Monday, September 24, 2012

“60 Minutes”, Liberal Bias and Interviews Without Current News Value

Jonathan M. Tobin..
24 September '12..

As I wrote earlier, the headline coming out of the dueling interviews of President Obama and Mitt Romney on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night was the president’s assertion that he wasn’t going to be diverted from defending the interests of the American people by any “noise” coming from Israel about Iran. This was a clear statement that the administration didn’t have the honesty to admit that its Iran policies have failed and that a course correction was needed. But the show’s producers weren’t content with merely contrasting the president’s position with that of Romney, who strongly criticized Obama for his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel. Instead, seeking to capitalize on the increasing tension between the two countries, they dug up an interview with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan out of their archive.

Dagan is a bitter critic of Netanyahu, and in the piece first broadcast in March he disparaged the prime minister’s sense of urgency about the threat from Iran, claiming more covert operations as well as efforts to promote regime change in Tehran would be smarter than a direct attack on its nuclear facilities. While Dagan is someone whose views on the subject deserve a hearing, the re-rerun of his interview is problematic for several reasons. As I first wrote after the original broadcast back in March, Dagan has personal motives for his public vendetta against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that are not referred to in the segment. But the real problem is that as shaky as Dagan’s case was in March, it is barely relevant today.

The release of the latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s progress in the last year makes his belief that Israel has “more time” than Netanyahu believed then sound foolish. So, too, does the fact that another round of Western diplomacy with Iran flopped in the intervening months. But the network ran the interview anyway, juxtaposed with those of Obama and Romney in order to make the president look wise and the prime minister and Romney look foolish.

As I wrote in March:

Those who are promoting Dagan as a counterpoint to Netanyahu should remember a few key facts about his unprecedented public advocacy on the Iran issue that are not well known in the United States. Far from being an entirely dispassionate intelligence professional, Dagan’s anger at Netanyahu and Barak stems in no small part from the fact that the pair are the ones responsible for his being fired from his job. This happened after a series of intelligence failures–the most public of which was the disastrous hit on a Hamas official in Dubai.

Second, though interviewer Leslie Stahl focuses her attention on Dagan’s opposition to a strike on Iran now, the subtext to his position is that he spent much of his time at the head of the Mossad working on efforts to spike the ayatollah’s nuclear ambition. Under his leadership, Israeli intelligence concentrated much of its resources on covert activities whose purpose was to slow or stop progress toward an Iranian bomb. Although he says he considers the Iranian regime “rational” (though he added “not exactly our [idea of] rational”), that doesn’t mean he thinks containing a nuclear Iran (something President Obama has now specifically rejected) is a good idea.

Instead, as one might expect from a veteran spook, Dagan wants more emphasis on covert activities and other efforts that are aimed at an even more ambitious project than a mere surgical taking out of Iran’s nuclear facilities: regime change. In the sense that a democratic Iran, or at least one not ruled by Islamist fanatics, would be much safer for Israel and the rest of the world, he is, of course, right. But to say his opinions on this subject are somehow more realistic than the less grandiose intentions of Netanyahu and Barak, who only wish to make sure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t get his hands on a nuke, is obviously a stretch.

The question of how much time Israel has before it is too late to do anything about an Iranian nuclear weapon is not unimportant. Dagan is clearly of the opinion the situation is not yet critical. But, as he was careful to point out to Stahl, “I never said a lot of time. [There is] more time.”

Whatever news value the Dagan interview had six months ago has vanished in the intervening time. The Iranians have proven even more conclusively in this time that cyber attacks on their system have failed. The IAEA report that showed that the Iranians have doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium and stored them underground makes the time factor critical. An argument for further delay is tantamount to a concession that Iran will go nuclear and that there is nothing Israel or the West can do about it. As for his hopes for regime change, the idea that the Israelis could ever get President Obama to buy into that idea is comical. The real “noise” here is coming from CBS and Dagan, not Netanyahu.

The only point in running the Dagan interview alongside the Obama/Romney segments was to bolster the president and make Romney’s support of Netanyahu look craven. This is hardly the first time the show has tipped its hand, but the conspicuous nature of this decision ought to embarrass anyone associated with the network. Anyone wishing to argue that “60 Minutes” is not a principal organ of the mainstream liberal media’s partisan agenda is being disingenuous.


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