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Iran, media and the candidates

Babak Yektafar on the NIE report that says no nuclear weapons in Iran (3 of 3)

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Story Transcript

(CLIPS BEGIN)

NEWS SHOW HOST, CBS: President Bush called a news conference today in part to address that new intelligence analysis.

NEWS SHOW HOST, CNN: The latest intelligence estimate is a stunning turnaround.

NEWS SHOW HOST, FOX NEWS: While the president says that Iran was a danger and still is—.

NEWS SHOW HOST, MSNBC: The president argued this morning that the international community must continue to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium.

NEWS SHOW HOST, PBS: The Washington Post is running an analysis story on the Internet for tomorrow’s paper with the headline, “Neck-snapping spin from the President.”

REPORTER: President Bush says Iran is still a danger, even if it did stop working on nuclear weapons.

(CLIPS END)

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: What do you make of American media coverage generally on the Iran story and then particularly over the last few days, especially television?

BABAK YEKTAFAR, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WASHINGTONPRISM.ORG: In some ways the media has made this, I think, in some ways bigger than what it really is. It is an important news item, and the way that they’ve covered it again undermines the president’s credibility. Again, we’re going back to the kind of intelligence we had in Iraq. You know, we learned from that. And this is one of the reasons I think President Bush actually, during his conference yesterday, said that, actually, the fact that this comes out now really is indicative of some of the reforms that we have instigated in our intelligence community, so that when something like this comes up, even though it’s against what we tried to push as a policy, it still is [inaudible]. But, nonetheless, the credibility factor is something that I think the media is focusing on.

JAY: Most of the television news reports were all buying into this underlying assumption that, you know, we’re only months or a couple of years away from a nuclear weapon in Iran. And they were repeating that without doing any of their own work.

YEKTAFAR: One of the biggest problems, particularly with the corporate media, is that with money being sort of the bottom line, as you know, they have closed down a number of foreign bureaus. And the problem is that they rely on very limited resources. In some cases, they don’t even have the actual reporters on the ground in these particular countries. So, I mean, a lot of times they just basically rely on what they hear domestically from, and what they hear from the U.S. intelligence community. And then, when that gets turned around, then all of a sudden they have to report on that and yet try to cover their tracks as to why didn’t they dig any deeper to try to come up and question these assertions. Why wasn’t the 2005 NIE questioned in a more meaningful and analytical manner by the media? So I think they’re just essentially reacting to it in that same way and showing outrage at the fact that this thing just came out now which debunks what came out two years’ ago, where I think it was really their job in the first place to be able to dig deeper into these questionable so-called facts or assumptions.

JAY: How might this affect, if at all, the presidential primaries, particularly the Democrats? Senator Clinton had voted for the Kyle-Lieberman amendment, was positioning herself as a sort of hawk on Iran. Does this take any credibility away from her? Does it in any way strengthen Obama’s position, which seemed to be a little less aggressive?

YEKTAFAR: Initially I think it may. Of course you may know that yesterday there was a debate, of course, preparing for the Iowa caucus. And Senator Clinton was essentially attacked by all other candidates on that one issue. And as it turns out, in the latest poll that they had, the Iran issue actually is pretty high in the minds of those who will be participating in the Iowa caucuses. So I think candidate Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton, is going to have a tough time on that. Of course she insists that backing the Kyle-Lieberman bill does not mean that she voted for a rush to war. But I think to a certain level it also shows that she really bought into whatever the White House was telling her, or at least the intelligence community in her view was selling without really getting more deeper into it and trying to come up with something as an alternative. And I think candidate Joseph Biden, Senator Biden, said it very well, that this should have been questioned from the beginning because of the track record that the White House has had in confronting these issues, particularly in Iraq. And I think candidate Clinton, Hillary Clinton, is going to have a tough time with that. But it remains to be seen how this is going to play out and until how long. Foreign policy as an issue doesn’t stay that high constantly and consistently throughout the election cycle. Of course Iraq did because we are so heavily involved in Iraq. But the Iran issue may have some initial impact. But depending on how this whole thing develops, it remains to be seen how much it will impact her campaign.

JAY: I guess a lot will depend on whether Obama continues to make it a serious issue or not.

YEKTAFAR: It really is dependent on Senator Obama to come up with some real alternative policy initiative, some practical policy initiative that the average person in the United States can understand. And I think that’s the one thing that’s lacking from the majority of the other candidates who do criticize.

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