U.S. Media Has Bungled Iran Coverage

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Iran blames Western powers for stoking unrest.

Iran blames Western powers for stoking unrest.

Start with the facts: Iran has not been a democracy. It is controlled by very powerful clerics who seem to have the loyalty of all the armed forces and police forces. Elections have never been meaningful. They are largely charades.

So President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad holds a farce of an election and steals it. A relative handful of young people, mostly in Tehran it seems, don’t like it and rally around Mir-Hossein Mousavi as some sort of savior even though he is hardly a liberal or a progressive in any sense. I never believed the demonstrators and Mousavi had the power to assail the clerics and security forces, and overturn the whole cleric-dominated system. I was waiting to be convinced.

Meanwhile, The New York Times and other outlets fanned the flames with massive, biased coverage. News outlets were overtly campaigning for the protestors, as if democracy was breaking out. This is a key element of the American belief system—that we can export democracy to nations as culturally and as politically different as Iran. It squares with the liberal media agenda; it also works with the conservative media, who is still harping on President Bush’s doctrine of rogue states. All ends of the ideological spectrum seemed to unite around the idea that we the American media had the right to fan the flames of protest so that we could create “regime change.”

The media also seemed to be campaigning for President Obama to become involved in the conflict. That was absolutely insane. With all the challenges he faces to save the American economy, while dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan and a very active North Korean issue, the last thing he needs is to open a new front in Iran’s domestic affairs—where we have no real influence or power.

And what if Mousavi had somehow prevailed? Would it have made any real difference? The Iranians almost certainly would have maintained their anti-Israeli and anti-American policies.

Now the top ayatollah was told the demonstrators to go home and the security forces are busting heads, killing people where necessary. The leadership will gradually grind their opponents back into the mud. The outside world has absolutely no ability to force the pace of change. The game is ending, as seasoned observers of Iran and the Middle East might have guessed.

The American media does not know what it's doing. Correspondents and journalists with decades of experience in Iran -- who are old enough to remember the Shah being deposed in 1979 and who understand that the grip of the clerics has been rock-solid for 30 years -- have almost all been pushed out of their news organizations. Instead, news organizations relied on stringers and native Iranians or native part-Iranians for their coverage or else on young analysts and correspondents who actually believed that democracy could blossom overnight in Iran. There were either self-interested or in over their heads.

Few editors or journalists involved in the coverage seem to have bothered to understand the culture and the realities of Iran. Instead, they’ve sought to project their own desires for democracy to a part of the world where it has never taken root

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