Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hugh Hewitt & Michael Ware: A Great Interview

There is little doubt that Hugh Hewitt is one of the best interviewers around. There are times when he talks far more than the one being interviewed. There are times when he acts more like a prosecuting attorney on a cross-examination than an interviewer. But his recent interview with Australian/Time magazine journalist Michael Ware was one of the best I have ever heard broadcast on his "Hugh Hewitt Show."

Ware, who has covered every angle on the Iraqi war during the past three years, was articulate and, for the most part, clear and straightforward in his response to Hugh's questions.

During the interview Hugh raised legitimate concerns about Ware's repeated close contacts with insurgents and jihadis. Does the threat of reprisal compromise Ware's reporting?
"(O)ne has to be careful that, as the Islamic army of Iraq reminded just last week on Al Jazeera, the insurgent groups study very closely everything that we hear, say and write. And given that we're within their grasp, one always must be diplomatic..."

"I mean," he added, "one has to be careful about how you couch things, but it doesn't stop you reporting the facts."
The interview made it clear that Ware's reporting must, of necessity, be shaped (if not actually compromised) by matters of personal safety as he decides what he will say and how he will say it. This is particularly true in his coverage of the insurgents who, as he admits, would have no hesitation in killing him if he overstepped that fine line of "diplomacy" in his reporting.

Ware did, on occasion, give questionable responses to reasonable questions.

He would not, for example, say one way or the other whether the Soviet Union was better off under Stalin or Khrushchev. Given that Hugh was trying to make a parallel between Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Iraq today it is not surprising that Ware would try to avoid getting mixed up the in the generalities and assumptions involved in embracing that parallel outright. Still, Ware could have condemned Stalin while declining to endorse the particular parallel that Hugh was trying to make.

Despite a few dodgy responses such as this, it is virtually impossible, given Ware's coverage of all sides of the war in Iraq, not to admire and respect him as both an individual and a journalist. He is clearly not one of the "balcony watcher" journalists we have heard so much about lately.

If Hugh set out to discredit Ware he was not successful, at least not in this interview.

If, on the other hand, Hugh's intention was to provide insight into the life, work and thoughts of a complex and influential journalist while raising important questions concerning the moral complexities and compromises involved in Ware's style of war-zone journalism, then this may have been the most successful interview Hugh has ever done.

In the end, the big question of the interview was never clearly settled one way or the other. The following statement by Hugh sums up that question:
I'm really fascinated by the question of whether or not it's ever good journalism to consort with the enemy in search of interesting stories. And there's not denying, Michael, where you get scoops. It's fascinating to read. You've got a great deal of courage, of physical courage, in doing this. So no one's denying that. I'm just wondering whether or not there's a line that you have in your mind reconciled yourself to crossing not once, but scores and scores of times, to report on the enemy, and whether or not that's a good thing.
Hopefully this subject will be revisited again and again in future interviews with Michael Ware and others who have chosen to cross back and forth enemy lines in pursuit of information, insight and a "good" story.