Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Debunking Iran's Nuclear Program: Another 'Intelligence Failure' -- on the Part of the Press?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Debunking Iran's Nuclear Program: Another 'Intelligence Failure' -- on the Part of the Press?

Article excerpt

Press reports so far have suggested that the belated release of the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday throwing cold water on oft-repeated claims of a rampant Iranian nuclear weapons program has deeply embarrassed, or at least chastened, public officials and policymakers who have promoted this line for years. Gaining little attention so far: Many in the media have made these same claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.

Surely you remember Sen. John McCain's inspired Beach Boys' parody, a YouTube favorite, "Bomb-bomb-bomb, Bomb-bomb Iran"? That was the least of it. You could dance to it and it had a good beat. Not so for so much of the press and punditry surrounding the bomb. Who can forget Norman Podhoretz's call for an immediate attack on Iran, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal last May, as he argued that "the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force -- any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938."

As I've warned in this space for years, too many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure -- and White House propaganda effort -- and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.

For the rest of today and this week, media critics will be offering up all sorts of reminders of the near-fatal claims by many in the press relating to Iranian nukes. Sure to get attention are the scare stories in the summer of 2005 after "proof" of an Iranian nuke program somehow surfaced on a certain laptop, proudly unveiled by offiicials and bought by many in the media then as firm evidence (and now debunked, like much of the "proof" of Iraqi WMD provided by defectors a few years back).

Wth much effort, I've already found this beauty from David Brooks of The New York Times from Jan. 22, 2006, when he declared that "despite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time - before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point. This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We'll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning."

As recently as this past June, Thomas Friedman of The Times wrote: "Iran is about to go nuclear."

Even more recently, on October 23, 2007, Richard Cohen (like Brooks and Friedman, a big backer of the attack on Iraq) of The Washington Post, wrote: "Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world."

More in this vein is sure to come: I found those three quotes without even breaking a sweat. At least Friedman, Brooks and Cohen back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren. …

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