There is an inside joke for the veteran viewers of MSNBC’s morning show, ‘Morning Joe,’ which refers back to a time when Joe Scarborough was in a heated debate with Zbigneiw Brzezinski (Mika’s father) over the behind-the-scenes content of President Clinton’s Camp David accords. The elder Brzezinski grew rather frustrated with being out-shouted by Scarborough, and delivered the following zinger:
“You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you.”
This crushing critique could also be applied to today’s appearance of the New York Times’ Sam Tanenhaus, author of 'The Death of Conservatism,' on that same show. Tanenhaus delivered the following two opinions with an admirably straight face:
SAM TANENHAUS: Yeah, and it was interesting to go to the Clinton school and tell the audience there that the last conservative president in America was Bill Clinton.
"President Obama reeling back the Bush administration's plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, instead opting for a new system he says is better equipped to fend off an Iranian threat," "Fast Money" host Melissa Lee said on her Sept. 17 show.
NewsBusters previously documented a claim made by NBC News correspondent Richard Engel on the June 22 Countdown show on MSNBC that the apparent murder of 27-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan during a crackdown by Iranian government forces, and the possibility that she will become the visual symbol for her country’s pro-democracy movement, was reminiscent of the Mohammed al-Dura video of September 2000 which, at the time, was claimed to show a Palestinian boy being shot and killed by Israeli troops. But, while evidence has mounted over the years that the al-Dura video was likely a hoax, Engel and host Keith Olbermann both spoke of the al-Dura "shooting" as if the event were not in dispute, and Engel recounted to viewers that Palestinians see the event as a "symbol of injustice" perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians. Engel: "I was thinking more, remember Mohammed al-Dura, the boy who was shot in Gaza in his father’s arms and who became a symbol of injustice? I think this is a similar moment."
The pro-Israel group CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) recounts on its Web site that after the group's executive director, Andrea Levin, on June 25 sent a letter of complaint to Engel -- which was also copied to NBC News President Steve Capus -- requesting that NBC revisit and "clarify" Engel's assertions, Capus sent a letter of response accusing CAMERA of "taking a cheap shot" at Engel, even suggesting that the pro-Israel group was not "truly dedicated to advancing journalism," as the NBC News head did not revise Engel's claims about the al-Dura case. Capus, as quoted by CAMERA on its Web site: "If you were truly dedicated to advancing journalism, you would be going out of your way to praise Richard for his work – rather than taking a cheap shot." The NBC News head went on to praise Engel as "a non-biased, dedicated journalist. NBC News considers itself lucky to have him."
On Monday’s Hannity show on FNC, actor Jon Voight accused the press of "protecting" and "covering for" President Obama by not giving enough coverage to dissatisfaction with the President’s economic policies, including the anti-tax TEA party protests:
But the press, the press brought him in, and now they want to make sure that nobody topples the throne, it seems. So they don't report anything that will interfere with his policies. But when the news is biased, it can, you know, it can control the people in a dangerous way. We see what's going on in Venezuela, and we're shocked. We're shocked to see Hugo Chavez closing down the, the opposition media. We're shocked when we see what's happening to the truth in Iran. But this same thing is happening in our country right now. The Obama regime is controlling the press. They protect him, they cover for him, and they don't want the truth to come out that there is this dissatisfaction, that people are waking up, and it's being expressed in these TEA parties.
He also charged that Obama had been dishonest in promising to protect Israel, and that the President had a "cunning ability" to push his policies through Congress without proper debate:
A search of Nexis shows that, from June 13-20, the Washington Post printed about 39 articles and columns pertaining to the fraudulent June 12 Iranian election, including nine page A1 stories. Some of the front page stories dealt with the Obama administration's response to the developments, such as Glenn Kessler's June 18 piece, "U.S. Struggling to Right Response to Iran."
Fast forward nearly a month later to July 15. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton essentially tells the Council on Foreign Relations that the right response is to nag Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the Obama administration's determination to sit down with him.
Yes,the Iranian protests may have temporarily "shifted" the push for direct talks with Iran, but President Obama's offer still stands. After all, Clinton noted, the Obama foreign policy shop is committed to "a more flexible and pragmatic posture" with Iran.
Keeping in mind that the Iranian election is still hotly disputed inside that country -- opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi won't concede to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- reporting the story on the front page of the next day's paper could reasonably be expected. Failing that, a story in "The World" section (pp. A8-A13) would also be appropriate.
Yet the Washington Post today did neither, failing to carry the story. Here's how CNN.com reported Clinton's remarks in a story filed the afternoon of July 15 (emphasis mine):
One has to wonder if working for the Washington Post fits the Obama definition of a "shovel-ready" job given the paper's penchant for burying the lede.
Deep within his July 9-filed story "Protesters Clash With Police in Iran," Washington Post Foreign Service correspondent Thomas Erdbrink noted a very interesting development bearing implications on the Obama administration's foreign policy regarding Iran and handling of the global war on terror.
The last six paragraphs of Erdbrink's 18-paragraph story -- which ran in the July 10 print edition on page A12 -- note how the theocratic regime in Tehran praised the Obama administration for its relative silence on the Iranian election aftermath just one day before the U.S. government released Iranian detainees captured two years ago in Iraq (emphasis mine):
In a passionate Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning ("Silence Has Consequences for Iran"), former Spanish Prime Minister José Aznar who, in case anyone cares, serves on the board of WSJ parent News Corp., says that "It would be a shame .... if our passivity gave carte blanche to a tyrannical regime to finish off the dissidents and persist with its revolutionary plans."
Shaking off passivity requires visibility. America's media establishment almost across the board is providing very little. The Associated Press and the New York Times reports exist, but their distribution is dwarfed by the death of a pop star and a governor's infidelity.
Here are useful comparisons (all searches were done at Google News at about 8:45 a.m. for June 23-27, limited to USA sources):
Editor's Note: The following was originally posted to Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog on June 24. Perhaps of greatest note to NewsBusters readers is Tapson's reporting on the pronouncements of Daily Beast contributor and UC Riverside professor Reza Aslan that "There is no such thing as Sharia."
While Iranian-American protesters packed streetcorners in Westwood last Saturday afternoon in support of the revolution currently playing out in the streets of Tehran, an historical drama about stoning in Iran got underway at the Los Angeles Film Festival mere blocks away.
For the few who don’t know by now, The Stoning of Soraya M. is based on French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s bestselling book, which relates the true story of a woman in a remote Iranian village, in the years after the 1979 Khomeini revolution, who is falsely accused of adultery and stoned to death by a mob desperate to cleanse themselves of this affront to their collective honor and to their religion. It’s not only a gripping story in its own right, but it shines a harsh spotlight on the almost unimaginable reality that the barbaric punishment of stoning still exists in the Iranian law code, despite a largely nominal 2002 moratorium, the result of pressure from Western human rights groups.
(Full disclosure, even though I’m not reviewing the film here: I’m close friends with the filmmakers Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh, I provided Mpower Pictures with a bit of research on the project, I’m friends with other cast and crew and producers associated with the film, and I think stoning is bad. So don’t take my word for it when I say SorayaBig Hollywood’s John Nolte will be the most important, affecting film you’ll see all year. Instead seek out the multitude of reviewers who recommend the film, including and then see it for yourself.)
Following Saturday’s screening was a panel discussion, not so much moderated as simply hosted by Iranian novelist Khaled Hosseini, author of the bestselling The Kite Runner, who personally selected the film for the L.A. Film Festival. The panel also included Soraya’s writer-director Cyrus Nowrasteh, starring actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Dr. Reza Aslan, billed as an Islamic scholar.
On Monday’s Countdown show on MSNBC, as host Keith Olbermann and NBC News correspondent Richard Engel discussed the apparent murder of 27-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan by Iranian government forces as part of the crackdown against pro-democracy protesters, and the possibility that she will become the visual symbol for her country’s pro-democracy movement because her death was recorded, Engel brought up the infamous Mohammed al-Dura video clip from September 2000 and claimed that the Palestinian boy was shot and killed by Israeli troops – as if this story were not in dispute – even though many who have examined the case closely over the years believe not only that the boy was not hit by Israeli bullets, but that the video purporting to document his shooting and death was likely a hoax.
The exchange from Monday's Countdown show, in which both Engel and Olbermann assumed the al-Dura story to be undisputed:
KEITH OLBERMANN: To the point of Neda Soltan, I don’t know that there’s ever been a revolution, or even a near revolution, that did not have an identifiable face, a martyr, you think of everything from Tiananmen Square to Lexington and Concord-
RICHARD ENGEL: I was thinking more, remember Mohammed al-Dura, the boy who was shot in Gaza-
OLBERMANN: Yes, yes.
ENGEL: -in his father’s arms-
ENGEL: -and who became a symbol of injustice? I think this is a similar moment.
“President Obama's response to the government crackdown has been criticized by some Republicans as timid,” Katie Couric noted on Wednesday's CBS Evening News as she featured a retort: “Today, in an exclusive interview with CBS News, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to his defense saying he believes the protestors understand the tough position the President is in.”
Following a single soundbite from Blair, Couric plugged more on the Web: “For more of my extended conversation with Tony Blair, you can go to our Web site at CBSNews.com.”
While conservatives like National Review’s Kathryn Lopez were unimpressed by President Obama describing the shooting of student protester Neda Soltan in Iran as merely a "problem" – like having to stand in line for concert tickets? – the New York Daily News supinely painted Obama as emotionally distressed: "DEATH THAT BROKE HIS HEART," screamed their front page headline.
Inside, reporter Helen Kennedy at least acknowledged that Obama had toughened his rhetoric, contrary to his odd insistence at yesterday’s press conference that he’s been absolutely consistent in his Iran rhetoric:
President Obama dramatically toughened his criticism of Iran's crackdown on election protesters Tuesday, paying emotional tribute to slain student Neda Soltan and declaring the U.S. "appalled and outraged" by the violence.
"I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost," he said.
When Harry Smith interviewed Pres. Obama earlier this week, I noted that his idea of "speaking truth to power" was to suggest Bo the dog was out of control. But when Smith had a Republican in his sights this morning, the mild-mannered Early Show host suddenly went Rambo. Raising his finger, Smith scolded Mitt Romney for pointing out that Pres. Obama's response to the Iranian repression fell far short of Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" reproach to the Soviets.
On Tuesday’s Newsroom program, CNN correspondent Carol Costello harkened back to the 1970 incident at Kent State University, where National Guardsmen shot rock-throwing protesters and bystanders, and made it a possible equivalent to the recent murder of Iranian student Neda. Costello pondered the effect of the Neda murder video on the Iranian protests, and flashed a famous photo from the 1970 shootings [audio clips from the report are available here].
Anchor Kyra Phillips introduced the overall theme of Costello’s report: “By now, you’ve probably heard about Neda, the young Iranian woman that was gunned down in Tehran. Well, in death, she’s become quite a symbol of countless Iranians demanding new elections. The question now: will the memory of Neda help make that happen?” After giving some details into the college student’s death, the correspondent described the international reaction to it: “It seems the whole world now knows Neda and aches for her- and why not? It watched her die.”
Costello subsequently played a clip of Iranian author Azar Nafisi’s reaction to the Neda death video. She then proposed her question about the impact of the video: “It’s difficult to say right now, though, if this image of Neda will change everything. We know that pictures sometimes do. Many believe this shot taken at Kent State of a student gunned down after a Vietnam War protest helped end the war, yet this video of a lone student standing up to Chinese tanks did not end communism in China.”
The protesters admire our freedom, but they are appalled--and insulted--by our neocolonialist condescension over the past 50 years. The reformers, and even some conservatives, consider Ahmadinejad the George W. Bush of Iran--a crude, unsophisticated demagogue, who puts a strong Potemkin face to the world without very much knowledge of what the rest of the world is about. This was an anology [sic] that came up in interview after interview, with reformers and conservatives alike.
Klein doesn't explicitly reference the "axis of evil" remarks in then-President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address as an offense, although he quite probably has it in mind. Yet a review of the relevant passage from that speech shows Bush was dead-on and arguably eerily prophetic about the iron-fisted repression that the world is witness to presently on the streets of Tehran (portion in bold is my emphasis):
"Obama's intelligent speech in Cairo has had a big impact in the Muslim world, and it is obvious that it is his presence in the White House – far more than any BBC broadcast – that is giving hope to the demonstrators in Tehran...I do not believe it could possibly have happened had John McCain been elected...Who knows whether [the Iranian protestors] will succeed, but we can safely say that the BBC and Barack Obama have done more to change Iran than Fox News and George W Bush."
So wrote London's mayor in an astonishing display of Obama Derangement Syndrome Monday.
During an interview with President Obama, Harry Smith asked about recent criticism by Dick Cheney and President Bush: "Leon Panetta intimated that the former Vice President was playing politics with national security issues. The former President has intoned his own displeasure with some of your policy changes. I think they feel like some of the things that you've done, in fact, are treacherous."
Smith failed to provide any direct quote of Panetta’s comments, made during an interview for The New Yorker, in which the CIA director declared: "I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue...It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics."
Instead of asking Obama why a member of his administration would make such an outrageous statement about a former vice president, Smith simply mentioned that Panetta accused Cheney of "playing politics with national security issues."
Contrary to the claims of many liberals, at least some of Iran's anti-government protesters are anxious for Barack Obama to lend American support to their cause. An Iranian student interviewed on CNN’s American Morning on Monday pleaded for the world, and President Obama by name, to become more active in assisting the protests against the Islamic regime in Tehran: “International community....especially, I ask President Barack Obama directly...this government is a huge threat to global peace....We need your help international community. Don’t leave us alone.” [Audio from the segment available here.]
Near the end of the interview, anchor John Roberts asked the student, who went by the first name of Mohammed alone, for the specific demands of the protesters: “Are the students seeking regime change? Are they looking to bring down the Ayatollah and completely change the form of government there in Iran, or are you looking for- as has been suggested- more civil rights, more freedoms, within the context of the existing regime?”
Without any sort of prompting, Mohammed first addressed some of the major controversies involving the Iranian regime: “For about three decades, our nation has been humiliated and insulted by this regime....We are peaceful nation. We don’t hate anybody. We want to be an active member of international community. We don’t want to be isolated....We don’t deny Holocaust. We...do accept Israel’s rights. And actually...we want severe reform on this structure. This structure is not going to be tolerated by the majority of Iranians. We need severe reform, as much as possible.”
Who says Pres. Obama isn't backing the Iranian uprising strongly enough? Why, supporters of the struggle have chosen to immortalize Neda, the young student reportedly slain by the current regime, by creating a poster of her in the style of the iconic Obama poster made famous during his presidential campaign.
Might that have been CBS's subliminal message this morning? Of all the possible posters of the fallen girl who has become the symbol of the Iranian uprising, the Early Show chose the one displayed here in the unmistakeable style Shepard Fairey used to create his Obama poster [displayed after the break].
It struck me, in reading this AP dispatch from Tehran by Nasser Karimi and William J. Kole, that the political and media establishment has, in the two decades since the death of the very visible Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, allowed Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, his successor as the Supreme Leader of Iran, to fade comfortably into the background, while still pulling all the meaningful levers of power in that country.
Only now, with Tehran in turmoil, and of all things during an attempted media blackout, do we directly learn from Karimi and Kole that election winners are in most meaningful ways mere puppets who serve at Khamenei's pleasure, and that the elections themselves are mere spectacles designed to convince the populace, and perhaps more importantly the West, that Iran, though Islamic fundamentalist to the core, is still somehow a sort-of democratic country.
It is, of course, anything but that. I daresay that most in the West, up to and including many politicians and establishment media elites, and even presidential candidates, haven't even the faintest appreciation of this fact.
In their report, Karimi and Kole communicated the essence of Iran's reality in one concise phrase, referring to "the virtually limitless authority of the country's most powerful figure." Now they tell us.
Surprise, surprise. Despite the overwhelming negative reaction to the President’s statements regarding the Iranian election demonstrations, Washington Post writer Glenn Kessler could not find more than one foreign policy expert that was vaguely critical. In fact, the sole expert they did find to criticize the President added a caveat – a caveat of praise.
In the section titled ‘Approach generally praised’, Kessler writes:
The president's approach has generally been praised by foreign-policy experts, with one exception.
He then cites the lone dissenting voice (emphasis mine):
Question: How do you water down the possible significance of a statement by an Iranian diplomat?
Answer: Wait for an AFP journalist to revise a previous raw report.
A short unbylined dispatch from the wire service reported that the diplomat "apparently misspoke" when he said that Iran has "the right to a nuclear weapon" not long after the incident occurred. (Dictionary.com tells us that "Used before a noun, apparent means 'seeming.'")
In a later full story ("Iran denies wants nuclear weapon as insurance"), AFP's Simon Morgan reassured readers that the statement by Ali Asghar Soltanieh "was clearly a slip of the tongue."
How can he be so certain?
Here is most of the brief early report after the incident (note that the headline, "Bombshell: Iran envoy in nuclear weapon slip-up," already had the excuse down pat; bolds are mine):
Unnoticed in the recent upheaval surrounding the fallout from the Iranian elections earlier this month has been how it could affect the price of oil, and therefore the price of gas. And according to Fox Business Network "Happy Hour" co-host Eric Bolling, the longer this goes, the more likely you'll see it at the gas pump.
"Now think of this - it takes about 45 days to take a barrel of oil, run it through a refinery and hit the pump, the price at the pump," Bolling said. "So knowing this, for the next two or three weeks, at least, at minimum, pump prices will continue to rise. It may go down a penny or two here, but in general they'll continue to rise."
On Thursday evening, the CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News presented opposite takes on whether Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is really a moderate, or whether he is actually about as extreme and dangerous as current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. CBS’s Mark Phillips argued that Mousavi is merely more moderate in "tone" than Ahmadinejad while taking similar policy positions, while NBC’s Richard Engel played up Mousavi as a real alternative to Ahmadinejad. CBS News substitute anchor Maggie Rodriguez introduced Phillips’s report: "Mir Hossein Mousavi insists he won the presidential election there, only to have it stolen from him. He's been cast as an outsider, anxious for reform. But as Mark Phillips reports, that's not exactly the case."
After beginning his report contending that "Mir Hossein Mousavi is neither a champion of democracy as we know it, nor an advocate of great change within Iran's mullah-dominated government," Phillips further argued that Mousavi would bring little substantive policy difference to the presidency:
Some attention has been paid to the fact that the microblogging service Twitter had decided to push off its scheduled maintenance Tuesday morning as the situation in Iran became steadily more embroiled in conflict. As it happened, Twitter was a major source of information coming out of that repressed society as news was happening. Twitter had, though, scheduled a few hours down time just when Iran was at a peak of activity. So, in order to keep the flow of communication to the outside world flowing, Twitter announced it would not turn off its service until Iran calmed down.
This is pretty interesting news, that a mere social networking site was so deeply involved in momentous news of the day and that it became so relied upon by people hungry for news and interested in discussing a major democratic movement is definitely a new thing. It is especially interesting because the U.S. media so badly fell down on its job of reporting activities in Iran making Twitter a vital tool for communication. But what was even more interesting was that Obama's State Department tried to claim credit for Twitter's decision to stay in operation during the day. Worse, the Old Media seemed to swallow the State Department's claims whole.
In the midst of his June 16 Swampland blog screed leveled against the "unhinged" Sen. John McCain for his criticism of President Obama's low-key response to the Iranian election, Time magazine's Joe Klein [shown in file photo at right] also worked in a comparison of hardliner Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's support base with former U.S. President George W. Bush's core supporters:
It is not even clear that Ahmadinejad--who has significant backing from the sort of people who support Republicans here (the elderly, the religious extremists) plus a real following among working-class Iranians--would have lost this election, if the votes had been counted fairly. (I tend to believe that they weren't counted at all, but that's just my opinion.)
Twelve days earlier, Klein more subtly made the Ahmadinejad/Bush connection in a comparison that favorably compared Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi to Bush's 2004 rival Sen. John Kerry (emphasis mine):
That was both the headline and the theme of an astounding story written for Politico by the former foreign policy husband and wife team of Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. Their shtick while at the Bush White House was that we needed to "engage" Iran and left their jobs "with a growing sense of alarm" that we were headed towards war with that Islamic regime which, of course, never happened. And now they are continuing to run cover for the mullahs with their Politico story about how the Iranian presidential election was fair and square:
Without any evidence, many U.S. politicians and “Iran experts” have dismissed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection Friday, with 62.6 percent of the vote, as fraud.
They ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad’s 62.6 percent of the vote in this year’s election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in the final count of the 2005 presidential election, when he trounced former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The shock of the “Iran experts” over Friday’s results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking.
"North Korea, Syria - I mean these are places when they always have elections, there's always a couple of people who don't vote for the right guy," Cramer said. "But I think the price of oil is going to tell you exactly how everything is going to play out in Iran, which is it's much ado about nothing."
For the last several months, New York Times reporter turned international columnist Roger Cohen has filed naïve apologist columns about Iran, often attacking Israel in the process. Previously mocked for this embarrassing display of Obama-mania in March 2008, Cohen attracted negative attention on the foreign affairs front earlier this year by telling readers how good things really were for Jews in Iran.
After that line of argument failed to convince, he then accused Israel of lying about the Iranian threat while constantly insisting that Iran was actually a functioning and reformist democracy. Cohen minimized the danger posed by Iran's demonized leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, excusing his anti-Israel rantings. And of course, Cohen strongly favored Obama's brand of diplomacy with Iran as opposed to Bush's hostility.
Cohen's Thursday column from Tehran, "Iran Awakens Yet Again," which ran in the Times international edition the day before the vote, featured some poorly timed fawning over Iran's "unpredictable" democracy.