Rather's Saddam Interview Draws Skeptics; '60 Minutes II' Airing Parts Tonight

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Is it a scoop, or was he duped?

CBS newsman Dan Rather landed a three-hour interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Monday, revealing "Saddam's feelings on his own people, the American public, Osama bin Laden and what his own fate might be," according to CBS, which quickly went into showbiz mode.

"There are just two men in the world now who can prevent a new U.S.-led war in Iraq, and CBS news anchor Dan Rather sat down with one of them," CBS said yesterday.

But did the interview become a vehicle for Iraq's agenda in the process?

"We're aware of the CBS tape. We'll watch the tape, and we believe in freedom of the press," a State Department official said yesterday. "Will it be factual? We have to wait and see. Saddam has a track record of not being upfront."

Shortly after September 11, the White House and State Department became alarmed that Western journ-alists could be manipulated by media-savvy terrorists. At the time, White House adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested that broadcasters use careful judgment when airing material released by bin Laden.

Grumbling about First Amendment rights all the way, broadcasters complied for a time. But the climate has changed.

Since Monday, Mr. Rather's interview has been teased on CBS radio and television, with substantial portions set to air tonight on "60 Minutes II." The interview was heralded as "one of the news coups of the year" by the Hollywood Reporter trade publication.

The newsman said it was all because of "hard work and luck," though an Associated Press report said Mr. Rather had the help of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, now an anti-war activist who met with Saddam on Sunday.

Mr. Clark has his own agenda. In January, he drafted articles of impeachment against President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and other officials, who he says he believes must "answer to the people. …