Charlie Rose is a smooth interviewer. He can put his guest at ease and make him feel comfortable, all good characteristics of a skilled talk show host. But his questions this past Monday night, interviewing Mr. Larijani, barely moved to the core issues of freedom of thought, expression and press in Iran.
At one point he raised the issue of democratic rights in Iran and challenged Mr. Larijani. His guest responded by saying that there is complete freedom of expression in Iran and everybody can say whatever they want except “insulting Islam”. Mr. Larijani even claimed that the Supreme Leader, Khamenei can be criticized. Mr. Rose had an interesting follow up. He asked if he could interview Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, ex-prime minister, one of the core supporters of the Islamic regime in the past and a consistent critic at present. With a straight face Mr. Larijani responded, that is no problem. Pretending as if it is a normal everyday thing in Iran, he said that, of course Mr. Rose could interview Mr. Mousavi!
Mr. Rose just moved on, as if he had received a proper, reasonable answer. That moment by all appearances looked like the highlight of Mr. Larijani’s interview; he had scored a win for his government. He was comfortably white washing the Islamic regime's crimes and turning the truth on its head. By the end of the interview, they looked very comfortable with each other, more like two chums who had broad understanding of the issues.
Could Mr. Rose have asked good follow up questions instead of giving Mr. Larijani his white washing opportunity? I believe so! He could have asked, “Could I also come to Iran and interview the families of the political prisoners? How about interviewing their lawyers?” Mr. Larijani is smart; he could have said that his regime does not have any political prisoners for Mr. Rose to interview. Mr. Rose could have followed up, “Well, so much the better, I could come over and interview the families and the lawyers of the ‘regular’ prisoners.” I can only guess, with the momentum that Mr. Larijani had gained, he had to answer in the affirmative.
The rest of the interview should have been about how Mr. Larijani could facilitate Mr. Rose’s and his team travel to Iran. Also he should have scheduled another interview with Mr. Larijani as a follow up to his free interviews with Mr. Mousavi, all the prisoners’ families and their lawyers. Mr. Rose shouldn’t have forgotten to have asked for the broadcast of his interviews in Iran with Farsi/English subtitles!
With a persistent questioning about the core issue of the Iranian society, i.e. democratic freedoms, do you think Mr. Larijani (one of the Iranian Kennedys!) could have maintained a straight face?