Why Is a CBS News Anchor Scoffing at Blowback and Diplomacy?

By Conor Friedersdorf
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The sneering contempt that Bob Schieffer shows Ron Paul in the interview above is something to behold. Watch it yourself, for words can't do his dismissive manner justice. But a mere transcript of the exchange is enough to show what the CBS newsman gets wrong on the merits, and to lay bare a bias in his purportedly objective journalism. As you read, ponder what is, in this case, an interesting question: What sort of bias is at work here?

Here's exchange number one:

BOB SCHIEFFER: I want to ask you some questions. Now that you're among the front-runners we need to know more about your positions on the issues. And I want to start with foreign policy, because your statements over the years, posted on your Web site and elsewhere, some of the things you have said in the debates, suggest that you believe that 9/11 happened because of actions that the United States took. Is that correct?

RON PAUL: I think there's an influence. And that's exactly what the 9/11 Commission said. That's what the DoD has said. And that's what the CIA has said. And that's what a lot of researchers have said. And, um, just remember immediately after 9/11 we removed the base from Saudi Arabia. So there is a connection. That doesn't do the whole full explanation. But our policies definitely had an influence. And you talk to the individuals who committed it, and those who would like to do us harm. They say, yes, we don't like American bombs to fall on our country. We don't like the intervention that we do in their nations. So to deny this I think is very dangerous. But to argue the case that they want to do us harm because we're free and prosperous I think is a very dangerous notion because it's not true.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I would question the import of what some of those commissions found that you cited, but basically what you're saying, Mr. Paul, is that it was America's fault. That 9/11 happened and it was our fault that it happened.

RON PAUL: No, I think that's misconstruing what I'm saying, because America is you and I. We didn't cause it. The average American didn't cause it. But if you have a flawed policy, it may influence it. When Ronald Reagan went into Lebanon, he deeply regretted this, because he said if he'd have been more neutral, those Marines wouldn't have died in Lebanon, because the policy was flawed. The same thing that McNamara said after the Vietnam War. He wrote in his memoirs that if we don't learn from our policies, it won't be worth anything. So I'm saying, policies have an effect. But that's a far cry from blaming America. I mean, in America, you're supposed to be able to criticize your own government without saying you're unAmerican.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Of course.

RON PAUL: And that's what the implication is.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But you are saying it was the government's fault. That's basically what you're saying. But let me move on to something else--

RON PAUL: I'm saying it's the policymakers' faults, they contributed, contributed to it. Contributed.

This is the sort of interview I expect from the Fox News Channel. What's deemed the most important matter, circa 2011, to find out about a presidential candidate? How he attributes responsibility for 9/11. The method used to pin down his views? Repeatedly attributing to him a more extreme, inflammatory position than he holds.

What to do when Paul points out that his actual, longstanding position -- that American foreign policy was one factor that inspired the attacks -- is shared by lots of Americans, including the authors of various official government inquiries into the matter? Schieffer's response is the inexplicable, "Well, I would question the import of what some of those commissions found." Why?

As Glenn Greenwald notes, it would be one thing if Schieffer behaved similarly anytime he conducts an interview, but this style of contemptuous inquiry is reserved for positions he regards as ignorant. Why doesn't he think that 9/11 happened partly "because of actions the United States took"?

That brings us to question number two.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Am I correct that your idea of how to discourage Iran from building nuclear weapons is to be nicer to Iran's leaders? Is that correct?

RON PAUL: Well, no. I think we have 12,000 diplomats, I'm suggesting that maybe we ought to use some of them. Just think of how we prevented a nuclear war with the Soviets when the Soviet missiles were put in Cuba. We didn't say, "We're going to attack you." Kennedy and Khrushchev talked and they made a deal. You take your weapons out of Cuba, we'll take 'em out of Turkey. That's the kind of talk that I want. I think the greatest danger now is for us to overreact and this is what I'm fearful of. Iran doesn't have a bomb, there's no proof, there's no new information regardless of this recent report. And for us to overreact and talk about bombing Iran, that's much more dangerous. We got the Libyans to get rid of their nuclear power and their nuclear weapons, and look at what happened to them, we've got to understand that--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. Paul, may I interrupt for just a second? No one has suggested in the U.S. government that we're going to bomb Iran. What they have said is that we're going to impose very tough sanctions. You are against sanctions on Iran, is that correct?

RON PAUL: Yes, because sanctions are an initial step to war. I was opposed to all the sanctions for 10 years and the bombings in Iraq because I said it would lead to war. But if you say no one is suggesting it, why don't you listen to the debates? Listen to some of the other candidates.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. Paul, may I correct you? I am listening to the debates. I know there have been some candidates who have talked about that, including Mr. Romney. The United States government has not said we're going to bomb Iran. I mean, that's just a fact.

RON PAUL: No, obviously they haven't said that, but the implication is, "Nothing is off the table." You've heard those statements?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well yes, all right. Let's move on then.

What you see is confusion that is entirely the fault of the host. Rather than ask Paul whether or not he favors sanctions against Iran, Schieffer decided to get cute and patronize him -- misrepresenting his true position in the process -- by asking if he thought the solution was just being "nicer."

Again, it was like I was watching Sean Hannity, where the ignorant assumption is that diplomacy and negotiation are nothing more than little making-nice parties for naive liberals. Paul, who finds himself in a GOP field competing to be more bellicose toward Iran, understandably assumed Schieffer was asking if he favored going to war to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.

And then Schieffer acts as if the idea that the United States government would bomb Iran is something only an ignorant loon would think.

Ron Paul holds some positions that, whether right or wrong, are undeniably out of the mainstream. But the notion that the September 11 attacks happened partly because of anger at America's foreign policy toward Middle Eastern countries? The idea that diplomacy is a better way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons than sanctions or war? Those are not fringe positions.

Why did the CBS news anchor treat them as such?

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http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/11/why-is-a-cbs-news-anchor-scoffing-at-blowback-and-diplomacy/249097/