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Barbara Walters Requested Media Gigs, Favors for Syrian Dictator's Adviser

Barbara Walters has apologized after she was caught attempting to gain favors for the daughter of Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

Walters attempted to get the Ambassador’s daughter into America’s mainstream media institutions, like CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” and the Columbia School of Journalism, even though the daughter is “a close adviser” to Syria’s brutal dictator Bashir al-Assad and “was at his side as Syrian troops stepped up their campaign of killing and repression.” 

Further, e-mails obtained and published by London’s The Telegraph show Walters asked “Piers Morgan Tonight” Executive Producer Jonathan Wald and Wald’s father, who is a professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism, for those favors. And the latter, disturbingly, seemed more than willing to help Walters — and the daughter of the Syrian Ambassador — without hesitation. 

“I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia, though she didn’t get a job or into school,” Walters said in a statement. “In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that.”

Walters had to apologize after The Telegraph published a series of email exchanges between her and the Ambassador’s daughter, who goes by the name of Sheherazad Jaafari and affectionally refers to herself in her correspondence as Walters’ adopted daughter. 

In December of 2011, Walters landed Assad’s first interview with an American network and, according to The Telegraph, the interview “made headlines around the world as Mr. Assad denied he was responsible for the crackdown which had already resulted in thousands of deaths in Syria.” 

According to The Telegraph, Jaafari was often the “only official in the room when” Assad did interviews with Western journalists. Further, “Walters was one of only a handful of Americans invited to a private party hosted by the ambassador in March 2011, the same month that the uprising against the Assad regime began” and was the only journalist who was not a part of Syria’s state-owned operation that was present at the party. 

The Telegraph also reports, “Jafari was part of a young circle of aides who advised Mr Assad to speak to the Western media as evidence of atrocities mounted,” and when the interview with Walters was arranged, Jaafari wrote Assad talking points that said the “American psyche can be easily manipulated” if Assad showed some sense of regret in the interview regarding the country’s atrocious crackdown on dissidents. 

A month after the interview, On January 19, 2012, Walters wrote to Jaafari:

Dear Sherry: I wrote to Piers Morgan and his producer to say how terrific you are and attached your resume. I am not sure if they have an opening. Are you still planning to apply to Columbia School of Journalism? Do you want me to do anything on that? Do let me know your plans when you return from Syria. Be safe. Hugs. Barbara

Jaafari then replied to Walters: 

Thank you so much Barbara! your help means the world. I hope Piers Morgan allows me to part of his team. I did apply to Columbia and I think everything is ok so far. I will def let you know if i needed any help.

Thank you so much.

You can never be a better mom to your adopted child (me).

I love you so much and thanks again. I hope to hear some good news from him.

Have a wonderful night!

On January 24, Jaafari wrote another email to Walters in which she told Walters she “applied for Columbia and I hope to get accepted,” signing off as “your daughter”:

Hello dear,

I hope you are doing well.

I am flying back to Syria tomorrow. I will stay there for two weeks. I need to take care of some issues and come back here and settle down. I applied for Columbia and I hope to get accepted. If there is any way you think you can give my application a push I would really really appreciate it. You did mention that you know a professor there.

I applied to the International affairs at SIPA Columbia under Sheherazad Jaafari.

I really want to start building my future here.

I also hope to hear from Piers Morgan and I am ready to start interning with him as soon as I come back on Feb 11th.

I will buy you some jewelry from Syria. Let me know if you need anything else from there!

Thank you so much

your daughter

sherry

Two days later, on January 26, Walters wrote Richard Wald at Columbia and told him “this young woman, whose resume is attached, is the dtr (sic) of the Syrian Ambassador to the U.N.” Though “she is only 21” years of age, she continued,  had the “ear” and “confidence” of Assad. Walters wrote, “I have recommended her as an intern to your son for Piers Morgan” and also informed Wald that “she is applying to Columbia School of Journalism” and asked him, “Anything you can do to help?…”

The next day, Richard Wald replied to Walters and told her that while “the degree she is applying for is not in the Journalism school but in International Affairs,” he would, however, “through the Admissions Office network … get them to give her special attention. I am sure they will take her.”

Even more incredible is how commonplace such practices are among the nation’s mainstream media elite. In a follow-up story, The New York Times spoke to a “longtime longtime television news executive, who insisted on not being identified commenting on a rival news organization’s employee,” who told the paper that such circumstances were “far from unusual in a business where favors are often requested on behalf of contacts.”

“It’s a little ugly to see how the sausage is made to land these big interviews,” the executive told the New York Times (though he added, in this case, this did not seem like a quid pro quo for the interview). 

Further, Richard Wald also confirmed to The New York Times that “the e-mails from Barbara to me and my reply seem genuine,” adding, “I would forward any such request from a prominent journalist,” making what he did seem routine. 

If the fact that a prominent mainstream media journalist — with the help of others in prominent positions in her field — tried to give someone who had the ear of a brutal Syrian dictator (a dictator she advised on how to best manipulate and spin Americans) entry into America’s mainstream media organizations is just par for the course to those in the mainstream media, one is only left to wonder what else goes on among our mainstream media “betters” behind the curtain. 

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