As the Trump administration works to drum up support for military action against Iran, many GOP lawmakers and mainstream media outlets have predictably and conveniently fallen in line, accepting the narrative that the country is hell-bent on building nuclear weapons and destroying the Middle East.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated since the Trump administration blamed Iran for an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, mere hours after the investigation into the attack began. In the days that followed, the United States has presented little evidence — beyond images, mine fragments, and a magnet — to prove Iran’s alleged role in the attack. The U.S. Navy, for its part, has stopped short of directly blaming Iran, which denies responsibility for the attacks.
Last Friday, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the matter, adding that “it is very important to know the truth.”
the “Iran written all over it” chyron stayed up for the entire 2 minute segment – Trump doesn’t need a state tv with such complaint media pic.twitter.com/WB5Flge9iV
— Arash Karami (@thekarami) June 15, 2019
Regarding Iran's attacks on tankers in the MidEast, @SecPompeo says Pres. @realDonaldTrump has made clear “he doesn't want to go to war” with Iran, but “we always have the authorization to defend American interests.” https://t.co/vwloYKFJof pic.twitter.com/SAYRgKIRZQ
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) June 16, 2019
It really doesn't help when your host country blows a hole in the side of one of your oil tankers. I've taken blows in the past trying to break up fights but this is different. https://t.co/W8MhZq3b8D
— Charles V Payne (@cvpayne) June 15, 2019
Other outlets like the New York Times and Bloomberg published opinion pieces that used the tanker attacks as justification for military action against Iran.
In a column for the Times, Bret Stephens wrote, “The Trump administration ought to declare new rules of engagement to allow the Navy to engage and destroy Iranian ships … If Tehran fails to comply, the U.S. should threaten to sink any Iranian naval ship that leaves port. If after that Iran still fails to comply, we would be right to sink its navy, in port or at sea.”
Similarly, in a piece entitled “Don’t Blame Trump for Iran’s Aggression,” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake argued that “restraint and dialogue will not bring Iran to heel.”
“We sank Iran’s navy before,” Lake added. “Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.”
Numerous lawmakers, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), as well as Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) quickly followed suit, accepting assessments by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iran was behind the attacks.
In response to Trump’s crackdowns on Iran, the spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, announced Monday that the country would exceed the uranium stockpile limit set by the nuclear deal in a matter of days.
The move triggered a wave of selective amnesia among Trump administration officials, U.S. lawmakers, and media outlets, who managed to gloss over the fact that Trump violated the deal in the first place, hurting its ability to hold Iran accountable.
Last year, President Donald Trump violated the 2015 nuclear deal, a multilateral agreement that offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for its curbing of enrichment activity. The president did so despite repeated confirmations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran was complying with the deal.
You wouldn’t know that from looking at the media coverage of Iran’s uranium enrichment.
U.S. says Iran is in breach of nuclear deal but repeats offer of talks https://t.co/u2dRJN17mm
— Reuters Iran (@ReutersIran) June 11, 2019
This is the warmongers' plan: selective amnesia as to US withdrawal from JCPOA, blame Iran for everything. https://t.co/ZK5uKKjC0r
— Cheryl Rofer (@CherylRofer) June 18, 2019
Tehran would also increase uranium enrichment levels in violation of the agreement, "based on the country's needs," an official said. https://t.co/0Up1UgAnPm
— Morning Edition (@MorningEdition) June 18, 2019
Even when news outlets tried to include context about the U.S. role in breaking the agreement, they managed to fall short. In a tweet shortly after Iran’s announcement that it would exceed enrichment limits, the New York Times framed the decision as a “violation” of the nuclear deal, adding that the United States merely “withdrew” from the deal. Such language is misleading as it places greater blame on Iran for the deal’s unraveling. The United States didn’t simply withdraw from the deal. Rather, its decision to reimpose sanctions on the country amounted to a violation of the agreement.
Note Iran “violates” the deal, the US simply “withdraws” from it pic.twitter.com/JaPfqllZK3
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) June 17, 2019
In one eerily meta case on Monday, Trump parroted Fox News’ Iran coverage, which was echoing his administration’s own talking points. Minutes after the America’s Newsroom segment, which included commentary that was supportive of military action against Iran, aired that morning, Trump tweeted verbatim the channel’s chyron, “Iran to Defy Uranium Stockpile Limits.”
The problem of echoing Trump’s narrative on Iran with little context is much more complicated than a simple issue of semantics. Recent history has shown that media recklessness can help pave the path to war. As Truthout reported in its 2013 assessment of the Iraq war, “Thanks to the media’s repeated claims that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were immediate threats to our nation, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, nearly three-quarters of Americans believed the lie promoted by Donald Rumsfeld that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the attacks of 9/11.”
Numerous media outlets risk making the same mistake in their coverage of Iran. This week, in an analysis of comments posted to the New York Times website by readers, Mondoweiss found that hundreds lambasted the newspaper for its role in parroting the Trump administration’s talking points on Iran.
“It’s sad to see the Times‘ Editorial Board beating the drums of war against Iran with the unsubstantiated claim that Iran ‘is a likely culprit,’” one reader wrote.
During a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) drew attention to similarities between the lead up to war with Iraq and the current ratcheting up of tensions with Iran, pointing to the role of National Security Adviser John Bolton in both cases.
“The Iraq war wasn’t that long ago,” he said. “Bolton made false and misleading statements about Iraq.” Deutch added that Bolton has a record of “cherrypicking intelligence that serves whatever case he’s going to make … there are legitimate concerns about taking the administration at its word.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to increase tensions in the region. On Monday evening, the Department of Defense announced plans to send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, presenting the country’s alleged role in the tanker attacks as fact.
“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement.