Barbara Walters Helps Assad Aide Get into Columbia

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Barbara Walters in NYC, June 2011.A short while after she was able to secure an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last December, Jewish television journalist Barbara Walters sought to help the press aide who facilitated the interview by recommending her for a CNN job and a spot at a Columbia University grad school, recently released e-mails have revealed, according to the New York Post.

The e-mails exchanged between Walters and Sheherazad Jaafari, the 22-year-old former Assad adviser, were released by an unnamed Syrian opposition group, and demonstrated a warm, mother-daughter-like relationship between Walters and the controversial president’s former aide.

“Be safe. Hugs. Barbara,” Walters writes at the end of one e-mail.

“I love you so much and thanks again,” Jaafari replies. “Have a wonderful night!”

Walters and Jaafari had met over lunch a the Mark Hotel on the Upper West Side weeks after the Assad interview had aired, the Post cited London’s Daily Telegraph as having reported. (The Telegraph was the first publication to obtain the e-mails.)

At lunch, Jaafari—the daughter of Bashar Jaafari, the Syria Ambassador to the United Nations—asked Walters for a job with ABC News. The young woman’s attempts to arrange the Assad interview ultimately hurt her relationship with the Syrian dictator, who felt assailed by Walters’s interview questions. (The ABC interview had asked Assad about the ongoing slaughter of women and children within Syria’s borders; Assad denied responsibility.) In search of a career in America, Jaafari turned to Walters, who, with her ostensibly vast business and academic network, was clearly an invaluable resource.

“In the aftermath, Ms. Jaafari returned to the U.S. and contacted me looking for a job,” Walters said in a statement, the Post reported.

“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,” Walters continued, “though she didn’t get a job or into school.”

Walters stepped in to help the young girl, recommending Jaafari in an e-mail to Jonathan Wald, producer of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

“I wrote to say … how terrific you are and attached your resume,” Walters told Jaafari.

The CNN effort fell through, however.

“CNN received a letter, however, we never spoke to the woman nor hired her,” a company spokeswoman said, according to the Post.

Richard Wald, former ABC News chief and a lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, was also contacted by Walters.

“This young woman, whose resume is attached, is the dtr (daughter) of the Syrian Ambassador to the U.N.,” Walters wrote to Wald in an e-mail, according to the Times. “She helped arrange my interview with Assad. She is only 21 but had his ear and his confidence … she is applying to Columbia School of Journalism. She is brilliant, beautiful, speaks five languages. Anything you can do to help?”

 The professor said he would ask the admissions committee to give Jaafari “special attention”, according to e-mails.

Wald said he later learned Jaafari had not gained admission to the program of her choice, though Columbia later announced that it had, in fact, admitted the young Syrian.

“There have been various media reports regarding Sheherazad Jaafari’s application to Columbia,” Jesse Gale, the associate dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, wrote in an e-mail, according to the Times. In fact, “Ms. Jaafari was admitted to SIPA for the 2012 semester based solely on the submitted application materials.”

In her statement, Walters did not claim to know that Jaafari had been admitted to Columbia. But she still expressed regret at her e-mails to the young woman.

“In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that,” Walters said.

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