In December 1981, ABC’s Nightline presented a segment called “The Libyan Assassination Plot.” They interviewed Arnaud de Borchgrave, then editor of the Washington Times. He was introduced as a “terrorist expert,” when all he had done was to write a novel about terrorism.
Back then, Libya — not Iraq — was America’s “enemy no.1” and its still-in-power leader, Moammar Qaddafi, was the Saddam Husssein of the day. At that time, President Reagan was also trying to give the FBI and CIA counterterrorism operations more money.
Borchgrave assured viewers that Qaddafi, whom he claimed to have interviewed five times, was a “pathological liar” (sounds familiar, vis-a-vis the image of Saddam Hussein in today’s American media).
But the entire show itself was full of lies. Another guest on the same program was an Israeli Mid-East “expert” called Marvin Zonis, who said “Colonel Qaddafi had a conversation with another Middle East leader in which he discussed very coolly and in a rational way how he intended to go about assassinating President Reagan.”
No one questioned the credibility of Mr. Zonis’ story, or why the leader of one country would dream of discussing the assassination of another nation’s leader in the presence of a third party.
Nevertheless, in the weeks that followed, this story was eagerly “confirmed” by all the major American networks. And that’s not all: “The [Libyan] assassins had entered the U.S. from Canada,” asserted both ABC and CBS.
Six months later, the American media admitted that the Libyan “hit team” not only did not enter the U.S. from Canada, but indeed never existed! Yet there were no apologies given to Canada for implicating this country in something as serious as the planned assassination of a sitting American president.
I believe Canadians, by and large, are far too kind. We are the only Westerners who apologize first, and fast, for our mistakes.
But are we in fact too quick to humble ourselves before the world? Now I am not advocating that we should begin carelessly insulting or falsely accusing anyone just to show we can do it. After all, we are Canadians, and we definitely do not want to be mistaken for our sometimes-tactless neighbours to the south. There is still a big difference between the civilized image projected by the typical Canadian and that of an American; ask any European, or citizen of a developing nation.
In April 2001, an American journalist was interviewed by a Canadian journalist and the latter asked his colleague how he would characterize the new American president. The American candidly described George W. Bush as “uninformed and ill equipped,” mentioning also his 97th percentile IQ.
The Canadian then asked whether president Bush delegated key responsibilities of power to his aides, rarely becoming personally involved with issues or policy making. The answer was again an affirmative. Finally, the Canadian journalist asked if Bush also delegates his thinking to those aides, and the American again answered in the affirmative. Candid questions were asked and honest answers given.
Then — you guessed it — the Canadian journalist was attacked by some fellow Canadians for his line of questioning, but I was glad that he did not apologize for doing his job.
So I offer this plea and advice to Canadian media professionals and politicians everywhere. We must neither apologize for telling the truth, nor for searching it out.
No apologies, please… we are Canadians!
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.