush -- that the prudent course for Bush, to borrow a term from his father, would be not to touch this potato until after the election.
He's got his evangelical base, 60 million or so voters, who are essentially Likudnik in their views about Israel. I don't think he wants to alienate them.
At the same time, I think he feels a debt towards Tony Blair and, of course, for Blair, the Palestinian issue is utmost on his agenda.
I think Bush, like Sharon, will try to play a game of delay and stall for as long as he can, and that will certainly carry him through the election in November of next year, possibly longer.
RODGERS: That's extraordinarily discouraging, as I listen to both of you. You make it sound like the American president is paying lip service to restarting the Palestinian peace process and to do Tony Blair a favor, but he's not really committed. He just doesn't have his heart in it at this point -- Jonathan.
FREEDLAND: Well, I agree with you. And I think it's heartbreaking, really, for a region which is crying out for intervention.
They all say this. You speak to diplomats, peacemakers, on both the Israeli and Palestinian side. They say the one element that we need is the intervention committed, intervention of a U.S. president, and they just don't feel it for exactly the reasons, the political, electoral reasons that both Brett and I have mentioned.
They say that this president is going to hold off, and it's a tragedy, because actually you've now got a window of opportunity, perhaps, with Abu Mazen. You have an Israeli leader maybe that's ready for some opening, and after the Iraqi enemy has been removed from the battlefield.
And yet actually for very sort of quite balls number-crunching electoral reasons, Washington is staying away. And I think it's a tragic abnegation, really, of a huge superpower responsibility.
RODGERS: Brett, do you see this as a lose-lose proposition for the Bush White House?
STEVENS: Electorally, yes. I think there are things that the White House could do that would be useful.
I think this is really a moment of maximum leverage for the administration and also it would be a moment of maximum flexibility for the Sharon government. I mean, for Israelis, and I think this is a view that's shared by people like Sharon on the right and also people like Shimon Peres.
We've had a major strategic threat to our existence wiped out, removed. Saddam is no longer there. And so that ought to create an opportunity for some flexibility in terms of our negotiating stance vis-…- vis Abu Mazen or the Palestinians.
And I also think that the war has had a kind of shock effect on the Palestinian street somewhat similar to what happened after '91, after the first Gulf War, where there might be a no receptivity to saying this intifada, this violent struggle, has taken us nowhere. It's time to return to the table. It's time to return to a much more pragmatic stance.
And so I do think there is a right moment here, and it could be seized.
RODGERS: Jonathan, does your paper, does Western media and, for that matter, the Israeli matter, take Ariel Sharon at his word? Do they really think he's serious, or do they think he's playing for time?
FREEDLAND: I would suggest that probably -- I suspect probably that a lot of skepticism exists in the European media towards Ariel Sharon.
We read closely the interviews he gives to the Israeli papers. He says painful concessions. But then we can't help but look at the remarks of, for example, his own son, Henri Sharon (ph), who said to explain to some Likud Party activists, look, sometimes we have to make these nice noises in public. Really, we have to say the phrase Palestinian state. Believe me, we don't really mean that. By the time we cut and slice it and dice it, there won't be anything to worry about.
So it makes us think that in his mind, what counts as a painful concession might not be anything like painful in the view of European or British or Tony Blair for example. Instead, it's just a game to delay.
So people who believe -- people look on the peacenik noises coming from particularly Ariel Sharon with skepticism. There's a hope that maybe he is the aged warrior, finally ready to make peace, and that would be his lasting legacy, but that's more a hope than a sincere expectation.
RODGERS: Jonathan, thank you very much. Brett, thank you very much. Sadly, a pessimistic assessment from both of you.
Up next on the program, is this man a victim of a media witch hunt or is he public enemy No. 1. -- when we come back.
ROGERS: Witch hunt or scoop?
In the absence of Saddam Hussein, some elements of the U.K. media have found a new hate figure. He's the British lawmaker George Galloway, who opposed the war with Iraq.
The "Daily Telegraph" printing allegations that Galloway received money from Saddam Hussein's regime. But Galloway is fighting back, calling it a smear campaign, and he's suing the paper for libel.
Joining me now, Charles Moore, editor of "The Daily Telegraph," and in New York, Mark Seddon, editor of the "Tribune" magazine.
The first question to you, Mr. Moore, it's a heck of a scoop if it's true, and by most accounts it's classic British journalism. How good is your story?
CHARLES MOORE, "THE DAILY TELEGRAPH": It's a wonderful story and it's not part of a hate campaign, as you described it in your introduction.
This is good, straightforward, enterprising reporting. Our reporter goes into the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad; amidst many destroyed documents, there's a room full of of documents that haven't been destroyed. He looks through them with his translator. He looks through the broad categories of files. He takes all those files which concern Britain and are marked "Britain."
He takes them away and goes through them with the translator, and then with another translator. And in this large bundle of a thousand documents or so, he finds three or four or five of great interest about George Galloway.
And what they are is memos from the secret service and back from Saddam Hussein's office and they are about George Galloway's payments. And the first one says that George Galloway has been paid already a lot by us, but he wants more because he's encountering greater risks.
And Saddam Hussein then sends one back, his office sends one back, rejecting, saying they'll go on with him, but they're not going to pay him more.
And then the third one says we must think of a way of separating Mr. Galloway from the Mukhabarat, the secret police, because if it came out that he was associated with them, it would be very damaging for him.
RODGERS: What did your lawyers tell you before you went to press with this story?
MOORE: Well, the point about this from a journalistic point of view and an ethnical point of view is that we believe this prima facie to be authentic documents, and we believe that it's in the public interest that they be put before the public.
You know, there are -- this is an important story about possible links between a British elected politician and the regime.
We are not in a position to say, an I don't think at this point anybody else would be in a position to say, except for the participants, everything in these documents is automatically true. How could one know that?
But I think we are in a position to say that it is reasonable to think that these are authentic documents and they are a matter of great public interest. And it's on that basis and on that legal advice that we put them in the public domain.
RODGERS: Mark Seddon, do you think this is just a classic case of a conservative British newspaper going after a left-wing politician? Or is there smoke and thus fire here?
MARK SEDDON, "TRIBUNE": Well, I don't think that it was a smear, and I think that Charles Moore and his journalist on the spot acted quite properly.
I just think that the whole range of circumstances around this that lead to closer examination.
I mean, just by chance, yesterday, I was talking to a prominent former Czech dissident who told me that in 1989, when the Communists fell in Prague, the Ministry of Information in Prague was completely gutted and the only thing to survive to be found by the press was a video of this ‚migr‚ being given champagne by the Czech secret police. It was an obvious stitch-up. An obvious sting.
Now, it just seems odd. I think there are people asking questions about this. It seems very odd that of all the people who trekked through Baghdad and went to see Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz, and there have been a whole number of British ministers engaged in trade and all sorts of activities, that is the only thing that survives. It just seems very odd.
MOORE: Well, can I -- can I.
SEDDON: But of course, the more important thing -- and Charles will probably come back and say what's actually in it. That, of course, is very important.
Now, the allegation made by the "Daily Telegraph" that George Galloway was in the pay of Saddam Hussein is a very serious allegation indeed, and I understand it's going to be the subject of some court action. I mean, presumably people will have to examine all the material before them, and much of it may well be true.
There's just one thing that struck me also as a journalist who's interested in looking at this story is that -- what seemed quite strange to me is one of the most incriminating letters concerning this MP George Galloway was a report from one of the Iraqis, and it had an English-Iraqi security services. I couldn't quite understand why the Iraqis would be writing out in English in letters that this was the Iraqi Security Service. I just didn't get it at all.
RODGERS: Mr. Moore.
MOORE: Well, first of all, it must be understood, and this is important, that what Mark says is not right.
This isn't the one document. There isn't mysteriously every other document disappeared and then there's one document about George Galloway or, indeed, as we have published, three or four documents about George Galloway.
There are hundreds, probably thousands of documents, in the Britain file that we found, and that was in a room in which there are scores of other files of all sorts and descriptions.
We've been through the Britain file and most of the other documents were uninteresting. We printed one or two small items, for example, the ex-British Prime Minister Edward Heath (ph), a thank you letter from him because he had the head of the Iraq infra-section (ph) to lunch with him in his house, and he sent him a thank you letter for a portrait that he gave Sir Edward Heath (ph). That sort of thing. So we mention that.
It would indeed have been most peculiar if there'd just been one document or just George Galloway documents sitting there, but not so. Lots and lots of documents of varying degrees of interest, and we -- we selected these after going through, because this seemed to us by far the most noteworthy.
RODGERS: Mr. Moore, let me ask you this question. Assuming your evidence is credible and it would stand up in court, what is Mr. Galloway guilty of other than perhaps a notorious lapse of judgment?
MOORE: Well, we don't know whether George Galloway is guilty. What we know is what these documents say.
If it's true that he was taking money from the Iraqis, Iraqi regime, it would be disgraceful. It would be disgraceful if he were taking it personally, because that would show a pecuniary rather than an ideological interest.
RODGERS: But isn't that something that the Inland Revenue Service should take up if indeed the allegations are accurate?
MOORE: Well, no doubt it should, but it seems to go more broadly than that, that an elected British politician, paid by the British taxpayers to serve the British people should in fact be taking money for his own benefit from a hostile and totalitarian regime would be scandalous.
And even if it were not the case that Mr. Galloway was taking it for personal reasons but to advance his ideological beliefs, that also would be scandalous because, first of all, it would be considered by most people to be hostile to British interests. But also, it would not -- he would not have been frank -- Mr. Galloway did not say to anybody back in Britain, look, I'm taking money from the Iraqi regime. So if he were, if it's true that he did, that is a major scandal.
RODGERS: Mark, please.
SEDDON: If it's true. Yes, if it's true, you see, and this is the whole point.
I mean, the "Daily Telegraph," it's made a great deal of publicity for the newspaper and it's been a great story that's run for three or four days. It's gripped the country. But the claim was quite clear on the first day that Galloway was in the pay of Saddam. That seems pretty forthright and you can't really back down and say if, if he was. I mean, you say he was, and I think that's a -- and I agree with you, Charles. If that is the case, then it is an absolute disgrace, and I hope in a way this case will perhaps open up others too, because I don't think other people should be allowed to get away with it.
If Galloway is under the spotlight, why shouldn't Donald Rumsfeld be under the spotlight? Perhaps your reporter might come across the American file there. I mean, he went to meet Saddam Hussein in Baghdad not.
RODGERS: Mark Seddon, thank you very much. Charles Moore -- I apologize. We're out of time. I'd love to go on. It really is fascinating. Thank you very much, both of you.
SEDDON: Thank you.
MOORE: Thank you.
RODGERS: That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next week for another in-depth look at how the media are handling the big issues.
I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Thanks for joining us.
TO ORDER VIDEOTAPES AND TRANSCRIPTS OF CNN INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMMING, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE THE SECURE ONLINE ORDER FROM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com