Monday, September 24, 2007

The 60 Minutes Ahmadinejad Interview

Really some of the best television I can remember seeing in a while. I'm not talking about television journalism, here -- I mean, television period. The dynamic between the Iranian head of state and Scott Pelley was enthralling. Pelley's questions were tough and direct and only got more so in the face of Ahmadinejad's evasions. This was the kind of interview that presents a real instructive moment for media folk and I would hope journalism professors everywhere are showing it to their students this week.

Brian Beutler has a few more lessons that can be taken away from the interview.

9 comments:

Douglas McCloud said...

jb:

I too watched the interview with rapt attention. Ahmadinejad's lack of answers/evasions were quite telling.

The end of the interview were Ahmadinejad is comparing the interviewer to a CIA operative at Gitmo or Abu Grab would be comical if it were not for the frightnening reality of the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

Jb said...

Yup, the CIA agent gambit was something else. That is not a small accusation to levy on an American journalist, and is one that a lot of foreign affairs correspondents fear terribly (there's basically no way to disprove it in the eyes of a hostile government). Even though it's an absurd claim to an American audience's ears, I bet that Pelley heard didn't hear an accusation so much as he heard a threat -- Ahmadinejad's way of telling him, "If you don't shape up, I'll arrest you for being a spy ... and you know just as well as I do that the Geneva Convention does not apply to spies." That moment really added a thick layer of subtext to the relationship between Pelley and Ahmadinejad and to a certain extent.

Part of Ahmadinejad's evasions seemed to me a combination of a personal stubbornness to not seem weak next to an American and the knowledge that doing so only weakens his political position in Tehran. Pelley clearly anticipated both of these and still wasn't going to give him an inch. That clash of two strong wills certainly helped create an electric atmosphere.

The flip side to the "interrogation" comment may have also been a rare moment of honesty. Those were tough questions that Ahmadinejad was facing, probably far tougher than the ones he's used to fielding from the Iranian press, so it may have actually felt like an interrogation to him.

There's also the propaganda aspect of the statement. I don't know whom is going to be watching this interview in Iran, but I'm sure it's going to be seen in other parts of the Middle East. I'd imagine Ahmadinejad stands to score a few regional PR points by appearing to stand up to the Great Satan's proxy, CBS News, and remind them of their recent sins.

Again, I think Pelley was well aware of all of this and knew what he was going into. When he said that he was just an ordinary American reporter, it was if he was politely saying, "Alright, Mr. President, let's cut the crap and just answer the question." But, again, that was all part of the game!

I don't know if the interview was more judo or more chess match, but it was definitively dramatic as all get out.

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