ABC's Walters sorry for helping Assad aide

June 6, 2012 at 3:00 AM
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NEW YORK, June 6 (UPI) -- U.S. TV newscaster and talk show host Barbara Walters apologized for using her influence to try to help a former top aide to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph said e-mails showed Walters, of ABC News and the ABC-TV daytime talk show "The View," tried to help the 22-year-old daughter of Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari get accepted into the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and get a CNN internship.

Walters wrote to CNN host Piers Morgan and to a professor at the school on behalf of Sheherazad Jaafari, 22, the newspaper said.

When confronted with the e-mails, obtained by a Syrian opposition group and viewed by the Telegraph, Walters admitted a conflict of interest and expressed "regret" for her actions.

Walters was ranked No. 34 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time in 1996.

Sheherazad Jaafari was a close media adviser to Assad who was "at his side" when Syrian troops stepped up their campaign of killing and repression of Syria's unarmed opposition, the Telegraph reported.

She would speak to him several times a day, sometimes calling him "the Dude" in her adopted American accent, the newspaper said, and was sometimes the only Syrian official present when Assad did interviews with Western journalists.

Her father began dealing with Walters late last year when ABC News lobbied for an interview with Assad.

Walters interviewed Assad in December -- his first with a U.S. TV network since the Arab spring. In the interview, he denied responsibility for the anti-opposition crackdown.

Sheherazad Jaafari and Walters stayed in close contact after the interview, the e-mails indicate, with the younger Jaafari calling Walters her "adopted mother" and Walters calling the young woman "dear girl."

Walters sometimes signed her e-mails, "Hugs, Barbara," the Telegraph said.

Jaafari did not ultimately get accepted by Columbia and did not get the CNN internship, the newspaper said.

In a statement, Walters said: "In the aftermath [of the Assad interview], Ms. Jaafari returned to the U.S. and contacted me looking for a job [at ABC News]. I told her that was a serious conflict of interest and that we would not hire her. 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. In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that."

Neither ABC News, "The View," CNN, Columbia nor the Jaafaris had any immediate comment.

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