iINJANUARY, IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMAdinejad took a weeklong tour of Latin America, visiting Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and finally Ecuador. In Caracas, Venezuela, Ahmadinejad and President Hugo Chavez signed new cooperation agreements in agriculture, industry, science, and technology1 In Nicaragua, the Iranian president attended the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega to a second consecutive term. Ahmadinejad also pushed for investment projects, including a hydroelectric power plant in Ecuador2 But the primary purpose of the trip, as Time magazine described it, was to show "the world that Iran isn't as isolated as Washington claims."3
In the U.S. media, where there are no two greater villains than Ahmadinejad and Chavez, it was not hard to predict that the coverage of the first stop on the tour would result in an onslaught of negative headlines filled with hysterics at what such a meeting could mean for U.S. national security. The media portrayed the two presidents, as they often do, as cartoonish thugs. The Miami Herald called Ahmadinejad's trip a "tour of tyrants" and painted the diplomatic mission as an unusually dangerous excursion with potentially far-reaching implications for U.S. national security4 Chavez and Ahmadinejad are a "diabolical duo" who might likely conspire, the Boston Herald added, to "attack the homeland and/or U.S. interests in Latin America."5
According to a Wall Street Journal article, Chavez and Ahmadinejad - both "reactionary warriors against capitalism" - are finding "fleeting solace in each other's arms." The meeting, the Journal reported, "speaks volumes . . . about the kinds of countries willing to publicly embrace Iran."6 The U.S. media was nearly monolithic in condemning the visits as dangerous alliances between anti-U.S. forces that, as the Boston Herald put it, "provide Iran with the cover for all manner of dark dealings."7
The Washington Post published six articles that mentioned the trip - including both news articles and editorials - that were filled with pejoratives aimed at the self-described socialist leaders in Latin America. When pejoratives were not used, baseless assertions dominated the coverage. A January 7 Post article described Chavez and Ahmadinejad as "likeminded" and stated that Chavez had "taken sides with Tehran against Israel and adhered to the Iranian government's line that domestic critics of its policies are little more than CIA stooges."
But Chavez is quite different than the Iranian leader, and the only significant trait they share is opposition to U.S. policies - which, in the U.S. media, is evidently an "unthinkable thought."8 But to compare the records of Iran and Latin American nations is extremely dubious. Chavez, for instance, was elected democratically and, while not perfect, has a human rights record that is significantly better than Iran's.
Other Latin American leaders were also targets of this scorn. The Post called Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa an "autocratic acolyte of Hugo Chavez" who is "usually and deservedly ignored outside of his own country."9 Another Post editorial described the entire tour as a useless endeavor that "serves mainly to underline Iran's isolation," which, if true, makes the media hysteria over the trip all the more curious.10 In fact, in the aftermath of the trip, the U.S. House of Representatives went as far as to pass a bill called the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, which directed the State Department to submit to Congress a "strategy to address Iran's growing presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere."11 According to the bill's sponsor, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), cozy relations with Latin America "have the potential to give Iran the platform that it needs in the region to carry out attacks against our homeland."12
U.S. MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE AHMADINEJAD TRIP failed on two important counts. First, it conflated Venezuela and Iran. Venezuela has internationally recognized elections and works to empower the working class and the poor. …