The mainstream U.S. media is hiding key truths in its coverage of Iran’s retaliatory attack

Mainstream U.S. media coverage of Iran’s retaliation for Israel’s April 1 attack on an Iranian embassy building in Damascus was poor, but could have been worse. Six months of widespread media criticism may be having a modest impact. And there was a welcome surprise on cable news. CNN naturally rousted Wolf Blitzer last night to anchor its coverage, with predictable pro-Israel results, but over at MSNBC Ayman Mohyeldin simultaneously hosted his regularly scheduled two-hour report —  which was a model of fairness and insight, providing genuine journalism. 

Let’s start by examining the lead story in this morning’s New York Times print edition, which will almost certainly be the longest account that more Americans will see than any other. In fairness, the Times sub-headline does say that Iran’s air attack was “Avenging Embassy Bombing in Syria” — and repeats the retaliation angle in the lead sentence. But the article then waits until paragraph 10 to point out that one of the Iranian targets was an Israeli air force base in the Negev desert. Only in paragraph 14 do we learn that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which launched the drones and missiles, claimed that they had aimed at “military targets.” 

Until then, the Times report implied that the 200 drones and missiles had been launched indiscriminately, and that Israel’s air defense was actually protecting populated areas like Jerusalem’s Old City. Of course, Iran could be lying, but you still are supposed to tell your readers what they said, and then report at length on what the actual evidence shows.

Even worse, though, was that the Times waited until paragraphs 19 and 20 to report that Iran’s mission to the U.N. said that the “standoff with Israel could end if it [Israel] did not attack in response.” What’s more, the Times print report did not say that Joe Biden told Benjamin Netanyahu during their half-hour phone conversation last night that Israel should not retaliate after Iran’s air assault, even though Israel’s press promptly reported Biden’s warning. The Times had plenty of time to include it in today’s article.

By this morning, the Times print report had mysteriously disappeared from its online edition. You can only find it by searching the facsimile edition of today’s paper. This may be only a mistake. But it may also be the paper’s effort to hide the flood of online comments last night from readers, which overwhelmingly blistered Israel. One of the observations voted most popular by readers read:

“The fact that Israel’s reckless military actions could potentially drag the United States into a needlessly costly war is ridiculous.”

This assertion that Israel, particularly the beleaguered Benjamin Netanyahu, is trying to provoke a wider conflict for his own selfish reasons, appeared nowhere in the Times print article. Nor did other U.S. media report it. Not National Public Radio. Not the Washington Post either. 

Instead, you could turn to Haaretz, and its military correspondent, Amos Harel, for a reminder that Benjamin Netanyahu tried to instigate a U.S. attack against Iran even long before his own political future came to depend on it. Harel wrote today: “It is safe to assume that Biden fears Netanyahu may try to drag the U.S. into an attack against Iran and thus realize his long-standing dream of having the Americans do the job of eliminating Iran’s nuclear program.”

Meanwhile, at MSNBC last night, host Ayman Mohyeldin was raising the Netanyahu angle, along with a range of other views. His guests included Mideast experts like Hooman Majd and Rami Khouri, who had informed and articulate things to say. But he also interviewed prominent Israelis, former ambassadors Alon Pinkas and even Michael Oren, who was once Netanyahu’s envoy to the U.S. and is a passionate supporter of the Israeli right-wing. Both Pinkas and Oren got to present their points of view. 

Nothing of the kind over at CNN. The network interrupted its usual programming and brought in Wolf Blitzer, who trotted out the usual pro-Israel guests. At one stage he piped up when someone mentioned Iranian drones: “Those are what the Israelis call ‘killer drones.’” Back in the 1970s, Blitzer worked for two publications linked to AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. It seems clear that Blitzer still today carries baggage.

Finally, there’s one more example of mainstream media bias that can’t be ignored. All the U.S. newspapers and TV networks routinely characterize Hizbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine, as Iran’s “proxies.” The word is misleading and leaves the false impression that Iran created and nurtured these movements for its own expansionist aims. 

The truth is much different. Hizbollah emerged in Lebanon in the 1980s, after Israel’s violent invasion of that nation, which included the 1982 massacres at the Saabra and Shatila refugee camps of as many as 3500 men, women, and children. Christian Lebanese militiamen slaughtered the defenseless victims, while the Israeli army stood outside the camps and looked the other way. The murdered were Palestinians and Lebanese Shia Muslims, so it’s understandable afterward that Lebanese Shia would form an organization for self-defense.

Iran did not create Hamas either. In the 1990s, hopes for the two-state solution receded, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis continued to illegally settle in/colonize the occupied West Bank. Palestinians came to regard the Palestinian Authority as a toothless, corrupt entity. Hamas started to grow. 

So, in fact, Hizbollah and Hamas actually exist partly because of Israel. Calling them Iran’s “proxies” — instead of “allies” — covers up Israel’s responsibility.

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