Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)

Ahram Weekly

The plummeting credibility of CBS

The US TV network CBS has been desperate to raise its ratings following a series of scandals, explaining its lack of professionalism in its recent interview with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, writes Hany Ghoraba

In today’s United States there has been a major change in the perception of the performance of the mainstream news media over the past two decades and by its audience domestically and internationally. This perception has shifted from nearly complete trust in these outlets’ credibility and professionalism to nearly absolute mistrust over the past two decades. The latest iteration of the US media’s unprofessionalism was manifested during the recent CBS network 60 Minutes interview with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. 

60 Minutes is a once iconic show that has now transcended the boundaries of the United States to become a toy in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has welcomed the show’s irresponsible, misinformed and arrogant anchors who have brought this programme to its present record low ratings. While the show remains the flagship of the CBS news network and is now in its 51st season, there is no denying that it has seen better days in terms of its popularity and its now plummeting ratings.  

The episode broadcast on 6 January featuring an interview with President Al-Sisi saw a drop in ratings of a whopping 41 per cent or so, according to the Website tvseriesfinale.com that monitors ratings for TV programmes in the United States. This figure signifies that the propaganda surrounding the programme, broadcast with the backing of the Aljazeera network, did not persuade American viewers, who are becoming more aware of this network’s political games. 

The CBS network itself has seen better days and is now plagued by plummeting ratings and scandals. Its news president for the past eight years, David Rhodes, was replaced less than a fortnight ago with seasoned anchor Susan Zirinsky, this taking place fewer than four months after the resignation of CBS network long-time head Les Moonves over allegations of the sexual harassment of 12 women during his work for the network. 

Moonves was not the first to be forced to leave CBS, as former anchor Charlie Rose was also terminated over sexual harassment and misconduct accusations from eight women. Jeff Fager, the producer of 60 Minutes, also lost his job as a result of similar misconduct. CBS has been desperate to cover up allegations made against its personnel. In the end, in an attempt to clean up its reputation it donated $20 million to 18 different groups combatting sexual harassment and promoting gender equality in the workplace. This network that has been desperate to raise its ratings following a series of scandals found its holy grail in its interview with the Egyptian president. 

However, instead of following professional protocol in such interviews with heads of state, the network has claimed that the Egyptian side wanted the interview cancelled, claiming that it could not accept that. The interview itself was done with CBS anchor Scott Paley, who claimed that he had asked the president what others could not by citing quotations from Muslim Brotherhood members. Producer of the show Rachael Morehouse also ludicrously claimed that President Al-Sisi had been keen to appear on 60 Minutes in order to raise his profile in the region. 

The president of Egypt, no matter who he is, automatically becomes the leader of the region and is one of the leaders of the world by virtue of his position. President Al-Sisi, over the five years of his presidency, has been a major player in the region and internationally. He does not need a plummeting news show from a network many of whose executives have been fired because of sexual scandals to promote his image. 

The arrogance and unprofessionalism of Paley and Morehouse in handling the interview were almost off the charts. They claimed that imprisoned members of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group were “political prisoners,” and they cited unverified numbers from the US organisation Human Rights Watch. Moreover, the programme intentionally focused on speakers from the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Mohamed Sultan and Abdel-Mawgoud Al-Dardiri, without allowing counterviews. The interviewer’s choice of words and setup would not have looked any different if the programme had been produced by one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s networks in Turkey. 

One of the speakers shown on the programme, Mohamed Sultan, said he had been “mentally tortured” in Egypt by sleep deprivation and that one of the prison warders had gestured to him to cut his own veins. The truth of these allegations is questionable, as is always the case with Brotherhood testimonies, though of course no one can condone any violence or any form of torture carried out on any prisoner. That said, if Sultan had experienced being in a maximum-security prison in the United States, he would also have been unlikely to receive hugs from his jailers or have had them singing lullabies to sing him to sleep as a terrorist group member. 

Can one imagine an Egyptian news programme interviewing the US president and asking him why he was keeping “political prisoners” in the form of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic State (IS) terrorist group members in prison? What these people are doing to US soldiers and civilians is what the Muslim Brotherhood has been doing to Egyptians for years, with thousands of civilians and army personnel killed during its war against the Egyptian state. 

The estimated numbers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have been hovering around 500,000 for a decade, not counting those who have left the terrorist group. The group openly declared war on the Egyptian state after the 30 June Revolution by killing civilians, members of the armed forces and politicians alike. Despite this, the number of 60,000 prisoners is out of all proportion since the security forces have only targeted those who have taken up arms and the perpetrators of violence. Had the state been targeting the entire Muslim Brotherhood group, the numbers would have been at least tenfold to cover the known numbers of the terrorist group.  

No one in Egypt was expecting the supposedly prestigious US network CBS to treat President Al-Sisi as infallible, but they definitely did expect the network, and especially those behind its flagship news programme, to respect their due diligence as professional journalists while showing the proper respect to the Egyptian president as an elected official. Much to the network’s dismay, the president managed to eloquently disprove their wild theories and accusations, even if CBS was able to claim some imagined victory afterwards.  

At no other time in modern history has Washington been so infiltrated by the Islamists and their radical supporters as it has today. Although the election of US President Donald Trump has helped to slow that infiltration, it is far from over, as can be seen by the Islamists’ clinging to traditional media outlets that foolishly treat them as persecuted political figures much to the detriment of the United States’ own security. 

Fake news is not a made-up term used by Trump alone. It is a reality that any observer of the US media can easily spot. CBS, once a reputable network followed by millions of Americans and others across the world, has broken every rule in the book by attempting to increase its ratings through its propaganda surrounding the recent interview.

Luckily, it has failed in the attempt.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

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