American journalists flattered the regime as well, but with less luck. In November 2011, more than half a year into the uprising, Brian Williams’s producer at NBC wrote to request an interview, as did Scott Pelley’s producer at CBS’s Evening News a few weeks later. With deaths mounting by the hour, it was quite a feeding frenzy last fall. Bob Simon’s producer at 60 Minutes sought an advantage. He reminded his Syrian correspondent that “60 Minutes interviewed President Hafez al-Assad back in the 1970s.” After a few paragraphs of boilerplate PR for his show (“For the last 43 years, it has featured stories on the most important newsmakers of our time .  .  . ”), the producer signs off, “We would be most honored to have President al Assad on our program.” God only knows what Barbara Walters’s staff wrote to actually get her prized interview with Assad in December​—​those missives weren’t leaked.

The hacked emails show how Assad’s advisers sought to prep him for the Walters interview. Sheherazad Jaafari, a press attaché at the Syrian mission to the United Nations, and daughter of Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Dr. Bashar Jaafari, boasted of her research into American media. Her advice was to turn any accusations directed at Assad back on American policymakers. For instance, when asked about torturing civilians, Assad should remind the viewing audience about Abu Ghraib, and explain that “Syria doesn’t have a policy to torture people, unlike the USA, where there are courses and schools that specialize in teaching policemen and officers how to torture.” She contends that “the American Psyche can be easily manipulated.”

In fact, only a small number of Americans are susceptible to the Syrian regime’s hamfisted propaganda, but on the evidence of the emails, they never needed to be manipulated.