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The Media’s Magical Thinking About Iran

Why do Western elites act like credulous children when it comes to the Islamic Republic?

10:01 AM, Oct 3, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Our moderates’ ardent desire for an accommodation with the Islamic Republic explains what might otherwise seem like magical thinking—or the stories and accounts in the Western media of events, statements and ideas concerning Iran for which there is little to no evidence and which therefore have no relationship to what typically passes for real journalism in a free society. There have been a proliferation of such accounts of late, no doubt owing to Rouhani Fever.

A few weeks ago, Der Spiegel reported that Rouhani was offering to shut down a uranium enrichment facility at Fordo—and then an Iranian official explained to the Tehran Times that Iran had no plans to close Fordo. Maybe Rouhani had to walk back his offer in fear of the hardliners. The Western press say that’s why he didn’t meet with Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. As the New York Times explained, a photo with the American president “could have inflamed hardliners in Iran who were already wary of his outreach to the United States.” Apparently, those Iranian hardliners can’t read, so they’ll never hear about Rouhani and Obama’s 15-minute phone call, even though the conversation was, according to Reuters, “historic.”

Phone chats are one thing, but Rouhani seems to do his best work with the new social media where, according to Western press reports, he has ushered in an era of freedom in Iran. As the New York Times’s Thomas Erdbrink tweeted two weeks ago from the Iranian capital, “Is Iran's Berlin Wall of internet censorship crumbling down? I am tweeting from Tehran from my cell without restrictions.” Social media liberties could only be the work of the country’s new moderate president. Erdbrink reported that one adoring Iranian tweeted, “Thank you, Rouhani!” However, Erdbrink was later forced to entertain another possibility— maybe what seemed like freedom was just an oversight. “The government has sometimes let the firewall blocking Facebook and Twitter slip open briefly by mistake,” the Times’s man in Tehran concluded glumly, and this opening, too, “might be just a glitch.”

Nonetheless, Rouhani is breaking ground with his own Twitter feed, which he used to send happy new year’s greetings to Jews around the world on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. And yet a few days later, Rouhani adviser Mohammad Reza Sadeq told Fars that Rouhani didn’t say anything of the sort, and in fact didn’t even have a Twitter account. Nonetheless, Western media outlets continued to report that Rouhani was behind the message, with one investigative reporter explaining, “Iranian officials confirm that the Tweets are his thoughts, even if the keystrokes aren't.” Exactly which Iranian officials corroborated the story is irrelevant; it doesn’t even matter if the Tweets were sent, for instance, by some French PR firm hired to handle the Rouhani account—the important thing is that they’re Rouhani’s thoughts, and he’s a moderate.

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