Last night, Pacifica reporters Jeremy Scahill and Amy Goodman attended the Overseas Press Club’s 60th anniversary dinner. Our documentary, Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship, was receiving an honorable citation for radio reporting. [includes rush transcript]
Giving the keynote speech was Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the likely next US ambassador to the United Nations and President Clinton’s special envoy to Yugoslavia and who delivered the final ultimatum to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before NATO began dropping bombs on Yugoslavia. And we thought it would be a good moment to ask Holbrooke some questions about the terms of the Rambouillet Accord and about the conditions he set for Milosevic and the Yugoslav parliament before NATO began to bomb.
When Jeremy attempted to ask Holbrooke a question, we were told by an event organizer that there was an agreement not to ask him any questions. Although Holbrooke used his speech to articulate US policy in the Balkans and to announce the NATO bombing of Serb TV, the organizers said that he was there as a private citizen. Well, on a night when NATO was bombing Yugoslavia for a fourth straight week, we found that there was something wrong with that picture.
Jeremy and Amy did not accept the award in protest of the gag rule and in rejection of the Overseas Press Club’s praise of the Indonesian government’s treatment of journalists — this as reporters are being beaten and attacked in East Timor by Indonesian-armed militias.
This is a show about what happened when Democracy Now! tried to interview Holbrooke before, during and after the awards ceremony, and about the loss of press freedom among the corporate media.
- Sam Husseini, from the Institute for Public Accuracy.
- Seth Ackerman, from the media watchdog group FAIR ("Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting").
- Robert Hayden, Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we are going to spend the rest of the show focusing on how the media deals with war. Last night Pacifica reporter Jeremy Scahill and I attended the sixtieth anniversary dinner of the Overseas Press Club.
The documentary that we did for Democracy Now! that was engineered by Dred Scott Keyes, Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship, which documented Chevron’s involvement in the killing of two Nigerian villagers last year, was receiving a citation for radio reporting.
But we didn’t go as guests to the event. It was about $125 a seat. We went to cover it, because we heard, giving the keynote address would be none other than Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, many call the trigger for the current NATO-US-British bombing of Yugoslavia. He is the President’s special envoy to Yugoslavia who delivered the final ultimatum to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before NATO began dropping bombs on Yugoslavia.
Well, Jeremy, when we first got there, we got a chance to see Richard Holbrooke in the lobby before he headed into the event and got a chance to talk to him. This is the question Jeremy had.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Ambassador Holbrooke?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Hi, just a second.
JEREMY SCAHILL: The United States last week warned Slobodan Milosevic not to use chemical weapons, and now the United States, of course, is bombing petrochemical plants and oil refineries, releasing dangerous toxins into the environment. Why is the United States doing this, and isn’t it hypocritical?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I just don’t know — you know, you’re asking the wrong person. I’m not involved in the targeting issues, and I don’t know any of the details. So, I’m sorry, I’m not going to be much help for you.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Is the US wrong, though, in doing that?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: You’re asking the wrong person. I’m not —
JEREMY SCAHILL: You’re going to be ambassador to the UN.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: That’s up to the Senate. You’re asking the wrong person the wrong set of questions.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask one question. Excuse me, could I just ask a question on another issue: Rambouillet?
AMY GOODMAN: And I got a chance to ask Richard Holbrooke about the Rambouillet Accord. And it was a question that has been raised by a number of the analysts we have had on. Right now, joining us is Seth Ackerman, and Seth Ackerman is a media analyst with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Particularly lately, we’ve been focusing on Appendix B. Seth Ackerman, explain what Appendix B is.
SETH ACKERMAN: Well, Appendix B is the security portion of the Rambouillet Agreement, and this is what’s supposed to detail how the autonomy plan that the Yugoslav authorities and the Kosovo rebels were supposed to come to would be implemented. Annex B became controversial when it became widely known, especially in Europe, especially among the German Green Party, who’s — the foreign minister in Germany is from the Green Party. And the parliamentary delegation over there became very angry when they found out what the terms of the treaty actually were.
Annex B basically provides for NATO to essentially occupy all of Yugoslavia. The terms, at least, are similar to what you’d find in an occupation treaty. The electromagnetic spectrum, all the broadcast media would be controlled by NATO. They would have freedom of movement throughout all of Yugoslavia, not just the Kosovo province. It was — it read, as one mainstream German newspaper put it in an editorial, like a surrender treaty at the end of a war that was lost. And this was the agreement that NATO was essentially asking Milosevic to voluntarily agree to as part of an ultimatum: either accept, or be bombed. And I think that you can see the results going on right now in Yugoslavia.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I asked Richard Holbrooke about the Rambouillet text and asked him if this didn’t mean a full NATO occupation, but he said he wasn’t there at Rambouillet, he wasn’t the right man to ask. Though in the talk that he gave, he said that he was the one who delivered the final ultimatum to Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president.
Well, Jeremy did get a chance to ask Richard Holbrooke after his talk, and we’re going to go to that in a little while and what that meant, because as we were moving into the talk, we were told by an organizer of the Overseas Press Club that Richard Holbrooke had said he would not be answering questions. And we thought there was something wrong with that, in a room of hundreds upon hundreds of reporters.
When we got into the event, as everyone was sitting down and we were hooking in our equipment, one of the main participants in the Overseas Press Club started off by saying that there was some good news for foreign reporters, since reporters have faced a lot of difficulty and danger around the world, and that one bit of good news was in Indonesia, where the foreign ministry had said that they were going to be dealing with reporters better. Well, as I listened to that, I was quite shocked, considering the latest news we have out of Indonesia-occupied East Timor, where in the last week, aside from dozens of Timorese being killed, foreign reporters have been targeted, they’ve been beaten, they’ve been terrorized, they’ve been told by death squads, Indonesian-supported death squads, that they must leave the country. This was disturbing enough.
And then Richard Holbrooke gave his talk to his friends, the media. This is what he had to say.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The kind of coverage we’re seeing from the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and the news magazines lately on Kosovo has been extraordinary and exemplary. Under the extremely difficult conditions in which most delicate decisions of balance and accuracy from both sides of a war are at stake, you are all doing this on a twenty-four-hour-a-day basis with great skill so far, and I commend you. But I wish that there had been earlier attention to these problems.
The role of journalists in such situations has been much discussed, especially since the Vietnam War, where some of your brethren were accused of contributing to the outcome by their reporting. I don’t buy that argument. I know there are in this room some of the great reporters of the Vietnam era. And if those of you who aren’t sure what it was about want to find out, read the Library of America “Reporting Vietnam” series, which contains some of the best journalistic writing of the last half-century and some of the great names of American journalism. Some of the reporting, of course, wasn’t accurate, and some was undoubtedly biased. But that’s not the reason Vietnam ended the way it did. It has been argued that journalism made the American public impatient with Vietnam. I’ve heard learned arguments lately that if the press had covered World War II the way they now cover wars, we could not have won. I don’t believe this.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Yugoslavia, giving a speech last night at the sixtieth anniversary dinner of the Overseas Press Club. We are going to break for stations to identify themselves and then come back to his speech and then what happened afterwards.
You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we go back to the speech of Richard Holbrooke, US envoy to Yugoslavia.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I simply don’t find merit in that argument. In fact, the American public supported the Vietnam effort for over a decade, depending on how you count it, through over 50,000 American dead and untold costs. They gave the government time to succeed and finally realized that senior American officials had already concluded in secret, but hadn’t told the public, that it could not be done. Then, and only then, did the American electorate act on its view through the political process and through their elected representatives in Congress.
As a sometime government official, I want to encourage you to know how important your work is. I say that even though sometimes the coverage is painful to the policy process or even to me personally. That’s the risk public officials must take, although I’d ask each of you to consider the issue of fairness, especially when discussing people’s careers, when a single story, perhaps leaked for partisan or personal reasons, can do enduring damage to someone’s career. I would also suggest — and I know you’ve heard this before — that reporters pay more attention to the motives and biases of their sources, to be more questioning and, above all, to do more original legwork instead of relying on spin.
I should stress that this observation does not apply in any great measure to the reporters I have watched at work in the Balkans. There’s a vast difference between the work of those who see the reality on the ground and those who report the shadows and rumors of the capitals of Europe and Washington. One of your colleagues, who moved recently from Washington to the Balkans, told me of the immense relief he felt when he could go back to what he loved doing and what he felt he’d been built to do: report on what was really happening, not what people spun to each other over cocktails in the nation’s capital. That kind of reporting, which we’re seeing tonight on all the networks and in the newspapers every day and in Time and Newsweek and US News and other magazines, has had great impact.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the great reporters of that region: Christiane Amanpour, John Burns, Roger Cohen, who I’m delighted is here tonight, John Pomfret, Jeff Smith, Kurt Schork and many, many others too numerous to name. They have done an enormous amount to bring truth to the world. They work as their predecessors did before them, only using modern technology, and their work has made a huge difference. And I want to say how important it has been and to encourage you to keep it up in the coming weeks and months, which are going to be extremely difficult.
Now, let me try to conclude by responding, but not to Peter Kahn’s satisfaction, to the challenge he put to me before dinner and talk about the policy situation itself. And I will speak, if you will permit me to identify myself this way, as a private citizen who sometimes gives advice to the US government.
The situation in Kosovo is obviously serious. In my own view, it is the most serious foreign policy issue the United States has faced since Vietnam, and that is one of the main reasons I began by talking about Vietnam with the echoes, because we were honoring Maynard. The decisions the US made a quarter of a century and more ago linger today with their consequences. So, too, will the decisions we’re making now. No one expected this century and this millennium to end this way. But it will end with homeless people, refugees, people driven out of Kosovo, an immense reconstruction and refugee bill, whatever the outcome, and the very real possibility of additional and continued conflict.
I do not think it would be wise or prudent for anyone in the government or out of the government to project how long the bombing will continue. Projections of that sort are based on no information greater than what’s available to you. And indeed, when I read the best of the journalists, I learn more than I sometimes read in intelligence reports. Last week, for example, the Wall Street Journal ran an absolutely extraordinary piece by Tim Judah on its editorial page, which told me more about the KLA than six months of intelligence reports. I cite that only as one of many examples. And projections only come back to haunt you. It happened in Vietnam; it could happen here, too.
The only thing I can tell you is that whether one thinks we ought to be where we are today or not — and I’m not here tonight to discuss how we got here, but merely to talk about what the stakes are — it should be self-evident to every American and our NATO allies, who are gathering tonight in Washington for a birthday party that has changed its tone and tenure, that the stakes now are so high that not to prevail — let us set aside momentarily the definition of the word “prevail” — not to prevail would be catastrophic.
I don’t know if the Yugoslav leadership, and particularly President Milosevic, understands that, but I can tell you that four weeks and one day ago, when I last saw him, I made clear to him that if my team and I left the presidential palace in Belgrade without him agreeing to an engaged discussion of the details of our offer, that bombing would follow within a matter of hours. And I told him, using words very carefully chosen, that the bombing would be swift, severe and sustained. Perhaps he didn’t believe it would be sustained, but he understood clearly that it would begin. We eliminated, before my departure, any possibility that this war could start as the great war in August of 1914 had started in the same area, by sloppy miscalculation and miscommunication, which was the case in August of 1914. And I said, “Do you understand what will happen when I leave?” And he said, “Yes, you will bomb us.” And there was a deadly silence in the palace like I had not heard before. And then I said, “Well, I have to go call Washington.” And I left, and that was the end of it.
Now, many people didn’t think we’d be bombing a month later, but I think it’s now clear — I hope it’s clear — that the bombing will continue and intensify, if necessary. And so far it has been necessary.
Eason Jordan told me just before I came up here that while we’ve been dining tonight, the air strikes hit Serb TV and took out the Serb television, and at least for the time being they’re off the air. That is an enormously important event, if it is in fact as Eason reported it, and I believe everything CNN tells me. If, in fact, they’re off the air even temporarily, as all of you know, one of the three key pillars, along with the security forces and the secret police, have been at least temporarily removed. And it is an enormously important and, I think, positive development.
But again, I want to stress that none of us here tonight can predict how and when the Yugoslav leadership will change the positions that they now have.
The most significant fact of the last four weeks, of course, has been the forced exodus. Now, most of you in this room, in fact all of you in this room, call them “refugees.” If I could put back on an editor’s hat for a minute, I would suggest that these are not refugees in the same sense that we had refugees in Indochina, where a million people fled communism to get away from it. These are deportees, to use the word of 1945. They have been pushed out. They’re involuntary deportees. And they have changed Europe. It’s the worst situation we’ve seen in a half a century, and the leadership in Belgrade is the most destabilizing group of people Europe has seen since the events that Andre Martin talked about a moment ago.
And so, we face a tremendous challenge. I hope that as you report and you focus on differences within the alliance, which are there — it’s inevitable that there would be tactical differences between nineteen nations, and it’s inevitable that people sitting in a room would have different points of view. If they all have the same point of view, that’s when you should start worrying. But as you focus on these issues which are part of the story, you also focus on the fact that never has NATO attempted anything like this, and the level of NATO cohesion tonight far exceeds anything that anyone in this room reporting this story would have predicted six weeks ago. I will make that statement flatly. No one in the room would have predicted this level of cohesion. And most of my colleagues in Washington would have had doubts. So there is NATO cohesion, and there is determination. And as those of you who watched Tony Blair’s press conference from Brussels two days ago know, there is a dynamism in London, which is a very important contributing factor in policy.
In the long run, one way or another, there will be an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, which will include Americans. The argument over ground troops has been somewhat misleading in public, because I don’t think people have understood that we have already committed ourselves to sending in troops, as we have in Bosnia, after a peace deal. And the story will be with us a long time. When the millennium begins, we will still be heavily involved in Kosovo, for better or worse. And NATO’s security interests in the region will continue. I don’t see any way around it, and I don’t say it with any great amount of pleasure. It’s simply one of the burdens of leadership.
We always say that America is the world’s only superpower. But that’s more than bragging rights; it’s more than just saying we won the Super Bowl. It confers obligations and responsibilities and costs. We, government officials, need to make that case to the American public and to the Congress. And the Congress must decide, since they pay the bills, whether or not to go ahead. And the debate going on in the Congress now, on which — which I would stress to you does not follow party lines — I think that’s one of the most important aspects of it — is of historic consequences. But I hope that we will see that the United States, the richest nation in the world, will continue to fulfill its obligations. The role you play, while often criticized and attacked by people in public life, is one that is truly indispensable and enormously positive. I thank you all for inviting me tonight.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. This is Jeremy Scahill.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Mr. Holbrooke, I’m sure my colleagues would back me up — I’m sure my colleagues would back me up in asking you a question. Mr. Holbrooke, you delivered the ultimatum to President Milosevic following the Rambouillet Accords, and you’ve said since then that those accords do not call for an occupation of Yugoslavia, yet the text in Appendix B does say that NATO shall enjoy free and unrestricted access throughout Yugoslavia. Isn’t that an occupation that no sovereign country would accept?
This is a room full of journalists, we should be able to ask officials questions.
UNIDENTIFIED: Not at an award ceremony. This is an award ceremony.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I would ask for the backing of other journalists in this room. I ask for your support, Tom Brokaw, Leslie Stahl, I ask for your support.
ROY ROWAN: Ambassador Holbrooke will talk to you later, he said.
AMY GOODMAN: And then Roy Rowan, president of the Overseas Press Club, introduced Tom Brokaw.
ROY ROWAN: I’ve known Tom since 1975. We were seatmates together on Henry Kissinger’s flight coming back from Beijing right after Gerald Ford’s summit meeting with Chairman Mao. And a couple of times, I guess, during that fourteen-hour flight, we were invited to the forward cabin to have canopies and champagne with the State Department — with the secretary of state, but most of the time we were back there talking together. And I must say, on a fourteen-hour flight, you can get to know somebody pretty well. And I must say I’ve always appreciated the chance to get to know Tom that way. Tom, please present the awards.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly enough, the trip that he was describing in 1975, I believe, included Indonesia, as well as where Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Ford met with Suharto and gave the go-ahead for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.
TOM BROKAW: Thank you, Roy. I remember that flight very well, because you, Bill Kovach and I were the interrupters of the acolytes of the press section of the Henry Kissinger plane. We had the temerity to ask real questions when we went back to have the briefing.
I have a point of personal privilege, I am told here this evening as we began. I would like all of you for just a moment to take just a moment and raise a glass and think about our colleagues in far distant corners of the world tonight, so many of them in the Balkans under far different conditions than which we gather here in New York, and think of the good work that they’re doing, and, if we can, silently express to them our appreciation for their courage, for their tenacity, and for their utter professionalism under very difficult circumstances.
AMY GOODMAN: And then NBC anchor Tom Brokaw started to make the Holbrooke promise.
TOM BROKAW: Parenthetically, let me just add that I did promise Richard Holbrooke that I would say that the young man who wanted to conduct the interview with him did have an exchange with him before. He answered a couple of his questions. He’s agreed to meet with him afterward. I don’t think I have to explain to a room of journalists that Richard Holbrooke is available. We did, in fact, identify one person back here in this room tonight who has either not received a call from Holbrooke or who has not called Holbrooke, but only one in the entire room, so far as I know.
AMY GOODMAN: Actually, there were two of us who hadn’t received a call from Holbrooke. It’s all about access. And we knew somehow that we wouldn’t be getting much access anytime soon.
TOM BROKAW: Now we return — we turn to one of the most intimate and important of all the media, and that’s the medium of radio, the Lowell Thomas award for best radio reporting, sponsored by ABC. The winner is Sandy Tolan of Homelands Production for Fresh Air. His report was entitled “The Lemon Tree.”
AMY GOODMAN: And after Sandy Tolan thanked the people who helped him on his piece on a Palestinian and Jewish family, he talked about the significance of the Overseas Press Club.
SANDY TOLAN: Finally, I want to add my voice to those in the OPC and CPJ who remember those journalists in their countries whose concern is to risk their lives — who have risked their lives to speak truth to power, whose life work is to ask tough questions of those in government, and whose refusal to become cozy with power has cost them immensely. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Brokaw, NBC anchor and master of ceremonies.
TOM BROKAW: Again, we have two citations. One goes to National Public Radio for its coverage of Israel at the age of fifty. And the second is for Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill of Pacifica Radio for “Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship.” Now, the David Kaplan Award for best television reporting from abroad —
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Brokaw, I’m Amy Goodman, and that was Jeremy Scahill who asked the question, who got the award —
TOM BROKAW: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: — for Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship.
TOM BROKAW: You got the citation, actually.
AMY GOODMAN: The citation —
TOM BROKAW: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — the honorable mention. And we both wanted to say, on behalf of Jeremy and I, we are sorry to say that we can’t accept it tonight for two reasons. One is because we feel it’s critical on a night like tonight, when we’re bombing Yugoslavia, that journalists not agree to not ask questions of Richard Holbrooke. That’s number one.
TOM BROKAW: But Madame, may I just point out —
AMY GOODMAN: Number two —
TOM BROKAW: — that he has agreed to answer the questions —
AMY GOODMAN: Afterwards.
TOM BROKAW: — after the dinner.
AMY GOODMAN: But we —
TOM BROKAW: That’s appropriate. There are ceremonies, and there are rituals in everything, including the press.
AMY GOODMAN: But we asked him questions before, and we were told that there was an agreement, he would not answer questions. But number two, tonight, when the awards began, Mr. Shore got up, and he said that we want to say there is good news, and that is that Indonesia has apologized for hurting journalists. The fact is that this week in Indonesian-occupied East Timor, journalists have been beaten up, journalists have been brutalized, for covering the Indonesian military’s arming and supporting of the militias, the death squads that are there. And because the Overseas Press Club was honoring Indonesia, we cannot accept the award and cannot accept the agreement not to ask Richard Holbrooke questions when we’re bombing Yugoslavia. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: NBC anchor Tom Brokaw.
TOM BROKAW: It’s a great country. It really is. It really is. And it’s a great First Amendment. I mean, the fact is that we can all, I think, cherish it and know that we are in the presence of it at all times. And now, with the permission of Pacifica Radio, I will continue with the awards.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! When we come back, you’ll hear whether Richard Holbrooke did agree to answer any questions after the event, but you’ll hear a little more of the event, as well. This is Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: We head back to the sixtieth anniversary Overseas Press Club awards dinner that took place last night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Hundreds of journalists dressed in black tie and dress were there, a number of them receiving awards, addressed by Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Yugoslavia, possibly the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
And then again, afterwards, Tom Brokaw, the master of ceremonies — Democracy Now! said we would not receive our citation, the honorable mention for Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship, because of the terms set at last night’s event that we would not be able to question Richard Holbrooke and could not congratulate Indonesia on how it treated journalists. But during the event, Tom Brokaw continued to talk about Holbrooke’s promise that he would speak to us afterwards.
TOM BROKAW: Our next presentation is the Edward R. Murrow Award for best television documentary on foreign affairs, sponsored by CBS News. And I have in my remarks that were sent over by the OPC what, for me, was a very unsettling parenthetical comment. It says, “possible ad lib for those too young to remember Edward R. Murrow or what he did.” I will refer you to Andy Rooney at the end of the evening. Dick Holbrooke will be interviewed in one corner by Pacifica Radio, and Andy Holbrooke — I mean, Andy Rooney will have a corner to talk about Edward R. Murrow, who was no less than the godfather of broadcast journalism and the man who reminded us all that unless we do our very best work and remember why we’re here, television is little more than just lights and wires in a box. And we do not want to allow it to succumb to that.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, more awards.
TOM BROKAW: Now the wonderful world of business reporting, category eleven, is the Morton Frank Award for the best business reporting in magazines, sponsored by Merrill Lynch. The winner is a large BusinessWeek team for “Indonesia in Turmoil.” And accepting the award is the Singapore bureau chief Michael Shari, who has come from halfway around the world tonight to be with us. He will have remarks, and I trust there will not be additional commentary from Pacifica Radio once he finishes his remarks.
AMY GOODMAN: Actually, though I’m in the studio now, and this is not last night, I do have additional commentary on that introduction. It’s interesting to note that both in the introduction to our citation, the name of the documentary that we were being honored for, Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship, Tom Brokaw simply said for the documentary, "Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship," not mentioning Chevron. And when introducing the BusinessWeek group, it wasn’t mentioned that, though they were honored for a series of articles, one of them was the December issue of BusinessWeek that was called "What Mobil Knew." It was really an incredible piece about Mobil giving excavating equipment to the Indonesian military, where Mobil was operating in Aceh, and allegedly that excavation equipment being used to dig mass graves. Unfortunately, neither Brokaw mentioned it, nor did the recipient of the award talk about that.
But finally, after the event took place — Jeremy, joining me in the studio right now. Jeremy, we did race over to Richard Holbrooke, because we did want that question answered. We didn’t want him to pull a Madeleine Albright, like what happened in Columbus, Ohio at the event, when Berger and Albright and War Secretary Cohen were there to drum up support for a bombing of Iraq, and Madeleine Albright said to someone she was trying to cut off, "I’ll speak to you later," and then she left the arena. Well, we went over. We saw that Richard Holbrooke was speaking with another reporter and then waited.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, it’s interesting, you know, when I questioned him at the end of his talk, and I challenged Tom Brokaw to support me in my effort to try to confront Richard Holbrooke with current US policy toward Yugoslavia and the bombing, Tom Brokaw stood up and said, "Richard Holbrooke is going to speak with you after this. Now, will you go sit down?" And, of course, as you know, security escorted me to the back. So we went — after all of these promises and promises that Holbrooke was going to speak to us, you and I went and approached him and said, “We’re ready for our interview,” and this is what happened.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Ambassador Holbrooke, why did you say you would speak to us, if you won’t?
AMY GOODMAN: He said he had to take his eighty-nine-year-old father-in-law home.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Holbrooke, can we set up an appointment, then, so you could take your father home, your father-in-law home? When can we set up an appointment.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you would speak to us. You told a group of hundreds of journalists that you would speak to us after.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I talked to you. This is [inaudible] —
AMY GOODMAN: Just so we — we make an appointment.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I have to — look, would you please stop this?
AMY GOODMAN: Just tell us when you’d make an appointment.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I mean, I just want to ask you one question.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: OK, ask me one question.
JEREMY SCAHILL: OK.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: One question!
JEREMY SCAHILL: I’ll ask you one question.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Yes, one question.
JEREMY SCAHILL: You’ve said, since you gave the ultimatum to President Milosevic, that the Rambouillet Accords do not call for the occupation of Yugoslavia. In —
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I never said that. That’s — you’ve got the wrong person and the wrong quote. That’s your question.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Do the Rambouillet Accords —
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I said just one —
JEREMY SCAHILL: You didn’t — that was not my question, that was a statement.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: What is your question?
JEREMY SCAHILL: My question is, are the Rambouillet Accords a call for an occupation of Yugoslavia? How do you reconcile that with Appendix B?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I was not at Rambouillet. You’ll have to address it to the people who were there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: You delivered the ultimatum.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: That’s the end of your question.
JEREMY SCAHILL: You’re familiar with the text.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I did not discuss that detail with him. That’s the — that’s your question.
JEREMY SCAHILL: You haven’t answered the question, though.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: That is your — I have answered the question. Good night.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was it, as he said goodnight. So much for the conversation and the questions I had prepared. Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Now, Amy, joining us in our Washington studio is Sam Husseini from the Institute for Public Accuracy, putting out a lot of voices on this. And, Sam, I wanted to ask you, Richard Holbrooke told me that I had it wrong, that he didn’t make statements following the ultimatum delivered to Milosevic that the Rambouillet Accords are not calling for an occupation of Yugoslavia. What do you say to that, Sam Husseini?
SAM HUSSEINI: I’ve heard him say that. He said that on the news with Brian Williams on MSNBC approximately on the 12th of April, of this month. It’s a very odd denial by him. Why would you say, “Look, Mr. Holbrooke, you’ve said that the Rambouillet Accords do not call for the occupation of Yugoslavia,” and he denies making that remark? So, therefore he is implying that they do in fact call for the occupation of Yugoslavia. What an odd stance for him to be taking.
You know, he said when he met with Milosevic that he didn’t want a war to start because of misunderstandings like 1914, World War I. Well, I don’t know a lot about 1914, World War I, but I know about the escalation of Vietnam in Gulf of Tonkin and the US government using pretexts to escalate a war. And it seems to me that that Appendix B, which — let me just read one or two snippets from it. Seth referred to it earlier.
"NATO personnel shall be immune from any form of arrest, investigation, or detention by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. NATO personnel shall enjoy free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including associated airspace and territorial waters."
This language is calling virtually for the occupation, as far as I know totally for the occupation, or at least giving NATO the permission to occupy, all of Yugoslavia. This is either — an insane thing to ask for a country. Every military expert that I’ve shown this to said, “That sounds like what we told Japan to sign at the end of World War II.” We’ve held a gun to their head, saying, “Sign away your sovereignty, or else we’ll bomb you.” And since then, the administration has said they’ve gone the last mile for peace. It’s — I think they’re lying, and they are clearly undermining peace. They are saying that they will — that they are insisting on a NATO force, not a UN force. I think that’s a large part of it, as well. NATO is becoming the cause for this war, not the remedy for the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it was an unbelievable situation, being with hundreds of journalists at the Grand Hyatt with Richard Holbrooke announcing that the NATO forces had just bombed Serb TV. And as we went home, we were watching television, seeing that there were a number of people who were killed there, that Serb TV had gone off the air, though I think it’s gone back on.
Seth Ackerman of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, you’ve been covering Holbrooke’s dealing with the final edict to Milosevic and also the bombing of Serb TV.
SETH ACKERMAN: Well, first I’d like to say that I’m glad that some journalists were asking Holbrooke this question, because so far the mainstream media has studiously ignored it. And I think that it’s key to understanding what’s going on, especially in light of the fact that Holbrooke was — seemed essentially to be telling the press corps involved that we had to all brace ourselves for an escalation of the war. At least that’s the message that I got from that.
I think that when Holbrooke left Belgrade, he made a loud case in the media that Milosevic had been asking to be bombed. In fact, he said over and over again that when the Serb parliament ratified the decision of Serbia’s government to reject the ultimatum that he was giving them, that they were voting to be bombed. Actually, the Serbian parliament — he said, in fact, “You know, we waited until the Serb parliament had finished its vote, so that they could give a decision and possibly accept the terms that we were going to offer them, in which case we wouldn’t bomb.”
What actually happened was that after they rejected the terms, including Annex B of Rambouillet, which, by the way, I think that Holbrooke, you know, if he claimed ignorance of what was in the text of Rambouillet, we have a lot more to worry about, since it was on the text of Rambouillet that he was trying to force Milosevic to accept, on the threat of bombing. But if Holbrooke waited until the Serb parliament had rejected the offer, he presumably also waited until after the Serb parliament had also passed a resolution saying that they were willing to accept the political portion of the Rambouillet Agreement to give the Kosovars autonomy, if the international security force that would police it would, rather than being 28,000 NATO troops occupying their country, were some kind of a United Nations force. I mean, the text had said that they were willing to consider some other kind of international security force, and there were many top officials talking to reporters saying that they were willing to accept a UN force.
Well, that’s not how the media covered it. The next day, Holbrooke went back to Washington. He said, “The bombs are going to start flying. We went the last mile for peace.” And that was how you can read the story in the New York Times of that day, March 24th, in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post. That was how the media covered it. The fact that there had been essentially a counter-proposal made, a counter-proposal that the State Department, when questioned about it, had stonewalled on, James Rubin, that was something that one wouldn’t discover unless one did some serious digging, which is what the mainstream media is supposed to do themselves.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I’d like to bring Robert Hayden into the discussion. He’s the director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Hayden, your thoughts after listening to Richard Holbrooke.
ROBERT HAYDEN: Well, remember, Richard Holbrooke said that reporters covering the Balkans shouldn’t do serious digging. He said that ordinarily reporters should do that, but reporters covering the Balkans shouldn’t do that.
Look, I have to agree with everything that has been said. I mean, Rambouillet was an occupation agreement; there’s no doubt about it. The government has been lying through its teeth.
I, unfortunately, only have a couple of minutes; I have another show I have to do. I do want to say one thing about the bombing — a couple of things about the bombing of Serbian Television. Just before I hooked up with this show, I talked to an old friend who used to run the Fulbright program in Belgrade and works in Serbian TV and had left the building twenty minutes before. There were at least a hundred people in the building at the time that it was attacked. Most of them were technical people. We do not know how many of them are alive, because several floors of the building have collapsed. The building, the murky pictures I’ve seen, which have been on the world wide web, and they’re carried from television, it looks a lot like Oklahoma City. This is an extraordinary assault on the media, and it is astonishing to me that at the gathering that you were at last night, Amy, that there was no protest against the targeting of journalists.
And I have to say this. I am fully aware of what Radio Television Serbia has done over the years. Eight years ago, with 70,000 people from Belgrade, I was demonstrating on the streets of Belgrade against Milosevic’s control of the media and comparing Milosevic to Saddam Hussein. Having said that, had they wanted to take Radio Television Serbia off the air, they could have hit the broadcast facilities on Mount Avala, simply the transmitters, which they didn’t do. And Radio Television Serbia is back on the air.
But we do have here — you know, NATO went into this supposedly for humanitarian reasons. The death toll in Kosovo, before NATO began this war, was about 2,000 over the course of two years. NATO, as far as I can figure from the figures I’ve been able to get, has killed — and apart from the tragedy for the Kosovo Albanians, some of whom have also been killed by NATO — NATO is killing people at the moment at the rate of about a thousand per month. If this is a humanitarian campaign, I do not think I want to see an anti-humanitarian campaign. It is a war against civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Hayden, thanks for joining us, from University of Pittsburgh. Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Sam Husseini from the Institute for Public Accuracy, when NATO initially threatened to bomb Serbian Television, they said they were doing so for a couple of reasons, one of which was that it was warping Serb opinion. Your response to the bombing of Serb TV and NATO’s rationale?
SAM HUSSEINI: Well, I must confess that I — what we do is put out press releases citing experts on different subjects, and I had wanted to put out a press release on that very subject before it happened. I contacted the Committee to Protect Journalists, and while they had done some work on the situation in Yugoslavia, they had not, in the words of their staffer there, “gotten around” to issuing a protest for NATO’s threat. So I think that there — that a lot of people have fallen down on the job on this. This is obviously an attempt to silence what is not quite as an effective propaganda campaign as others. But if — you know, I mean, saying that you’re silencing propaganda is what every thug and dictator does to journalists. For them to become the connoisseurs of what is and what is not propaganda, I think, is rather shuddering.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Husseini, I want to thank you for being with us from the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, DC, and Seth Ackerman from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Jeremy, the end of last night’s sixtieth anniversary event at the Overseas Press Club, I thought, was a good symbol of everything that had gone on, a very close relationship between those in power and those covering those in power, sometimes even more powerful figures.
JEREMY SCAHILL: That’s right, Amy. As Richard Holbrooke snuck off into the elevator, we found out that — guess who was giving him a ride home. Leslie Stahl from 60 Minutes. So it brings the whole thing full circle.