Report Finds Network News Misrepresents Intelligence On Iran Nuclear Issues

A new report from Media Matters released today finds that the broadcast news networks — NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News and CBS’s Evening News — “frequently” distort or exaggerate key information regarding Iran’s nuclear program. “Two egregious misrepresentations in particular repeatedly came up,” the report says, reports “suggesting that Iran will imminently obtain the bomb and suggesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has major influence over the country’s nuclear program.”

Indeed, as the report notes, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that it would take about three years for Iran to have a deliverable nuclear weapon should it make the decision to embark on a nuclear weapons program (the IAEA and U.S. and Israeli intelligence all agree that Iran has not made this decision). Moreover, Ahmadinejad is irrelevant to that decision. As the Associated Press noted in a report on an Iran intelligence assessment, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “whose word is final on nuclear and other issues.”

Media Matters charted the results of the study:

Indeed, it seems that American media outlets haven’t learned much from the collective reporting failure (with a few exceptions) on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.


But at least some news organizations are taking notice. The ombudsmen of four major news organizations have criticized their own reporting for conflating Iran’s nuclear program and an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Moreover, the New York Times — which contributed its fair share of factually inaccurate reporting in the pre-Iraq war days — recently observed of the current media landscape surrounding Iran’s nuclear program: “Echoes of the period leading up to the Iraq war in 2003 are unmistakable, igniting a familiar debate over whether journalists are overstating Iran’s progress toward a bomb.”

A USA Today editorial last month made the case very plainly. “What’s remarkable,” USA Today wrote on March 5, “is that war [with Iran] is drawing so close with so little public discussion of the consequences.”

A potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, and the nuclear non-proliferation regime — though, as noted above, U.S. and Israeli intelligence have not concluded that Iran has made a decision to pursue a weapon. The Obama administration vows to keep “all options on the table” to deal with the possibility, but the efficacy and consequences of a strike raise serious questions, leading the U.S. to pursue, for the meantime, a pressure track aimed at a negotiated resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis.