An Anatomy of Impenetrable Media Obtuseness

Posted on September 29, 2009

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Glenn Greenwald, a self-made blogger who has, by the sheer force of his intellect and astute commentary,  insinuated himself into the mainstream media discourse, appeared on MSNBC’s  Morning Meeting, hosted by Dillon Radigan, this morning. Opposite, Greenwald were Arianna Huffington [of the eponymous internet broadsheet] and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post, and the ostensible topic of the day was the putative danger of a nuclear armed Iran. This interaction is a perfect vehicle for examining the great wall of media static and obtuseness which prevents all but a few appearing on cable and broadcast television from being able to discuss issues in any way which reflects reality.

Glenn makes some great points early on in the segment:

…the only obligation that Iran has under the nuclear non-proliferatition treaty is to disclose any facilities at least a hundred and eighty days before nuclear material is introducred and they did that well in advance of a hundred and eighty days. They did it at least a year or a year and a half before that facility is operable…

…and at the same time, America’s key ally in that region, Israel, refuses to belong to the nuclear non proliferation treaty, refuses to have its nuclear stockpile inspected by the IAEA, and so there are nations, beginning with Israel, that refuse to comply with these rules.

Its time for Arianna Huffington, a supporter of sanctions and isolation of Iran, to respond to that statement:

Huffington couldn’t have provided a more pointed and irony-saturated critique of the vast wasteland of unfounded blather that is the discourse on Iran. In the first place, though Radigan asks “how do you balance your coverage so that you’re representing the apparent threat and at the same time not inciting either fear or irrational responses”, Huffington can’t seem to wait to suggest that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map:

Iran is actually challenging the existential presence of Israel, and so its not just…they don’t believe that Israel has the right to exist…so you have a player here that is actually presenting a major threat to Israel which immensely complicates the international response.

Then, of course, Huffington completely shrugs off Greenwald’s points, she makes no reference to them. Greenwald, though, responds to hers quite directly:

Greenwald makes a crucial point. That its Iran that’s under siege, that its Israel and the US that have been military aggressors and invaders in the past decades.

I think its a very hard case to make that Iran is some sort of a unique threat because of some crazy rhetoric that its president engages in that it could never possibly carry out and I think that’s what needs to be the focal point is, what is the reality of these countries capabilities and what their actions are…

Huffington throws all caution to the wind:

What’s most amazing about this whole exchange is that the theme of the program, as described by Radigan, is the question of how the mainstream media can be more sober, analytical and rational in its assessment in an effort to avoid the bandwagon leap that preceded the war in Iraq. The only person on the program who does that is Greenwald. Huffington, shockingly, given the supposed bonafides of her publication, has literally lifted the script from the Iraq War Progaganda Gin. Rather than address Greenwald’s points that Iran poses no credible threat, and that is guilty of no activities not also undertaken by Israel and the US–and that indeed, Israel and the US have been bigger threats to the region–she simply brings the argument back to the same point every time. Iran wants to destroy Israel. In this colloquy, Radigan plays the traditional role, questioning none of the mainstream points, while acting as little more than a host, making sure that all the guests get a chance to speak, but failing to make sure they address each other’s points. The idea of engaging in analysis of the history of the region–the fact that Israel “illegally” built its nuclear arsenal and that no one anywhere has any idea what’s in it or what Israel does with it– is rejected again and again in favor of exceptionalist platitudes, mythologies and black and white characterizations. US/Israel good, Muslim States/Iran bad.

The exclamation point for the segment came when Capehart finally injected himself into the three way. Capehart complained of confusion at Greenwald’s suggestion that Iran is not a threat. Hadn’t Greenwald noticed that MSNBC’s b-roll during Greenwald’s first comment:

…was showing video of Iran shooting off those missiles just this past weekend, so how does that match up…?

Indeed, how could Iran not be a threat, when the tv showed images of a missile launch over and over again for the entire program?

Clyde Haberman of the New York Times, engaged in a similar dynamic with an analysis of the UN General Assembly, last week in New York. Haberman referred to the “usual gang of despots and rogues who make the collective American skin crawl”. Though its those wearing the American skin that launched two invasions in the past eight years, ending  the lives of tens of thousands, the US remains the indisputable  mediator for the world. No matter what we do, despotism and criminality are characterizations for other countries to bear, and it is always our responsibility to correct their bad behavior. We are always in search of peace. Indeed, opprobrium need only be brought against America and its allies when we try to reach accomodation with the world’s lesser criminals. Habermann implies that Gordon Brown may receive some rebuke at the GA–not because of his continuing support of US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but because he allowed dying Libyan terrorist Abdel Basset Ali al-Magrahi to return to Libya.

Given this allergy to the truth about our actions and the constant finger-pointing to the [much more modest] evil deeds of other countries, the media is destined to make exactly the same mistakes about Iran as it has in every other war for two decades. In fact, they seem to relish the opportunity.

Glenn’s column about the appearance:

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