As a body politic, citizens of the United States are among the most misinformed in the world.
More Americans seek information from Fox TV, whose contempt for truth is self-evident, than from any other source. What's far worse, though, is that other sources, including some once held to be virtually unimpeachable, can no longer be trusted. American media, as an entity, have betrayed the mission for which their First Amendment shield was written.
Now, as a result, Americans are once again wallowing toward war in a pigsty of distortion, misunderstanding, ignorance and falsehood. Even as useful bilateral talks continue between the so-called P5+1and Iran, Americans are subject to new rounds of misinformation and misinterpretation. (P5+1 stands for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- France, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Russia-- plus Germany.) A new report from Media Matters finds that the broadcast
news networks — NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News and CBS’s Evening
News — “frequently” distort or exaggerate key information regarding
Iran’s nuclear program. “Two egregious misrepresentations in particular
repeatedly came up,” the report says, “suggesting that Iran will
imminently obtain the bomb and suggesting Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad has major influence over the country’s nuclear program.” Neither statement is true.
How can so many be so wrong about Iran? Let us count but some of the ways:
The Basics: David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote that in a possible compromise, " Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built for higher enrichment. Iran would export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium for final processing to 20 percent, for use in medical isotopes. . . ."
Dr. Cyrus Safdari, Michigan State University's Middle East expert: First, Iran does not have a "stockpile of highly enriched uranium". It has a stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Twenty per cent is the upper limit of what is considered to be low-enriched. Second, Iran would not be exporting this stockpile for "final processing to 20%." It would be doing so for processing into nuclear fuel rods (a technology which, Iran has now started to develop indigenously, thus vitiating a need to export the stuff and probably making the issue a better bargaining chip for the Iranians...all thanks to the sanctions on a medical reactor that posed no proliferation threat in the first place.) And the 20% uranium is not "used in medical isotopes" but is instead used to power the reactor that makes isotopes. And I'm at loss as to how Ignatius concluded that Qom is "built for higher enrichment" than 20%. It is not.
The Serious Stuff: The common line in U.S. media is that while Iran asserts that its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes, our leadership suspects that it's really intended to produce weapons. The United States in fact does not suspect this. Its intelligence agencies have said publicly, twice, that there is no evidence that Iran is preparing to build weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it has no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran "now or ever."
Even as the first "constructive and useful" P5+1 talks with Iran were being held,the New York Times published a piece by James Risen that was littered with fallacy and misinterpretation. Quoting "some analysts," Risen wrote that Ayatollah Khamenei's denial that Iran wanted nuclear arms "has to be seen as part of a Shiite historical concept called taqiyya, or religious dissembling. For centuries an oppressed minority within Islam, Shiites learned to conceal their sectarian identity to survive, and so there is a precedent for lying to protect the Shiite community." As usual in this kind of Times piece, we aren't give a clue as to who these "analysts" are. But Juan Cole, one of the top Mideast scholars in the United States, points out that historically, taqiyya was not a license to lie about anything, but permission to conceal one's religious identity in the face of life-threatening sectarian prejudice. He also notes that, in the twentieth century, the tide of Shiite legal opinion ran against taqiyya, and that Imam Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, demanded that taqiyya be abandoned. Cole concludes by saying that the taqiyya argument is "just some weird form of Islamophobia."
Risen's article seemed designed to question Khameni's religious edict, or fatwa, banning the possession of nuclear weapons as a sin against Islam, just as top U.N. officials were meeting "constructively" with the Iranians. Risen rehashed old arguments by Iran's adversaries and added some of his own.
Once again on the word of unnamed "analysts," Risen wrote that Khamenei's no-nukes posture was contradicted "by remarks he had made last year 'that it was a mistake for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to give up his nuclear weapons program.'"
In fact, Khamenei's remarks referred to "all his (Qaddafi's) nuclear facilities," and not to his nuclear weapons (as Risen reported). Khamenei was making a point that other Iranian leaders frequently make: merely having a nuclear program without nuclear weapons can be a deterrent to attack. They cite the Japanese model as one for Iran to emulate.
Risen wrote that Khamenei's predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, reversed his initial opposition to nuclear weapons as inconsistent with Islam in 1984, and "secretly decided to restart the nuclear weapons program." He cited no source for that sweeping accusation.
Gareth Porter, historian and investigative journalist, says he has encountered skeptics who doubt that the Khamenei fatwa even exists. "But," he writes, "even Mehdi Khalaji of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy acknowledged in an essay published last September that Khamenei's oral statements are considered fatwas and are binding on believers."
Condi Rice's infamous "mushroom cloud" threat from Iraq turned out to be thin blue smoke. But even the so-called "responsible" American media snuffed it up as the real thing.
Dare we let it happen again?