Surveying U.S. journalists’ confused coverage of the demonstrations on the streets of Iran—which include such dubious claims as the suggestion that crowds chanting “Death to the dictator” (referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) are more concerned with economics than politics—Lee Smith sees the lasting effects of the Obama administration’s foreign-policy messaging operation. The operation’s mastermind, then-Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, notoriously described it as “an echo chamber” designed to get journalists to accept a narrative of events in the Middle East that bolstered the case for the nuclear deal with Tehran. According to Smith, the sway of this echo chamber is compounded by journalists’ own self-interest:
Without government minders providing them with story-lines and experts, American reporters are simply lost—and it shows. It nearly goes without saying that only regime-friendly Western journalists are allowed to report from Iran, which is an authoritarian police state that routinely tortures and murders its political foes. The arrest and nearly two-year detention of the Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian drove this point home to American newsrooms and editors who might not have been paying attention. The fact that Rezaian was not an entirely hostile voice who showed “the human side” of the country only made the regime’s message more terrifying and effective: we can find you guilty of anything at any time, so watch your step. . . .
The New York Times, [meanwhile], runs a travel business that sends Western tourists to Iran. “Travels to Persia,” the Times calls it. If you’re cynical, you probably believe that the Times has an interest in the protests subsiding and the regime surviving—because, after all, anyone can package tours to Paris or Rome. . . .
What Iranians are really upset about, the messaging goes, isn’t the daily grind of living in a repressive theocratic police state run by a criminal elite that robs them blind, but a normal human desire for better living standards. So, hey, let’s encourage European industry to invest more money in Iran! Didn’t the U.S. overthrow the elected leader of Iran 70 years ago? Hands off—and let’s put more money in the regime’s pocket, so they can send the protesters home in time for a hearty dinner, and build more ballistic missiles, of course. . . .
Throughout the Obama presidency, Americans were systematically bombarded by craven regime “talking points” in mainstream and elite media—because the president had his eye on making a historic deal with Iran that would secure his “legacy.” Anyone who suggested that there was no real difference between Iranian moderates and hardliners, that the regime will spend its money on its foreign wars, not its own people, was shouted down. Anyone who also belonged to the pro-Israel community—meaning that they cared, among other things, about democratic governance in the Middle East—was denounced as a deceitful dual loyalist who thirsted to send innocent American boys off to war.