Wednesday, June 6, 2012
In the cozy, nepotistic world of national, broadcast journalism (think: Liz Cheney, Luke Russert and Chelsea Clinton), ancient broadcast personality Barbara Walters, has broken every rule of decency.
Emails seen by The Daily Telegraph reveal Walters tried to help Sheherazad Jaafari, the daughter of Syria’s UN ambassador, secure a place an internship with Piers Morgan’s CNN program and a seat at Columbia University.
When confronted with the damning emails, the 82-year-old broadcaster admitted a conflict of interest and expressed “regret” for her actions.
Miss Jaafari, 22, was a close adviser to Mr. Assad and was at his side as Syrian troops stepped up their campaign of killing and repression. She would speak to him several times a day, sometimes calling him “the Dude” in her adopted American accent and was sometimes the only official in the room when he did interviews with Western journalists.
Jaafari, whose father — Bashar Jaafari has known Walters for around seven years, and began dealing with the broadcaster late last year as ABC News lobbied for an interview with Mr. Assad.
Walters’s interview in December – the first with an American TV network, made headlines around the world after Mr. Assad denied he was responsible for the crackdown which had already resulted in more than 9,000 civilian deaths in Syria. The emails show that, after the interview, Miss Jaafari and Walters stayed in close contact.
When Miss Jaafari returned to New York she reached out again to Walters, whom she referred to as her “adopted mother”. In return, Walters called her “dear girl” and sometimes signed off “Hugs, Barbara”.
They pair met for lunch at the Mark Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in late January, where Miss Jaafari apparently asked for a job at ABC News. Walters said she refused but offered to use her contacts to help her in other ways.
Shortly afterwards, Walters emailed the young Syrian saying: “I wrote to Piers Morgan and his producer to say how terrific you are and attached your resume.” She also asked whether Miss Jaafari was still planning on applying to Columbia University and offered to help.
A week later, Walters emailed Richard Wald, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and the father of Jonathan Wald, Morgan’s executive producer.
Walters described Miss Jaafari as “brilliant, beautiful, speaks five languages” and asked whether there was “anything you can do to help?” Professor Wald replied that he would get the admissions office to “give her special attention”.
Wald said that he was told Miss Jaafari had not applied and so he did not intervene on her behalf. He added: “I would ask the admissions office to give special attention to anyone with a recommendation from Ms. Walters or anyone else in Journalism.”
Ultimately, Miss Jaafari did not get the internship nor a place at Columbia.
Walters was one of only a handful of Americans invited to a private party hosted by the ambassador in March 2011, the same month that the uprising against the Assad regime began. The only other journalist on the guest list was a reporter from Press TV, Iran’s state-owned television channel. Walters did not attend the event.
Barbara Walters, currently the host of ABC’s The View, a daytime talk show geared toward women and current events has enjoyed a half-century long career, Walters has interviewed many of the biggest figures in American politics and culture.
In a statement, Walters said: “In the aftermath [of the Assad interview], Ms. Jaafari returned to the US and contacted me looking for a job. I told her that was a serious conflict of interest and that we would not hire her. I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia, though she didn’t get a job or into school. In retrospect, I realise that this created a conflict and I regret that.”
Miss Jaafari was part of a young circle of aides who advised Mr. Assad to speak to the Western media as evidence of atrocities mounted. When he agreed to the interview with Walters in December, Miss Jaafari wrote a list of talking points advising that the “American psyche can be easily manipulated” if he were to make a limited expression of regret. Miss Jaafari did not respond to phone calls, texts or emails.
Barbara Walter’s actions don’t merely have the appearance of impropriety, they are very essence of impropriety. It is clear that Miss Walters is well past her prime, is no longer a respectable journalist and needs to be fired by ABC News.