New York Times Blames Trump for US-Iran Tensions
One of the most important choices in telling any story is deciding when it begins.
In its coverage of the latest tensions in the Middle East, The New York Times has disclosed its own view. A news article in Thursday’s Times included a third paragraph that said, “The tensions, which began with President Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear accord and impose crippling sanctions, escalated recently as the Trump administration moved additional troops into the Persian Gulf after having accused Iran of plotting to attack American targets.”
A front-page news article in Friday’s Times repeats a version of the same claim: “The animosity between Washington and Tehran began rising a year ago after President Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 deal with international powers that limited Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for eased economic sanctions on the country of 80 million people.”
The lack of historical context makes for misleading journalism. It’d be more accurate to write, “The tensions between Washington and Tehran began in 1979, when Islamist extremists with the slogan ‘Death to America’ seized control of the Iranian government and took over the US Embassy in Iran, holding 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.” Otherwise, it makes it sound, falsely, like the conflict is all Trump’s fault. Actually the Iranian regime has been waging war against America pretty much continuously since 1979, funding Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist attacks against Americans in Lebanon and Israel and supporting violent efforts against US troops in Iraq.
Nor is the artificially narrow timeframe the only flaw with the Times coverage of the latest Iran flareup. The Times coverage is also riddled with internal contradictions.
One contradiction is about whether Trump sent a personal message to Iran. The article in Thursday’s paper, about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Iran, reported, “Mr. Abe is not bearing a message from the American president, government officials told reporters on Tuesday.” Yet Friday’s article said, “Mr. Abe was carrying a note from Mr. Trump to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who rebuffed the overture.” Maybe the government officials on Tuesday were uninformed or intentionally misleading, or maybe the letter from Trump, if it did exist, arrived after the officials answered the question. Whatever the explanation, it left this reader wondering about the apparent contradiction, which went unaddressed by the Times.
Another contradiction has to do with the Trump administration’s relations with American allies. One article on Friday’s Times front page blamed Trump for having “shattered the unity of the United States’ key allies, who had joined with the Obama administration to force Tehran into the 2015 nuclear deal that Mr. Trump subsequently abandoned.” It also claimed Trump was now “operating largely without allies.”
Yet a different article on Friday’s Times front page referred to “American allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel, which have long urged Washington to take a more muscular approach to Iran.” The Times can’t seem to decide whether Trump is “operating largely without allies” or working together with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. And how is it that Trump is blamed for shattering this mythical allied “unity” by exiting the Iran nuclear deal? As the other Times article suggested, the unity was nonexistent because it had been shattered by former President Barack Obama when he damaged the relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia by entering into the Iran nuclear deal.
Taken as a whole, the Times coverage displays a disappointing lack of clarity and context.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.