The incomplete media debate on Iran
On January 25, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published a lengthy article by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman that conveyed the views of multiple Israeli officials about Iran in order to conclude that an Israeli attack is likely. That the entire article was filled with quotes from Israelis meant the piece served as a justification for such an attack while masquerading as a news story about whether the attack would happen. Indeed, the very first paragraph contained this bit of manipulative melodrama: “‘This is not about some abstract concept,’ [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak said as he gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv, ‘but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map’.” Note that we are told that Barak uttered this article-shaping blatant falsehood “as he gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv.” So solemn, contemplative and profound.
Yesterday, the NYT published an Op-Ed by Amos Yadlin, one of the Israeli Air Force pilots who attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and then became chief of Israeli military intelligence, arguing for the necessity of an attack on Iran and warning that Israel will do it if President Obama does not give absolute commitments of his intent to do so. Today, the NYT hasa news article by incoming Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren summarizing the views of Israeli President Shimon Peres that an attack on Iran is imperative (“This is an unavoidable situation. It’s not exactly the Nazi situation, but my God, what a catastrophe”) and warning Obama that “if the White House [is] not resolute, Israel might have to go it alone.” Also today, the NYT has a news article by outgoing Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner summarizing the views of Netanyahu and other Israeli officials in advance of their meetings this week with Obama: “Israel will not outsource what it views as its vital security interests based on an American promise to take military action if sanctions fail. Israel’s goal is an American attack on Iran, but it seems unlikely to wait till it no longer can do it by itself.”
For months, Americans have been subjected to this continuous, coordinated, repetitive messaging from Israeli officials, amplified through the U.S. media. This is generally how the establishment American media conducts the debate over whether to attack Iran: here are Israeli officials explaining why an attack is urgent and why the U.S. must conduct it. Now here are American officials explaining why an attack can wait a little while longer but that it will happen if necessary to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Occasionally, here are American foreign policy experts arguing why an attack would be too difficult and costly. What is missing from the debate are the views held not only by Iranian leaders but also large populations in numerous capitals and nations around the world: that Iran has the right to pursue its nuclear program; that it is Israel and the U.S. — not Iran — that poses the greatest threat to world peace; that American and Israeli aggression against non-nuclear states (along with their massive stockpile of nuclear weapons) is what makes it rational for a nation to want to proliferate, etc. One does not have to agree with any of those views to recognize how widely they are held in the world and how much of a place they (therefore) merit in the discussion.
If one searches hard enough, one can likely find American media accounts attempting to describe or present the views of Iran on this conflict or other nations which support it — just like NBC News can point to a single Iranian source among the tidal wave of American and Israeli government and military officials who brief its top executives and shape their understanding of the issue. But overwhelmingly, the American media continuously amplifies the views of American and Israeli officials while all but suppressing the views of those on the other side. For every one Iranian official Americans are permitted to hear from (and they are treated with extreme skepticism by American journalists), they hear from countless Israelis (who are treated with the utmost deference). The same thing happens on an even more extreme scale with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (one almost never hears from Palestinians in our media debates), and more extremely still when it comes to demonizing America’s designated enemies (who are virtually never heard from, and are sometimes even officially excluded from media reports). This is the dynamic by which the American establishment media, often without even consciously realizing they’re doing it, severely narrows and distorts our national political debates while pretending to host free-ranging and vibrant discussions.
UPDATE: Speaking of how the American media and the U.S. government jointly function, here is a little mathematical formula:
That’s the reward system in action. Goldberg twice assures everyone concerned that President Obama is “tougher” on Iran than even the Republicans were or are (Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter proudly re-tweetedGoldberg’s Toughness praise), and Goldberg then is granted “the most extensive interview [Obama] has given about the looming Iran crisis,” in which he again assures everyone that Obama Is Tough and Means Serious Business.
UPDATE II [Sat.]: As’ad AbuKhalil writes:
New York Times casually open its op-ed pages for Israeli officials or former Israeli officials to call for and agitate for bombing of Iran, or some Arab country. Would the New York Times allow Arabs to write “opinion pieces” in which they call for bombing of Israel?
AbuKhalil’s blog is well worth reading in general: one doesn’t have to agree with his substantive policy views to appreciate his unique, expertise-based ability to highlight the contradictions and propaganda that is disseminated on a daily basis in the U.S. about that part of the world. And his rhetorical question here underscores the point: the way in which the American establishment media, which depicts itself as “neutral” and a facilitator of open debate, constantly restricts those very debates in quite rigid ways.