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NBC's Ahmadinejad Interview Stirs Viewers

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Interviews with controversial figures often, and inevitably, become those that are the most-watched and the most talked about. As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become far more amenable to interviews with Western journalists than ever, those interviews are generating substantial reaction from audiences.

NBC "Nightly News" Anchor Brian Williams' interview with Ahmadinejad this week is generating much of the similarly impassioned reaction from viewers as CBS received following Mike Wallace's interview with the Iranian leader. On Wednesday evening, Williams read a few such e-mails, many of which expressed disappointment that the interview was conducted at all. For example, Williams read this e-mail, from a viewer in Flushing, N.Y.:

"I was very disappointed that NBC's Brian Williams gave a forum to Iranian President Ahmadinejad. He treated him as he would any rational leader from any other country, while the truth is he is not rational at all. I think President Bush was right not to meet with him, and I think Brian Williams did a disservice by interviewing him."
That sentiment was similar to many of the e-mails we received from viewers regarding Wallace's interview, and we later discussed the issue with Bob Anderson, who produced the story (you can read that story here.) "Whenever you interview someone who's controversial, there are always those who think he shouldn't be interviewed," Anderson told us at the time.
Interviewing Ahmadinejad, says Anderson, is "not an endorsement of his policies," he said, adding that "the tenor of Mike's questions probably indicated as much."

"It's an opportunity for the American people to hear his view of the world," said Anderson. "And the audience can take its own measure" of the Iranian president.

In light of that, it seemed worth noting Williams' response to viewers with a negative impression of the interview, which he conveyed on the "Nightly News'" blog:
If you watched last night's broadcast, you saw and heard a small selection of the e-mails we've been getting -- most having to do with our interview of the President of Iran. A staggering number of e-mails are harshly negative, and the writers vehemently argue that we should not have interviewed Ahmadinejad and should not air his comments on NBC. Some of the e-mails are rude and hateful. Some vow never to watch NBC again. The question I'd like to ask is: shouldn't Democracy be bigger than that? How do we decide who we can interview ... only those who are non-threatening and completely reasonable? Who decides that? I thought a comment made by "Lucy" on this blog put the argument best: "What are people afraid of? That (the Iranian President) will somehow persuade us to become radical Muslim extremists? Let THEM be the ones who limit free speech. Let US be the ones who encourage it... even when we don't like it."
It's the type of debate that will surely continue to arise and one that, hopefully, news outlets will continue to be willing to discuss.
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