Press Box

Calling Henry

Kissinger ducks the New York Times, again.

How long will Henry Kissinger continue to avoid questions from the press about his role in human rights violations while secretary of state? Moreover, how long with the television press continue to assist him in his evasions?

On June 16, this column (“Kissinger’s Con“) derided the former secretary of state for dodging the questions of New York Times reporter Diana Jean Schemo: Her story investigates allegations that Kissinger used his influence within the Council on Foreign Relations to suppress a debate in the pages of its journal, Foreign Affairs, about his part in the 1973 Chilean coup. (For the complete back story, see Scott Sherman’s piece in The Nation.)

Schemo wrote two stories about the controversy, and Kissinger assistants told her for both pieces that the boss was traveling and could not be reached for comment. This seemed to imply a willingness on Kissinger’s part to talk about the putsch in Chile but, alas, there wasn’t a land line, Nokia, or satellite phone within reach.

As Kissinger watchers know, the man loves to hold forth on TV’s political and news shows when the subject resides in his comfort zone. But whenever reporters want to ask questions about his personal and professional conduct, he invariably retreats to the “traveling, can’t be reached” excuse. Late last week (Aug. 27), Kissinger ducked the TimesSchemo again. She reported that newly declassified documents show that Kissinger “raised no protest against human rights violations that were the start of Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ ” during a 1976 meeting with that country’s new military junta. When Schemo called Kissinger’s office for his side, it gave her the traditional brush-off:

Theresa Cimino, an aide to Mr. Kissinger, said he was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

That travel somehow renders Kissinger incommunicado is a provable lie. On June 6, while traveling in Milan, Italy, he came to the phone to record this interview about the Reagan legacy with CNN’s Paula Zahn. Kissinger can come to the phone to discuss his South American past with the New York Times. He just doesn’t want to.

Kissinger is perfectly within his rights to decline the opportunity to talk to the Times, which sometimes acts as though its phone calls are the journalistic equivalent of a grand jury subpoena. A career foreign service officer of my acquaintance told me that while serving in Southeast Asia during the war, his team received a couple of overseas phone calls that began, “Please hold for the president of the United States.” The only other stateside calls venturing that sort of imperiousness began, “Please hold for the New York Times.”

Times imperiousness aside, the newspaper’s June article put Kissinger back in the news as a participant rather than just an observer, and you’d think that any TV program that invited him to discuss foreign policy would also heave a question or two at him about the Foreign Affairs/Chile controversy. But that’s not the case. In appearances on Kudlow & Cramer (June 29), Lou Dobbs Tonight (June 28), Wolf Blitzer’s Late Edition (June 27), and On the Record With Greta Van Susteren (June 22), the doctor didn’t have to sidestep questions about the affair because the hosts didn’t ask any. They mostly queried him about Iraq.

Kudlow, Cramer, Dobbs, Blitzer, and Van Susteren either 1) don’t read the New York Times; 2) have no news sense; or 3) are deferential to a fault to Henry Kissinger. No matter what has deterred the TV hosts from asking Kissinger a question or two about Kissinger, redemption is only one telecast away. They now have the twin news pegs of Chile and Argentina: The next time he visits their programs, will they ask him the questions Schemo couldn’t and make genuine news in the process, or will they let him slide again in hopes that he’ll appear on their show in the future?

I think you know the answer.

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Duck, Henry! Here comes a flock of them. Allow me to evade your questions by sending e-mail to pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)