Iranians and Their Clunky Propaganda!

Iran-oscarsLast night on the CBS Evening News  (2/25/13), viewers saw this brief report from anchor Scott Pelley:

Iran’s culture minister today called the Oscar-winning film Argo about the Iranian hostage crisis “distorted history.” He said this on the same day that Iran’s Fars news agency gave a lesson in how to distort history. Have a look. This is Michelle Obama presenting Argo with the Best Picture Oscar last night and this is how she looked today in the Iranian press after some Photoshop alterations to cover her chest and shoulders in the conservative Islamic country.

You can see the photo, apparently from Iranian media,  to the right.

This is a useful lesson in propaganda–though not the one CBS intended.

I suppose we might ignore that the first lady of a country appeared at an awards show, flanked by members of the military, to present a prize to a film about the heroism of U.S. intelligence against an official enemy state.

No, the real problem  is Iran’s Photoshopping.

There are actually serious arguments about the historical accuracy of the film in question, which just won an Oscar for Best Picture. Nima Shirazi’s summary of the case against Argo provides a fairly devastating look at what the film made up, despite director Ben Affleck’s claims that the movie is “all true”  (Wide Asleep in America, 2/23/13). Rather than wrestle with these questions, CBS points to Iranian “history distorters” as the source of the critique of the film. And we’re certainly not going to believe them.

Effective propaganda has to be convincing. CBS Evening News know this. As recently as last week (2/17/13), the broadcast was referring matter-of-factly to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons (2/17/13). Correspondent Bill Plante told viewers:

With the Middle East in turmoil and Iran working to acquire nuclear weapons, South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham warns that this is the wrong time for cutbacks.

 There is no evidence Iran is working to acquire any such weapons. But in U.S. media it can be treated as a fact.

In 2011 we noted that CBS was hyping Iranian nukes (FAIR Blog, 12/21/11). The show repeatedly gave viewers a false history of the Israel/Gaza conflict (FAIR Blog, 11/21/12), erasing Israeli attacks–including its massive Cast Lead invasion in 2008-2009 from the narrative. That is, to my mind, a greater offense than covering up Michelle Obama’s arms.

CBS Evening News has done embarrassingly uncritical reporting on fracking. When the show wanted to give viewers a sense of the calamities that would befall the country if it fell off the “fiscal cliff,” it went right to a few CEOs as if they were experts. When Republicans falsely claimed that raising taxes on the wealthy was actually a tax hike for “small businesses,” CBS Evening News helped them make their point.  When WikiLeaks published cables about civilian deaths in Afghanistan, CBS Evening News misinterpreted the documents to massively undercount the actual death toll.

Speaking of which: How many civilians died in the U.S.-led war in Iraq? CBS Evening News told viewers in December of 2011 that it was 50,000. It wasn’t until FAIR activists pointed out that this was woefully incomplete–as was even acknowledged by the source of that 50,000 figure–that the broadcast did an update, now telling viewers that over twice as many Iraqi civilians were killed.

But those Iranians and their clunky Photoshop skills, right?


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.