While investigators try to establish the facts around what may be a horrific chemical attack in Syria, some media outlets are using the situation as an opportunity to make inaccurate claims about Iran.
On NPR's All Things Considered (8/27/13), correspondent Mara Liasson claimed that Barack Obama "has done everything he can to avoid another foreign military involvement, but he can't avoid it after the widespread use of chemical weapons on this scale."
Putting aside Liasson's declaration that non-military options are impossible, how does she know Syria launched the attack? Liasson explained:
We now hear that U.S. intelligence officials are getting ready to release some intercepted communications that they believe will be even more evidence that it was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who ordered this chemical attack.
Of course, assuming that something has happened because you've heard that officials might be revealing evidence for it is a poor journalistic technique.
But Liasson didn't stop there. Referencing a comment from White House press secretary Jay Carney about "other potential users of chemical weapons," she then made this claim:
Other potential users means Iran. This is not just about chemical weapons. It's not just about Assad. This is a proxy war. Iran, who is developing its own weapons of mass destruction, is currently backing the Syrian regime, and it is watching very carefully to see what the U.S. does.
If the assertion that Iran "is developing its own weapons of mass destruction" is a reference to nuclear weapons, there are unsubstantiated claims to that effect, but no evidence that justifies treating these claims as facts (Extra!, 1/12). If the subject is chemical weapons, it is worth recalling that Iran's history is as a victim of such attacks--from Iraq, which received intelligence to help target its sarin and mustard gas strikes from its then-ally, the United States (Foreign Policy, 8/26/13).
And a USA Today editorial (8/27/13) used unsubstantiated assertions about Iran having a nuclear weapons program to advocate the bombing of Syria, arguing that a failure to attack would send a message to Tehran:
It would demolish U.S. credibility, not just in Syria but also in Iran, which continues to pursue nuclear weapons despite repeated U.S. warnings.
Readers and listeners deserve journalism that carefully and skeptically reports on what is known about Syria. But NPR and USA Today are using the Syria story to make completely unsupported claims about Iranian nuclear weapons.
Tell NPR and USA Today to correct their misreporting about an Iranian nuclear weapons program.