Drama Queen in Darfur

Yesterday, as we noted in the blog report, Sudanese government officials threw a fit when U.S. reporters accompanying Secretary of State Condelezza Rice began to aggressively question Sudanese President Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir. One reporter, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, was hustled out of the room by armed guards. To her credit, Mitchell was trying to get Bashir to answer some tough questions. The AP reports:

“Can you tell us why the violence is continuing?” Mitchell asked, as a Sudanese official said “no, no, no, please.”

“Can you tell us why the government is supporting the militias?” she asked.

After getting no reply from Bashir, she asked, “Why should Americans believe your promises?”

However, too many stories, including the AP one cited above, have played up the victim angle in their coverage of Rice’s trip.

First, any story that emphasizes the press conference scuffle over the humanitarian crisis is burying the lede. For instance, the Washington Post ran two separate stories on the trip — one about Rice’s visit to a refugee camp and another about her entourage’s run in with armed guards. However, when the Chicago Tribune Web site picked up on the Post’s reporting, it went with the scuffle over the genocide.

Secondly, over-dramatizing Mitchell’s forced exit from the room is more than a little insulting to the dedicated reporters out in the field in Sudan, unescorted by a diplomatic envoy, who risk limb and life to bring home the tragedy in Darfur. After all, CJR Daily doubts that Mitchell sustained herself on “muddy water and dates” while in Sudan.

We’ve got one more bone to pick before we lay this critique to rest. After the incident Mitchell told the AP, “It makes me even more determined when dictators and alleged war criminals are not held to account. If our government is going to establish a relationship and push for a new beginning as Sudan reforms itself, they have to live up to, international standards. A free press is part of that process.

As we noted above, kudos to Mitchell for pelting Bashir with the tough questions. But please — save us the feigned outrage at Sudan’s lack of a free press. Whoever suggested that the United States had any interest in fostering American-style democracy, much less the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution, in Sudan? Curbing the genocide is the goal.

Grandiose statements like Mitchell’s do not help the press keep its eye on the ball.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.