Ron Radosh

How U.S. Media Helps Iran's Propaganda Offensive

Iran, as my PJM colleague Michael Ledeen has informed us over the years, is the main state sponsor of terrorism in the world. This truth is even acknowledged by our own Department of State, in a detailed report which states:

Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran remained an active state sponsor of terrorism in 2011 and increased its terrorist-related activity, likely in an effort to exploit the uncertain political conditions resulting from the Arab Spring, as well as in response to perceived increasing external pressure on Tehran. Iran also continued to provide financial, material, and logistical support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Iran was known to use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and terrorist insurgent groups to implement its foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and support terrorist and militant groups. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

Moreover, the regime supports Assad in Syria, trained the Taliban in Afghanistan, and supplies weapons, training, and funding to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

At the present time, it is obvious that all of this is being ignored by the Obama administration, which has decided to allow Iran to eventually go nuclear, and hence to try to put into effect — without any congressional approval — an agreement that will ratify a bad deal after the looming November 24 deadline on negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.

As the Wall Street Journal observes:

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, said Friday there has been almost no progress in resolving the outstanding allegations of weapons development, despite a year of negotiations with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s government.

What prevents any agreement, said the International Atomic Energy Agency, is that the Iranian regime will not allow inspectors to gain access to nuclear scientists who are engaged in atomic research, as well as any access to military and research sites. If, as Iran claims, its nuclear development is being conducted only for peaceful purposes, they surely would not hesitate one moment to allow such access.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is trying to put over what will be a very bad deal, one that allows Iran to keep its centrifuges. To make it palatable to Americans, the media is helping along in what seems to be an effort to legitimize Iran and to make Americans develop a positive view of the regime. Here are some recent examples.

The first is — believe it or not — the New York Times’ recently announced trip to Iran. Welcome, they say, “to the once forbidden land of Iran.” Why shouldn’t high-spending travelers go there with the so-called paper of record? They provide the rationale here:

Traveling in comfort, in a small, guided group along the way, your journey through Iran will provide you with a depth of understanding of this complicated place, which has been friend and foe, sometimes at the same time. … Though Iran often rejects Western ways, and is frequently under fire for its positions on human rights, its nuclear program and Israel, its role as a birthplace of civilization cannot be denied. This journey with The New York Times, praised for its intensive and clear-eyed coverage of Iran going back decades, takes you behind the headlines, deep into the conflicted and often conflict-filled past of one of the oldest cultures on earth.

Just ignore public hangings of gays that might be taking place while you’re in a major city like Tehran. Ignore the political prisoners tortured in the city’s jails, and the religious police who see to it that young people dancing to the hit tune “Happy” are thrown into jail, just as yesterday, a young woman received one year in prison for daring to go to a soccer game in Tehran’s stadium. Sports events, after all, are only for men to view. One has to ignore all this, since Persia was “the birthplace of civilization,” and remember that often Iran simply rejects our ways. We can’t be ethnocentric, after all. And the Times informs us that “conservative elders uphold the traditions of the country’s past while the young and fashionable find ways to celebrate in a country that bans alcohol.”

The second example: Chef Anthony Bourdain, who appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday TV program GPS. As Al Arabiya notes in its summary of his appearance with Zakaria, the “ultimate foodie” on his recent trip quickly departed from concentrating on Iranian cooking. Rather, his visit “left him in shock and awe.” He found the country to be “extraordinary, heartbreaking, confusing, inspiring, and very, very different than the Iran I expected.” If you still didn’t get his point, the news report informs us that Bourdain “said the few days he spent there defeated the image that has been painted by the media of the ‘long and very contentious relationship we’ve had as nations.’”

My God, when Iranians at a restaurant found out that it was his producer’s birthday, they spontaneously “sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him and presented him with a cake.” Bourdain’s reaction: “Bourdain was in awe at the stark difference between the Iran he had been led to believe and the Iran where an entire restaurant sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to a stranger.”

I can just imagine how, were he living in the 1920s and ’30s, he would have traveled to the Soviet Union, sampled Russian cooking, and written about how wonderful the Bolsheviks were and how nice the Russian people treated him.

I therefore have a new job suggestion for him: employee of the Iranian propaganda ministry.

The third example is, of course, the most egregious and disheartening. It comes from the long-time apologist for the Iranian regime, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen. When I started writing for PJM years ago, among my earliest columns were some aimed at Cohen’s positive portrait of the Iranian regime, and his assertions about how Jews lived freely there. Recently, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was born in Iran, made the following comment in the New York Observer about Cohen’s 2009 reports from Iran:

In February, 2009, Roger Cohen, the Jewish op-ed writer from The New York Times, visited Iran and became a shill for the regime. Claiming that the Jews in Iran are extremely well treated and are allowed to voice their honest opinions about every subject, including Israel, he added, “I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran.” Perhaps this Jew never thought to himself that as a writer for one of the world’s most influential publications he was accorded slightly better treatment than the Jews who live there as prisoners. It did not much matter. It was later reported that Mr. Cohen, who paid an Iranian translator $150 a day to lead him, had all his coming and goings reported by the translator to the Iranian government, regardless.

Now, Cohen has moved way ahead of simply telling his readers that he, too, knows the real Iran, and how Americans should not swallow all that anti-Iranian propaganda. He hasagreed to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser in California for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the leading pro-Iranian regime lobbying group that claims to be for peace and “diplomacy” and which opposes sanctions on Iran as an impediment to peace. (A thorough and critical discussion of NIAC and its efforts for Iran can be found here and here and in The American Thinker.)

It is one thing for an opinion writer to express his views about the nature of the Iranian regime. They may be wrongheaded and obtuse, as his columns are, but it is something else when that columnist helps NIAC to raise funds.

As I was writing this, I found that the link to Cohen’s announced speech had disappeared. A bit later, NIAC put up a new post on its site, announcing that a  a “scheduling conflict” forced Roger Cohen to cancel, and that his place as a keynote speaker has been taken by Joe Cirincione, an armaments specialist who heads the Ploughshare Fund, which works on non-proliferation and nuclear weapons policy. Evidently his appearance suggests he holds a favorable view of the Iranian position in the nuclear talks.

Personally, I suspect that Roger Cohen backed out either because his employers told him his appearance was not appropriate for a journalist, or because he feared ensuing bad publicity. Certainly, a speaker does not make a commitment before checking with his schedule, or with the agency that books his talks.

His original agreement to speak says volumes, and is more indication that he believed writing columns was not sufficient, and hence he was willing to help raise funds for an organization friendly to Iran.

The Obama administration knows it will have a problem with its intent to bypass Congress and sign a bad deal with Iran. A compliant media has become its partner in trying to hoodwink Americans into having a favorable view of this repellent regime.