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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Media frustration

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at the UN General Assembly last week was the centrepiece of a crowded schedule of events in which he met with as many editors, journalists, anchor people, reporters and commentators as possible, and dined with as many interested, by invitation-only guests as possible.   

His trip to America, in essence, was one huge marketing mission to burnish his image, get the message out and pose for photographers. We, of course, believe that his image is unburnishable. But that misses the point. 

The wily president was not interested in changing our minds and influencing our opinions of him. His target audience was in Iran and in the self-styled “non-aligned” states of the Third World and Fourth World, where information flows according to the whims of the rulers and opinions are held by the majority according to those very same whims. To these audiences, Ahmadinejad asserted his mettle and proved his moral strength in the city that is the very avatar of sin and decadence in the sinful, decadent devil’s lair – America! 

Thus, one of the aspects of the western media’s coverage of Ahmadinejad that is most frustrating and teeth-grinding to us is the seemingly cavalier attitude by which leading members of the media corps deal with him: as somewhat of a curio, an oddity to be sure but interesting nevertheless because of his very oddity. 

Moreover, it is their responsibility, they insist, to get his story out, too. Some intend to pin him squirming on the glass slide, held down in humiliation and ridicule by his outrageous, ignorant, preposterous statements and outright malevolence.

But they never do. 

The infamous interview with broadcaster Larry King some years ago was, perhaps, the best example of the fawning, failed interview. But there was no shortage of such similar failures during Ahmadinejad’s recent trip.

The blog called International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran had a very acerbic assessment of Piers Morgan’s interview with the Iranian ruler on Sept. 24 on CNN. 

The key hope that this group held out for Morgan did not relate to Ahmadinejad’s views of Israel. It was rather, for Morgan “to shed some light on the eight years of worsening human rights violations during his time in office.” But Morgan failed utterly, according to the monitor group.

“Mr. Morgan seemed surprisingly unprepared and was not only incapable of asking proper followup questions but also got the facts wrong at one point in the interview. This, coupled with Ahmadinejad’s skilful manipulation of language, playing his usual game of hypotheticals, off-topic responses, and challenges to the interviewer, led to yet another series of dodged questions, vague answers and shirked responsibilities.”

The renowned editor of The New Yorker David Remnick wrote a small essay about meeting the Iranian president along with “a few dozen journalists at the Warwick Hotel” just after 8 a.m. on Sept. 24.

Apart from three very brief asides, he did not offer any editorial comment interpretation, elaboration, or explication of the outrageous substance of Ahmadinejad’s statements. Remnick’s intention, we must suppose, was simply to let the Iranian president condemn himself out of his own mouth, to let the statements speak for themselves, res ipsa locquitur.

But we do not know Remnick’s intention for sure.

The following is the totality of Remnick’s personal editorial comments on the more than 700 words of Ahmadinejad quotes.

• At the beginning of the essay: “He [Ahmadinejad] does not much conceal his pleasure in provoking his earnest questioners.”

• At the midpoint of the essay: “Ahmadinejad was also intent on doing what he could to further aggravate the troubled relations between President [Barack] Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been demanding that the U.S. declare its ‘red lines’ on the Iranian nuclear issue.”

• At the end of the essay: “And what of [writer Salman] Rushdie [the target of a fatwa]? Ahmadinejad smiled ominously.”  

Clearly, Remnick, the astute observer, thoughtful analyst and superb writer had determined to avoid commentary. He undoubtedly abhors Ahmadinejad’s beliefs and his policies. But what is the benefit, what is the intellectual, journalistic or ethical imperative in letting the Iranian leader’s patently false, self-serving assertions be published unchallenged, without even so much as an asterisk of explanation?

The net effect of Remnick’s column is simply to give Ahmadinejad yet another of the many western platforms from which he has smugly and defiantly propagated his hatred toward the Jewish state and others.

Remnick, like many others, are so preoccupied with observing rules of journalistic form that he has become oblivious  – in such rare, special cases of a leader of an extremist, theocratic government preaching genocide – of the possible substantive harm of his work.  

 

–MBD

 

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