Aug 1 2001

Questions for Kissinger Go Unasked

Journalists show 'sensitivity' to war-crime suspect’s feelings

While visiting Paris in May, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger received a summons to appear at the French Palace of Justice to answer questions about murders and disappearances in Chile in the 1970s. While the story was carried by major European news outlets, it has received relatively little coverage in U.S. media.

The French wanted to ask Kissinger what he knew about Operation Condor, a consortium of Latin American governments that assassinated dissidents in each other’s countries. Evidence that the U.S. government supported Operation Condor has been available for years (Nation, 8/9-16/99; New York Times, 3/6/01).

The French magistrate who summoned Kissinger was particularly interested in what light he might shed on the disappearances of five French nationals who disappeared in Chile during or shortly after the country’s 1973 coup, which Kissinger was instrumental in instigating. But the French courts would learn nothing from Kissinger, who left town the day after being summoned without answering any questions (Agence France Press, 5/29/01; Daily Telegraph, 5/31/01).

After the episode in France, Kissinger did a lengthy, one-on-one interview with PBS‘s Charlie Rose (6/20/01). Kissinger also appeared alone with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer (6/21/01) and Fox News Channel‘s Paula Zahn (6/13/01). None of the interviews even mentioned the French attempt to question Kissinger about human rights abuses. Nor did any of the journalists bring up the question of whether Kissinger could himself be indicted on war crimes charges for his role in the Vietnam War and other atrocities, as journalist Christopher Hitchens argued in a two-part Harper’s Magazine article (2/01, 3/01).

Was there an agreement that the interviewers would avoid raising issues that might be uncomfortable for Kissinger? Rose was recently accused of making such an agreement with Roger Ailes, the chair of the conservative Fox News Channel. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine (6/24/01), Ailes claimed that he had written assurance from Rose that he would not be asked about “politics” during his May 22 interview. Yvette Vega, the executive producer for the Charlie Rose Show, told FAIR that she was unaware of any such deal with Ailes.

But Kissinger himself seemed to have this kind of agreement with the National Press Club in Washington, DC, where he spoke on June 21. Noting that none of the questions asked of Kissinger, chosen from written questions submitted by the audience, dealt with war crimes or human rights investigations, journalists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman (Focus on the Corporation, 6/22/01) asked Press Club moderator Richard Koonce if there was some sort of arrangement to avoid these topics.

According to Mokhiber and Weissman, Koonce explained that there was a “definite sensitivity” to those kinds of questions, and that Kissinger “was afraid that if we got into a discussion of that, for the vast majority of people that, it would take so much time to explain all of the context, that, you know, he preferred to avoid that.”

FAIR asked members of its email list (6/29/01) to write to Charlie Rose and the National Press Club about their policies on Kissinger. While Rose had not responded as Extra! Update went to press, the Press Club sent activists the following explanation:

This event was a Book Rap to discuss Dr. Kissinger’s new book Does America Need a Foreign Policy?. Questions asked by the moderator were to be about the book. It was not a press conference. If it had been a press conference, the National Press Club would have no problem asking the “tough questions.”

In FAIR’s view, the fact that Kissinger was at a “Book Rap” is irrelevant; if the National Press Club has a policy of restricting questions at book events to subjects of the author’s choosing, it would be setting a poor ethical standard for journalists.

It’s also important to recall what Kissinger’s book is about–namely, American foreign policy, including the issue of war crimes tribunals. Kissinger’s book aims to lay out a blueprint for U.S. foreign policy, and the case in France is a perfect illustration of the potential consequences of following Kissinger’s policy advice. It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate venue to discuss the issue.