Baghdad Bob's No Joke

It is next to impossible for a guest not to enjoy himself while participating in an interview on the "Fox and Friends" morning television talk show. ( Janeane Garofalo, who seemed intent on character immolation by spewing personal invectives against the president the day she was on, proves the exception to the rule.)

The three hosts (E. D, Hill, Steve Doocy, and Brian Kilmeade) look for the soft, entertaining angle on the hard news stories of the day. They pitch softballs to conservatives, or banter harmlessly with liberals. They want laughs, not blood.

So it's in that vein that last week I went on the show and joked, and laughed - and blew it.

The topic invited humor. Last week it was reported that former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed Al-Sahaf - the so-called Baghdad Bob - had been captured. Baghdad Bob had a rich, if short-lived, career in the pantheon of American culture. This was the fellow who, no matter what reality was dictating on the field of battle, could stand before the world's cameras and microphones and launch one Mother Of All Deceptions after another.

A favorite of the late night comedians, Baghdad Bob was grist for David Letterman the night of his alleged capture. Letterman's "Top Ten Things the Iraqi Information Minister Has Admitted Since Being Captured" was ruthlessly funny. Number 10: "Okay, Iraq didn't win the war. It was a tie." Number 6: "Dr. Germ looks really hot when she's synthesizing VX gas." Number 2: "I've been offered a job as editor of The New York Times."

What hosts E. D. Hill and Brian Kilmeade wanted to know was this: Is it right that we be laughing at this fellow? My answer was rhetorical: How can we not laugh at him? This is the man who said on worldwide television, "There's no presence of American infidels in Baghdad. They're going to surrender or be burned in their tanks" - at the very moment American troops were rolling down the main streets of that city. After coalition forces took control of the airport, Baghdad Bob proclaimed, "They are not in Baghdad. They are not in control of any airport. I tell you this. It is all a lie, a lie. It is a Hollywood movie. You do not believe them."

Perhaps his best MOAD of the war was this: "Lying is forbidden in Iraq. President Saddam Hussein will tolerate nothing but truthfulness, and he is a man of great honor and integrity."

So I ask again: How could one not help but laugh at this idiot?

I got that answer about an hour after the show when I took the call from Eason Jordan, CNN's Chief News Executive. He had caught the interview and wasn't amused. In Jordan's view, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf was no flunky, no mere "spokesman" for Saddam. Al-Sahaf was one of this dictator's inner circle, and every bit as evil and bloodthirsty as his boss.

Jordan pointed to CNN's own report back in April about this man. It's a story we'll need to ignore if we want to continue to laugh about him.

Last December, Jordan met with al-Sahaf and requested permission to send CNN reporters into northern Iraq to cover the Kurds. Al-Sahaf's answer was bone chilling: "Mr. Jordan, if you send a CNN team there, the severest possible consequences will come to them... The severest possible consequences." Jordan understood the threat: "It was clear he was talking about assassinating those journalists."

CNN's team went north anyway. On April 11 CNN reported that the Kurdish police had arrested two men in connection with at plot to attack CNN's journalists. The couple's videotaped confessions said it all:

Said one: "Mohammed Emad and Major Anram, they trained me on military intelligence, then Staff Brigadier Mohammed asked me to blow up Hawraman Hotel. He said that there are Americans and Israelis ... they have come under cover of CNN."

Said the other: "Sabah had a plan to blow up Hawraman Hotel. I asked him, 'What do you have in Hawraman?' as I know there is a staff of CNN satellite TV in Hawraman. He said, 'No, they are from the CIA working under cover of CNN.' He said our plan is to attack them ... to tell the Americans that if they attack Iraq they will have losses, they should pay for their attack."

According to Kurdish police, these two men were planning to attack the CNN compound with nearly a ton of explosives when they were arrested. Just as al-Sahaf had threatened.

As Jordan put it in that interview, maybe this man "is hard to take seriously" but "this is a guy who can be deadly serious."

Al Sahaf cannot be dismissed cavalierly as Baghdad Bob. He is not funny. He is a calculating, cold-blooded murderer. He deserves universal disdain. And I deserved to be corrected by Mr. Jordan.