A year and some months ago, following the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran released four American prisoners – including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian – who had all been held captive by the Islamic republic on false and forced charges (one US citizen, Robert Levinson, was not released). At the time, this Iranian move was depicted in the Western press as a goodwill gesture or even a “triumph,” an indication from Tehran that it is willing to commit to its obligations under the nuclear deal and usher in a new era of apparent rapprochement with the West.
But now, this narrative has been called into question after reports surfaced that Tehran released the prisoners at the same time as Washington was holding off a $400 million payment to it – money that was to be returned to Iran over a failed 1979 military equipment deal, but which some outlets, including Fox News, have described as a “ransom.”
The story received particularly critical coverage on Fox News, which singled out other outlets – including The Washington Post, whose reporter was one of the hostages released – for “burying” the story in the back pages of their print editions rather than highlighting it or even running it as a top story, as The New York Times had.
On the web, however, the story was covered and featured prominently by most major online media outlets, which highlighted and raised doubts (later confirmed by Washington itself) about the curious timing of the apparent Iranian gesture – one made particularly redundant by the fact that Iran not only quickly returned to its old ways, jailing another American soon after releasing the four captives, but has also done nothing but step up its crackdown on dual citizens.