"The last threats came and went/And this is the way that wars are played."
- Against Me!
The mainstream media are beating the war drums again. This time they have their cross-hairs focused on Iran. Anybody else experiencing a sense of déjà vu, yet?
If we are to accept the prevailing wisdom of contemporary news reports, Iran is well on its way to developing a nuclear weapon and this poses a grave threat not only to Israel and the United States, but to the entire globe. So far, much of the media coverage has been eerily similar to that of the run-up to the Iraq war. One would be justified in fearing the U.S. is on the verge of once again rushing into another ill-conceived war based on trumped-up charges.
As the New York Times’ Scott Shane reported Wednesday in a news analysis story, “Echoes of the period leading up to the Iraq war in 2003 are unmistakable, igniting a familiar debate over whether journalists are overstating Iran’s progress toward a bomb.”1
And the media are not the only ones beating the war drums. The leading Republican presidential candidates, apparently taking a page out of John “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” McCain’s playbook, are also resorting to hawkish, militaristic language. Truthdig’s Robert Scheer highlights, not only the GOP’s unceasing warmongering, but also the party’s seeming inability to wage war effectively in his latest column.
“Here we go again,” Scheer writes. “With the economy showing faint signs of life and their positions on the social issues alienating most moderates, the leading Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have returned to the elixir of warmongering to once again sway the gullible masses.”2
Yet, perhaps most disconcerting, this rhetoric seems to be working. The aforementioned Times article points to a recent Pew Research Poll in which 58 percent of respondents said the U.S. should “use military force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.” (Thirty percent answered “no.”)
Am I the only one who remembers what happened the last time America went down this road? Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, a war that from the beginning was based on lies and false intelligence. (And there exists substantial evidence to indicate such intelligence was knowingly false.)
Once again, there are detractors to the “Iran-is-developing-a-nuclear-weapon” argument. A “Media Advisory” report by the watchdog group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) casts doubt on the recent findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the way those findings have been distorted by the corporate press. According to the FAIR report (“Iran, Nukes and the Failure of Skepticism,” 11/16/11), the notion that Iran is close to developing nuclear capabilities is not, in fact, the conclusion the IAEA arrived at.
The media advisory states:
The IAEA report stresses concern over allegations over past [Iranian] activities; very little of the report is dedicated to research that could be [described] as ongoing. Indeed, the media is focusing primarily on the IAEA’s speculation about what might be ongoing research that could be related to a military program.3 (Italics in the original.)
Yet, one is not likely to find such a precise, accurate summary of the report from the mainstream TV and print media. Instead, we get distorted headlines like the one the FAIR report points to—a USA Today headline that reads, “UN Agency Issues Red Alert Over Iran’s Secret Nuke Program.” Can you say, propaganda, anyone?
“In a democratic society,” writes author and media analyst Norman Solomon in his book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, “persistent agenda-building is necessary to gain and retain public support for a war.”4
Published in 2005 (and adapted into a documentary film shortly thereafter), Solomon’s book examines how the media and White House propaganda which lead to the war in Iraq was strikingly similar to warmongering campaigns for the invasions of Vietnam, Cambodia and the first Gulf War. Solomon (who is currently running for Congress) carefully debunks popular war-rationales such as “This is a necessary battle in the war on terrorism,”; “Our soldiers are heroes, theirs are inhuman”; “If this war is wrong, the media will tell us”; and the overused, “This guy is a modern day Hitler.”
One routine media tactic, Solomon explains, is to paint the war as something inexplicably thrust onto presidents and war-makers. This is part of the concept of America as the policeman of the globe, as if we are the only nation that can efficiently shoulder the burden of keeping the world “safe for democracy.” He writes:
A recurring media motif is to dwell on painful aspects of wielding power, such as the reported anguish of shouldering a heavy burden that requires making life-or-death decisions as commander in chief. Presidents have encouraged such media coverage, which sometimes cues the public to extend more empathy toward the man who gives the orders to drop bombs than toward the people underneath those bombs. (97-98)
To wit, while current news reports on Iran emphasize the potential threat of the country’s supposed nuclear program, very few take into account the equally ominous threats directed at Iran by Israel and the United States. Indeed, has any reporter stopped to consider Iran may be attempting to acquire nuclear weapons in order to defend itself from an upcoming Israeli airstrike? Yet, despite their claims to “objectivity,” the media are unwilling to explore such nuanced debates as to who the real aggressor in this new-age Cold War is.
As a result, too many corporate news outlets are more concerned with how fast the bombs fall, and not whether they should be dropped at all.
1. Shane, Scott. “In Din Over Iran, Rattling Sabers Echo.” New York Times 22 Feb. 2012,
New England ed.: A1+. Print.
2. Scheer, Robert. “The Gang that Couldn’t Bomb Straight.” Truthdig.com. Feb. 2012. Web.
23 Feb. 2012.
3. “Iran, Nukes and the Failure of Skepticism.” FAIR.org. Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
4. Solomon, Norman. War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning us to Death.
Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. Print.