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American Journalism Review
Glaspie Cable NAILS Glaspie Fable  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   November 1991

Glaspie Cable NAILS Glaspie Fable   

By Gilbert Cranberg
Gilbert Cranberg is a journalism professorat the University of Iowa.      

One way to toady to a dictator is to commiserate with him about the U.S. press.

Five U.S. senators visited Iraq's Saddam Hussein four months before he invaded Kuwait. According to a transcript prepared and released by the Iraqi government, one member of the delegation, Republican Alan Simpson, told Hussein:

"I believe that your problems lie with the Western media, and not with the U.S. government. As long as you are isolated from the media, the press – and it is a haughty and pampered press – they all consider themselves political geniuses. That is, the journalists do. They are very cynical. What I advise is that you invite them to come and see for themselves."

Simpson later disputed the overall accuracy of the text, saying Hussein "manipulated and abridged" the transcript. However, the Wyoming legislator conceded that his comments about the press were quoted correctly.

Then, just eight days before Iraq's August 2 invasion, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie also met with Hussein. Once again he released a text. And Glaspie, like Simpson, denounces the U.S. press. The following exchange appears in the Iraqi transcript:

Glaspie: "I have a direct instruction from the president to seek better relations with Iraq..."

Hussein: "It is enough for us that someone says, `I am sorry. I made a mistake.' Then we carry on. But the media campaign continued. And it is full of stories. If the stories were true, no one would get upset. But we understand from its continuation that there is a determination."

Glaspie: "I saw the Diane Sawyer program ["Prime Time Live"] on ABC. And what happened in that program was cheap and unjust. And this is a real picture of what happens in the American media – even to American politicians themselves. These are the methods the Western media employs. I am pleased that you add your voice to the diplomats who stand up to the media. Because your appearance in the media, even for five minutes, would help us to make the American people understand Iraq. This would increase mutual understanding. If the American president had control of the media, his job would be much better."

Glaspie returned to the United States and was kept under wraps for eight months by the State Department. Then, in March, she appeared before the House and Senate foreign relations committees where she denounced the Iraqi transcript as a "fabrication" and "disinformation." In fact, she said, she believes that Diane Sawyer "did American journalism proud."

Sen. Alan Cranston, D?Calif., and Glaspie had this interchange:

Cranston: "One [question] relates to the Diane Sawyer program and your comments to Saddam Hussein. Is that an accurate transcript of your remarks?"

Glaspie: "I have not met Ms. Sawyer, unfortunately. I have admired her work. The video that I was talking about was, in fact, hers. I watched on Baghdad Television a video of her interview with Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis had cut out everything which involved her asking hard questions and Saddam Hussein unable to give a good answer. This is typical of those kinds of transcripts, whether they're video or audio or written, that he presents.

"I said to him I thought that the editing of transcripts – not transcripts, of videotapes – was cheap and unjust, such as had occurred in the case of Diane Sawyer's interview."

Cranston: "What concerned me and I think some other people is that that.. show of Diane's showed Kurds who had been killed, atrocities committed upon the Kurds, the use of poison gas upon Kurds and so on."

Glaspie: "That was cut out of the Baghdad Television presentation."

Cranston: "But you apparently did not indicate that you were separating that out from what you thought was cheap and unjust in other respects."

Glaspie: "I was talking about editing, senator, editing. You see, Baghdad Television said this was a full transcript of Diane Sawyer's presentation."

Cranston: "Is the transcript from Iraq of that remark by you accurate?"

Glaspie: "No. As I just told you what I said to him, I said that editing transcripts I thought was, I believe the adjectives were 'cheap' and 'unjust'.. ."

Glaspie was offering a plausible explanation of what she had said: She didn't dump on Sawyer; instead, she had rebuked the Iraqi dictator for the way his television people distorted Sawyer's program.

Unfortunately for Glaspie, she had cabled to the State Department a secret account of her conversation with Hussein. The cable, a copy of which I have obtained, includes the ambassador's report of what she told Hussein about Diane Sawyer and the U.S. press. This is the 22nd paragraph of Glaspie's cable:

"Ambassador resumed her theme, recalling that the president had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relations with Iraq. Saddam had referred to `some circles' antipathetic to that aim. Such circles certainly existed, but the U.S. administration is instructed by the president. On the other hand, the president does not control the American press; if he did, criticism of the administration would not exist. Saddam again interrupted to say he understood that. The ambassador said she had seen the Diane Sawyer show and thought it was cheap [sic] and unfair. But the American press treats all politicians without kid gloves – that is our way."

There was nothing about editing. In fact, Glaspie's cable and Hussein's version bear a close resemblance. Neither sounds anything like what Glaspie told Congress. In both, it is Glaspie who initiates the discussion about Diane Sawyer and attacks her.

Ironically, Glaspie expressed "astonishment" to Congress that anyone would give credence to "a document issued by a president whose credibility is surely not in high repute." On the question of what Glaspie said about Diane Sawyer, however, the record supports Hussein and brands Glaspie's testimony the mother of all whoppers.

An adversarial press is fair game for criticism by U.S. government officials. But a dictator with a human rights record like Hussein's is hardly the person to whom representatives of this government should complain about a free press. Senator Simpson at least acknowledged what he told Hussein; Glaspie compounded her mistake by trying to cover it up. l



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