A well-respected research group posted a short article on its website about the location of a second launchpad for Iran’s space program. That’s not big news–but it can be made to sound like scary news in the New York Times.
“Launching Site in Iran Raises Missile Worries” was the headline over a piece by Rick Gladstone (8/9/13), which had this curious lead:
Iran has built a previously undisclosed launching site and space center near the northeastern city of Shahrud that could theoretically be used for testing ballistic missiles, according to satellite imagery reported on Thursday by IHS Jane’s, an authoritative weapons research publication based in London.
The article elaborates on that theory:
The Jane’s report was likely to be viewed with concern by Western officials and Israel. They have expressed suspicions that Iran’s ballistic missile development is part of what they view as the country’s ambition to build nuclear weapons that can be mounted on missile warheads. Iran has denied such ambitions.
The Times piece added that the new site “might be interpreted by some analysts as evidence that the Iranian military wants multiple locations capable of firing ballistic missiles.”
But if you go and read the Jane’s report, you might wonder what exactly is going on here. The report clearly puts almost no stock in the idea that this facility has anything to with a desire to launch missiles armed with nuclear warheads–that would make sense only to “those who believe Iran’s rulers are messianic fanatics who are intent on destroying Israel as soon as possible with no regard for the consequences.”
In the second to last graph, the Times tells readers what the Jane’s report actually says:
More likely, the report said, is that the multiple launching sites “reflect the scale of Iran’s ambitious space program.”
That’s the kind of thing you’d want to state very clearly in the lead–unless that’s not the conclusion you want readers to reach.