The Iranian media frenzy

The media war can be a standard business competition or it can be a psychological warfare between nations.

By JEREMY RUDEN
February 12, 2012 21:55
4 minute read.
Iranians read newspapers in Tehran

Iranians read newspapers in Tehran 390. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Welcome all newshounds to the circus. Since October last year, the Israeli media have been obsessed over reporting and often exaggerating seemingly every single piece of information regarding the standoff with Iran over its plans to develop nuclear weapons, possible military action, etc.

In recent weeks, it’s gotten worse. International media outlets have jumped into the fray making it a three-ring event with information coming from all directions. The direct result is that every day we see a headline about Iran in the news even though the stories themselves are often dangerous, undeserving of publication and sometimes even ridiculous.

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A good example of a risky item would be a recent piece which originally came from the Associated Press. In an otherwise long article summarizing the entire situation, the AP threw in a couple of quotes from an unnamed European diplomat based in Pakistan who basically said that if Israel attacked Iran, it would most likely prompt a response from Islamabad. The story was picked up and the headlines soon read that now Pakistan would attack Israel in the event of a strike.

This despite the fact that the diplomat was not named.

The AP itself clearly did not see this as the story’s lead, but with such a high demand for news on the subject from all media outlets, it seems like anything goes – therefore the story was blown out of proportion.

NBC certainly sees that as well; it published a story last week which was entitled “Israel Teams with Terror Group to Kill Iran’s Nuclear Scientists, US Officials tell NBC News.” In this “exclusive” story and questionable piece of journalism, NBC said it had confirmed these longtime claims of the Iranian government. The gist of the story is that Tehran has accused Jerusalem of financing and training members of the People’s Mujihadin of Iran (MEK) to assassinate the country’s nuclear scientists. MEK is considered a terror organization in the US for several reasons including its role in the overthrow of the Shah back in the late ‘70s and subsequent killing of American citizens.

NBC interviewed Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He gave Tehran’s side of the story. MEK systematically denied it. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment until it saw all of the evidence. The whole story is long-winded and reads like a spy novel but it all boils down to the identity of those who confirmed the story to the network.

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The article says “US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity” and later on “Two senior US officials confirmed for NBC News the MEK’s role in the assassinations, with one senior official saying, ‘All your inclinations are correct.’” A third official would not confirm or deny the relationship with Israel, saying only, “It hasn’t been clearly confirmed yet.” So only one of the anonymous officials pointed the finger at Israel, but that was enough for NBC to run the story. Sounds like they gave the story a green light a bit prematurely, to say the least.

How about all of the public statements made by “experts”? Do they deserve front page exposure? Here’s loose translation of a headline splashed last week in one of Israel’s leading Hebrew newspapers: “Newsweek article: ‘It is possible to attack Iran and succeed.’” The sub-headlines give away the story that Newsweek had interviewed a well-known history professor at Harvard University who had basically reviewed objections about an attack and refuted them. While I have no opinion as to the professor’s views, I think it would be more appropriate to put the item in the back pages, if at all, considering the fact that it was a Newsweek story and not exclusive to the paper.

You know the frenzy is reaching fever pitch when even the most sublime stories hit the international media circuit. I remember seeing the promo for the cable company HOT which poked fun at the whole situation with Iran. It portrays Mossad agents, disguised as women, deep within Iran and accidentally blowing up a uranium enrichment facility using a Samsung tablet available through a special deal at HOT.

I also remember thinking that someone was going to get in trouble for the campaign. I hardly imagined that it would cause a response from Tehran. Turns out the Iranian government is mulling a ban of Samsung products as a result of the ad. And yes, the story made dozens of newspapers and websites around the world.

How seriously are Israelis taking a potential attack against Iran? Look no further than Facebook, where there is a group asking Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to postpone any potential attack until after music icon Madonna performs here at the end of May. Sure, it’s a joke, but the page has garnered international media attention nonetheless.

When a news outlet goes out looking for news it’s business as usual, but it’s a risky proposition when it must bring something back. We, the news consumers, are in a difficult situation. On one hand, we want and need to be informed about what’s going on. The problem arises when we are exposed to overkill, a constant bombardment of stories which broadens the subtext and exaggerates its prominence. This can keep us occupied with every little detail, relevant or not, as we try to grapple with the uncertainty of the situation.

This is going on now with the never-ending salvo of Iran-related stories. Every item published is serving somebody’s purpose, be it an editor or up to the levels of different governments. Readers need to realize that the media is also an arena for battle. Sometimes the fight is just standard business competition while at other times it can be a psychological warfare between nations. It’s all playing out before our eyes, but we should not accept everything we read.

Jeremy Ruden is an independent media consultant. Jeremy@jeremyruden.com

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