THE BLOG
03/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The New York Times ' And Guardian 's Fear Mongering on Iran Hits a New Low

Since the attacks of September 11, American journalists have shown an obsession with Iran's nuclear program and paid a disproportionate attention to Iran's enrichment of uranium (which it legally has to right to do as a recognized member of Non-Proliferation Treaty) and shown virtually no interest in Iran's human rights crimes (which are illegal and in violation of the Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran has signed). Two articles on The New York Times and The Guardian on Tuesday morning about Iran's recently launched satellite is the latest example of this kind of narrative journalism.

Alan Cowell of The New York Times reported on Tuesday morning that Iran had launched its first domestically produced satellite into space. This is of course a major news story as Iran seems to have taken a critical step to join the international space club. But starting in paragraph two, Cowell abandons reporting of facts and starts predicting how "the United States and other nations" are "likely" to view the program. And of course, he manages to bring up Iran's nuclear program out of the blue although there is absolutely no evidence to connect Iran's space initiative with its nuclear program. Similarly, the Huffington Post -- a liberal online publication -- has a link to an article on the Guardian as the headline on the World news page, which reads "First Homegrown Satellite Stokes Fears Over Missile Capabilities." The article in The Guardian also raises Iran's nuclear program.

Both articles fail in two major ways:

1. Instead of reporting the facts, they quickly resort to speculation and present Iran's achievement in sending a satellite into space not as a positive sign of modernization, but as a negative development. Alan Cowell of The Times states that "the launch ... is likely to raise concern in the United States and other nations about Iran's nuclear ambitions and its deployment of long-range ballistic missiles with potential military uses." But he makes this analysis without referencing a single official who has shown any such concern about Iran's satellite. Similarly, Robert Tait of The Guardian matter-of-factly makes a grand prediction in the first paragraph that the launch "will intensify western fears over [Iran's] missile capabilities" without backing up his assertion with even one quote or reference from an official who may have such concerns. Of course neither Cowell nor Tait have such references because they do not exist. Both these journalists rather decided that no one would care about the story unless they can connect it to the other ongoing juicy but evidence-lacking narrative from Iran, its nuclear program.

2. Countries launch satellites for many purposes, many of which are non-militaristic. For example, they use fixed satellite technology to handle hundreds of billions of data, voice and video transmissions. Cell phone companies use mobile satellite systems to help connect remote areas, regions, cars and aircraft to other parts of the country or the world. And, of course, there are scientific purposes for satellites, such as collection of meteorological information or other tasks in the fields of earth and marine sciences or atmospheric research.

And yet, Cowell and Tait were quick to draw a link between the satellite and Iran's nuclear program, but they present no evidence for the existence of such a link. Based on all the available evidence, Iran's nuclear program is a civilian program, which would make complete sense as Iran imports refined oil because of a shortage of refineries. In that context, there is no reason to think there is any militaristic aspect to Iran's satellite program. But these journalists do not care much about the available evidence, based on which to construct their narrative. They have rather already decided that no matter what the Iranian government does, they are going to present it in a negative light and do what they can to connect it to Iran's nuclear program.

While the narrative that Iran's nuclear and space programs are unrelated and for peaceful purposes is the most likely correct narrative based on all the available evidence, it is not exciting and doesn't sell newspapers. But the idea of an Iran that wants to destroy the world by developing a sophisticated militaristic nuclear program that's equipped with a satellite sells newspapers. This is all well and good, but this makes Cowell's and Tait's articles fiction, not news.

Journalists are supposed to be impartial reporters that describe the events and draw their analyses after considering all the available evidence. But Cowell and Tait draw a connection between Iran's nuclear program and its launched satellite based on no evidence; would they have drawn such a connection and presented the launch as a negative development if Germany -- the country that was once the home to the Nazis and wanted to exterminate all the Jews and conquer Europe -- sent a satellite into space?

The answer is no, because journalists like Cowell and Tait don't want to give us impartial news analysis. They want to give us their opinions and even influence world events by predicting an outrage and crisis about Iran's space program that hasn't happened yet. They present scenarios that have not happened yet -- such as the wide-ranging impact of Iran's satellite program on relations with the U.S. by framing it in the context of Iran's nuclear program -- not because they have any evidence to back up those links, but because they need crises and escalation of conflict in order to make a name for themselves. Personal ambitions are fine, but they should have no currency in the world of professional journalism.