The New York Times Fear Mongers for War Again, This Time With Iran
In 2004, after a year of ferocious criticism, the New York Times published a famous mea culpa, apologizing, sort of, for its relentlessly misleading cheerleading of war against Iraq in the months leading up to that invasion. (Most notoriously, in the front page fictions of Judith Miller, who for her service to country as a "journalist" landed nimbly afterwards at the Manhattan Institute and Fox News, and is currently on the Council of Foreign Relations and a contributing writer to Newsmax. Moral of the story: Jayson Blair's sin wasn't that he made shit up, but that the shit he made up wasn't particularly useful to anyone.)
Since then, the performance of the mainstream media, and particularly the Times, in unquestioningly parroting the bullshit fed to it by the Bush administration and its allies, has become a standard example of the failures of establishment journalism.
Apparently, the Times and the rest of American legacy media learned nothing from that debacle. Today, yet again, there's a front page NYT story that builds the case that this year's State Enemy, Iran, is run by unstable monsters who pose a clear and present danger to the good ol' USA - just like Saddam did in 2002-03:
A string of aggressive gestures by Iran this week — assassination attempts on Israelis living abroad that were attributed to Tehran, renewed posturing over its nuclear program and fresh threats of economic retaliation — suggest that Iranian leaders are responding frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the tightening of sanctions by the West.
There's a lot to unpack in that lede. First of all, it's far from clear that Iran had anything to do with the bombings cited. The saber-rattling from Tehran turns out to be standard fare: "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran announced Wednesday what he said was his country’s latest nuclear advance, and Iran’s Oil Ministry threatened to pre-empt a European oil embargo by cutting off sales to six countries there." And, really, do you expect Iran's leaders to say and do nothing in the face of an unprecedented attempt by the US and its allies to cripple Iran's economy? Instead, anything less than abject capitulation gets depicted as "unstable" - the standard formulation that America's enemies, like Saddam, Qaddafi, Castro, Noriega, and many others, are irrational madmen who just might lash out and hurt us if they're not bombed into irrelevance.
Thing is, the rest of the article really doesn't support either the headline ("Aggressive Acts by Iran Signal Pressure on its Leadership") or the lede. First of all, only Israel is blaming the Iranian government outright for the attacks so far, and Netanyahu's government, which has been threatening war against Iran for years now and especially in recent months, isn't exactly a neutral observer. So where's the aggression? And what's "frantic" or "unpredictable" about any of this? While I'm no fan of Iran's government, their rhetoric - basically, that they have a right to a nuclear program (which, legally, they do) and that they'll strike back when attacked (which any government would) - is, in context, pretty predictable. And there's this:
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, confirmed on Wednesday that she had received a reply from a top Iranian official responding to her invitation to negotiations over the future of its nuclear program. Iran’s Al Alam television said the country had offered to “hold new talks over its nuclear program in a constructive way.”
Iran has used such talks mostly to stall on concessions in the past, and there's plenty of reason to be skeptical of such offers. Nonetheless, how is that "aggressive" or "frantic"?
The NYT piece, though, is actually quite reasonable compared to some of the dreck being aired on network news. Greenwaldhas useful overviews of some of the most offensive of these pieces, like this one aired on ABC Tuesday night:
Sawyer begins by warning of “a kind of shadow war being waged by Iran around the world” — based on her blind acceptance of totally unproven Israeli accusations that Iran was behind three bombings yesterday in India, Georgia and Thailand, and without any mention of the constant attacks on Iran over the course of several years by the U.S. and Israel. After seeing video of ABC‘s Martha Raddatz riding on U.S. naval warships into the Strait of Hormuz, we are told by Sawyer — echoing the warnings just yesterday from Alan Dershowitz, Ethan Bronner, and some NYPD official — that “Israeli and Jewish facilities, including those here in the U.S., are on heightened alert,” and then Brian Ross is brought in to warn that “the violence could spill over into the U.S.” as “Jewish places of worship in at least ten U.S. cities have been told that they could be targets.” This, you see, “follows what appears to be the increasingly violent series of attacks by Iran.”
The State Department spokesperson is then brought in “to tie the incidents to Iran”; we hear her warn that “we are concerned about use of international terrorism by Iran or anyone else against Israel or any innocents.” Richard Clarke is then hauled out to say that Iran is sending a signal to Israel that it can retaliate using “its terrorist network.” Needless to say, no contrary information or critical sources are included: no Iranians are heard from and there’s nobody to question any of these accusations. It’s just one-sided, unchallenged government claims masquerading as a news report.
Particularly astonishing here - and reminiscent of 2002-03 - is the completely unsubstantiated suggestion that Iran might target Jewish houses of worship in the US. It's vaguely reminiscent of the days after 9-11, when government lists of "likely targets of terrorist attacks" included things like a petting zoo in rural Idaho. Iran has no history - none - of direct attacks against US targets. The US, by contrast, has been waging covert operations inside Iran's border for years now, and then there's the matter of those murdered Iranian nuclear scientists - attacks widely attributed to America's special friend, Israel, which used exactly the same method of assassination (magnetic devices attached to cars by a passing motorcyclist) that was used in this week's bombings. Unlike this week's bombings, though - which didn't actually kill anyone - five Iranian scientists are dead at the hands of, presumably, Israel. (Even if Iran is behind this week's bombings, that would render them retaliations - and less lethal ones - rather than acts of "aggression.")
If Israeli or US scientists had been similarly killed, or Iran had been operating a terror group within US borders that hadopen ties with prominent Iranian political leaders - Tehran would now be rubble. In other words, Iran's leaders, erratic madmen that they are, have actually shown far more restraint than politicians in Tel Aviv or Washington would under similar circumstances. But don't expect to hear that perspective on network television.
There's plenty more like this out there, The Times has been fairly forthright in parroting, without few qualifying doubts, the Israeli assertion that Iran was behind this week's bombings. It's as though the events of 2002-03, and the decade of disastrous consequences that followed - and that continue today - have all gone down the American memory hole. There's almost no discussion in these reports of the economic or budgetary cost of an Israeli (and, inevitably, American) war against Iran, or of the futility of air strikes against Iran's buried, widely dispersed nuclear program, or the domestic benefits to Ahmadinejad, Khamenei, and their ilk from all this Western aggression, or, most especially, the fate of the 75 million Iranians held hostage by their hardline theocratic government and considered expendable collateral damage by seemingly every pundit in Beltwayland. But then, perhaps a million people died in Iraq, and hardly anyone in DC noticed, let alone cared.
The one thing that's different this time - as Greenwald notes - is that US media actually seems more anxious to build up the Iranian threat and the case for war than the Obama administration is. Unlike Bush and Cheney, Obama and his people have been firm but relatively understated in their assessment of Iran's threat. It's been Israel that, as in 2003-03, has been hyperventilating as a drumbeat for war; and it's the lead of Israel and its American apologists, today, that US media seems more interested in following. And, once again, the result is a US media cheerleading for catastrophic war as a first resort.