USA Today’s Pattern of Inaccuracy on Iran

Hassan Rouhani

Hassan Rouhani

Are you cheered by the diplomatic sounds coming from Iran’s new president, and hopeful that potential talks might lessen tensions over Iran’s nuclear policies? Don’t get too excited, suggested USA Today on September 27.

President Hasan Rouhani’s pronouncements at the UN have raised guarded hopes that progress might be possible,” cautioned reporters Oren Dorell and William M. Welch, “but they also served as a reminder that the path to that progress will not be quick or easy.”

Why’s that? Because, in his September 24 speech, Rouhani “repeated Iran’s demand that any nuclear agreement must recognize the country’s right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium.”

That’s right, he is erecting “obstacles”:

Rouhani said earlier Thursday that all nations, including Israel, should dismantle their nuclear weapons — words that were taken as introducing obstacles to a nuclear deal.

But are these conditions unreasonable, and are they really obstacles to an agreement? That depends on who you ask. If you talk to neoconservatives who’ve nursed a decades-long hatred of Iran, you get different answers than if you ask scholars of international law or conflict resolution.

So USA Today asked two neoconservatives. First Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute:

Those comments show that Rouhani is not serious, said Michael Rubin, a former Middle East expert at the Pentagon under President George W. Bush. “The more you complicate the issue, the more you’re setting up the talks to fail,” he said.

 And then:

Michael Doran, a former Middle East adviser in the Bush White House, said Rouhani’s words about Israel are “a wise negotiating strategy” to present Iran as a victim of a Western double standard.

If you didn’t know better, you might take away that Rouhani was sly and intransigent. In fact, what Rouhani is calling for is exactly what the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty calls for.

The NPT, signed by the US and Iran, says that Iran, like all signatories, has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and that nuclear-armed nations must disarm.  Citing an international law expert in the piece might have cleared that up, and perhaps even pointed out that the US is in violation of the treaty. 

But a look at USA Today‘s Iran coverage over time suggests the omission, and the misportrayal of Rouhani’s remarks as obstacles, are not mistakes, but rather part of a pattern of putting Iran in a bad light, sometimes at the expense of the truth.

For instance, last June, after Rouhani won Iran’s presidential election, USA Today reported (FAIR Action Alert, 6/21/13) that the president-elect “is known for his negotiating skill over the country’s nuclear weapons program.” In fact, Rouhani represented Iran’s atomic energy program, but both Iran and a consensus of US intelligence agencies say Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program (New York Times, 2/24/12). Months later, USA Today (9/23/13) repeated the canard, reporting  that Barack Obama was trying to “persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.” 

And today, USA Today is reporting that Rouhani 

said he was prepared to open negotiations with the United States and other nations on its nuclear program after years of refusing to allow inspection of its facilities.

In fact, UN inspectors have been in and out of Iran for years, doing their jobs, with a few disputes (MERIP, 2/7/13), mostly based on Iran’s insistence, in accordance with the NPT, that military facilities with no evidence of nuclear activity are exempt from inspections.

As Al-Monitor (7/22/13) reported:

There are two to six IAEA inspectors on the ground in Iran every day, [deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Herman] Nackaerts said, covering 16 Iranian facilities. On average, he said, that means that an inspector visits Iran’s enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow once a week. If there are suspicions about any improper activities, they can go more often, he added.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.