American Actor Faked Saddam's Voice During Dan Rather Interview!


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March 5, 2003 / 11:34 a.m. ET

Is Dan Rather’s face red yet? The famously hard-working CBS news anchor got an interview with Saddam Hussein, one of those mega-exclusives that his rivals would have given their right arm for — and now it turns out that CBS used an actor who apparently faked an Iraqi accent for Saddam’s “voice.”

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that CBS hired Steve Winfield, a translator who has “a particular flair for foreign accents” and who is listed as a member of the Screen Actors Guild, to read Saddam’s answers in English translation to Rather’s questions.

The Times reports that “the accent ... was meant to provide ‘a voice compatible with the piece,’ ” according to a CBS statement, and “didn’t violate CBS News standards and practices.” In fact, it’s not even unusual. CBS has done this sort of thing before, a network spokeswoman told Times writer Elizabeth Jenson.

What’s more, CBS maintains that the translation itself was “100 percent accurate.”

Some observers — maybe even the 17 million TV viewers who watched the interview last week — might have considered this poor practice just the same. The news media are not exactly above suspicion when it comes to the public’s trust.

Richard Wald thinks it’s all hunky-dory, though. Wald is a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and a former head of standards and practices for ABC News. As long as CBS didn’t pretend the speaker was Saddam, “there’s nothing wrong with having done it,” he said. But “it would have been better if they had simply told [viewers]. It’s always nicer to be straight with the audience.”

Gee. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

(No wonder Columbia University President Lee Bollinger is trying to figure out what the heck they teach at the journalism school.)

Could Dan Rather clue us all in, please?