06.06.12 3:10 PM ET
Barbara Walters' Syrian Blunder
Barbara Walters has taken a tumble on the world stage.
No stranger to landing big international interviews, she offered job assistance to the 22-year-old daughter of the Syrian ambassador—this at a time when the Assad regime is conducting a brutal campaign of violence against its opponents.
There is much to admire in Walters, the trailblazing woman who became the first female co-anchor of a network evening newscast and, decades later, launched a highly successful chat show in The View. The fact that she’s still going strong on ABC, at 82, is a measure of her pluck and determination.
But what a royal screwup this was—made immeasurably worse by the fact that she interceded for Shererzad Jaafari after the young woman helped her land an exclusive interview with Bashir al-Assad that made world headlines last December. Thus, Walters’ assistance smells like a quid pro quo.
Walters conceded her blunder in a statement, saying that in the aftermath of the Assad sitdown, “Ms. Jaafari returned to the U.S. 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.”
London’s Daily Telegraph obtained the e-mails. The first, from Jaafari on Dec. 8, begins “hello dear Barbara” and was sent the day after the ABC interview aired. Jaafari asks for complete tapes of the interview with Syria’s strongman, adding: “I am in so much trouble here.”
Walters responds five days later: “You have been much in my thoughts. I am off today to interview my own President and First Lady. Are you alright? I would love to h hear from you. Once more, my gratitude and affection, Barbara”
The newswoman then tries to land Jaafari an internship with CNN’s Piers Morgan. On Jan. 24, she gets this effusive response from Jaafari, who notes that she has applied to Columbia University.
“You can never be a better mom to your adopted child (me).
“I love you so much and thanks again. I hope to hear some good news from him.
“will buy you some jewelry from Syria. Let me know if you need anything else from there!
"Thank you so much
Two days later, Walters writes to Richard Wald, a Columbia professor who is a former ABC News executive:
“Hi there. This young woman, whose resume is attached, is the dtr of the Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. She helped arrange my interview with Assad. She is only 21 but had his ear and his confidence. I have recommended her as an intern to your son for Piers Morgan. She is applying to Columbia School of Journalism. She is brilliant, beautiful, speaks five languages. Anything you can do to help? And how are you anyway?”
Wald responds that Jaafari has applied to the international school and “I will get them to give her special attention. I am sure they will take her.”
Nothing came from either effort. The only tangible result is the damage to Walters’ reputation.