CBS criticised for hype on Rather's Saddam interview

NEW YORK - Although few denied it was effective hype for a stunning get, the publicity surrounding Dan Rather's sit-down with Saddam Hussein was met with criticism and admiration alike.

In anticipation of the '60 Minutes II' broadcast on Wednesday, CBS mounted a multifront offensive to give the public a strong sense of Hussein's first American interview in 13 years.

In the days before it aired, Rather became ubiquitous, promoting the interview on his network's other news shows and in other media, even earning a rare on-air credit from rival Tom Brokaw. A news story detailing the meat of the interview appeared on CBSNews.com on Wednesday, as did streaming video excerpts.

Hussein's offer to debate President Bush emerged as the tastiest morsel, but it led many to question whether such a challenge, coming from the mouth of a dictator, even rates as news.

"It's a propaganda trick," said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center. "It's not a new ploy."

Graham's overall assessment of the pre-broadcast publicity was harsh. He said excerpts were loaded down with softball questions that won't do much to further debate on the possible war.

"CBS is milking this exclusive for its own purposes, and not for the purpose of the American people," he said.

This criticism resonated with the White House's complaints that it wasn't given an opportunity for an on-air comment.

Though a CBS News spokeswoman declined to be interviewed for this article, the network has its defenders.

"From what I can tell, [Rather] asked the logical questions," said Jay Rosen, chairman of the journalism department at New York University.

What impressed Rosen about the interview is that, though it was filmed by Iraqi cameras, it appeared to be free of censorship and other hallmarks of "a closed society with no tradition of freedom of the press."

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