ABC’s “Nightline” (May 1) featured Ted Koppel interviewing both Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon.
The Arafat interview was a classic case of media manipulation, with Koppel timidly failing to challenge Arafat’s outrageous assertions of Israeli “big lies” and “big crimes.”
The propaganda charade was topped off when a little girl enters the room and sits on Arafat’s lap — and he hugs and kisses her.
Here are some lowlights of Koppel’s handling of the Arafat interview:
(1) Arafat claims that while his Ramallah compound was surrounded, the Israelis did not allow in any food or water. Koppel allows the assertion to stand unchallenged, replying with one word: “Right.”
In fact, it was widely reported that between March 30 and April 25, Arafat and his entourage were delivered 13,200 pita breads, 420 cans of hummus, 423 cans of tuna, 720 bottles of Coke, 30 cans of coffee, 155 boxes of tea, 360 kilos of sugar, 505 cans of sardines, 458 packages of cheese, 60 cartons of eggs, plus hundreds of kilos of rice, fruits and vegetables.
(2) Arafat accuses the Israelis of having “burned” Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque. Koppel allows the assertion to stand unchallenged, instead changing the subject to Bethlehem.
Apparently, Arafat was referring to a 1969 arson incident, which The Wall Street Journal (November 15, 2000) notes was the work of a Christian fundamentalist from Australia.
(3) When Arafat says that he is in daily contact with Palestinians in the Church, Koppel does not question how this involvement constitutes a direct link to terror groups, including those whose assets have been outlawed by the U.S. government and who have been responsible for the murder of Americans.
Among those inside the Church are three high-ranking members of the terrorist group Hamas, and at least seven senior members of Fatah and Tanzim — including Ibrahim Abyat, head of a Tanzim military cell wanted for three murders in the past year), Abdallah Tirawi (wanted for multiple terrorist attacks and bomb-making), Ismail Hamdan (wanted for dozens of shootings), terrorist financier Kamel Hamid, and Muhammad Salem (wanted for dispatching a suicide bomber to Jerusalem on March 29).
Nor did Koppel question the fact that an Armenian monk who escaped told military officials the gunmen had taken prayer books, gold and crucifixes.
(4) When Arafat gets angry and insults Koppel (“You are speaking with Yasser Arafat. You are attacking me?”), Koppel meekly replies, “I understand. I understand.”
By contrast, in the second half of the program, Koppel asked a series of hard-hitting, accusatory questions to Ariel Sharon, referring to him on two occasions as a “tough man.”
The Nightline transcript of the Sharon interview is at:
The Nightline transcript of the Arafat interview is included at the bottom of this email, or online at:
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========== “NIGHTLINE” TRANSCRIPT ============
MR. KOPPEL: Mr. Chairman, as I look at all of your men out here, they are embracing, they are laughing, they are kissing each other. They are very happy.
MR. ARAFAT: For the first time, they are seeing me after this long siege, but I am very nervous because of what is going on in the Nativity Church is very difficult not for me only, for all the Christians, for all the Muslims for the whole world… unbelievable.
MR. KOPPEL: But should we not wait until we know what has happened there?
MR. ARAFAT: Just now I was in contact with them, they were firing, with all kinds of fires.
MR. KOPPEL: You were in touch with the men in the church?
MR. ARAFAT: Yes, every day I am in touch with them. Today we had arrived to a solution and you remember 27 had came from in, according to their approval, and in spite of that, they didn’t send for them give the food, the water, the medicine.
MR. KOPPEL: They did not?
MR. ARAFAT: No, according to the agreement, which happened with me.
MR. KOPPEL: Right.
MR. ARAFAT: And, what happened in my headquarters I don’t care, they had three explosions, and they have destroyed three building beside me.
MR. KOPPEL: Here in the compound?
MR. ARAFAT: Yes, yes. In the moment they began their withdrawal from here.
MR. KOPPEL: Which buildings did the Israelis destroy?
MR. ARAFAT: The headquarters of the National Guard building, the guard’s building, the protection building and the building of the commander of all the West Bank.
MR. KOPPEL: Of these last 34 days…
MR. ARAFAT: But what, not important what happened to me, I am very furious of what is happening in the Nativity Church. It never happened in the whole history. Even when the when the (inaudible) came to this area, they didn’t approach it. It is the same, what has happened if you remember in Aqsa mosque, the Aqsa mosque, you remember.
MR. KOPPEL: The Al Aqsa mosque?
MR. ARAFAT: Yes you remember, in the beginning when they burned it.
MR. KOPPEL: The Israelis are saying that men in church thought that the IDF was going to attack and they began to set fires in the building.
MR. ARAFAT: Can you believe that? Big lies. I am in permanent contact with them. Can you, are you believing these big lies? Can anyone burn himself? His house? The place where he’s sleeping? The church where he’s praying?
MR. KOPPEL: If they thought they were under attack by the Israelis, maybe?
MR. ARAFAT: Maybe, how? I am a general? You are speaking with Yasser Arafat. You are attacking me?
MR. KOPPEL: You’re telling me no?
MR. ARAFAT: Definitely not. You are speaking to Gen
MR. KOPPEL: I understand. I understand.
MR. ARAFAT: What is going on is a big crime, a big crime. And I am asking for the whole world to move quickly to stop this crime. I am not asking them anything now, but now I am asking only to stop this crime. There’s the crime against this holy sacred place.
MR. KOPPEL: Let me ask you because I know you don’t have much time. Tell me what has been the most difficult part for you about these last 35 days.
MR. ARAFAT: For me, makes no difference. It is not the first time. What is important is what happened for my people. In Jenin refugee camp. Who can imagine what had happened?
MR. KOPPEL: What did they tell you?
MR. ARAFAT: They are saying that no one had that helicopters had not been used, the F-15 and F-16s… I will give you what had been mentioned by their high officers. How they had used helicopters, Apache and F-15s and F-16s besides the tanks and armored vehicles.
MR. KOPPEL: Mr. Chairman, I have seen evidence that bulldozers were used. Bulldozers. And perhaps, helicopters, I don’t know. But not an F-16.
MR. ARAFAT: I can give it to you. I am not… I am far away, I am here in, but I am following what they are, their officers are saying. (Arafat motions to aides for some papers)
MR. KOPPEL: While we are waiting for that, tell me where you think things stand now between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
MR. ARAFAT: I go thinking that after the approval from my side to the proposal that had been offered to me from the British and Americans, everything is going smoothly and for this I accept for the prisoners and the 2 detainees had been sent according to the request to Jericho prison.
MR. KOPPEL: And now?
MR. ARAFAT: Now, they arrived there at the same time as we were speaking of nativity church and they promised they would do? what has happened? they exploded before their departure three main places in my HQ and at the same time in the Nativity Church. (Exchange of papers between Arafat and aides)
MR. KOPPEL: What are you going to do now? You are free to leave now, the Israelis are gone.
MR. ARAFAT: Who knows? Who knows I am free? I have to follow up to send my guards because this explosion has been done here gives me an alarm that maybe other places will be subjected today or tomorrow here.
MR. KOPPEL: Are you stay here in the compound?
MR. ARAFAT: Where to go? I go to the street to sleep?
MR. KOPPEL: You have no place to go?
MR. ARAFAT: No.
MR. KOPPEL: Mr. Chairman?
MR. ARAFAT: No, if you will accept for me to come to where you are living today.
MR. KOPPEL: Today you’d come to the King David Hotel with me?
MR. ARAFAT: It’s a good idea.
MR. KOPPEL: What you’re telling me is your compound has been hit, you say terrible things happened in Jenin, the Church of the Nativity tonight. Are you saying that makes it impossible then for you and the Israelis to deal with each other anymore?
MR. ARAFAT: I can’t forget that the peace agreement that I had signed with my partner Rabin — my partner Rabin had given his life for the peace agreement, which I had signed with him. I cannot betray him after his death. I will continue with my people the peace of the green line. This is a strategic line and this what I had mentioned two days ago to the American and the British consulars when they offered to me. And I am repeating this now to president bush. He has to follow up what his father has started in Middle East conference the peace in the Middle East. land for peace. For the whole security of the Palestinians, of the Israelis, of the whole Middle East area and for the whole world this is the terra sancta.
MR. KOPPEL: Sacred land?
MR. ARAFAT: Sacred land for all people all over the world.
MR. KOPPEL: Just tell me, are you planning to go to Jenin?
MR. ARAFAT: Definitely I have to go to Jenin. I have to go to Jericho. I have to go to Hebron. I have to go to Bethlehem. I have to go everywhere that has been destroyed. I have to be there?
MR. KOPPEL: So in the next few days you will go?
MR. ARAFAT: Definitely it is my duty. If they will permit me to go out. But I don’t know how they accepted for you to come in.
MR. KOPPEL: There’s nobody out there anymore. The Israelis have left.
MR. ARAFAT: Oh, OK. OK.
MR. KOPPEL: And you will go to Egypt.
MR. ARAFAT: Maybe not now, the most important thing I have to do is go to see my people. And it my duty? Can I leave Bethlehem in this very critical situation. Can I leave it? The most important things have been declared by President Bush, by the Security Council, the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, and the United Nations has had been declared by Arab summit conference who accepted the initiative which has been declared by Crown Prince Abdullah and became an Arab nation… and in spite of that… (A little girl enters the room and sits on Arafat’s lap and he hugs and kisses her.)
MR. ARAFAT: For this we have not to forget that we have to work hard for the peace for our children and their children.
MR. KOPPEL: All right, Mr. Chairman, you’ve been very gracious with your time. Thank you very much.