Dan Rather went to Belgrade, but he could not get an interview with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Ron Hatchett of KHOU-TV, a CBS affiliate in Houston, succeeded where Dan Rather failed. Hatchett’s hour-long interview, taped on April 19, was being aired on Serb TV on April 23, when a NATO missile blew up the TV studio, killing fifteen journalists and technicians, and wounding thirty more.
Pentagon spokesman, Ken Bacon, explained that the destruction of the TV studios was justified because “Serb TV is as much a part of Milosevic’s ‘murder machine’ as his military is.” Two weeks earlier, a top NATO spokesman warned that unless the Yugoslav state media “broadcast six hours of Western news and stopped spreading lies” it would be bombed. Just four days before that threat was carried out, NATO was forced to admit that it was responsible for bombing a column of refugees on April 14th that it had tried to blame on the Serbs. Footage provided by Serb TV had played an important role in fixing the blame on NATO.
Milosevic has been regularly described by our media as a Hitler-like dictator, a mass murderer and a war criminal. Ken Bacon charged that he has used TV to (quote) “stir up nationalist passions in the country with deliberately false broadcasts.” The Ron Hatchett interview that was aired by C-SPAN on the April 24th weekend gave a different view of Milosevic. One question he was asked was of special interest to all Americans: Why would he not let the Red Cross visit the three American POWs that the Serbs are holding?
Milosevic said the prisoners were being well treated and that the International Red Cross was welcome to visit them. The AP distributed two stories about Hatchett’s scoop, but they didn’t get much pickup. CBS aired some of his footage. On April 26, the head of the International Red Cross Committee visited the prisoners for the first time. That was treated as big news, but we saw no mention of this being the fulfilment of a commitment Milosevic had made one week earlier.
Milosevic also said that Red Cross and UN human rights observers would be welcome to return to Kosovo at any time. He said they had not been expelled. He was also willing to accept a UN mission to help police Kosovo. He told Hatchett that with 26 different national communities in Yugoslavia, it is necessary to respect the principle of national equality for all. He argued that the Albanian separatists are the ones who want an “ethnically pure” Kosovo because their goal is to create a “greater Albania.”
Milosevic’s claim that the refugees all fled Kosovo to escape the bombing was not credible, but he has clearly signaled his willingness to accept their return. His welcome of foreign observers suggests that the refugee outflow is at or near its end. How, then, can NATO’s leaders justify the continuation of the bombing and their refusal to negotiate? Apparently they and most of the media don’t know what Milosevic told Ron Hatchett or they didn’t grasp its significance.