If you had just landed on planet Earth this week, you might easily have been fooled into thinking that Iran were being bullied and victimized. Such has been the hysteria in large portions of the global media over US President Trump’s tweet – which he capitalized for extra effect – warning Iran of the consequences of war-mongering. You had to search quite carefully to get a fuller, more accurate picture of what actually played out. In fact, it had been Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani who had originally threatened the United States with the “mother of all wars.” But apparently, Iranian intimidation and belligerence is unworthy of headlines these days.
Clearly, Trump’s twitter feed has become rich fodder for the media to feed off. Nonetheless, journalists also have a duty to dig deep beyond the 280 characters of a tweet. Yet, Reuters opened its report bemoaning Trump’s “angry warning,” and the UK’s Daily Mail went one step further, calling it a “dire all-caps warning.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg described Trump’s tweet as a “new broadside against Iran,” while CNBC confused the chain of events, stating that Trump threatened his Iranian counterpart. Euronews readers were left in no doubt who was guilty of aggression, employing the misleading headline “Trump fires off hostile tweet in war of words with Iran.”
As if this weren’t enough, a flurry of opinion articles were even more explicit. Writing in The Guardian, Simon Tidsdall said that US leaders are “deeply ignorant” about Iran. He claimed that “by undercutting moderate leaders [President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif] who offer the best hope of reform and by threatening regime change,” they “risk entrenching the hardline mullahs and Revolutionary Guards they most revile – and bringing closer the prospect of violent confrontation.”
In the Washington Post, Ishan Tharoor took a similar position, claiming “Rouhani’s position is growing weaker. Many Iranians now pin the country’s slumping economy on the president… The hard-line forces Rouhani once maneuvered against are ascendant.”
Of course, this is the same Rouhani who just threatened Washington with “the mother of all wars.” Moderate indeed. Meanwhile, his ally Zarif recently brazenly lied about Iran’s nuclear past. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rightly dismissed the notion that Rouhani and Zarif are ‘moderates’, casting them instead as “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry,” part of a leadership which “resembles the mafia more than a government.” Indeed, it is a leadership which has consistently short-changed and exploited its own people, while at the same time spreading conflict and discontent.
Perhaps it is the media’s all-too-common gross misinterpretation of Iran’s leadership which is behind the consistent refusal to highlight Iran’s threatening rhetoric and behaviour. After all, Rouhani’s “mother of all wars” warning was hardly the first time Iran has pledged violence. Time and again, Tehran has promised to destroy Israel.
And the promise of violence is not just words, as Tehran continues to put its expansionist agenda into deadly practice. Iranian forces remain a key part of Syrian President Assad’s armed force, with more than 1,000 Iranian troops thought to have died propping up his regime. Meanwhile, Tehran’s Hezbollah proxy long ago seized de-facto control of South Lebanon and more recently Iran’s Houthi affiliates are on the march in Yemen. The Iranian threat reaches way beyond the Middle East. Just this last week, Argentine police said they had arrested a Hezbollah network in the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. They have done far worse in Europe, killing six people in a bus bombing in Bulgaria in 2012.
Perhaps given this blood-soaked track record, the global media has become desensitised to Iranian threats. Whether it is indeed this, or a misplaced trust in ‘moderates’ among the country’s leaders, the end result is that Iran’s promises of violence are no longer apparently headline news. They are instead treated as a kind of playground taunt, which is easily dismissed and ultimately harmless. The time has come for the media to take Iranian threats at face value. Anything less gives a green light for such threats to be carried out with impunity.