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

 

Air strikes kill 150 militants fleeing Fallujah

UN envoy seeks Syria peace talks’ resumption in July

41 killed in Istanbul airport bomb, gun attacks

EU agrees to opens new chapter with Turkey on accession talks

Egypt becoming departure country for migrants to Europe

US Navy probe finds leadership failings in Iran capture

Quartet report says Israel must urgently halt illegal settlement expansion

At least 70 killed in northern Aleppo clashes

Sisi praises Egyptian 'revolution' against Morsi

US-backed Syria rebels look to cut off ISIS from Iraq border

Egyptian Coptic priest shot dead in El-Arish

Iran sacks heads of four state banks over high pay

Detained RSF Turkey representative released

Lebanese army says ISIS attacks foiled, 5 arrested

UN extends Darfur mission despite Sudan opposition

Turkey detains 13 over airport attack

Palestinian killed by Israeli troops after deadly attack

Tunisian killed in Istanbul attack seeking to repatriate IS-linked son

Turkish forces kill 2 suspected IS jihadists at Syria border

Egypt president urges religious reforms to counter extremists

First aid convoy since 2012 enters two besieged Syria towns

Race to succeed Cameron begins after stunning Brexit vote

Yemen peace talks to take two-week break

Iraq secures $2.7 billion US military loan

ISIS pushes back Syria rebel offensive on Iraq route

Israel cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal

Turkey airport attack slams limping tourism industry

Putin lifts Turkey travel restrictions, orders trade 'normalised'

Fears for stranded Syrian refugees as Jordan blocks access

Bahrain activist back in jail despite worsening health

Witnesses recount Istanbul attack

Car bomb kills 10 in Kurdish-held Syria town

Ban to Israeli PM: Gaza blockade ‘collective punishment’

Alstom-led consortium awarded $2.88 billion Dubai metro extension

Democratic hopes fade away in Egypt

US-backed Syria rebels advance on key IS link to Iraq

Israel revokes controversial 'Hannibal Directive'

Detained Bahraini activist hospitalised

UN chief urges Netanyahu to make tough choices

Saudi Aramco, SABIC in joint petrochemicals study

Yemen clashes, air strikes kill 37 civilians

Egypt's anti-graft tsar becomes public enemy number one

Iraqis shun return to 'cursed' Fallujah

Lebanese army raids refugee camps after bombings

Ankara goes back on compensation offer for downed Russia jet