In my last two posts I chose to take stock of the reportage and opinion pieces surrounding the Iranian president’s visit to New York City. With him back where he belongs, I would like to take a step back a moment and examine an odd but recurring phenomenon in which the media leaders of the world flock to one of the most medieval and incoherent politicians in the international arena.
When he first came to the US back in 2006, he quite rightly aroused curiosity. Maybe even 2007 – alright, 2008 as well – this curiosity was understandable. But 2012? After years of spewing the stench of intolerance, paranoia, anti-Semitism, and messianic hallucinations? Somewhere along the way some very serious people, such as Charlie Rose, tripped over their instinct for an interview. Pity, really.
This phenomenon has been in full view mostly via interviews to nationwide television networks and leading columnists (remember last year’s “A Day in the Life of Ahmadinejad” on NBC?)
Less known to the general public are the so-called power breakfasts the Iranian president holds in his hotel year in and year out. These were a well-kept secret until Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal broke the silence in the last couple of years and depicted senior journalists falling over each other for the affections of the self-appointed leader of darkness.
This year, full marks goes to Foreign Policy which was also invited to reprint Ahmadinejad’s propaganda; but chose not to.
This piece should indeed serve as an example of what a genuinely critical piece of journalism should look like – a taste is included below:
“Trim and smiling at times in one of his trademark gray suits worn with an open-collar shirt, Ahmadinejad at one point lectured New Yorker editor David Remnick about the United States, calling it a country where “double standards” meant “insulting a divine figure” was easily explained away — an apparent reference to the video about the Prophet Mohammed that has inspired riots across the Muslim world — while “you cannot even question historical events,” which appeared to be a cryptic allusion to Ahmadinejad’s oft-stated and incorrect claim that Holocaust denialism is a crime here. When Remnick pressed him on whether the religious fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie remained in effect, Ahmadinejad demanded, “Where is he now?” When Remnick said New York, the Iranian leader responded, “Is he in the U.S.?… You shouldn’t broadcast this for his own safety.”
Throughout his performance, Ahmadinejad didn’t seem to care that his canned jokes were lost on his audience, an assembled crowd of America’s journalistic powerhouses, from the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post to Time magazine and Reuters, who sat stern-faced in the seats they had been assigned by the Iranians around the square table.”
When you’re invited to a roundtable briefing with the scores of other journalists, you clearly have no exclusivity. You have no scoop.
That didn’t prevent David Remnick, editor of the The New Yorker, from pretending. In comparison with the excellent journalism in Foreign Policy, we have Remnick’s extremely weak piece in the New Yorker.
Remnick here reminds me of the kid at school who is desperate to play with the bigger boys. Without a critical eye, with no referencing of the IAEA or Western claims; he regurgitates the official Iranian line on the nuclear issue. Some may claim that the Ahmadinejad’s words speak for themselves. But this is not Iran. The New Yoker is not the Fars News Agency. It is incumbent upon so-called commentators like David Remnick to challenge and pick apart the lies and lunacy of Ahmadinejad; not just reprint his propaganda.
Americans do not allow their media to accept the words of their own democratically elected leaders at face value; so why allow this with tin-pot dictators? Susan Glasser’s piece, a report on exactly the same event as David Remnick’s piece, is what I would call responsible reporting.
The incomprehensible waffle that made up Fareed Zekaria’s Sunday interview with the Iranian President on Sunday was the icing on the cake.
Zekaria: I want to ask you if you recognize why people get so nervous by your comments about Israel? Because you’re the president of a country. Presidents of countries do not speak like this. They do not speak about the elimination of another member state of the United Nations. They don’t speak about wiping it off the map. And when you take that rhetoric and you add to it the fact that Iran is developing a nuclear program, it makes many people, in the United States, outside the United States, worried that the intention of Iran is to use that nuclear capacity to eliminate Israel, to wipe it off the map.
Ahmadinejad: So really, the people of the United States are concerned? They are shaking? Where do you – what do you base this on? The rest of the nations are worried, preoccupied and trembling at this thought? What for?
We are friends with all nations. Yourself, as a reporter, you must know as a member of the media, you must know that Ahmadinejad is quite popular is quite loved, and loves everyone equally…For seven years, I have been answering this for you.
Zekaria: Every time you answer it in a way which raises more doubts. The problem that people have is that you talk about elimination. You talk about wiping off –
Ahmadinejad: Now how do you – how do you pretend to speak on behalf of the people? It raises doubts and it stirs doubts in whom? People have given you their vote of confidence in order to represent their all encompassing view?
You are representing a media outlet and representing their views. Let’s go to the streets of New York tonight, right now. And let’s interview the people and find out what they say.
Why do we keep giving this guy airtime?
Well, let’s hope Ahmadinejad doesn’t show up in New York anymore – that would at least give some of America’s leading editors and journalists the opportunity to regain some of their lost dignity and self-respect.