A fake interview with Barack Obama in a French well-regarded review
In its Summer 2007 issue, Politique Internationale, a well-regarded review founded by Dr Patrick Wajsman, published an interview with the US Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who is seeking the Democratic nomination to be US president.
The interview was quite a scoop for the French magazine, the senator, up to that point, had given few interviews to the foreign press. Obama discussed his campaign and gave an explosive assessment of the Iraq war :
« It is a defeat for the United States, indeed. And we will pay the consequences for this defeat for a very a long time.There is no longer any way to turn this defeat into victory. It is too late. »
But soon, Politique Internationale found they had a problem.
Barack Obama never gave such an interview, ever. According to the magazine, the interview was conducted by Alexis Debat, « a researcher and specialist in issues of intelligence and counter-terrorism. »
Debat is a well-known « expert » in Washington with an impressive resume : He serves as a fellow at the Nixon Center, a conservative think tank ; he collaborates with The National Interest ; a quarterly journal of international affairs ; he has been consultant to ABC News for years. He belongs to the « expert market » of Washington DC.He appears credible, and the media often quotes him on matters pertaining to terrorism and Islam.
Just last Sunday, he was featured on the front the front page of the British Sunday Times, which reported about one of his recent scoops : according to Debat, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days. He writes that these plans involve the use of so much force, that they are unlikely to ever be used.
But among certain circles in Washington, Debat has developed a reputation for making up stories. So far, in this elite world, which binds media and experts, he has always dodged questions about his work. This time, it will be more difficult to explain. « It is a fake. Incroyable ! “ declared Obama’s spokesman, Ben LaBolt, when we sent him a copy of the interview in Politique Internationale.
Then we called Debat, who lost himself into unconvincing explanations : ‘ Actually I did the interview through a third party. He asked the questions that I had prepared. We do that occasionally, in Politique Internationale.’ ‘ Who is this third party ? ,’ we asked. Debat explained : ‘ It was Chicago-based reporter Rob Sherman, who I met at a party in Washington. He told me that he knew Barack very well… I submitted the questions to him… I know, it is not an ideal system.’
It’s not ideal, indeed.
The only well-known Rob Sherman in Chicago is a local radio host, whose main interest seems to be atheism. This Rob Sherman ‘ never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name,’ he told us. Obviously he is not the guy we are looking for.
Debat then told us that Rob Sherman was a former journalist of the Chicago Tribune. But we couldn’t find a trace of such a person. As for Ben LaBolt, Obama’s spokesman, he says his boss never granted an interview to any ‘ Rob Sherman.’
Politique Internationale has published other prestigious interviews of prominent Americans : Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Alan Greenspan… All of them supposedly conducted by Alexis Debat. ‘ we’re completely stunned by this,’ says Anne Le Fur, editor of the review. ‘ We are the first victims of this affair,’ admits Patrick Wajsman, the magazine’s founder.
Alexis Debat is a strange character, with a resume that changes depending on who he is talking to. Once he claimed to our colleague Guillemette Faure, a reporter for Le Figaro, that he got his PhD in political science from Edenvale University, in Great Britain, a university which proved to be a a fraud.
Another time, he said that he received his PhD from the University of Sorbonne. But that’s not true either. ‘ He manufactured his doctorate. I had the document which he manufactured in my hands,’ says André Kaspi, a professor of North American history at the Sorbonne. Debat does not deny a ‘ conflict’ with the Sorbonne, but refuses to elaborate.
From time to time, he present himself as the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, a think tank founded by the insurer Claude Bébéar. But the managers of this institute deny they work with him.
During the 2005 civil unrest in French suburbs, Debat appeared on television with the title ‘ ex-social worker.’ He said he worked for the foundation ‘ Agir contre l’exclusion.’ Other times, he claimed to have served as a French commando, tracking Serb soldiers in the former Yugoslavia.
In February 2003, he appeared on ABC News, at a time when supporters of the plan to invade Iraq tried to discredit the French opposition by pointing its ‘ close relations’ with the Iraqi regime. This time, Debat commented as a former official from the French Ministry of Defense” (where the French government confirms he did hold a desk job for a few months). He claimed that Udai Hussein, the late son of Saddam, had forced two French students who were visiting Baghdad to have sex in front of him in a hotel. Hussein was surrounded by armed bodyguards. The French government, explained Debat, had covered up the scandal : “ I mean, he is the son of Saddam Hussein ! ‘ he explained. A souvenir of this story remains on ABCNews website here .
The American TV networks can’t pay their sources of information : it is an important ethical rule. On the other hand, they pay their consultants – often very generously. The line between source’ and ‘ consultant’ often becomes fuzzy. The credibility of the journalists rests on the experts whom they interview. But the credibility of the experts is based on the number of passages on TV news shows or quotations in the print media. In this closed system, alarm bells which should ring from time to time, seemed to have remained mute about Debat.
Update 12/9 : Another fake interview
Alan Greenspan’s spokesperson, Lisa M. Panasiti, told us today that the former Fed Chairman never granted this interview to Alexis Debat or anybody else.
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