Saturday, June 16, 2007

Judy In Drag Strikes Again

By Cernig

Today, David "Judy Miller in Drag" Sanger has another of his stenography pieces at the New York Times, which purports to be about the diplomacy-or-bombs debate in White House circles on what to do about Iran's nuclear program. Somehow, though, he manages to slant his article very much towards the "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" crowd by being selectively truthful about just how factual his facts are.

Glenn Greenwald does a magnificent job of unspinning the whole thing.

The narrative is identical, of course, to the pre-Iraq-war "debate" which the media so vocally dramatized, with Secretary Rice in the role of reluctant warrior formerly played by Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney reprising his role of unabashed warmonger. It is true that there have been some personnel changes since then (most notably, Robert Gates in the place of Donald Rumsfeld), but George W. Bush is still the Decider, and he has not exactly been ambiguous about his views on the proper resolution of such "debates." As he told a group of right-wing pundits in October 2006: "I've never been more convinced that the decisions I made are the right decisions."

...numerous claims here are presented not as assertions, not as arguments, but as facts. And they are not even accompanied by the qualification that these were asserted by the article's anonymous "administration officials." Rather, they are simply stated, by the Times itself, as unquestionable facts. And they are obviously inflammatory "facts," as they depict Iran as, more or less, at war with the U.S. in multiple countries, arming and funding groups directly at war with our military.
Those claims include the assertion, presented as simple "fact", that Iran is "inflaming the insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and in Gaza." This despite such figures as Secretary of Defense Gates, US general in command of NATO forces Dan McNeill and the Afghan Defense Minister saying there is proof of no such thing in Afghanistan; prominent figures such as Gates (again) and General Pace saying there's no proof of such a thing in Iraq; the small matter of Hamas and Iraq's Shiite militias being armed participants in government rather than insurgents and international independent experts pointing to the widespread and lucrative private arms trade in the Middle East as proving that no-one can say with certainty how any weapon ended up where it did. As Glenn notes, US provocations against Iran such as covert attacks using noxious terror groups such as the MeK and PKK as proxies are also left out of Sanger's stenographic narrative for war.

But Glenn missed one of the most blatant examples of an assertion presented as a fact. In the third paragraph, Sanger writes that the "International Atomic Energy Agency predicts that 8,000 or so could be spinning by the end of the year, if Iran surmounts its technical problems."

Which simply isn't true. Anonymous diplomats, who are not IAEA personnel but rather are acting as representatives of their own nation's interest, have told - guess who - David Sanger and other journalists, in orchestrated leaks, that Iran could have 8,000 centrifuges by year end. Those anonymous sources claim this "fact" as being taken directly from the mouth of Mohammed el-Baradei in "private conversations". However, the IAEA has refused to publicly back the diplomats' claim and independent experts have been highly sceptical. While the diplomats' claim may well be true, it is a long way from being a proven fact, as Sanger well knows having reported on the leaks in the first place.

Glenn nails why unbiased reporting by the media of such claims is so important and why it is so dangerous that instead reporting is being handled by shills like Sanger.
This isn't about nitpicking facts or insisting upon political arguments to be included in news articles. It is quite clear that, at some point over the next 12 months, we are going to confront the issue of whether we should commence a war against Iran. The views of Americans on this question -- and about the "Iranian threat" -- are being formed now.

Articles such as the one today from the NYT clearly have the effect -- whether intentionally or otherwise -- of fundamentally skewing the issues by depicting Iran as an unprovoked enemy waging war on the U.S. and by excluding the many steps we have taken to heighten the likelihood of such a war. If this is how the media is going to report on the potential U.S.-Iran war, I'd say the odds of that conflict occuring are quite high.
Precisely. In the Downing Street Memos' phrasing, it is "fixing the intelligence around the policy".

There's another howling example today in the Washington Times, which is claiming China is manufacturing and shipping weapons to the taliban on Iran's behalf. My co-blogger Fester has unpacked that one in fine style today already. It is a "mutual back scratching story" where both of the neocon Great Satans can be addressed with "a combination of anonymous sources, flimsy evidence, slams against the effete State Department and a direct dump into the right wing noise machine." In other words, it has a lot in common with Sanger's stenographic shillery.

As Matt Yglesias writes today:
The one thing I would observe about this is that even if neither President Bush (listening to Rice) nor Supreme Leader Khameini (listening to the Iranian version of Rice) want war, there's still a very dangerous situation. You have a lack of institutionalized diplomatic relations between the two countries, and almost 200,000 American soldiers and unknown numbers of Iranian personnel of various sorts in countries bordering Iran. There's a lot of scope there for provocations, incidents, and incidents and other problems of various sorts. Add in to the mix your Cheneys and your Ahmadenijads trying to push everything toward escalation and there's no telling what could happen.
Which is why articles like that by another Cheney faction shill, Robin Wright at the Washington Post today, are just as dangerous as Sanger's bending of guesses into facts. Wright is working hard at demonizing the Iranian regime - not all that difficult since it is one of the more repressive ones already. But she is reaching to paint it as a totalitarian monolith under the command of Ahmadenijad, in a manner reminiscent of the way in which, despite the factional political struggles which always became apparent when a leader died, the US media consistently painted the Soviet state as a monolith under the iron fist of each successive Premier. Wright claims that:
Iran is in the midst of a sweeping crackdown that both Iranians and U.S. analysts compare to a cultural revolution in its attempt to steer the oil-rich theocracy back to the rigid strictures of the 1979 revolution...widespread purges and arrests are expected to have an impact on parliamentary elections next year and the presidential contest in 2009, either discouraging or preventing reformers from running against the current crop of hard-liners who dominate all branches of government, Iranian and U.S. analysts say. The elections are one of several motives behind the crackdowns, they add.
Wright quotes a couple of decidely liberal analysts on the subject, who are correctly appalled by many features of the Iranian regime.
"The current crackdown is a way to instill fear in the population in order to discourage them from future political agitation as the economic situation begins to deteriorate," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "You're going to think twice about taking to the streets to protest the hike in gasoline prices if you know the regime's paramilitary forces have been on a head-cracking spree the last few weeks."

..."Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stated his goal of purging Iranian society of secular thought. This is taking shape as a cultural revolution, particularly on university campuses, where persecution and prosecution of students and faculty are intensifying with each passing day," said Hadi Ghaemi, the Iran analyst for Human Rights Watch.

..."Censorship has got much worse recently," Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi told the BBC in Tehran this week. "Iran's government doesn't like . . . events inside the country to be reflected in the outside world."
all convincing stuff is support of Wright's headline: "Iran Curtails Freedom In Throwback to 1979." But exactly how curtailled is that freedom? Wright seems unaware of the dichotomy between her thesis and some of her own article. For instance, she writes that there have been very public signs of discontent:
such as students booing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a campus last December, teacher protests in March over low wages and workers demonstrating on May Day.
So where were the security troops breaking heads as we saw in Russia recently or the proxy activists to shoot dissenters as we saw in Pakistan?

Then there's the prominet academics, all with known addresses:
More than 50 of the country's leading economists wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad this week warning that he is ignoring basic economics and endangering the country's future.
In the old Soviet Union, those academics would already be on their way to Siberia. Then there's the infamous "dress code" annual fiasco:
One of the biggest crackdowns has been the campaign against "immoral behavior" launched this spring. Iran's police chief said in April that 150,000 people had been detained, but few were referred for trial. The rest were asked to sign "letters of commitment" to honor public behavior and dress codes.
This happens every year in the summer, and most Iranians accept it is more about style than substance. Indeed, as soon as the clothing inquisition turns the corner, headresses get pushed back again and the fashionable clothes re-appear. That doesn't seem like a whole-hearted crackdown to me.

Then Wright, almost as if she cannot help herself, explains why the hardliners are so nervous.
The Bush administration's $75 million fund to promote democracy in Iran is the key reason for the recent arrest of several dual U.S.-Iranian citizens in Iran, including D.C. area scholar Haleh Esfandiari. Iranian analysts contend that the U.S. funds have also made civil society movements targets because of government suspicions that they are conspiring to foster a "velvet revolution" against the regime.
An echo of integrity lost there? Matt is correct and then some - the Cheneyites and Ahmadenijads are mutually supporting, mutually re-enforcing and just as dangerous to peace as each other.