A Race To The Bottom

Iran's Presidential Election Coverage:

By Lion Tamers, Trapeze Artists, and Clowns

 

 

There was a circus around the June 12th, 2009 Iranian presidential elections and its immediate aftermath. The episode makes for a  fascinating case study of the pandemic of disinformation gripping the West. The Iranian governments handling of the situation was like the dufus organizing a food fight.

Analysts Take The Bronze

Any serious analysis of Iran's political evolution would have taken note of the electoral invulnerability of the incumbent in a presidential race. Voters tend to have personal fidelity, not party allegiance, to the extent that parties even exist in Iranian politics.  In Ahmadinejad's case in particular, opinion polls taken in early 2008 showed his approval rating at 66%. A later survey in May 2009 [1] forecasted Ahmadinejad besting his nearest rival 2 to 1. Numbers revealed in these surveys (conducted by Emmy award winning American pollsters) are unsurprising if you consider Ahmadinejad had spent the previous four years in a perpetual re-election campaign, visiting the length and breadth of the country, doling out large sums of money on projects to benefit his base, and had engaged in plenty of nationalistic grandstanding with nuclear technology advances, and launch of a satellite into orbit. The media's wishful projections of massive support for Mousavi spurred the directors of the above surveys and other serious Iran watchers to try and inject some reality into the discourse, but  for their futile attempts they were roundly vilified.

Iran's system of vetting candidates ensures that those who are allowed to run are 'acceptable'. Furthermore, any radical policy change by a new president can be (and often has been) thwarted by the veto power of the Guardian Council. In such a system, massive election fraud is utterly pointless. Granting over 500 visas to foreign journalists to cover the election does not suggest premeditated election fraud. But, despite the lack of any evidence, motive, or opportunity MSM uniformly dubbed the allegations of "election fraud" as a certainty. Vice President Joe Biden openly expressed "real doubts", and Mousavi supporters -- already misled into thinking they represented a landslide majority -- became incensed.

According to www.Stratfor.com:  ... The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators ó who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadís opponents ó failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones.

... But critically, the protesters were not joined by any of the millions whose votes the protesters alleged were stolen. In a complete hijacking of the election by some 13 million votes by an extremely unpopular candidate, we would have expected to see the core of Mousaviís supporters joined by others who had been disenfranchised. On last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the demonstrations were at their height, the millions of Mousavi voters should have made their appearance. They didnít. We might assume that the security apparatus intimidated some, but surely more than just the Tehran professional and student classes possess civic courage. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

The Iranian Election
& the Revolution Test

Recently, the 'analysts'  have been peddling the manifestly obvious as their proof of insight. It is a trick to mask the self-interested prejudicial nonsense which they then imply or advocate. Roger Cohen, in his characteristic flairmanship with pen, suddenly has discovered Iranians' struggle/joy  of the burden/pride of a 3000 year civilization. He then regards himself above the nuisance of  providing proof when he alleges a rigged election.

The same folks who continue to sell us the preposterous notion that Ahmadinejad in 2005 publicly goaded Israel to nuke Iran, or else he would nuke Israel by 2014 with Iran's first bomb ("wipe off the map") are now engaged in an elaborate reverse engineering scheme to show how the 2009 election was stolen. The sheer impracticability of stealing an election in front of some 150,000 ballot box  opposition candidates' monitors notwithstanding. O.K. Roger Cohen, a pretzel is the very definition of a straight line just so long as immense pressure is applied to both temples.

Mainstream Media Takes The Silver

There is a pattern here that precedes the June 12th election. It is because, not in spite of the public support for President Obama's engagement initiative that there is a feverish effort to discredit that initiative. The anti-Iran media campaign could not even wait until the newborn outreach policy gave its first cry: Happy Nowruz! Huffington Post was not alone in publishing all manner of  laughable falsehoods about Iran: Hiding Bin Ladin, Iran is evil, etc.

The persistence with which western media misdiagnoses Iran is rooted in the shallow assessment that Iran's long monarchical history, Islam, and republicanism are all mutually exclusive. Ever since 1979, folks have given a poor prognosis to the Islamic revolution. The uniquely Persian experiment of an Islamic Republic which has combined the ancient concept of far (fair government), and Islam's emphasis on justice/charity, and the consequent vast welfare state is alone in the region in giving voice to and being accountable to the underclass majority. Western commentators continue to imagine the system is unviable except through brutal repression. However, the Islamic Republic has survived 30 years marked by invasion, sanctions, constant threats and vilification. Though, throwing the plague at Iran has not been tried yet,  President Obama is not altogether naive to base his Iran policy on the Islamic Republic's resilience, rather than it's fragility. It was the media that spread the simplistic notion that Moslems, Iranians, and the Iranian government are some kind of evil monolithic entity. We now all understand that simplistic portrayal as an insult to our collective intelligence.

... The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supportersí demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters ó both voters and the security forces ó had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasnít going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

The Western media misunderstood this because they didnít understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the countryís security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejadís support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didnít understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.

The Iranian Election
& the Revolution Test

Circling back to the few weeks before the polling, the pace of Iran-bashing picked up markedly when Iran's presidential election started to look like a genuine contest. The specter of Iran subjecting significant aspects of its domestic and foreign policy to public view and a popular vote was too much republicanism to bear, it had to be preempted as superfluous in case this much transparency debunked the mantle of "the only democracy in the Middle East" coveted by special-relationship mongers.

Not a moment was wasted to label Ahmadinjead's re-election a "fraud". Believe it or not, on June 13th the person who had to justify his mass electoral appeal was the Azeri speaking son of a blacksmith,  whose wardrobe exudes working class pedigree. Ahmadinejad, a war veteran, considering the contestation of his obvious victory moot, left his subcompact home in an affordable (poor) neighborhood of Tehran and  went to Moscow to attend  the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit rather than submit to a  kangaroo court of opinion in Western press.

Western media should be held accountable for their coverage of post-election saga. The "twittering" irresponsibility of inciting riotous confrontation with security forces is a stain on western journalistic professionalism. The well-hidden refrains of "unconfirmed", "cannot be verified", etc. did not stop the BBC, Guardian, CBS, and countless other news outlets  from publishing "unconfirmed" graphic tweets, "unverifiable" bloody pictures, and "undated" raw video clips. The un-moderated minute-by-minute snippets of  mashed-up fact and fiction  fueled a rumor mill in a tragic and fluid situation. MSM remains careful to avoid any mention of examples of police restraint, even though the numbers (100s of thousands of demonstrators over 6 days versus low casualty figures) do not add up to a "brutal put down of an uprising". There must be hours of video footage on MSM's cutting room floors showing peaceful demonstrators filing past forbearing security forces, but such footage would not portray the desired negative image.

The Iranian government responded to the post-June 12 protests in a manner consistent with its own constitutional procedures ó and with far less bloodshed than when the Chinese government suppressed the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989. (Will Iran be President Obama's Iraq?)

The media has done the opposite of warning its Iranian audience of  the predictability of violence, they encouraged it. On which planet would security forces be expected to cede control of streets to demonstrators? Planet MSM thus fulfilled their own prophecy, they helped instigate the very violence they now breathlessly report on. The mainstream media scarcely could have aroused more destructive passion if they actually had planned an all out coordinated propaganda campaign. It is the Western media which has helped turn what could have been a peaceful show of people power into meaningless anarchical street violence. What could have been the coalescing of a much needed reform movement has been left strewn in heaps of shapeless incoherence. MSM did this in the guise of sympathy for Iranian people!

Is it naive to ask why the same editorial sensitivities shown to other trouble spots are not accorded to Iran's delicate situation in this hour of need for calm? How does the media justify repeatedly showing gruesome  video clips shot at an unknown date, unknown location, uploaded by unknown persons? Does the media discount the effect of such videos -- yesterday, content to be marching peacefully, and the next day hurling stones at police, setting garbage on fire, vandalizing cars, and beating up police officers.

There is no doubt that a series of large, sustained, multi-city, disciplined and peaceful demonstrations would have done much to alter Iran's political trajectory. Whose agenda was the media serving in inciting the demonstrators, and thus, degenerating a promising movement into mayhem? Paul Wolfowitz gratefully pounced on the media gift. Indeed the bomb Iran contingent's newfound concern for the Iranian people was quite heartwarming.

The Iranian Authorities Take the Gold

The astonishingly incompetent handling of the difficult situation in post-election Iran has changed the sour grapes over vote counts to a serious question of leadership. Do the current leaders of either camp have the capacity to manage a complex society such as Iran? Calling people "mohareb" shows a level of simplicity associated with neocons. By blaming Western intelligence services -- which like air, are always there -- the leadership highlight their own incompetence.

Here are a set of questions for the Iranian authorities:

Who ordered the Basij to storm Tehran university and beat up students?

Who decided to throw out foreign journalists?

Did it not occur to you MSM can and does make up stories anyway?

Why are leaders  calling demonstrators "mohareb"? How does name-calling achieve consensus among the children of the Islamic Revolution? What prestige is there in sounding like Britain's home secretary, Mr. Blunkette, who in 2003 called people "whiners" defending "maniacs" for protesting their children being jailed for up to 8  years for throwing stones at police.

The riots last summer caused damage estimated at tens of millions of pounds and sparked what became Britain's biggest criminal investigation. Judges at Bradford Crown Court have handed down dozens of lengthy sentences in a series of court cases, with some convicted rioters being jailed for up to eight and a half years. Some have received sentences of five years for stone-throwing. (Blunkett lambasts 'whining maniacs' in Bradford riots)

 

For a thoughtful piece see Arshin Adib-Moghaddam's Iran: this is not a revolution.

Also see Iran: A Parallel Universe

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[1] The Terror Free Tomorrow and New America Foundation poll has come under skepticism by Juan Cole who writes:

Here's the important point: 60% of the 27% who said they were undecided favored political reform. As Ballen wrote at that time:
 

' A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they donít know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system.'

That is, supporters of the challenger's principles may not quite have committed to him at that point but were likely leaning to him on the basis of his platform. They were 16% of the sample. This finding suggests that in mid-May, Mousavi may have actually had 30% support.

If Ahmadinejad got all of the other 11% among undecideds, the race would have stood at 45% to 30%.
 

However, Prof. Cole is injecting his own bias into the meaning of "political reform". If political reform means a stronger office of presidency, a curb on the influence of mega-rich clerics in the political affairs of the country and their outsize share of the economic pie, then some of the 60% reform seekers may well have seen the populist and bombastic Ahmadinejad as their better advocate.

There is also the question of 'who would you rather have a beer with'. Doubtless, Prof. Cole would choose the Architect, Mr Mousavi and University Chancellor, and feminist Mrs. Mousavi. But, a majority of the 60% reform seekers could have found more affinity with Ahmadinejad's working-class background, even if they have no time for socializing due to having to hold down several jobs just to pay the bills.

Part of the calculation for some of the 60% reform seekers may have been the memory of Mr Khatami's less than stellar accomplishments from 1997 to 2005. On the surface, like Mr. Mousavi, he also was  well spoken, mild-mannered, and progressive.

In conclusion, we have the survey's facts: Ahmadinejad (34%), and Mousavi (14%). Then we have any amount of speculation as one is willing to listen to about the inner intents of the undecided (27%), non-answers (22%).

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