In Their Own Words

S2 E4 | CLIP

The Beginning of the End

In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Iran is invaded and occupied with the American citizens inside taken as hostages. President Carter decides to ignore the advice of military action against Iran, and instead attempts to wait out the situation, much to the damaging effect on his image as president.

AIRED: September 28, 2021 | 0:04:27

- Well let's first say why were the hostages

taken to begin with?

Jimmy Carter was the last holdout

of all of his advisors in agreeing to let the Shah of Iran,

who had fled the Khomeini Islamic radical revolution,

come into the United States for cancer treatment,

because he said I'm afraid

that if we let him in,

passengers are going to be taken

and then what are you going to advise me to do?

- Jimmy Carter's instincts were telling him

do not let the Shah in.

- Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller had organized

a lobbying effort to make it appear improper

not to let a dying Shah, a dying ally come in.

- But when it became a humanitarian issue,

when he was told that Shah could not be treated in Mexico,

where he was, which was a lie.

So Carter agrees to let him in

to New York Hospital for treatment.

- And he called the prime minister and foreign minister,

and tried to get assurance that if they understood

this was only for medical treatment,

not to rehabilitate him to come back and take power.

And he hoped that he would get approval.

And they said, well, we'll do the best we could.

Khomeini used this as a way of gaining power,

a way of solidifying his standing.

- [Man] And just days later, hostages are seized in Iran.

- The hostages became pawns

in an internal Iranian power game,

but it was all ignited by allowing

the Shah in to begin with.

- Good evening, the U.S. embassy in Tehran

has been invaded and occupied by Iranian students.

The Americans inside have been taken prisoner.

The action against the embassy

may or may not have been ordered by Iran's religious leader,

the Ayatollah Khomeini.

- We all thought a few days,

because the government Iran, the civilian government,

said we'll work this out, don't worry.

Well, they couldn't work it out.

The Ayatollah said no, you won't work it out.

We'll keep them right here.

(crowd chanting)

- The actions of Iran

have shocked the civilized world.

United States of America will not yield

to international terrorism or to blackmail.

- He felt he had to do everything he could to get them out,

but it did in fact, personalize the crisis very much to him.

And when he said to the hostage families,

my first priority is to get your loved ones out,

safe and sound, it also sent a message to Khomeini

that there was not a threat of military force.

- [Man] When the hostages were taken

all the networks and specials.

- And to secure as quickly as possible their safe release.

- Only Roone Arledge, the president of ABC News,

had sense enough to say, I'm going to own this story.

We're going to do it every night.

Every night until this is over.

- It was the beginning of Ted Koppel's Nightline.

It was started out tonight is day one

and then you'd run down the day three day, six day,

a hundred, whatever it was.

- The program became compelling and really must-see TV.

- Every night, the media was reminding people

of the humiliation that the United States was undergoing,

but Carter kept trying diplomatically,

to work it out and months went by.

- I don't think that Carter really recognized

the power of televised news and those images,

to potentially destroy an administration.

- President, does it seem to you

that if you can not resolve this crisis soon

it may cost you your renomination or re-election?

- The political connotations of the holding

of our hostages is not a factor for me.

- The first mistake is letting the Shah in

and the second mistake is not listening to Roseland

and others who suggested

that he take some kind of military action.

He was worried that the hostages

would be killed if he did that.

- We continue to pursue these specific goals if possible,

to avoid bloodshed.