How the MSM acts as Rouhani’s PR Flacks
One of the problems with President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive is that he has a record. It’s a record that shows that he excuses the death penalty for protesters, defends Iran for its sponsorship of terror and boasts that he duped the West ten years ago. All of this is a matter of public record. And one doesn’t need to read Barry Rubin or Michael Ledeen or Reuel Marc Gerecht to get all this. If you read about him in the New York Times prior to May 2013, the image that emerged of Hassan Rouhani is one of the ultimate regime insider, not a reformer by any stretch.
So how does Rouhani become a “moderate?” Probably by one of the great PR campaigns. Unfortunately it isn’t one that Iran paid for; rather it is one that is being run in America’s mainstream media.
Exhibit A: After Rouhani was elected, but just prior to his inauguration he attended a Qods Day celebration. Qods Day was a holiday invented by Ayatollah Khomeini “… as a protest against Israel’s right to exist”. (In MSM-speak protesting against Israel’s right to exist is “showing support for the Palestinians,” which doesn’t sound nearly as destructive.)
At the celebration, Rouhani apparently said that Israel was a wound “has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and should be removed.” Or so it was reported in the Iranian media. The comment drew a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Apparently though, Rouhani hadn’t been quite that explicit.
Never mind, Robert Mackey, the anti-Israel blogger at the New York Times couldn’t wait to report, Video Shows Iran’s President-Elect Was Misquoted on Israel.
As my colleague Thomas Erdbrink reports from Tehran, Iran’s state media scrambled on Friday to correct comments wrongly attributed to the country’s president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, after he was incorrectly quoted calling Israel “a sore which must be removed.”
Press TV, the English-language arm of Iran’s state broadcaster, subtitled Mr. Rouhani’s actual remarks, made to a reporter during the Islamic republic’s annual march for Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem. The video shows that the cleric did not mention Israel by name or call for its elimination, but did compare “the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds,” to a “wound” or “sore” that “has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” …
That comment remains on the prime minister’s Facebook page, still explained as his response to Mr. Rouhani’s “remarks in which he was cited as saying that Israel ‘has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and should be removed.’”
Gotta love the irony of this piece harping on about how Rouhani was misquoted as the crowd chants death to Israel http://t.co/ktHbHlYPDG
— CiF Watch (@CiFWatch) August 5, 2013
The bulk of Mackey’s reporting was to demonstrate the bad faith of Netanyahu for not being quick enough to correct his response. Still there is one sentence that should make anyone think:
A longer clip of the state television broadcast showed Mr. Rouhani smiling and waving in the parade as chants of “Death to Israel” echoed in the background.
Mackey wants us to believe that since Rouhani did not “should be removed,” it means that he’s really moderate. But he was at a parade where people were shouting “death to Israel,” without protest. Doesn’t that tell you something?
At Hot Air, Jazz Shaw mocked Mackey’s reasoning:
Ummm… I’m not looking for a job as your PR guy here, (you’re not hiring at the moment, are you?) but that really doesn’t sound that much better. Are you sure you needed to issue a correction? Or are you implying that you meant to say that they’re a sore on the body of the Islamic world, but you’re really into having trendy sores all over you, so you welcome them and want to keep them?
Jonathan Tobin in a more straightforward rebuke wrote:
Is there a significant difference between saying that Israel’s existence—and not, it should be noted, any specific policy of the Jewish state—is a “sore” or a “wound” on the Islamic world and saying that it is one that should be removed? What, after all, does one do with a sore or a wound except to seek means to remove it or to have it heal and thereby disappear? Indeed, ISNA’s mistake is understandable since the extra words about removal are merely the logical conclusion of the sentence that most of Rouhani’s audience, both in person and on Iranian television, understood even without him uttering the words.
Mackey went to great lengths to show that Rouhani was a moderate and that Netanyahu responded in bad faith, but the only way to do that was to ignore the obvious.
Iran’s new president has acknowledged the Holocaust, furthering the stark contrast between himself and his predecessor.
“Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, was reprehensible and condemnable,” President Hassan Rouhani said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn. The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference whether that life is a Jewish life, Christian or Muslim.”
One problem: The words attributed to Mr. Rouhani are not what he said.
According to CNN’s translation of Mr. Rouhani’s remarks, the Iranian President insisted that “whatever criminality they [the Nazis] committed against the Jews, we condemn.” Yet as Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars pointed out, Mr. Rouhani never uttered anything approximating those words. Nor, contrary to the CNN version, did he utter the word “Holocaust.” Instead, he spoke about “historical events.” Our independent translation of Mr. Rouhani’s comments confirms that Fars, not CNN, got the Farsi right.
Even if this wasn’t the case, the Journal picked up on something else:
Pretending that the facts of the Holocaust are a matter of serious historical dispute is a classic rhetorical evasion. Holocaust deniers commonly acknowledge that Jews were killed by the Nazis while insisting that the number of Jewish victims was relatively small and that there was no systematic effort to wipe them out.
Even if the CNN translation was accurate, Rouhani’s response was still an evasion.
— CAMERAorg (@CAMERAorg) October 6, 2013
Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, unsurprisingly, came to the defense of Amanpour.
As the Erik Wemple Blog pointed out yesterday, CNN responded to Fars’s allegations with an elegant explanation: It derived its transcript from a translator provided by Rouhani and his people.
Now, with the Wall Street Journal jumping in, CNN seems ticked. When asked about the latest development, the network said it “unequivocally” stood by Amanpour’s work and its rendering on CNN: “In the interview she asked him about the Holocaust and his answer — through his own translator — is clear. The fact that some respected news outlets are taking FARS’ allegations seriously is not only ludicrous, but irresponsible.”
Now CNN can claim that they reproduced the translation faithfully, but that doesn’t mean it was the correct translation of Rouhani’s Farsi.
Stunned by willingness of @WSJ ed page and others to jump into bed with Iranian extremist mouthpiece like Fars….
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) September 26, 2013
Amanpour’s broadside against the Wall Street Journal is dishonest. Remember the Journal claimed that it had an independent translation that agreed with Fars, they weren’t depending on Fars alone.
Exhibit C: A few days ago Prime Minster Netanyahu appeared on BBC’s Persian service. He said that if Iranians were really free “… they could wear jeans, listen to Western music and have free elections.” (The BBC didn’t judge this line to be significant and didn’t include it in a news report about the program.)
However, a number of Iranian bloggers disagreed and somehow this became a news story. Max Fisher of the Washington Post (the Post’s version of Robert Mackey) wrote Why it matters that Netanyahu doesn’t know that Iranians wear jeans:
Netanyahu’s error, as a factual point, was not a particularly significant one. Iran does have clothing restrictions, even if he overstated them. But the comment came as part of his larger appeal to the Iranian people, in which he seemed to suggest that they overthrow their government. “You, the Persians, will never get rid of this tyranny if it is armed with nuclear weapons,” he said, alluding to the protests of 2009. Among Iran analysts, though, it’s generally accepted that most Iranians within the country want to see their system reformed, not toppled, and that 2009 was a part of that. The mission of overthrowing the regime is a mostly Western one, though the Obama administration has moved away from it. It’s also a goal that tends to rally Iranians around their government and against the West, not the other way around. …
The biggest obstacle to any nuclear deal or larger detente may ultimately come from the hard-liners within Tehran, up to and including the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Their largest objection is that the Westerners cannot be trusted because they’re bent on the Islamic Republic’s destruction, a fear that Netanyahu’s framing of the matter doesn’t help. Their biggest political weapon is Iranian nationalism tinged with anti-Western ideology; any time Iranians feel lectured by an Israeli leader, that sentiment risks ticking up a bit.
This is such an ignorant reading of Iran. Iran wants a deal that will reduce sanctions. The West seems to want a deal, any deal. That being the case, Iran will probably get some sort of deal that will keep its nuclear technology where it is for a limited time and get some sanctions lifted in return. Netanyahu’s speech really is irrelevant to that calculation.
Dear journalists tweeting photos of Iranians in jeans to mock Netanyahu: why did Reuters report they were restricted? http://t.co/NX57aSSMwg
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) October 6, 2013
If Fisher’s column wasn’t enough, Thomas Erdbrink, the Tehran correspondent of the New York Times, wrote a whole NEWS article about Netanyahu’s Iranian Twitter critics.
Netanyahu’s mis-statement isn’t that important in the scheme of things, but that didn’t stop reporters at the Washington Post and New York Times for trying to blow it up into something significant.
Exhibit D: This week the Times of Israel uncovered an interview Hassan Rouhani had with an Iranian TV station shortly before the election.
Rouhani, who was being interviewed by Iran’s state IRIB TV (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) on May 27, less than three weeks before he won the June 14 presidential elections, was provoked by the interviewer’s assertion that, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003-5, “everything was suspended” on the nuclear program under his watch.
Smiling but evidently highly irritated by the suggestion, Rouhani called it “a lie” that only “the illiterate” would believe, and said that “whoever is talking to you in your earpiece” was feeding false information. He proceeded to detail how Iran, in fact, had flagrantly breached the October 2003 “Tehran Declaration,” which he said “was supposed to outline how everything should be suspended.”
Although Iran issued a joint statement with visiting EU ministers in October 2003 setting out its pledged obligations under the Tehran Declaration, in practice, Rouhani said in the interview, “We did not let that happen!”
(Robert Mackey reported on this interview in May, but without explaining that Rouhani was admitting to breaking a pledge he made in October, 2003.)
“We halted the nuclear program? We were the ones to complete it!" Rouhani in interview on his role as the Iranian… http://t.co/ugt6dvtInC
— STOP THE BOMB (@STOP_THE_BOMB) October 7, 2013
While allowing that he still believes that it’s “worth testing Rouhani’s intentions through intensive diplomacy and negotiations,” Jeffrey Goldberg nonetheless acknowledges:
Rouhani, in the interview, was in the midst of a presidential campaign and getting pressured from his right. So it’s possible that he reacted defensively in the heat of the moment. But consider this statement, which he wrote in 2011: “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan.”
These are not the words of someone who wants to end Iran’s nuclear program. Taken together, Rouhani’s statements sound like those of a man who is proud of the program and believes he may have devised a way to carry it to completion: By speaking softly, smiling and spinning the centrifuges all the while.
This is not something that Robert Mackey, Erik Wemple, Christiane Amanpour, Max Fisher or Thomas Erdbrink thought was newsworthy. But if the Iranian nuclear negotiations are a big news story and the new moderate president demonstrated that in the past he has seen negotiations as means for advancing Iran’s military nuclear program, isn’t that newsworthy?
The first three exhibits demonstrated the lengths that the American media will go to to reinforce their narrative that Hassan Rouhani is a peace loving moderate and that Benjamin Netanyahu is an unhinged warmonger. In all three, they got the stories wrong, though none of these stories were really major.
The fourth exhibit demonstrated the degree to which they will ignore a significant news story if it doesn’t fit their preconceived narrative. Their reasoning must be something like: Rouhani is a moderate who wants to negotiate in good faith with the West, therefore he didn’t really deceive the West ten years ago.