By: Roger Aronoff | Accuracy in Media
The mainstream media and President Obama have made a considerable issue out of the dissemination of fake news leading up to the election, even going so far as to hint that Donald Trump’s victory might have been owed in part to the work of the fakers. On cue, The Washington Post recently published a story citing anonymous sources that claimed the fake news was the product of Russian propaganda. Yet Fortune magazine concluded that the Post’s “analysis was fairly weak,” and “Much of [the evidence] seems flimsy at best.” That didn’t stop the Post from blaming Russian propaganda, based on biased evidence and anonymous sources.
As AIM’s Cliff Kincaid recently explained, Facebook and Google are looking to create an algorithm that eliminates fake news on their websites. To do so is to risk disproportionate discrimination against information from outside the mainstream, including conservative and left-wing blogs, points out The Hill. “Critics also charge that the ‘fake news’ trope obscures the fact that the mainstream media have their own problem with false or misleading stories,” writes Cathy Young in The Hill. Kincaid also cites something called the First Draft Coalition, a sort of Ministry of Truth comprised of media organizations that we are supposed to trust to produce content free of fake news.
In fact, many of these so-called reputable news organizations are responsible for what is perhaps the fake news story of the decade. The story involves one of President Obama’s major foreign policy legacies, the Iran nuclear “deal.”
For about a year now, we have been pointing out that the Iranian nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran, is in fact, not a deal at all. There is an English language version, which the American public has seen (except for the side deals that were kept hidden from Congress and the American public). Also, there is an Iranian version passed in their Majlis, or parliament, which is considerably different.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) told The Washington Post Fact-Checker back in January that the Majlis passed “not the original JCPOA text, rather Iranian demands that were added to it. No one can call that Majlis resolution an approval of the JCPOA.” Still, the Post’s Fact-Checker, Glenn Kessler, ultimately downplayed the difference between the two agreements. What remains in both cases, American and Iranian, is that similar texts of the deal weren’t signed by the parties—meaning they aren’t agreements at all. Yet countless media outlets refer to this political arrangement as “signed.”
Like many in the media, the Post continues to misrepresent the Iran deal. Besides the Fact-Checker piece, a November 29 Post editorial refers to when the deal was “struck,” while urging Trump not to scrap it. An article in The Hill newspaper cites CIA director John Brennan urging the same, and saying that tearing up the deal would be “disastrous,” and “the height of folly.”
The media are obviously aware that this is not a signed deal, yet they keep calling it one as if that is an insignificant detail. Why? I believe it’s because they see their role as trying to help President Obama secure his legacy as the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was able to finally tame the Iranian theocracy, and save the world from nuclear destruction. But propping up a sham deal is more likely to have the opposite effect, long after Obama is gone from the White House.
Iran remains belligerently focused on ridiculing Americans and citing Iran’s victories in killing our citizens. Recently, according to Front Page Magazine, “deputy commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC), Hossein Salami, claimed that ‘In 1983, the flames of Islamic revolution flared among Lebanese youth for the first time, and in a courageous act, a young Muslim buried 260 United States Marines under the rebels east of Mediterranean Sea.’”
The Iranian regime has threatened to “react” to any breach of the agreement by a President Donald Trump, but did not specify what type of reaction. However, according to Breitbart, Ayatollah Khamenei published the book Palestine shortly after the JCPOA agreement was announced, “in which he argues that Iran has a role to play in the destruction of Israel, and so must work to create and possess the strongest weapons possible.” Clearly, Iran desires the bomb, if it doesn’t have it already, and no one should assume that they wouldn’t use it against the U.S. or its allies.
But at least under Trump, we apparently will soon have a CIA director who fully understands the situation. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) was picked by Trump to head the CIA in his new administration. Pompeo led the push last year for the Obama administration to show Congress the signed deal with Iran. After resisting, the State Department finally acknowledged the truth: “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document,” wrote the State Department’s Julia Frifield. Rather, it is a set of political commitments.
In response, Pompeo posted the State Department letter and a strongly-worded statement on his congressional website: “‘For the State Department to try to defend the unsigned and non-binding Iran nuclear agreement by calling it a ‘political commitment’ is about as absurd as the terms of the deal itself,’ said Pompeo, who serves on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
‘Instead of forging an agreement with Iran that will protect Americans and prevent the world’s largest state sponsor of terror from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration caved to Iranian bullies and serial nuclear cheaters. Unsigned, this agreement is nothing more than a press release and just about as enforceable.’”
Reuters is one of the latest to have called this a “signed” deal. Other media outlets, including Politico, McClatchy, The New York Times, and even the New York Post, have called it a signed deal.
“If there is no signed agreement, even the feeble conditions placed on Iran by Team Kerry’s negotiators are unenforceable,” wrote Lori Lowenthal Marcus in September 2015. She was one of the first reporters to point out that this “agreement” is not signed.
The Wall Street Journal actually issued a correction in October of last year for calling the deal a signed one. Yet many other media outlets continue to falsely state that it is.
This is why Iran continues to humiliate President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with impunity, such as when the Iranians held American sailors at gunpoint. It is because they can. For the U.S. to attempt to say that Iran is violating the agreement, we would have to show that they actually agreed to something. Where is the proof? Kerry ended up thanking the Iranians for releasing the sailors.
“Instead, from ballistic-missile tests to increased support to Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen,” writes Fred Fleitz for the Center for Security Policy, “Tehran’s behavior in the Middle East has significantly worsened. Just in the last year, Iran has captured and held at gunpoint ten U.S. sailors and fired anti-ship missiles at American and UAE ships. Is this what a new era of cooperation with Iran was supposed to look like?”
Fleitz points out that The New York Times is promoting fake news in an effort to save the deal. He writes that the Times recently presented the National Iranian American Council, “the head of the Iran lobby in the United States,” as a bipartisan group of experts pleading with Trump to keep the Iran deal.
In October, President Obama called for “truthiness tests” on the Internet. Now, with the election over, Obama is obsessed with untruthful reporting. “If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” said Obama.
Obama, in this case, is right. But the true propaganda is not coming just from fake news sites—it is also coming from his administration, as well as from the mainstream media itself.
The media, whether blaming Trump for decisions not yet made, or obscuring the facts behind the Iran deal, continue to publish fake news stories that don’t pass the smell test. Will Google and Facebook design an algorithm that eliminates the influence of these mainstream media stories? That’s doubtful. As much as the mainstream media wish to blame Russian propaganda for spreading lies on the Internet, it is the supposedly impartial journalists who are doing so as well.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View the complete archives from Roger Aronoff.