What if Russian television ran a long, meaty interview with Osama bin Laden? asked Pyotr Romanov in a commentary for the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. What if we asked him about his hopes and feelings, gave him airtime to tell lies about America and its alleged crimes? Americans would be furious—and feel betrayed. Yet that's just what what the ABC News program Nightline did last week, when it aired an interview with Chechen archterrorist Shamil Basayev. Russia's most-wanted man brazenly admitted that he was behind almost every recent terror attack in Russia, from the siege of an elementary school in Beslan, where more than 300 people, mostly children, were killed, to the siege of a Moscow theater, where nearly 200 were killed. 'œOkay,' he told Nightline. 'œSo I'm a terrorist. But what would you call them? If they are keepers of constitutional order, if they are anti-terrorists, then I spit on all these agreements and nice words.' We understand that America has a 'œso-called free press.' But what were the American journalists thinking by giving a platform to an unrepentant killer? 'œI want to ask my U.S. counterparts whether they smelled drops of blood and dead human flesh while broadcasting Basayev's statements.'
The American journalists at ABC may yet regret their choice, said Yuri Politov in Moscow's Izvestiya. Disseminating interviews with terrorists is prohibited by Russian law. As a result, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has revoked ABC's press privileges with his ministry and with the armed forces. And there may be deeper 'œforeign policy' consequences for the United States. The Foreign Ministry has expressed 'œprofound indignation' that the U.S. government turned down Russia's 'œofficial request' to stop ABC from broadcasting the interview. And the pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda has announced that it will do all it can to get an interview with bin Laden himself.
The Kremlin is doubly furious because of who conducted the interview, said Pavel Aptekar and Vladimir Barinov in Moscow's Gazeta. It was no American, but a Russian who is himself 'œan object of interest to the security services.' Andrei Babitsky, a correspondent for U.S.–funded Radio Liberty, has offended the Kremlin in the past, not only by interviewing Chechen terrorists, who trust him, but also by interviewing disgruntled Russian soldiers. Still, he didn't go to Chechnya looking for Basayev; he was there to interview someone else and Basayev came to him. The fact that the terrorist is roaming Chechnya freely enough to locate and chat with a reporter is a 'œhuge embarrassment' to Russian authorities.
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We could learn from this interview, said Julia Latynina in Moscow's Novaya Gazeta. Rather than 'œblaming the journalist,' the secret service should 'œextract what information it can' from Basayev's words. It's interesting, for example, that while Basayev admits he took hostages, he insists he is not to blame for their deaths. 'œNeither I nor my mujahedeen have killed children,' he told Babitsky. He blames instead the Russian troops that stormed the elementary school and the theater, opening fire and setting off gas bombs. And if the authorities weren't so busy railing at ABC, they'd have to admit that he has a point. Neither side has been completely innocent in these horrors. 'œThe difference is' that Basayev lied to us just once, on ABC. 'œThe authorities lie to us every day, on all the state channels.'
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