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 a 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.