Iranian President 1, Mike Wallace 0

Has CBS's Mike Wallace gotten soft in his old age? His usual knock-out style was nowhere to be found during his interview with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, writes in the New York Sun:

Mr. Wallace, a familiar figure to American television viewers, prides himself on being a tenacious interviewer, unafraid to mix it up with the best of them.But for some reason, Mr. Wallace was hesitant in this interview, unwilling to press the wily Iranian president, and was thrown off stride by the tough, even snide, comebacks, including a threat to end the interview prematurely.

Moreover, Mr. Wallace seemed unexpectedly charmed, perhaps even won over, by the president, which also may have dulled his usually sharp instincts.

The topics they could have talked about.
Here was a chance to press the leader of a country that seeks nuclear weapons, actively supports Hezbollah, calls for Israel's annihilation, engages in terrorist activity far from its borders, imprisons political reformers, protesting students, and independent journalists, subscribes to a disturbing theology, and suppresses the rights of the Baha'is, among others.
How did he do?
He lamely suggested that America believes Iran to be pursuing nuclear weapons, failing to mention that this is also the conclusion of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He presented no evidence to challenge the Iranian leader, who used the question as one of many opportunities to give a longwinded and factually inaccurate statement....

Did viewers learn anything about Iran's intimate links with Hezbollah, its transshipment of weaponry and funds through Syria to the terror group, or its link to the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires? Were viewers reminded of the fact that Iranianbacked Hezbollah killed more Americans in terror attacks prior to September 11 than any other international terror group? Nothing.

And what did viewers learn about the Iranian president's own background, including allegations that he was involved in the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the holding of American hostages for well over a year? Zero....

On human rights, inexplicably, not a word by Mr. Wallace. Here is a leading journalist who, given the chance to address the plight of fellow journalists in Iran, fails even to refer to it. No wonder Iran feels it can act with impunity against those whose views challenge the leadership. Human rights violations require the spotlight of exposure, not silence. Why didn't Mr. Wallace name names, show pictures and expose false charges? And he might have asked the president's view on Salman Rushdie, the celebrated writer who has faced a longstanding death threat from Iran.

The conclusion:

True, it's impossible in any single interview with an airtime of less than 30 minutes to cover the entire waterfront, especially with an individual who shrewdly gave long and at times rambling answers. Even so, viewers of "60 Minutes," used to tough, unflinching interviews, were rendered a disservice.

While the Iranian president was given a prestigious platform to present himself as an eminently reasonable leader, the abundance of evidence to the contrary was raised barely, if at all, by a disappointing Mr. Wallace. Score one for Iran.

Iran CBS 60 Minutes

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