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The World | SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

CBS' Rather Beats Rivals by Talking to Hussein

February 25, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen

NEW YORK — Many journalists asked, but it was CBS News' Dan Rather whose requests were answered when he landed a coveted three-hour interview Monday with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

CBS wasted no time putting news from the interview on CBS Radio on Monday afternoon, resulting in hours of free promotional time as cable news quoted the CBS report. Rather reported that Hussein had challenged President Bush to a live TV and radio debate over a possible war, and that Hussein denied that his most advanced missiles fall under the scope of weapons that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix ordered destroyed.

CBS said it was Hussein's first interview with an American journalist in a decade. Hussein was interviewed three weeks ago for British TV by Tony Benn, a former member of Parliament and antiwar activist. CBS also aired that interview.

ABC's Peter Jennings and NBC's Tom Brokaw are just two of many journalists who have visited Baghdad in recent months seeking an interview with Hussein. Jennings credited Rather's story during ABC's Monday newscast -- an unusual move in the highly competitive world of network news.

Rather, who was in Kuwait last week and last interviewed Hussein in August 1990, went to Baghdad over the weekend after being led to believe that he might be granted an interview. CBS planned to air excerpts today, with a longer report to air Wednesday on the prime-time newsmagazine "60 Minutes II."

-- Elizabeth Jensen

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