To Ann Curry's Credit, It's Really Hard to Interview Ahmadinejad

The Iranian president is a notoriously slippery interviewee

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Beyond generating the news that Iran will release two long-detained American hikers (an announcement that has since been retracted), Ann Curry's interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week has sparked some backlash. Golnaz Esfandiari at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty claims that the report, which comes shortly before the Iranian leader attends a U.N. General Assembly session in New York, misleadingly casts the Iranian leader as a "pious superman who doesn't rest." Kyle Drennen at Newsbusters adds that "Curry's report sounded more like propaganda on Iranian state television rather than a legitimate news story." Curry is even hearing it on her own Twitter feed. "@AnnCurry sings praises to the Hitler of the Mid-East, Ahmadinejad," wrote the Twitter user @SooperMexican yesterday. "Dude, check your 'facts,'" Curry retorted.

Is the criticism fair? It's true that Curry's "behind-the-scenes" report on Ahmadinejad's "grueling schedule"--with its images of the president jogging "Rocky style" and hugging a man whose wife is sick--is a bit of a puff piece, albeit an interesting one. Curry asks softball questions like "why do you work so hard?" and "why have you made this point to come to one of the poorest parts of Iran to highlight the art and the crafts?" But the report isn't entirely glowing, either. At one point, for example, people swarm Ahmadinejad and plead for food and other basic services.

In her sit-down with Ahmadinejad, moreover, Curry is about as tough on the president as a journalist can be. Ahmadinejad, you see, has been bedeviling journalists for years. During Ahmadinejad's media blitz before the U.N. General Assembly last year, the BBC crowned the Iranian leader the "master of spin" and noted that "few, if any, of the Western journalists who have interviewed him have scored many points off him." Over at Foreign Policy, Barbara Slavin, the first American newspaper reported to interview Ahmadinejad, penned a "reporter's guide to interviewing the Iranian president."

Since he was first elected in 2005, the Iranian president has perfected the art of slipping and sliding around even the most seasoned interviewers. Typically, he answers questions with questions and deflects criticism by attacking the United States or Israel.

In this week's interview, Curry touches on sensitive issues like concerns about Iran developing a nuclear warhead (7:23), Ahmadinejad's "explosive" 9/11 conspiracy theories (29:50), and Iran's aggression toward Israel (38:40). She also asks how "what Syria is doing, with all due respect Mr. President, [is] any different than what Iran did to the young people protesting your reelection" (42:11). She stops short, however, of delving into Iran's domestic human rights and economic issues, and often doesn't press Ahmadinejad when he proves evasive.

Ahmadinejad seems to like Curry. In 2009, she was the first foreign journalist to interview the Iranian president after the country's disputed elections and uprising--once again ahead of Ahmadinejad's visit to the U.N. in New York. In an interview at the time that Mediate described as "tenacious," Curry seized on Ahmadinejad's refusal to answer "no" to her question about whether Iran was planning to weaponize. "People will remark that you did not say no, as I've asked you three times the same question," she said. "You did not say no. Are you sure you want that to be your final answer, sir?" Ahmadinejad responded the way only Ahmadinejad can: "Well, you can take from this whatever you want, madam."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.