New York Times Coverage of Iran Protests Faulted as ‘Shameful,’ ‘Propaganda’
By Ira Stoll
January 3, 2018
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Supporters of Israel and of freedom in Iran, along with some prominent journalists, are sharply criticizing The New York Times for the newspaper’s tilted coverage of protests in the Islamic Republic.
The director of the Human Security Centre in London, Julie Lenarz, who is a senior fellow at The Israel Project, tweeted a reaction to a New York Times headline that said, “Iranian authorities have clamped down on Tehran after demonstrators across the country ignored calls for calm.”
“Wow, NYT blames people protesting for basic rights that situation spiralled out of control. They are oppressed by a brutal clerical regime,” Lenarz wrote.
In a follow-up tweet, she connected the Times’ coverage to the newspaper’s lucrative business running guided trips to Iran for Western tourists. “In case anyone wonders why the NYT’s #IranProtests coverage has been muted at best, they offer cushy $8,000 trips to the Islamic Republic to tour the country with their ‘experts’ and state-approved guides. Journalism compromised by financial interests,” Lenarz wrote.
The Times’ “clamped down-ignored calls for calm” formulation provoked a significant backlash.
A Republican operative and former Congressional staffer, Doug Heye, tweeted, “This makes it sound like it’s the protestors’ fault. Terrible headline.”
In Tablet, Lee Smith wrote:
the American media is incapable of covering the story, because its resources and available story-lines for Iran reporting and expertise were shaped by two powerful official forces—the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Obama White House. Without government minders providing them with story-lines and experts, American reporters are simply lost—and it shows….the Post’s virtual news blackout on Iran was still more honorable than The New York Times, whose man in Tehran Thomas Erdbrink is a veteran regime mouthpiece whose official government tour guide-style dispatches recall the shameful low-point of Western media truckling to dictators: The systematic white-washing of Joseph Stalin’s monstrous crimes by Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty.
A foreign policy official who served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, Elliott Abrams, wrote on his blog at the Council on Foreign Relations: “the Times’s report and headline that these are merely economic protests are misleading. Both should be corrected.”
Abrams also wrote: “The Times story is written by its bureau chief in Tehran, Thomas Erdbrink, one of the very few Western reporters (he is Dutch) accredited to report for U.S. media. Must he pull punches for fear of being expelled from Iran?”
The Times has, at this writing, yet to publish a staff editorial expressing an institutional position about the protests or the American response. Maybe Sunday’s editorial, “Capital Punishment Deserves a Quick Death,” was a veiled reference to the Iranian government, which used the death penalty more than 400 times in 2017, according to one watchdog group that says, “The actual number of executions is likely to be higher, given the government’s underreporting of executions and the holding of secret executions.” Alas, the editorial was about capital punishment in the United States, not in Iran.
Roger Cohen, the Times columnist last seen announcing his “shame” about Israel, did waddle in with an article on the Times op-ed page urging President Trump to “stop berating the nuclear deal” and to “not, whatever happens, impose new sanctions.” That is laughable. Cohen is basically telling the Iranian regime that no matter how violently or cruelly they crush the protests, they should have no fear of consequences. As for the nuclear deal, a good column would be one imagining what might have happened if instead of shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in cash stacked on wooden pallets in unmarked cargo planes to the Iranian government, the Obama administration had instead designated that money for the Iranian opposition. Don’t expect to read that one in The New York Times.
What one can expect is that if the Iranian regime falls — as I hope it does — its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will fetch up as a Times foreign policy columnist. Mr. Zarif has had at least eight New York Times op-ed pieces since 2003, five of them since April 2015. The Times news columns describe him as “urbane,” a description worth keeping in mind and testing against reality as the death toll rises in his regime’s effort to retain its tenuous hold on power. If Zarif can’t make it as a Times columnist, maybe as a fallback the newspaper can put him to work as a tour guide — or at least a luggage shlepper — on its “Times Journeys” tours.