Tabloid TV

A letter from former U.S. National Security Advisor Gary Sick to Mike Wallace about his interview with President Rafsanjani.

March 24, 1997

Dear Mike:

As a long-time fan of 60 Minutes and of you in particular, I have to say that I was disappointed by the interview with Rafsanjani that ran last night. I thought this was an extraordinary opportunity for some serious reporting. As you noted, Rafsanjani does not often grant exclusive interviews with
U.S. journalists, and the fact that he agreed, apparently with the intention of promoting better U.S.-Iran relations, was a special occasion. As someone who follows events in Iran very closely, I looked forward to this interview with real anticipation.

On terrorism, I wish you had asked him about one or more specific issues, e.g. the Al-Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia or the Argentine bombings or the Mykonos case in Germany. It would have been useful to get a personal and high level statement about Iran's involvement or interpretation of these incidents.

I was particularly disappointed that you did not mention the upcoming elections. In May, for the first time in Iranian history, an elected president will step down voluntarily and be replaced by a new elected president. The negative side of this event, of course, is the interference of the Council of Guardians who vet prospective candidates for their Islamic credentials. It would have been very interesting to hear his response to a question about whether critics of the Islamic regime (e.g. Ibrahim Yazdi) will be permitted to run this year. It would also have been interesting to hear what he had to say about his own plans. What does a former President of Iran do? And, since he apparently wanted to talk about U.S.-Iran relations, I wish you had given him a chance.

Frankly, the thing that bothered me most about the interview was the emphasis on social issues. One thing that everybody knows about Iran is that women are required to wear the chador in public. Most people also know that liquor is prohibited and that satellite dishes have been banned. The fact that under such a blanket prohibition people sneak a drink, or dress more informally at home, or snatch a peek at cable TV is, frankly, not very surprising or newsworthy. It might be worth a mention in passing, but as a major topic of your interview (interspersed with clips from Baywatch) I thought it was trivial. If you had an exclusive interview with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia or Hafez al- Assad of Syria, would you spend time asking them if they watch Baywatch and the Playboy Channel? Is this news or is it 60 Minutes imitating the TV tabloids--who are themselves bad imitations of 60 Minutes?

Perhaps you agree with me that the editing of this segment left something to be desired, since you are showing the full interview on C-Span this Wednesday. I certainly intend to watch, and I hope that the substance that I missed in the highly produced segment on Sunday will show up there.

With very best personal regards,

Sincerely yours,

Gary G. Sick


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