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Aired August 15, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


ROD LIDDLE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Rod Liddle, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
Good news at last in Liberia, and every second captured on live television. Charles Taylor steps down as president of this African country and now U.S. peacekeepers have landed in the capital, Monrovia, as part of an international effort to bring peace and stability to Liberia.

The conflict has received enormous media coverage around the world, some say significantly more than one or two other wars taking place even now as I speak in Africa.

Well, joining me, from Boston, is Samantha Power, contributor to "The New Yorker" magazine. She's a Pulitzer Prize winning author for the book "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

In Liberia, CNN correspondent Jeff Koinange, and here in the studio, Richard Dowden, director of the Royal Africa Society.

Jeff, start with you. The situation in Liberia now, enormous coverage across the world and particularly in the United States and in Britain. Why do you think that is?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rod, it all started when President Bush made that all-important announcement: Charles Taylor must go and he must go now.

It suddenly became a USA domestic story, especially on CNN, where you hardly ever find African stories making it on CNN. After that, the entire world literally poured into this country, and then the pictures that started coming out -- and this time, I have to blow CNN's own trumpet, because we stuck to this story from the very beginning. And, more importantly, we brought in a satellite dish. We were able to give on the spot news coverage live up until the very end.

And remember one more thing -- Charles Taylor was such an unpredictable president. Nobody knew what he was going to do up until the very end, so the audience was glued to the television sets, right up until he got into that aircraft and that aircraft took off.

So it was a story that you just did not want to miss -- Rod.

LIDDLE: The reason being, presumably, because, as you say, it suddenly became an American story. Is that the way to broaden our interest in African affairs, to ensure that the American Marines are involved at some point in time, do you suppose.

KOINANGE: Absolutely, and there was all the talk about the soldiers coming in. Are they going to come in? Are they not going to come in?

The Bush administration kept saying, "No, we're not going to get involved. No, we're not going to get boots on the ground." And then you suddenly find three vessels making their way, and then once in a while you'd see helicopter gunships landing at the U.S. embassy.

So there was always that question, "Will they land? Will they not land? Will they hit the streets?" And it kept growing the audience more and more until you saw those pictures, live on CNN, again, when those American boots came on the ground and it was obvious this was an American story all of the sudden -- Rod.

LIDDLE: I have to say, Richard, exceptionally quick and easy piece of military action which had the desired effect. Is that the sort of thing that perhaps we might see in other parts of Africa?

RICHARD DOWDEN, ROYAL AFRICA SOCIETY: It has to be decisive. The whole point about this was that the fighters obviously were exhausted. They'd been pushed back and forward. They're not particularly good fighters either, and they know it. They're good at bullying civilians, but their not brilliant at actually fighting.

And as soon as they saw some serious troops coming on the ground and they feared the Americans might come, yeah, sure, hey, let's back off. But they've still got their guns, and if things don't go well, I think it could start again quite easily.

LIDDLE: How soon?

DOWDEN: Well, it depends on what happens, but basically this is a country that is and has been for the last -- since, what 1980, really, ruled by people with a warlord mentality. It's not had a proper government now for more than 20 years.

And it is the power of the gun, which can easily be translated into the power of the ballot. I mean, it's easy to swap bullets for ballots if you've got a gun behind the guy. You can guy people. If you've got money and guns, you'll rule that country, and that's what they've got to stop now.

That -- for this period, between now and a transition government, and then a new government, the warlords have got to be kept out of the equation somehow. The people who -- they mustn't be allowed to keep their territory, keep their guns, keep their money and use them just to build political power bases from them.

LIDDLE: Or we'll get another Charles Taylor, which we don't want.

Samantha, I suppose we should be on our bended knees thanking George Bush for this intervention and perhaps signaling a new turn in American foreign policy. Is that right, do you think?

SAMANTHA POWER, AUTHOR: I wouldn't go too far too quickly, anyway. I think that the depth of the U.S. commitment to Liberia is revealed -- or I should say the shallowness, perhaps, in the commitment, is revealed both by the number of troops that have been deployed and the speed with which they were deployed.

You remember that George Bush began speaking about this kind of deployment going on two months ago now, and he wanted some announcement to coincide with his visit to Africa, and in a way he ended up just sort of postponing the announcement of the eventual troop deployment and of course lives were lost in the meantime (AUDIO GAP) Liberia worry a little bit there about the depth of the U.S. commitment.

But I also think it is important to step back and ask why the United States is there at all. One reason was the president's trip to Africa. It was very, very difficult to visit that continent, unveil or present the $15 AIDS initiative and not solicit questions about the Congo and Liberia. And I think the administration sort of scratched its head and said, "OK, where would we prefer to make a commitment, Congo or Liberia, where people look as if they would actually like us to put boots on the ground."

I think we chose Liberia, the easy one -- what was deemed to be the easy one.

LIDDLE: No question of two commitments, then? Such a thing wouldn't be possible?

POWER: Well, one of the great failings in U.S. foreign policy -- it's actually a failing of state policy in general, is this temptation to look at all foreign crises as all or nothing propositions.

So instead of sort of, you know, again, rolling up our sleeves and saying, what can we do in Congo that would be constructive? How can we get troops from other countries, for instance, out of Congo? How can we reinforce the peacekeepers who are there and convince the French to stay past September? How can we actually play a role diplomatically?

Instead of taking that approach, the tendency is to say, well, OK, that's France's problem and Congo's problem, the Congolese's problem. And we'll deal with Liberia in this relatively tame way and in a way where at least we get to sort of check the compassionate conservative box without actually having to risk all that much.

LIDDLE: A bit cynical, isn't it?

I have to say, Samantha, you've just got yourself out of Zimbabwe, a country were, of course, journalists and writers are not meant to be. How did you get in?

POWER: I walked through the little place where they say passport holders, visa holders. I went in as a tourist, which is what most people do if they're interested in covering a story there.

I think that ordinary Zimbabweans right now are so focused on figuring out how to get money out of the bank, which is something they basically can't do, how to put food on the table, which is also something they for the most part can't do, and how -- in many cases, how to get out of the country which is something that neighboring countries are making it increasingly difficult to do.

They're so focused on these basic chores of daily existence that the presence of foreign writers and journalists I think is not high on their list of things to be looking out for.

LIDDLE: I assume, Jeff, that you would therefore welcome having heard Samantha's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Zimbabwe, we might be seeing more and more coverage of African countries and the troubles in perhaps Sudan, Somalia, the Congo. Is that likely? Is there an appetite for that within the American public?

KOINANGE: Well, we hope so, Rod, especially when it's a good news story.

Like you said in your opening line, most stories coming out of Africa are bad news stories, hunger disease, famine, you name it. This time, it started off that way, but the more you hung in there, the more you knew, there was a possibility this could end up as a good news story. Everyone involved doing the right thing.

And like Samantha said, Zimbabwe could be the next big story, and it has that possibility. There's a chance to be turned around. Yes, they're right at the edge of the cliff, but it has the chance to be turned around, so don't be surprised to see more of African stories on domestic television.

LIDDLE: What do you reckon to that, Richard, the prospect of Zimbabwe possibly being next?

DOWDEN: There won't be an intervention in Zimbabwe, because the neighbors, the African neighbors.

LIDDLE: Are making it impossible.

DOWDEN: The South Africans in particular do not see it as a big problem. They see it as a little domestic scarp between an opposition party and a ruling party, and they're going to try and push them together into a government of national unity, kiss and make up, problem solved.

That's how they see it, and they certainly don't see any reason to remove Robert Mugabe, who they say is an elected leader. And he's one of us -- he's one of those -- he's part of that Trade Union of African Leaders, and they certainly don't like getting rid of them.

LIDDLE: Samantha, Jeff, Richard, many, many thanks indeed. Thank you.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Has Mel Gibson gone too far in his crusade to be the best actor? We look at his new controversial movie, "The Passion," when we come back.



First, there was the announcement we all hoped for.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: And this is why I'm going to run for governor of California.


LIDDLE: And now the "Terminator" has decided to entertain us all by entering American politics. The race is on for the governorship of California, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is amongst 134 challengers ranging from the merely weird to the plainly terrifying, attempting to win control of the most affluent state in the United States.

But not before the media have dug up as much filth as they can about Arnie.

Joining me now, in San Francisco, is Phil Bronstein, editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle." And Pat Morrison, columnist for "The Los Angeles Times."

Welcome, both of you.

Pat, is Arnold going to win?

PAT MORRISON, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": At this point, the odds are yes, he is indeed going to win. It will be the first governor of California we've ever seen naked.

LIDDLE: We might even look forward, I suppose, by the year 2010, to a sort of presidential runoff between Martin Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which would be a treat for all of us, I think, wouldn't it?

MORRISON: In our dreams.

LIDDLE: In our dreams.

Phil, the man's policies, as a Republican. Presumably, like most rich actor Republicans, fiscally conservative, socially liberal.

PHIL BRONSTEIN, "THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": That's a small group, by the way.

LIDDLE: It is a small group, yes.

BRONSTEIN: It's -- he's socially, I wouldn't say liberal, necessarily, but he's pro-gun control, to some extent. He's pro-choice. He's pro-gay rights. He's actually terrifying the right wing of the Republican Party probably far more than he's terrifying some people on the left.

LIDDLE: Yes. Do you think he has a chance of winning -- Phil.

BRONSTEIN: I agree with Pat, completely.

I mean, I think -- a new poll came out on Gray Davis, and 1/3 of Democrats want the guy to resign right away. So I don't think he's doing so well. And Arnold is by far the -- has the biggest name recognition, in any case, and that's -- that accounts for a lot in California. So, yes, I think he's going to win.

LIDDLE: The problem, Pat, is that traditionally we see Hollywood as being full of Democrats, that there are more actor Democrats around than actor Republicans. And yet none of them ever seen to get through to running any nominations or to running for office.

MORRISON: It seems the few Republicans in Hollywood are taken much more seriously than the many Democrats in Hollywood, for reasons that still elude understanding.

LIDDLE: It keeps us all very amused over here, but actually, of course, Ronald Reagan was an actor. His films are scarcely -- perhaps a shade more stupid than Arnold's, though there's not much in it, I would have thought. But, arguably, some on the right one see him as one of the most successful presidents of the last 50 years -- Phil.

BRONSTEIN: Well, he was certainly one of the presidents who had the most impact, not only on the United States, but on the world, in terms of policy, and the policy changes that went on during his administration.

But you have to keep in mind that Ronald Reagan had a less-stellar movie career than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and George Bush had a less-stellar career as a businessman than Arnold Schwarzenegger before he ran as a businessman governor of a large state, namely Texas.

So Schwarzenegger comes into it with, I think, with a better track record than either of those people, which might not say much, but it's something.

LIDDLE: They will be digging up quite a lot of dirt on the man. Is that what happened when Reagan was running for office?

MORRISON: For one thing, Reagan had some political experience. He'd been president of the Screen Actors Guild. He'd been traveling the country giving a conservative thing called "The Speech" for any number of years. His policy positions were pretty clear, even when he ran for governor of California.

As for dirt, it just wasn't what the newspaper did then, and we don't have here, as you know, the tabloid press that you've got in the U.K. A lot of the dirt on Arnold Schwarzenegger such as has been rumored has already been dug up by the Hollywood press, so in a way the political press can try to focus on his politics, which he seems to be keeping much more secret than his personal life.


BRONSTEIN: That's not entirely the case. I mean, the fact is that the person who has turned over the most rocks about Arnold Schwarzenegger is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I mean, if you look at his statements, the things that he's said about his drug use, his steroid use, his womanizing, I mean these are things he's talked about himself.

So I think the Hollywood press is not known for being particularly aggressive, as opposed to the political press, which is very aggressive in the United States. But I think Arnold has pretty much turned over all those rocks himself. Which doesn't mean we're not all looking at them.

MORRISON: And thus neutralized those issues.

LIDDLE: He has no intention, apparently, of giving any political interviews, which is hardly a step forward for Democracy -- Pat.

MORRISON: It's curious, because you look at his campaign and it looks like doughnut, and Arnold is the hole in the middle.

He's surrounding himself with people of substance, like Warren Buffet, a billionaire, a Democrat, a great businessman; George Schultz, the former Republican secretary of state, he just added to his team. But where is Arnold? What does Arnold stand for?

In this sense, it's rather like the Bush 2000 campaign.

LIDDLE: The general idea that we see over here in Britain, that America is a country besotted even more than we are by celebrity, and that any celebrity worth his salt could possibly take a turn at the presidency.

Phil, do you think that's unfair? Do you think that celebrities will become more and more prominent within the political process?

BRONSTEIN: Well, I mean, celebrities have always been prominent as actors, as people who act in the political process.

You mentioned Democrats -- Barbara Streisand certainly was ever- present around the Clinton administration, but I think that in terms of running for office, there have been precedents in the United States.

It's not unusual. I don't think it will become the norm, but you have to keep in mind, you know, this is a celebrity culture, but it's a different celebrity culture.

You mentioned Ronald Reagan. When Reagan was coming up as an actor and as a movie star, the studios controlled all the publicity about their lives. So while Errol Flynn may have been a bad boy in private life, you really didn't hear much about that in public. That wasn't what the fans were looking for. It wasn't what they got.

These days, bad boy behavior is romanticized. You know, this sort of perpetual adolescence, whether you're Colin Farrell, who's what, maybe 30, or your Jack Nicholson, who's 68. You know, the bad boy behavior is kind of romanticized in the tabloid press.

So I think that Arnold is really going to come in, in that respect, sort of -- the bar is so low. Bill Clinton lowered the bar on personal behavior of the president of the United States, and I think the celebrity culture has lowered the bar on the kind of general behavior that is acceptable in public life.

LIDDLE: Pat, Phil, many, many thanks indeed.

It's a movie that's managed to annoy people of almost all faiths everywhere and it hasn't even been released yet. Mel Gibson's "The Passion" recounts the final days of Christ. It's been condemned by influential Jewish and Catholic groups in America for its alleged anti- Semitism.

Aaron Brown has the story.


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): One of Hollywood's most bankable movie stars has given birth to one of the year's most controversial films, "The Passion," Mel Gibson's version of the last hours of the life of Jesus in the language of the time, Aramaic and Latin.

REV. TED HAGGARD, ASSN. OF EVANGELICALS: You actually hear what Jesus said, in his original language. You hear what Peter said and what Mary said, and that's gripping, and then there were English subtitles in the version that we saw, and so it was amazing.

BROWN: Amazing is one reaction. But it is not nearly the only reaction heard about the film that was partially written and completely financed by Gibson.

SISTER MARY C. BOYS, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: There's so much violence that was part of the script. I mean, the suffering of Jesus is, I have to say, in my reading of the script, to me, there was a fixation on the suffering, the torture, the brutality done to Jesus.

BROWN: That is one criticism, and here is another. The film, some believe, revives the old belief that it was the Jews that killed Christ.

ABE FOXMAN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: We were troubled, troubled that it portrayed the Jews, the Jewish community, in a manner that we have experienced historically seeing Passion plays used to incite not only a passion of love, in terms of Christianity, but at the same time to instill and incite a hatred of the Jews because of deicide.

BROWN: Although the film has been screened in whole or in part to large groups of sympathetic audiences, evangelicals and some Roman Catholics, it took weeks of prodding before Jewish groups were allowed in.

They worry the movie is reviving the conflict between Jews and Catholics that seemed settled long ago by the Vatican, though they believe rejected by Gibson's fundamentalist strain of Catholicism.

FOXMAN: He was asked then the question, "Well, if you make this movie, rejecting modern day reappraisals, this will offend the Jews."

And his answer then was, "Well, I'm going to tell the truth, and whoever it offends."

BOYS: The thing that concerns me about him as a traditionalist Catholic isn't that he wants to have the mass in Latin, but that in rejecting Vatican II and therefore subsequent teachings of Vatican II that develop, extend, refine, nuance those teachings, he's really then choosing the anti-Jewish teachings that were so long a part of the Catholic heritage.

BROWN: Gibson's spokesman defends the movie's historical accuracy.

PAUL LAUER, iCON PRODUCTIONS: We've had many people validate it from a biblical and historical perspective. And yet we still are concerned that there are people out there that see potential dangers and so forth.

BROWN: Mel Gibson says he plans to issue an open letter shortly, calling for more dialogue with those who have criticized his movie.

In a statement issued by his production company, Gibson said, "To be certain, neither I nor my film are anti-Semitic, nor do I hate anybody," he continued, "Certainly not the Jews."

LAUER: It's hurt him a great deal. He has many close Jewish friends. He's worked with Jewish people in his career, certainly in the movie industry for 25 years. He's never been accused of any degree of anti- Semitism or hatred or bigotry.

FOXMAN: We're not into censorship. We're into sensitivity.

You know, at the end of a dialogue or conversation, he will do what he wants to do.


LIDDLE: That was Aaron Brown reporting.

And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune again next time as we put the media in the spotlight.

I'm Rod Liddle. Thanks for joining us.



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