The Sept. 25 edition of Time magazine
illustrates how the U.S. news media are gearing up for a military attack on
Iran. The headline over the cover-story interview with Iran's president, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, is "A
Date With a Dangerous Mind." The big-type subhead calls him "the
man whose swagger is stirring fears of war with the U.S.," and the second
paragraph concludes: "Though pictures of the Iranian president often show
him flashing a peace sign, his actions could well be leading the world closer
When the USA's biggest news weekly devotes five pages to scoping out a U.S.
air war against Iran, as
Time did in the same issue, it's yet another sign that the wheels
of our nation's war-spin machine are turning faster toward yet another unprovoked
attack on another country.
Ahmadinejad has risen to the top of Washington's – and the American media's
– enemies list. Within the last 20 years, that list has included Manuel
Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and Slobodan Milosevic, with each subjected to extensive
vilification before the Pentagon launched a large-scale military attack.
Whenever the president of the United States decides to initiate or
intensify a media blitz against a foreign leader, mainstream U.S. news
outlets have dependably stepped up the decibels and hysteria. But the
administration can also call off the dogs of war by going silent about
the evils of some foreign tyrant.
Take Libya's dictator, for instance. For more than a third of a century, Col.
Muammar al-Gaddafi has been a despot whose overall record of repression makes
Noriega or Milosevic seem relatively tolerant of domestic political foes. But
ever since Gaddafi made a deal with the Bush administration in December 2003,
the silence out of Washington about Gaddafi's evils has been notable.
When Gaddafi publicly celebrated the 37th anniversary of his dictatorship
a few weeks ago, he declared in a speech on state television: "Our enemies
have been crushed inside Libya, and you have to be ready to kill them if they
emerge anew." The New York Times noted that Gaddafi's regime "criminalizes
the creation of opposition parties."
Today, while the human rights situation in Iran is reprehensible,
the ongoing circumstances are far worse under many governments favored by
Washington. Here at home, media outlets should be untangling double
standards instead of contributing to them. But so many reporters and
pundits have internalized Washington's geopolitical agendas that the
mainline institutions of journalism continue to rot from within. That the
rot goes largely unnoticed is testimony to how Orwellian "doublethink"
has been normalized.
These are not issues of professionalism any more than concerns about
public health are issues of medicine. The news media should be early
warning systems that inform us before current events become unchangeable
But when the media system undermines the free flow of information
and prevents wide-ranging debate, what happens is a parody of democracy.
That's what occurred four years ago during the media buildup for the
invasion of Iraq.
Now, warning signs are profuse: The Bush administration has Iran in
the Pentagon's sights. And the drive toward war, fueled by double
standards about nuclear development and human rights, is getting a big
boost from U.S. media coverage that portrays the president as reluctant
to launch an attack on Iran.
Time magazine reports that "from the State Department to the White
House to the highest reaches of the military command, there is a growing sense
that a showdown with Iran … may be impossible to avoid."
The same kind of media spin – assuming a sincere Bush desire to
avoid war – was profuse in the months before the invasion of Iraq. The
more that news outlets tell such fairy tales, the more they become part
of the war machinery.