What the Media Could Learn From Oriana Fallaci
It would be nice if contemporary journalists were at least as tough on murderous dictators as they are on domestic conservative foes.
A few weeks after Iran’s “president,” Ebrahim Raisi, promised stricter enforcement of his nation’s misogynistic dress code, a woman named Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd, was likely beaten to death by “morality police” for failing to wear her hijab properly. The apparent murder was nothing new for the theocratic “guidance patrols” that have been patrolling cities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, one of the most disastrous events of the late 20th century.
Last week, “60 Minutes” aired an interview Lesley Stahl conducted with the same theocratic crackpot responsible for Amini’s death wearing a hijab. And it immediately reminded me of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci’s 1979 interview with Ayatollah Khomeini.
Fallaci, who died in 2006, was once somewhat of a celebrity due to her pugilistic interviews with world leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. A war correspondent for most of her career, Fallaci was shot three times and left for dead during student demonstrations in Mexico City in 1968 in what became known as the Tlatelolco massacre. Striking and sophisticated, uninterested in the ideology or political affiliation of her victims, Fallaci had no patience for moral equivalency. In truth, she was a liberal of the old school, and her infinite skepticism regarding power made her the most formidable interviewer of her time. “Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon,” she said, “I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”
Henry Kissinger famously referred to his interview with Fallaci as “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.” Fallaci asked then-darling of Western leftists, Yasser Arafat, “How many Israelis do you think you’ve killed up to this date?” When Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi began spinning an anti-Semitic “Zionist” conspiracy of his own, she told him that “Hitler would have been a very good friend for you.” After interviewing her for Playboy in 1981, the left-wing journalist Robert Scheer noted it was “the first time in my life, I found myself feeling sorry for the likes of Khomeini, Qaddafi, the Shah of Iran, and Kissinger.”
Did anyone feel bad for Ebrahim Raisi after watching “60 Minutes”? I cringed reading outlets claim that Stahl had “confronted” Raisi over whether he was a Holocaust denier. Stahl asked Raisi: “Do you believe the Holocaust happened? That 6 million Jews were slaughtered?” Raisi answered that “historical events should be investigated by researchers and historians. There are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched.”
“So you’re not sure. I’m getting that. You’re not sure,” Stahl responded.
Ah, yes. If only someone had thought to research the Holocaust. In any event, that is no confrontation. It is merely a statement confirming the position of Iran, the world’s leading anti-Semitic entity, which not only denies the Holocaust but promises to conduct its own genocide against Jews. It is the same regime that is responsible for the murder of 600 American servicemen — one out of every six fatalities in Iraq.
Fallaci, only months after the Islamic Revolution had occurred and a month before American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage, went, on her own, to Iran to procure an interview with Ayatollah Khomeini. She spent 10 days in the holy city of Qum surrounded by extremists waiting for the chance. (Fallaci writes about the ordeal in “Conversations with Power.”) Perhaps the only reason the Italian was given an audience was that she had also conducted a belligerent interview with Khomeini’s archenemy the shah of Iran in 1973. (Fallaci: “I’d like to ask you: if I were an Iranian instead of an Italian, and lived here and thought as I do and wrote as I do, I mean if I were to criticize you, would you throw me in jail?” The shah: “Probably.”)
Fallaci, barefoot and covered in Islamic garb from head to toe, proceeds to challenge every Khomeini lie, confronting him on his fascistic tactics and murders, challenging the Iranian regime’s insistence that she wear religious garb — a “stupid, medieval rag,” before throwing it off.
It is impossible for me to imagine any reporter showing the skills or guts to engage a bully in this way. Now, no one is expecting Lesley Stahl, or anyone else, to be the next Oriana Fallaci. But it would be nice if contemporary journalists were at least as tough on murderous dictators as they are on domestic conservative foes.
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