A Gift-Wrapped Stab

Ted Koppel strikes again, that’s all I could think about last night. But the truth is, I can’t blame him for my sleepless nights. He is an American journalist, and a pretty good one at that. I’m sure it was never his intention to hurt a nation, but rather this was his poor attempt at showing that what a great interviewer such as Mike Wallace can do, Ted can do better.

Watching his program on the Discovery Channel last night, I was reminded of a lesson I learned about journalism at one of my UCSD classes. Our teacher was elaborating on what he considered irresponsible journalism and telling us how much of what gets announced, or is published, has nothing to do with the actual news, which is precisely what sells tabloids.

He gave an example: Should a journalist intend to ruin someone’s image, all he needs is a scandalous headline, because ninety percent of the public will only see and remember that. He can then proceed to report the truth and on page nine prove that the headline was nothing but filthy rumors. Such an explanation will get you off the hook from a legal standpoint, but most people don’t go that far and before the victim knows it, the damage is done.

During the two-hour program, at each commercial break the nasty words, “Iran, the most dangerous nation on earth,” were hammered into my head and the announcement was much too loud to miss. Yet little Ted failed to prove his allegation, nor was he able to give merit to such a proclamation. In fact, it looked as if he had a jolly good time in Iran and seemed to enjoy the Persian hospitality. Unfortunately, for the average American, who only heard bits and pieces of his report, that one phrase summed it up.

A mother of three American born and raised children, I am painfully reminded of when Nightline began. “America held hostage. Day one.” And how it went on for a year to make my American life, and that of a million others, a living hell. For every dollar that Ted Koppel made on his newly acquired fame, an Iranian family in exile suffered some form of abuse. My own children denounced their heritage and at school even pretended to be Christians. My friend’s nine-year0old daughter was called a pig by classmates who teased her on the bus as they all went, “Oink, oink,” sending the child home in tears, and these are among the minor incidents. The stories go on and on, but like all bad incidents, people managed to put it behind them and we all went on with our lives.

It has been a while since anyone heard anything noteworthy from Ted Koppel, so I guess he did need the publicity. Being a smart journalist, he knows exactly where to cash in. He looks back and realizes he was not so great before Nightline and figures he better milk the old subject for all its worth. In Persian, we call this, “Fishing in muddy waters.”

Mr. Koppel knew that his mere sight will provoke enough negative emotions and in fact, it is not surprising that after nearly a decade, when people saw him, they began shouting their old anti American slogans. What does come as a surprise is how hospitable most Iranians were toward a man who had done them grave damage. But I guess they must have thought that, if they treated him with courtesy, it will appeal to his humane side and the man might regret what he had done. In time, those young men and women will realize that when it comes to dollars, some people will even sell their souls.

As much as history proves this to be true, it is still hard to accept how diverse a people can be from their government. All of us, Iranians as well as Americans, can easily become victims of our government’s mistakes, but that is only true if we let it be. A friend called me this morning to say, “I don’t even give it a thought. It’s all about making the Americans hate us enough to justify an attack on Iran.” I only sighed and told her, “Let’s pray that is not so!”

Mr. Koppel’s report reminds me of an old saying I had heard about the British. “They cut your head so gently, you don’t know it until you sneeze and the thing falls off!” Unfamiliar with his background, I wonder if he studied his journalism in such a school.

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