Friday, September 25, 2009

A Slice of Life: There's Reality and Then There's NPR

By Barry Rubin

The American media fascinates me, says a European colleague visiting Washington. In Europe, he continues, there’s a wide range of views from left to right in the media. In America, with some obvious exceptions, everyone says the same thing.

So I get into the car and click [radio on] its National Public Radio in mid-sentence. The announcer (reporter? host?) is saying [slight paraphrasing]:

“Now that the United States isn’t putting missiles in Eastern Europe the Obama Administration has added Russia as a friend. Can the Obama Administration claim a success in getting Russia to support higher sanctions against Iran?”

The expert replies:

“They would say so,” going on to talk about how President Barack Obama stood with the leaders of Britain and France and “has now widened out the alliance beyond traditional allies.”

Hello? What is this, Pravda? The Russians have not yet agreed to raise sanctions. The most said is that they would “consider” it, but generally Moscow has said it opposes more sanctions on Iran. Moreover, the idea of reducing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin—whose policy is systematically anti-American—to being a “friend” is pretty startling.

[Since writing this I have heard about additional statements made by high-ranking Russian
officials off the record which confirm that they don't think sanctions will work and don't believe this is the time to increase them. All reporters must be aware that this is the kind of thing the Russians have been saying. It is also on the record that Russian leaders have expressed disdain for Obama, that his public opinion poll ratings are not so high, and that Russian policy has not been helpful to the United States on a number of issues. So why pretend Obama has scored a big success with the Russians?]

Just yesterday the Chinese government says it opposes higher sanctions. The Chinese, by the way, are building a huge refinery in Iran that would help the Tehran regime circumvent sanctions on refined petroleum products. Speaking of which, the French foreign minister had said a few hours ago that he thought that particular restriction would be “dangerous.”

For those of us who haven’t been in this environment for years, it is startling to see the systematic misrepresentation of the most basic and publicly available facts in the media’s tireless effort to make Obama look good and his policies seem successful. No matter how often you’ve read about it doesn’t prepare you for the experience.

A few hours earlier when I dared turn on the radio, I caught a program being broadcast on NPR in which a panel was explaining that while “right-wing” commentators in the media were simultaneously very irresponsible and had tremendous influence on the Republican Party, fortunately there were no left-wing commentators like that in being either irresponsible or influential. (To be fair, one of the four panel members dissented the tiniest bit possible--the left-wingers, he said, were far better than the right-wingers but a tiny number might have gone too far but fortunately had no influence--though generally agreeing with the other three.

I honestly don’t want to exaggerate but at times it seems like living within some kind of demented Monty Python skit populated with people insisting the emperor has clothes, the parrot is alive, and the five-year plan is being successfully fulfilled.

PS: For a good update on the current situation regarding Iran's nuclear program and sanctions see The Economist Intelligence Unit report.

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