IS QADDAFI the new Castro? For years, the Cuban dictator was the American media's favorite tyrant. High-profile television reporters like ABC's Barbara Walters and NBC's Andrea Mitchell would travel to Havana and treat Castro to the sort of gauzy profile usually reserved for celebrities like Ben Affleck or Harrison Ford.
But now Castro has some competition. Last Sunday, ABC's "This Week" ran an interview of Muammar Qaddafi where George Stephanopoulos played reportorial softball with the man who has ruled Libya since 1969.
Qaddafi didn't make for an easy interview subject. He interrupted Stephanopoulos when he didn't like the questions and laughed in the anchor's face (twice). But Stephanopoulos took the abuse. What's more, he avoided asking Qaddafi tough questions. Stephanopoulos never asked about Libya's abysmal human rights record. He never mentioned that Libya is still on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In the portion of the interview shown on television, Stephanopoulos asked only one question about Libya's involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people, before Qaddafi cut him off.
When the dictator barked, Stephanopoulos jumped:
Stephanopoulos: I think that the difficulty the United States has is what they haven't heard is a clear statement acknowledging responsibility for the incident and that will continue to be an obstacle between better relations between the United States and Libya.
Qaddafi: How many times have I answered this question?
Stephanopoulos quickly changed the subject.
Stephanopoulos could have asked Qaddafi whether it was true that prisoners of the Libyan government are often chained to a wall for hours without food or water. He could have asked Qaddafi whether it was true, as William Safire recently reported in the New York Times, that "Libya is trying to get fissionable material."
Stephanopoulos could have asked Qaddafi about Libya's tenure as chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, where the Libyans helped defeat resolutions condemning the behavior of the Sudanese government, Zimbabwe, and Iran. The commission did find time to condemn Israel's behavior in the West Bank.
Unsurprisingly, Qaddafi spent a lot of time condemning America's support for Israel, which led to this exchange:
Stephanopoulos: I know you're skeptical of the two-state solution [to the Arab-Israeli conflict] but if President Bush were successful in this effort, would you be prepared to recognize a Jewish state in the context of a situation where there was also a Palestinian state?
Qaddafi: It is impossible because it is not Israel and it is not Palestine. You cannot recognize either this or that. If the Jews want to have a Jewish state then they should shoulder their own responsibility and defend themselves.
Stephanopoulos: So you believe the United States has to choose between the Arabs and the Jews?
Qaddafi: [America will] sacrifice its own interest with the Arabs for the sake of the Jews, and the whole world knows that it is Jewish money that funds the American election campaigns.
To his credit, Stephanopoulos argued with Qaddafi after that last slur. If only he hadn't waited until the end of the interview to show some nerve.