CNN’s website claims that Cal Perry is a journalist, but I’m starting to have my doubts. During yesterday’s interview with Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Turkey, Perry demonstrated remarkable impotence when it came to asking critical follow-up questions. First, Perry allowed the dictator’s wife to filibuster on the plight of young people in the Middle East:
Three hundred million people live in the Middle East, of which 60 percent are under 25. So, we have an opportunity, and we have a challenge. The opportunity is to make sure that they believe in the future, that they see it as an exciting opportunity, that they feel that they’re able to contribute, to get involved …. The reality on the ground is increasingly going further and further away from that, and it’s not just the Palestinians in Gaza. It’s increasingly affecting all of us. And, for us to see people suffering is, if anything, weakening the voice of the moderates and empowering the voice of the extremists.
Incredibly, Perry balked at asking the obvious question: to what extent is your husband’s dictatorship contributing to young people’s despair in the Middle East? Or, to what extent is the relationship between your husband’s regime and radical organizations – such as Hamas and Hezbollah – contributing to the strengthening of extremists?
Granted, there are more subtle ways of asking these questions. But instead, Perry offered a total softball: what did Assad hope to get out of her weekend meetings with other Arab first ladies? Naturally, Assad used the opening to blast Israel:
The Israeli barbaric assault on innocent civilians – innocent Palestinian civilians – has been horrific. … Gaza is a prison. It’s been a prison for three years. The embargo that has affected people’s lives has almost devastated the Palestinian community. Eighty-percent of the Palestinians in Gaza rely on food aid. They rely on humanitarian aid not just to live, but to survive. One million people in Gaza – Palestinian people – are without electricity. … This is the twenty-first century. Where in the world could this happen? … As a mother and as a human being, we need to make sure that these atrocities stop.
Once again, the irony of Assad’s concerns was totally lost on Perry. Where else in the world do millions of people go without electricity in the 21st century? Why, how about in Syria! Of course, there’s a difference: the current electricity problems in Gaza stem from an ongoing war, whereas electricity problems in Syria stem from dictatorial corruption.
But rather than infusing his interview with an ounce of journalistic integrity, Perry opted to take his next question from his children’s pre-school syllabus:
Are you sad? Are you frustrated? Are you angry? I mean, you have to go to these meetings – you have to go these dinners. Is it difficult with what’s going on?
Assad answered by saying that it’s “been difficult to smile.” Well, the same cannot be said for her colleagues back in Damascus. They’ve just found their new favorite interviewer in Cal Perry – and are probably smiling ear-to-ear.