Q&A with professor, former State Department spokesman Hodding Carter
At the Academy Awards Sunday night, the film “Argo,” which is based on the events of the Iran hostage crisis, won best picture.
UNC public policy professor Hodding Carter was spokesman for the State Department during the crisis.
Staff writer Marisa DiNovis sat down with the former spokesman to talk about his take on the film and its depiction of history.
Daily Tar Heel: Overall, what did you think of “Argo?”
Hodding Carter: Well, I think that it was an excellent movie — forget history. One exception: I think perhaps the most important single figure in the salvation of those escaped embassy employees, who ended up in the Canadian embassy, was the action and reaction of the Canadian ambassador. At the time, the ambassador’s real bravery and tough-mindedness got the appreciation it deserved.
DTH: What did your job as spokesman entail during the Iran hostage crisis?
HC: Well, my job as spokesman always entailed the same thing. The spokesman was meant to be the voice of American foreign policy, to interpret what was being done and to answer questions to the degree possible about what policies meant or what effect events elsewhere were going to have on the policy.
DTH: Have you been asked about your connection to the hostage crisis in relation to the film?
HC: Yes, but let’s be clear, I am not actually in that film. An awful lot of people including good friends thought that what they were hearing and seeing was me talking, having heard “Hodding” just out of the blue and a guy walking along who looked much more like (Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan) than me, but nonetheless could look a little bit like me.
DTH: Is there anything, to your knowledge, about the Iran hostage crisis the film left out?
HC: Well one answer to that is, they left out a lot about the Iran hostage crisis because it wasn’t really about the Iran hostage crisis, it wasn’t about those scores of people who were in those holding pens of the captors.
What’s also left out is how much longer the hostage showdown went on — the period of time that those folks were hidden and then snuck out.
I don’t think it’s possible to compress into a movie, which means to entertain all of the ins and outs of various people’s positions and nation’s positions and multiple things that were tried to get the hostages out.
DTH: Did seeing “Argo” make you reflect on your job as spokesman in any way?
HC: As far as my job, no. I reflect on that job a lot because I think that I did some things that were wrong and that were not helpful in the long run as the result of decisions made higher than me, but nonetheless, which I promoted and believed in.
For instance, talking almost every day about it essentially had the effect of raising the price on the release. It became a way to put a real premium on those hostages, which did not speed the day, obviously, that they were released.
DTH: Why do you think it took more than 30 years to make a blockbuster film about the Iran hostage crisis?
HC: It’s hard for Hollywood to figure out how to make a film about something that was a national humiliation. I don’t mean the wonderful job that Ken Taylor did to save those people — that’s a great story. But the story behind it is nonetheless a story that doesn’t make Americans’ hearts burn with happiness.
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