Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)

Ahram Weekly

CBS’s controversial interview

CBS’s interview with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has received criticism for its unprofessionalism, reports Gamal Essam El-Din


CBS’s controversial interview
CBS’s controversial interview

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was applauded last week by US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for promoting religious freedom and tolerance. CBS — the American news channel — however, aired an interview with President Al-Sisi by Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” which was recorded in September 2018 and contained claims the Egyptian authorities were increasingly intolerant of freedoms.

Essam Khalil, head of the Free Egyptians Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly “this was not an interview, it was a series of accusations, totally unfounded and unsupported by any credible documents or sources.

“The host was just parroting accusations made by hostile, radical liberal organisations like the Human Rights Watch [HRW],” said Khalil. “The host tried to embarrass President Al-Sisi but he failed.”

Mohamed Al-Beheiri, an Egyptian-American who commented on the interview in a letter to CBS’s President and Acting CEO Joseph Ianniell, said: “The tone and content was disrespectful, as if the guest was on trial. Totally inappropriate for interviewing a country’s president, let alone a country of the calibre of Egypt with its important relationship with the US.

“Nobody knows the reason for not airing the interview until January 2019. However, all the flying rumours and innuendos prior to its showing seemed to me to be an ominous sign that something was not right. But I waited patiently without forming an opinion,” said Al-Beheiri.

“The president, as always, was tolerant and respectful, and responded to the questions. However we, the audience, were never shown the full responses. Instead, in an unheard of precedent in presidential interviews, they were all edited and interspersed with inputs from other interlocutors who were there simply to support Pelley.

“Through my own efforts I have obtained the actual full text of the interview that was not shown. It was even worse than what I thought. The editing done by ‘60 Minutes’ was deliberately intended to paint a particularly negative image of a very popular president. The interview had a predetermined agenda, and was designed to achieve a particular objective. It had nothing to do with discussing important issues in the region, or the relationship between the US and Egypt. It was a disgrace to journalism, to Scott Pelley, to ‘60 Minutes’, and to CBS.”

He added that, “as a man old enough to remember people like the late Walter Cronkite, and others like him, I lament the disappearance of respectable journalism, and present my condolences to all Americans for the demise of journalistic integrity and ethics. We are now in the age of lies, falsifications and hidden agendas. The truth is dead as well.”

Khalil told the Weekly that “CBS conducted the interview not to give an objective analysis of conditions in Egypt or evaluate President Al-Sisi’s policies but to paint a negative picture through directing accusations and manipulating answers to serve its intentions.

“In spite of this, President Al-Sisi was able to give good answers which refuted the channel’s accusations.”

President Al-Sisi asked the host how he knew the HRW figures on political prisoners in Egypt were correct.

“I don’t know where HRW got these numbers,” he said. “What are its sources? Do they have any documents to prove their authenticity? Are there any lists with names or where they are held? And how did HRW get this information, and when? Give me papers and documents to prove the truth of your question, and I will be happy to respond in detail. Do you have such documents?”

And when the host claimed HRW was a trustworthy international organisation, President Al-Sisi responded: “So are UNESCO and UNRWA, but the USA withdrew from both of them and stopped their funding, and politically fought those who supported these organisations simply because of a political disagreement over the policies of these organisations in Occupied Palestine. So please don’t talk to me about the credibility of American organisations, especially HRW. You and I both know that they are fronts for exerting pressure on other countries’ governments. An American intimidation card to be played as needed.”

Suleiman Wahdan, deputy parliament speaker, watched the interview and said it “helped show us how some of America’s liberal fake news media operate”.

“Like HRW and other American organisations with liberal agendas, it is politicised media that is ready to break any rules to serve their agendas.”

Wahdan stressed the interview with President Al-Sisi comes within the context of an ongoing war between Republican President Donald Trump and America’s mainstream liberal media affiliated with the rival Democratic Party and supportive Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

“The interview was aired not just three months late but soon after President Trump praised President Al-Sisi and his efforts in spreading religious freedoms in the Middle East,” said Wahdan. “It also came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed former American president Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009.”

Pompeo described Obama as “a leader who gravely misread history when he visited this city [Cairo] in 2009”.

When President Al-Sisi found that the CBS host has nothing to ask but to repeat HRW’s accusations, he said: “Now it is time for me to ask you a question. What I heard from the media advisor is that ‘60 Minutes’ is one of the most important programmes in the United States, and that Scott Pelley is one of the most important TV personalities in America… But the man sitting in front of you is the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the most important country in the region, and the centre of its decisions, and the most populous and influential in the whole region. Its Armed Forces rank ninth worldwide, and it is surrounded by wars and fighting on three sides, yet instead of asking me serious questions about serious matters I find your questions all hypothetical, built on hypothetical reports and the words of a prisoner. If your programme does not know Egypt’s importance to the United States, and does not know the importance of the office of president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, then we can simply terminate this interview and head over to Hollywood to finish this science fiction movie.

“I am Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, do you have any questions worthy of the status of Egypt? Or should we just stop here?”

And with that President Al-Sisi effectively ended the interview.

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