Rami Khouri rightly laments the sorry state of American media coverage of Iran:
Two things in particular are wrong in the coverage. First is that most media stories about Iran view the country almost uniquely as 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 lens 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. media, Iran is first and foremost a nuclear threat. Little else about the country is deemed worthy of serious coverage.
Of course, when a country can be reduced to its regime or the supposed threat that the regime presents, anything that could complicate or muddy that picture is bound to receive much less attention or no attention at all from media outlets that want to build up the threat in the mind of the public. Considering the poor nature of Iran coverage in the U.S., it’s probably no surprise that most Americans have a very skewed understanding of Iran’s nuclear program. When 66% of Americans think that Iran already has nuclear weapons (18%) or has decided to produce them, the distorted coverage of the country and the nuclear issue has obviously done significant harm by causing most Americans to misunderstand the basic facts.
The Ignatius column I just discussed serves as a good example of the phenomenon Khouri’s describing. Consider the way that he brings Iran into his column on American war-weariness:
The big question is whether America’s war weariness will undermine Obama’s pledge to use military force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
It seems me to that “the big question” is whether the administration is actually willing to start an illegal and unnecessary war against Iran. If Obama is willing to wage preventive war under certain circumstances in the next few years, we know that what the public thinks about it will be virtually irrelevant, but note that the main concern here is that public war-weariness might “undermine” the threat to attack. Public opinion in this case is a possible obstacle to be overcome, instead of being taken as proof that starting yet another war would be political folly. The striking thing about Ignatius’ treatment of Iran and the nuclear issue is how completely he takes for granted that attacking Iran to “prevent” it from acquiring a weapon it hasn’t decided to build so far might somehow become “necessary.” The Iran policy debate relies on some of the common, false assumptions that Ignatius makes in this column: an illegal, unnecessary, and unprovoked attack is somehow legal and necessary; the administration must be willing to fulfill Obama’s “pledge” to launch such an attack; there is an “obvious” threat to the U.S. and Israel that requires starting a war.