First Published: 2013-04-06

 

Painfully Following Iran in the U.S. Media

 

I have no doubt that any impartial assessment of the professional conduct of most American media in covering the Iran situation would find it deeply flawed and highly opinionated, to the point where I say that mainstream media coverage of Iran in the United States is professionally criminal, writes Rami G. Khouri.

 

Middle East Online

BEIRUT - One of the most annoying aspects of spending time in the United States, as I have just done with a month’s working visit there, is to follow the news coverage of Iran in the mainstream American media. Well, calling it “news” coverage is a bit of a stretch, because the mainstream American media is not really reporting news about Iran, but rather repackaged ideological attacks and threats that emanate primarily from the American and Israeli governments.

The main problem -- evident in virtually every story about Iran in the mainstream media, including the “quality” outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the leading television channels -- is that the coverage is inevitably based on assumptions, fears, concerns, accusations and expectations that are almost never supported by factual and credible evidence. Two things in particular are wrong in the coverage.

First is that most media stories about Iran view the country almost uniquely through the lens of its being an adversary and a threat to the United States, Israel and Arab allies of the U.S., whether because of Iran’s alleged regional hegemonic aims or its terrorism links. Iran only exists for most American media as a threat to be beaten back at any cost.

The second is that most media analyze Iran almost exclusively through the issue of its nuclear industry. This attitude sees Iran as secretly developing a nuclear bomb that it will use to threaten or destroy neighboring powers, including Israel and Arab oil-producing countries. For the U.S. mainstream media, Iran is first and foremost a nuclear threat, and little else about the country is deemed worthy of serious coverage.

I have no doubt that any impartial assessment of the professional conduct of most American media in covering the Iran situation would find it deeply flawed and highly opinionated, to the point where I say that mainstream media coverage of Iran in the United States is professionally criminal. I base this on having learned my journalism craft and values in the United States, where quality press coverage of any issue ideally should be characterized by a combination of accuracy, balance, depth and context, within a rigorous attempt by the writer to remain impartial when reporting stories that include controversy or conflict.

These professional qualities are usually absent from news coverage of Iran in the United States, and I say this is a criminal enterprise because the consequences of the flawed and aggressive coverage helps shape a public opinion environment in which it becomes acceptable to threaten and sanction Iran on the basis of mere suspicions and fears in the minds of American and Israeli politicians -- all of whom, I would guess, have never visited Iran or even spoken to any credible or “normal” Iranian who is not involved in political lobbying in Washington, D.C. The discussion of Iran in the media over the past two years has also been full of references about the possibility of attacks against Iran by Israel or the United States, with very little if any serious analysis of whether such unilateral attacks are permissible under international law.

I am continuously amazed to see every accusation in every story about Iran’s alleged sinister and secretive nuclear bomb plans hedged with phrases like “it is assumed” or “officials believe” or “analysts suspect” or Iran “may be” or “is thought to be” or is “suspected of” doing this or that. There is no certainty, little credible proof, few verifiable facts, only anger, assumptions and fear.

This same hollow and shoddy level of evidence presented in the media’s portrayal of Iran could never be used to frame, say, the actions of young African-Americans, Hispanic teachers, or professional women bankers, because it would be ejected by both professional media standards and common human rights standards as being a bag of wild prejudices and stereotypes that are not supported by fact. The mass media gets away with disguising ideological venom as impartial news coverage in the case of Iran, though, because a different standard of professionalism is at work here, one which makes it permissible for the media to ignore its role as a reporter of facts in favor of being an ideological warrior that serves the purposes of assorted governments. We saw at great cost in Iraq what destruction, waste and criminality this sort of behavior can lead to.

It will be fascinating now to see how the media reports on possible signs of progress in the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.K., China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany) that resume in Kazakhstan. I hope our American journalism colleagues will summon the moral and professional strengths within them to cover both sides of these talks in their full and accurate political and technical contexts, rather than continue to act like robotic cheerleaders for the American and Israeli governments.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.

Copyright © 2013 Rami G. Khouri - distributed by Agence Global

 

Erdogan resumes Gulen arrests after referendum win

France says has proof that Syrian regime behind 'chemical attack'

Trump says Assad's future 'not a deal breaker' on Syria

Iraq holding hundreds of millions of Qatar’s ransom money

Global leaders call for ridding world 'forever' of chemical arms

Exiled Turkish journalist urges EU to confront Erdogan

Morocco seizes 420 tonnes of plastic bags in year since ban

Mass funeral for dozens slain in Syria bus attack

Qatar insists Baghdad had ‘full knowledge’ of hostage deal

UN eyes new Yemen peace talks

Turkey opposition heads to European court to challenge referendum

Turkey says informed US, Russia prior to Kurdish strikes

Iraqi forces liberate ancient city of Hatra from IS

Saudi fire stops explosives-laden boat from Yemen

50 Syria migrants stranded on Morocco-Algeria border

Libya asks EU for patrol boats to stem migrant wave

Bangladesh approves Saudi-funded mosque project

German Chancellor regrets Israel snub of foreign minister

UAE sentences Iranian to 10 years for sanctions breach

IS using weaponised drones in battle for key Syria dam

Saudi government shake-up strengthens position of king's son

Israel allows NGO director visa after 'bias' row

Kuwait suspect confesses to plotting IS attacks

Russia has thwarted IS attack on far east oil hub Sakhalin

Death toll in Turkish air raids on Syria Kurds rises to 28

Draft resolution to pressure Polisario to withdraw from Guerguerat

Baghdad condemns Turkish airstrikes on Kurdish forces

Iran, major powers to review adherence to nuclear deal

Turkish warplanes pound Kurdish forces in Iraq, Syria

IS executes Iraqi civilians in Mosul

Netanyahu cancels talks with German FM over NGO meetings

Qatar World Cup workers receive random health checks

Libyan government calls for foreign intervention as fighting spreads

Tunisia parliament votes to ease harsh drug law

Nostalgia dominates Iraqi Ba’ath conference in Spain

Young Iraqi innovator building home-made drones

Moroccans call on Le Pen voters to quit country

Turkey court rejects opposition challenge to referendum result

Spain arrests 4 for links to Belgium IS attacks

Iraq forces push towards UNESCO site in Hatra

Israel appoints country's first female sharia judge

Frontline clinic is window to hell of IS-held Mosul

Iraq forces retake west Mosul neighbourhood from IS

Iraqi Kurds lament ‘unacceptable’ Turkish air strikes

Khamenei urges Iran candidates to focus on home