Repeated headlines in The New York Times on Iran-related issues inexplicably promote Tehran’s version of events. They frequently seem to decorate Thomas Erdbrink’s reportage – and we’re growing suspicious.
We’ve reported about these in the past. For example, there was the item on combating drug smuggling. Then there was the piece about satellite providers’ blocking access to Iran’s hate-speech channels.
We know, of course, that more often than not headlines tend to be written at HQ and not by the correspondent in the field. We therefore caution against jumping to conclusions regarding Erdbrink.
One possible explanation for this phenomenon could be Times chief editor Jill Abramson’s viewpoint on the Iranian nuclear crisis. Her outlook on the issue was made crystal clear in this interview with Politico earlier in the year , which included the following pearl of wisdom:
Q: What are the concerns and considerations you take into account when covering the tensions between Israel and Iran, especially in light of some to the Times’s failures in the build-up to Iraq?
ABRAMSON: The key issue for us is, there’s murky intelligence on the current state of Iran’s nuclear program. There’s no dispute that they have one, the dispute is Iran saying that it’s for civilian use, and other intelligence saying that it could be for military use.
Just one problem: Intelligence on the current state of Iran’s nuclear program is not only far from “murky,” an abundance of updated and internationally-authorized intelligence is issued quarterly by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This happened again, on schedule, just before the weekend. We’ll return to this new report down the road, but want to make sure that the Time’s editor and Mr. Erdbrink noticed.
It would be too simple to level a blanket accusation against the Times of being “pro-Iran.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That the Times is lucid in its understanding of the stakes comes through regularly in the reporting of David Sanger and the paper’s editorials (as opposed to guest op-eds).
Still, another problem has begun to crop up as a result of the biased headlines: they’re being used to promote a certain agenda on the Iranian issue. Case in point, this article written by a contributor to the respectable Center for American Progress.
The evidence does seem to indicate a developing bias at the Times when it comes to non-nuclear issues in the Iranian context. However, it’s very possible that the explanation does not lie in viewpoint but rather fear of Erdbrink’s safety. One of his predecessors, Nazila Fathi, reported out of Iran for nearly two decades until 2009 when she was forced to leave the country because of government threats against her. Furthermore, as noted by a recent UN report we’ve referred to in the past ,
Of further concern are reports from independent journalists and from
employees of Radio Farda and the BBC, who allege that their family members are
frequently arrested, detained, interrogated and subjected to intimidation for the
purpose of placing pressure on them to cease their reporting activities, or to solicit
information. During interviews for this report, a BBC employee reported that his/her
family member was detained and ordered to contact and encourage him/her to resign
from the BBC. In another case, a family member of a BBC employee was reportedly
arrested and pressured to contact the employee in London, who was subsequently
subjected to an online interrogation. A number of reporters have also asserted that
constant surveillance, along with the threat of arrest and detention of family
members, created an atmosphere of fear which discourages family and friends
located in the Islamic Republic of Iran from engaging with their family members
that work for foreign media, establishing a situation of virtual exile for all involved.
If fear of Iranian authorities is behind the bias, all we ask is some integrity from the Times. Just admit it.
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