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Coming to NBC: 'To Catch a Cheney'

Jeff Cohen

I have a plan to get NBC out of last place in the ratings. I'm
promising blockbuster audience and international buzz. As a once
disgruntled ex-employee,
I now just want to be positive and help NBC, which needs all the free
advice it
can get.

Here's my idea: A series of NBC News primetime specials
featuring spectacular ambushes of big-time criminals lured into what
they
expect to be pleasurable surroundings. But, with hidden cameras
whirring, the startled
villain is dramatically confronted with the evidence of his massive
crimes as
millions of viewers look on in scorn and righteous amusement.

If it sounds familiar, it's because NBC News has scored huge
ratings with its "To Catch a Predator" sleaze-fest - in which potential
sex
offenders by the bushel were lured via the Internet to what they
thought would
be sex with kids and instead got caught by NBC cameras and cops in
hiding.

But my proposal doesn't involve sex abusers. I'm talking about
men who've launched illegal war, mass murder, torture, dictatorship.
And
they're household names.

Before you laugh off my proposal for "To Catch a War
Criminal," check out last week's New York
Times
report by Brian Stelter: "On Trail of War Criminals, NBC News Is Criticized."

NBC is already at work - "To Catch a Predator"-style - on a
two-bit version of my idea, and not surprisingly, they may be screwing
it up. For
over a year, a camera crew has been on the trail of alleged war
criminals; in
December, an NBC producer confronted a Maryland
foreign language professor who NBC sources accuse of war crimes in Rwanda.

But there are problems - as often happens when you leave the
"news" to NBC. Human Rights Watch questions the evidence against the
professor,
who's been seeking asylum in the U.S. A journalistic
ethicist questions
NBC's close relations with Rwanda's
government.

So here's my advice: Go big. Go after superstars and only
well-documented,
slam-dunk cases of war crimes.

Coming to NBC next week: "To Catch a Cheney."  Next
month: "To Catch a Kissinger."

How do you lure such big names to an NBC News lair for their
ambush interview? You simply invite them.

Given the soft treatment they've received over the years, they'll
come running quicker than a Net perv to Lolita. Trust me: the element
of
surprise is on NBC's side - since these uber-officials are confident
their
crimes will remain eternally off-limits.

To lure Dick Cheney from his undisclosed location, NBC's "To
Catch a War Criminal" producers could pretend to be booking "Meet the
Press."
Cheney has been as comfy on that show as Alec Baldwin on "Saturday
Night Live."
It came out under oath in the Scooter Libby trial that Vice President
Cheney's
office viewed "Meet the Press" as "our best format," a program in which
Cheney
could "control the message." Putting him on that show, testified his
communications
chief, "was a tactic we used often."

It was on "Meet the Press" after 9/11 that Cheney warned:
"We have to work the dark side, if you will. We're going to spend time
in the
shadows."

So
Mr. Dark Side shows up at NBC studios expecting another puff job, and
instead
is confronted on camera with witnesses, documents, victims of his
various war
crimes. It's riveting television and real journalism as his violations
of the
Geneva Conventions of War in matters of torture and kidnapping are
detailed.

The program climaxes big-time with Cheney cross-examined
about Iraq
and his lead role in committing the ultimate war crime (as described by
the Nuremberg
tribunal):
launching an unprovoked attack upon another country.

And what about Henry Kissinger? His participation in crimes
of war, murder, mayhem and military coups is neatly packaged in Eugene
Zarecki's 80-minute documentary (award-winner at Amnesty International
Film
Festival):
The Trials of Henry Kissinger.

Think he's too old to spring into NBC's trap? Actually, the
spry 85-year-old still appears frequently on NBC channels - assured
that his
criminal past will never come up.

Invite him. Kissinger will come.

And he's not old news. Just as there's no statute of
limitations on murder, there's none for Kissinger's crimes. Remember
that military
dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ended democracy in Chile
thanks to Kissinger's crucial
help, was arrested in England
for international crimes many years after leaving office.

Besides ratings, my "Catch a Major War Criminal" idea
delivers something else for NBC: It's fairly cheap to produce. The New York Times reports that NBC News has
spent a year chasing down foreign war criminals and "possible
perpetrators of
human rights abuses in several countries." Going after big-name U.S.
war
criminals is quicker and more cost-effective - with so many documents,
archives
and witnesses in or around D.C.

In truth, there's one main reason my proposal will never launch
on NBC: It's the longstanding nationalistic, ethnocentric (even racist)
bias in
our country that blocks serious scrutiny of "our" criminals.

That bias allows "objective" journalism to refer
matter-of-factly to "Saddam's torture rooms," but not "George Bush's
torture
rooms"; to "mass murder" of Kosovars and Rwandans, but not "mass murder" of
Guatemalans or Salvadorans
or Vietnamese caused by U.S. officials; to "terrorism" from homemade
bombs and
IEDs, but not the far more lethal terror against civilians from
advanced, aerial
bombardment.

War criminals tend to have funny names, dark skin and wear
foreign garb. They can't be powerful Americans in tailored suits.

This giant illusion is fostered by major U.S.
news media
that are allergic to discussing deadly U.S. interventions in the
context
of Nuremberg
principles, Geneva Conventions protecting prisoners of war and
noncombatants,
and the United Nations Charter, especially articles 41 and 42 on the
initiation
of armed force. These international laws and treaties are the law of
our land -
as clear as laws against murder.

So NBC News will traipse the globe in search of Rwandans - while
Dick and Henry sleep like babies tonight. And then appear tomorrow on U.S.
television
offering their exalted opinions on international affairs.

Maybe NBC should stick to catching sex offenders. Any
pretense that they want to seriously track down war criminals is a
farce.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC. He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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