The New York Times Improves Its Iran Coverage — Up To a Point
Sometimes The New York Times responds to criticism with improvement.
So it is — up to a point — with the newspaper’s Iran coverage.
Last month, I faulted the paper for blaming the US-Iran conflict entirely on President Trump. I complained about what I called the newspaper’s “artificially narrow time frame.”
I criticized one Times article 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.” And I criticized another Times article that said, “The animosity between Washington and Tehran began rising a year ago after President Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 deal.”
I wrote then:
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 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Lo and behold, in Saturday’s Times, the newspaper appears to have taken my criticism on board and revised its storytelling accordingly. The more recent Times article refers, accurately, to “40 years of animosity with the United States.” It mentions “the litany of disputes that began with the 1979 revolution, the seizure of the United States Embassy, the taking of American hostages, the mutual accusations of regional meddling, and all the rest.”
The expansion of the time frame is useful in making clear that the conflict isn’t all President Trump’s fault. While the new formulation is an improvement, though, it isn’t fully satisfactory. The new phrasing — “the seizure,” “the taking” — obscures exactly who was doing the seizing and taking. And “mutual accusations of regional meddling” is classic Times moral equivalence — as if American support for the Israel-Egypt or Israel-Jordan peace treaties were somehow the same as Iranian funding of suicide bombers targeting American students studying in Israel.
With the Times, it’s two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward, two steps back. US-Iranian tensions will be ongoing for so long as the Islamist extremists hold power in Tehran, so the Times will have plenty of additional opportunities to improve its coverage even further. Let us hope the newspaper’s editors adjust the coverage to address this criticism as quickly as they did the previous one.
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.