In a piece that ran last month on his blog at Foreign Policy, Stephen M. Walt outlined the media’s failure to paint a realistic picture of American-Iranian relations and their penchant for fear-mongering.
As I’ve written before, when prominent media organizations keep publishing alarmist pieces about how war is imminent, likely, inevitable, etc., this may convince the public that it is going to happen sooner or later and it discourages people from looking for better alternatives. Exhibits A and B for this problem are Jeffrey Goldberg’s September 2010 article in The Atlantic Monthly and Ronan Bergman’s February 2012 article in the New York Times Magazine. Both articles reported that top Israeli leaders believed time was running out and suggested that an attack might come soon.
While the war drums have not necessarily been beating like they were a decade ago, there has certainly been a great deal of talk about the inevitability of war. Additionally, as Walt points out, a number of crucial facts about Iran go untouched by the media. Among them are the following:
- The existence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program has not been confirmed by U.S. intelligence or the IAEA, the international organization responsible for regulating nuclear arms.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has very little control over Iranian foreign policy; the religious clerics who do have control have deemed nuclear weapons to be “contrary to Islam”.
- Neither Iran nor Israel has the military capability to carry out the threats attributed to them by the American media.
The fact of the matter is that the American media – top to bottom – has not adequately provided context for what many Americans now perceive to be an impending showdown with Iran. New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane took his paper to task over their coverage of Iran back in January.
It is shameful that after the lead-up to the Iraq War, during which the media ate from the hand of the Bush Administration, the media would be so quick to declare Iran an impending nuclear threat to the United States without bothering to check it out.