Is Iraq Media Failure ‘Coloring’ Iran Coverage?

Huffington Post reporter Michael Calderone (2/17/12) has a fairly comprehensive lookat the way media are covering Iran (I wish he’d cited FAIR’s long record on this; perhaps next time). The point is that Iran coverage looks a whole lot like Iraq coverage, circa 2002. Really bad, in other words.

Calderone gets a pretty revealing comment from an insider:

One national security reporter, who has covered the intelligence community and Iran but was not authorized to comment, says that pre-Iraq War coverage and recent Iran coverage are “terrifyingly similar.”

“I don’t think we are falling totally back into where we were before, but I do think you’re seeing, in some corners of our profession, we’re making the same mistakes we made a decade ago,” the reporter said. “We’re taking things at face value and we’re rushing to get ahead of a story that we don’t know where it’s going.”

The piece is worth a read. But I was struck by the on-the-record comments at the end from a veteran investigative reporter:

NBC investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, who co-authored Hubris, a 2006 book on the selling of the Iraq War, said that “it’s unfortunate that the experience in Iraq has so colored the debate on Iran, as to perhaps make it more difficult to focus on what the real issues are.”

“People who are skeptical about claims about an Iranian nuclear program will point to the Iraq experience,” Isikoff added. “That doesn’t mean they’re right and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means, it’s just a historical fact that we’re going to look at these issues through the lens of the misleading claims that were made about Iraq.”

I think that’s completely upside down. To the extent that the Iraq experience at all “colors” the Iran debate, it’s made people–not necessarily journalists–more skeptical of what politicians and pundits are saying. Contrary to what Isikoff seems to be saying, skepticism need not be “right”–journalism isn’t about placing bets on a particular outcome. As FAIR was arguing in 2003, we did not know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. What we could know was that efforts to find them were turning up empty, and that the claims by U.S. officials could not be independently substantiated.

Skepticism is essential to good journalism, and it was in short supply in 2002. If there is more of it now, that is nothing but a positive development.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.