US Media Distorts Iran Nuke Dispute

Exclusive: The major U.S. news media continues its biased coverage of the Israel-Iran standoff, tilting consistently in favor of Israel, in part, by ignoring Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal and hyping Iran’s hypothetical one. Even a rare wrist-slap from the Washington Post’s ombudsman has had no effect, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A few weeks ago, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton published a revealing column in which he delved into the nettlesome question of why the Post rarely writes about Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal, even as it devotes intensive coverage to Iran’s nuclear program, which remains far short of producing a single bomb.

Pexton deemed concerns about this imbalance “a fair question” and dug back through a decade of Post articles without finding “any in-depth reporting on Israeli nuclear capabilities.” He then explored some reasons for this failure, including sympathy felt toward Israel because of the Holocaust and the difficulties that journalists confront in addressing the topic.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Photo credit: Official Web site of the Supreme Leader of Iran)

“But that doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t write about how Israel’s doomsday weapons affect the Middle East equation,” Pexton wrote. “Just because a story is hard to do doesn’t mean The Post, and the U.S. press more generally, shouldn’t do it.”

Yet, there are few signs, if any, that the Post and other mainstream U.S. news outlets are heeding Pexton’s criticism. Obviously, one way to alleviate the imbalance would be to mention that Israel has an undeclared nuclear arsenal in every story that discusses Iran’s nuclear program, which Iranian leaders insist is for peaceful purposes only.

The fact that Israel has a large and sophisticated roster of nuclear weapons is surely relevant in evaluating why Iran might want a nuclear weapon of its own and why Iran would not want to provoke a war with Israel even if Iran did manufacture one or two bombs. Yet this context is almost never included in U.S. news stories.

U.S. journalists and their editors also might stop including hyperbolic statements that exaggerate the potential Iranian threat to Israel, such as the discredited claim that Iran has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map,” an oft-repeated refrain that resulted from a mistranslation of a comment by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, that seems to be too much to expect from major U.S. newspapers. For instance, on Friday, the New York Times in an article by Mark Landler and Helene Cooper not only fails to mention Israel’s nuclear arsenal but inserts the provocative claim that “Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened [Israel] with annihilation.”

The article offers no quote to back up this assertion. It simply stands as a form of boilerplate, as if everyone knows it to be true. But the reality is that Iranian leaders may wish that the Zionist government of Israel ultimately disappears to be replaced by a non-religious state, but that is a far cry from threatening to annihilate Israel militarily, which is the clear implication from Landler and Cooper.

Repeat Offender

Landler, the Times’ White House correspondent, also has been a repeat offender in this journalistic malpractice. For instance, on March 5, he appeared on MSNBC and offered this account of the Israeli-Iranian tensions:

“The Israelis feel the window for that [denying Iran the capability to build nuclear weapons] is closing and it’s closing really fast, and if they allow it to close without taking military action, they would find themselves in a position where the Iranians suddenly are in possession of nuclear weapons, which they’ve threatened already to use against Israel.

“As the Israelis always say, that’s an existential threat to Israel, which is something we don’t necessarily feel here in the United States.”

Though Landler’s account was hair-raising, claiming that Iranians have “threatened already to use [nuclear weapons] against Israel” which the Israelis understandably perceive as an “existential threat.” But Landler’s statement simply isn’t true.

Iranian leaders continue to deny that they even want nuclear weapons, so it makes no sense that they would threaten to use them against Israel.

In February, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who controls the armed forces, called “the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin” and said “the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” He insisted that “the Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.”

Further, the U.S. intelligence community reported in 2007 that Iran stopped research work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed that effort. That assessment has been reaffirmed periodically and remains the position of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Beyond that, for Iran to threaten to “annihilate” Israel would represent one of the strangest threats in world history. Here is a nation without nuclear weapons and whose top leader disavows any intent to get nuclear weapons supposedly threatening to use those non-existent weapons against a nation which has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.

You would think, at minimum, that Landler would be expected to cite an actual Iranian official making a specific threat. But he doesn’t and apparently no one in power demands that he do so. His claim that Iran has threatened to attack Israel with a nuclear bomb is simply accepted as what everybody knows to be true.

Explaining the Failure

That is the sort of ludicrous propaganda that has become commonplace in the U.S. news media, a topic that the Post’s ombudsman addressed gingerly on Aug. 31. Pexton offered mostly innocent explanations for this journalistic misfeasance.

“First, Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons,” Pexton wrote. “The U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of such a program. Because Israel has not signed the [nuclear non-proliferation] treaty, it is under no legal obligation to submit its major nuclear facility at Dimona to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

“Iran, in contrast, did sign the treaty and thus agrees to periodic inspections. IAEA inspectors are regularly in Iran, but the core of the current dispute is that Tehran is not letting them have unfettered access to all of the country’s nuclear installations.

“Furthermore, although Israel has an aggressive media, it still has military censors that can and do prevent publication of material on Israel’s nuclear forces. Censorship applies to foreign correspondents working there, too.”

Plus, Israel has demonstrated that it will deliver harsh punishment on any Israeli who does divulge secrets about the nuclear program, as nuclear technician Mordechai Vununu learned in 1986 when he became a whistleblower about the secret Israeli arsenal. He was then kidnapped, taken to Israel against his will, and imprisoned for 18 years, much of it in solitary confinement.

Pexton added that “perhaps most important, Americans don’t leak about the Israeli nuclear program either.” He cited the inclination to protect a friend and ally, as well as the reality that deviating from this silence “can hurt your career.”

Pexton quoted George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as saying: “It’s like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel. You don’t talk about illegal settlements on the West Bank even though everyone knows they are there.”

However, the job of journalism should be to present all the relevant facts in context, especially on life-or-death issues like war and peace.

When the New York Times and the Washington Post institute systemic bias in their coverage of such an issue as the two newspapers also did in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq they not only fail to uphold the principles of journalism, they risk becoming complicit in the slaughter of innocent people.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

18 comments for “US Media Distorts Iran Nuke Dispute

  1. ahmad
    September 19, 2012 at 15:42

    Whenever anyone writes to demolish or expose the prozionist media providing justification for the inhumane and racist policy of the colony of settlers,alias israel, the usual thing is for its paid supporters to resort to their usual cheap blackmail- you are antisemitic; a clear sign that they cannot reasonably counter arguments. In any case, israeli policies depict its ugly face steeped in racism and its difficult if not impossible to hide this too obviously inhumane face regardless of what its blinded supporters might say. The good news is that the history of all colonial states is a brief one, and the colony of israel will not be an exception!

  2. Steve Paesani
    September 18, 2012 at 20:05

    Thank the Good Lord someone has the decency to talk about the US and other media.
    Iran is known to have advanced the idea non proliferation, something Israel has never done. Iran has actively worked towards world peace, something Israel has never done. Iran has advanced nuclear disarmement, again something Israel has never done.

    The religion of Iran advocates non proliferation and disarmement:
    “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam”

    Iran not only makes Israel and those who have nukes look bad, Iran shows their hypocrisy rather clearly.

    No wonder Israel, the US and even the Canadian media and Government look to silence them.

    If Iran were to completely abandon nuclear use activities and move towards nuclear research in order to provide the world with a sound and unwavering unbiased view of the real safety and hazards of nuclear energy, The US media would most likely reflect ever more Israel and co’s hatred towards a nation, Iran, that would have once again taken a great step towards a better life for all people where the ‘advanced’ nations failed to for as far as I’m concerned Iran’s only failure has been to look to use an unsafe means to produce energy.

  3. Jimmy
    September 17, 2012 at 15:39

    Firstly, great article. It’s great to have a website like consortiumnews where writers tell it like it is, unlike the MSM where journalists need permission from their editors just for mentioning the word Israel.

    I have noticed that the paid agents sent by Israel to spew pro-Israeli comments here are getting a little hysterical. Each time Israel’s propaganda tactics are exposed (like in the above article), the paid trolls are sure to turn up to do a bit of ‘desperate damage limitation’… and the best that they can do?.. is to call anyone and everyone who doesn’t submit to their sordid propaganda, antisemitic. Obviously unable to address the issues in the article with meaningful logic.

  4. Kenny Fowler
    September 16, 2012 at 11:06

    ” Further, the U.S. intelligence community reported in 2007 that Iran stopped research work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed that effort. That assessment has been reaffirmed periodically and remains the position of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.”

    The Iranians are not building nukes, period. Way too risky, the Mullahs are not crazy. They never really made much progress towards actually making a weapon. A power plant is not a nuclear weapon. It’s extremely difficult and expensive to make nuclear weapons. Any real attempts to build and test a weapon would be easily detected around the world. Nety and the neocons can get plenty of U.S. media coverage for their anti-Iran propaganda but ultimately it’s all based on lies.

    • Kenny Fowler
      September 17, 2012 at 21:16

      Call me when they get to $500 billion and we’ll talk.

  5. dahoit
    September 16, 2012 at 10:27

    Sorry Mr.Kazakhstan,Americans are waking up top the monolithic control of our media,info,government and economy,all controlled by agents of Zionism.
    Serial liars,since at least 1948.
    And they aren’t religious at all,just posers and atheists.
    Where are the level headed peace makers?Where are the trusted?
    What’s so funny about peace,love and understanding?
    An Israel,living in peace and harmony with its neighbors, would be a wonderful thing.Or is that antisemetic?

  6. Hilary
    September 16, 2012 at 10:12

    AIPAC wants war with Iran as its top priority objective.

    In addition, the publications, conferences and press releases of the Conference of Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO) asked their members “to go all-out to fund and back candidates (mostly Democrats) who supported Israel’s military solution to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program” even though IAEA agrees it’s in total compliance with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty rules while Israel violates them with impunity.

    Calling people “anti-Semitic” is the old hasbara trick always used.

    In Europe hasbara uses the Holocaust and in the US it uses Anti Semite.

  7. Brian F. Wood
    September 15, 2012 at 08:49

    Confronted with war-mongering thugs like Bush and Obama, willing to attack any nation not having nukes but more wary of the nuclear armed, Iran would be dumb not to get nukes as fast as possible.

  8. Jay
    September 14, 2012 at 21:51

    So anybody who points out that Israel has significant nuclear weapons and that Iran has not threatened to destroy Israel is a Nazi.

    By that faulty logic, people who publicly point out obvious truths would all be Nazis.

  9. Rev. Clarence Lumumba James, Sr.
    September 14, 2012 at 19:51

    773 619 6770

  10. Rev. Clarence Lumumba James, Sr.
    September 14, 2012 at 19:50

    I’d like to purchase a copy of Lost History. By phone if possible,as I’ve with other Mr. Parry books.

  11. rosemerry
    September 14, 2012 at 16:43

    Just as Iran is described as the most dangerous threat to us (ie Israel and the USA) and a terrorist haven with NO evidence at all, these journalits are just echoing the Israeli PM’s lies with no attempt at finding facts or accepting the assurances of Iranian spokesmen. The present situation where Saudi Ara

  12. JonnyJames
    September 14, 2012 at 15:46

    After the blatant lies repeated ad nauseum by the US “media”, blatant distortions, lies, half-truths, lies by omission etc. the US “media” has very little credibility with informed individuals.

    The lies and distortions about Israel, Syria, Iran continue to spew forth from the Propaganda Cartel. Ed Bernays and Walter Lipmann would be blown away if they were alive today

  13. TheAZCowBoy
    September 14, 2012 at 14:07

    Well, it’s a US’ Jewish owned and operated corporate media, isn’t it? (FOX Jews Network, MSMBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Jew York Times, Washington Post, et’ al.)
    We all know the IDF/IAF are equipped by the best in Great Satan’s arsenal, but ‘only’ to attack and murder innocent civilians in Gaza, The West Bank and Lebanon, right. So, when the heavy (((lifting))) is needed they call on the Great Satan to do it. Hey these Jewish ‘cabrones’ aren’t dumb, ya know?

    • Jay
      September 14, 2012 at 21:48

      R. Murdoch is Jewish? MSNBC, CNN, ABC are all controlled by big publicly traded companies without concentrated ownership.

      So your antisemtic rant isn’t even getting basic facts right.

      At his death, Steve Jobs was the biggest stock holder of Disney and they own ABC.

      Why don’t you stick to disagreeing with actual policies instead of making up accusations?

      • Hassanshaida
        September 15, 2012 at 18:27

        Rupert Murdoch’s mother is Jewish; and his daughter is married to a wealthy and prominent Jew. As for the other media (Print, radio, TV) see Google about the Jewish ownership/control. Steve Job may have held the biggest stock, but he did not control or run Disney or ABC (again check them out).

        • arnnyc
          September 16, 2012 at 00:32

          Well here we have it an other anti-Semitic rant. Yes anti-Semitic as the author uses 1 of the traditional lurid claims of classic anti-SEmites, Jewish control of the media. No he/she offers an alleged review of the family origins of Mrs Murdock or the religious afiliation of a daughter’s husband as “proof” Is this the best you can do? Your obvious bigotry jumps off the page. It is a shame that this site doesn’t have a button to cite bigoted c**p like this.

    • arnnyc
      September 16, 2012 at 00:39

      If the best you can do is offer recycled typical anti-Semitic BS of the Jews control the media, you a little more than a sorry bigot. You tell us who you are by what in your small mind you believe is creative as your description of Fox News. By the way are Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly or any other face of Fox Jewish? I’ll help you with the answer cause it is probably too difficult for your small mind to answer: NO.

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