Will Press Put Out Fire on Iran?

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By: Greg Mitchell

If you have watched any baseball at all, even the occasional World Series game, you are probably familiar with the concept of the bullpen ace getting a chance for ?redemption.? That is, he can blow a game one night and come back the next in the ninth inning and save the day, or even the season. Announcers always say, “he got a chance to redeem himself.”

Newspapers may be in the role of bullpen stopper right now, with the current Iran “semi-crisis.” In baseball lingo, they should try to “put out the fire” there, after losing one for the home team in Iraq three years ago.

To those who would say that this inflates the power or even role of the press in America today, I would reply: You don’t expect the Democrats to keep us out of war, do you? Just as they would not stand up to the president on Iraq for fear of appearing “weak on terror,” they would likely be wary of appearing “weak on the Tehran Bomb.” Let?s face it: All the Democrats want to do right now is stagger through to November with an unpopular president in office, and hope that, maybe, they can re-take at least one house of Congress — without having to stick their necks out.

So the media, usually only a middle-reliever or in a mop-up role on this playing field, might have to pitch with the game on the line.

Surely the public would not go for a U.S. attack on Iran, given the Iraq disaster? Think again. A new Los Angeles Times poll–taken before the nuclear news from Tehran this week–found that 48% said they would support military action if Iran continues to produce material that could be used to develop nuclear weapons; only 40% said no. One in four would back use of ground troops.

Thankfully, there are signs that the press may be ready to douse a few flames. Recent media accounts have often cast a skeptical eye on the trumped-up Iran threat, and reporters are already asking probing questions at White House briefings — before the war this time, not months after an attack.

Today, for example, a trio of New York Times reporters (banishing the ghost of Judith Miller) declared, right at the start of a front-page piece, that “Western nuclear analysts said yesterday that Tehran lacked the skills, materials and equipment to make good on its immediate nuclear ambitions, even as a senior Iranian official said Iran would defy international pressure and rapidly expand its ability to enrich uranium for fuel.”

Nuclear analysts, they noted, “called the claims exaggerated. They said nothing had changed to alter current estimates of when Iran might be able to make a single nuclear weapon, assuming that is its ultimate goal. The United States government has put that at 5 to 10 years, and some analysts have said it could come as late as 2020.”

“They’re hyping it,” David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, told the Times. “There’s still a lot they have to do.” Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. al-Rodhan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington called the new Iranian claims “little more than vacuous political posturing” meant to promote Iranian nationalism and a sense of atomic inevitability.

An analysis today by The Washington Post’s Peter Baker implied that the crisis was cooling, since military leaders, among others, supposedly feel the U.S. air strikes are not really in the offing and America might, after all, learn to stop worrying and “live with” the Iranian bomb.

But Baker also noted Condoleezza Rice’s statement yesterday calling on the United Nations to take “strong steps” against Iran and Karl Rove complaining during an appearance in Houston that it is hard to find a diplomatic resolution because Iranian leader Ahmadinejad “is not a rational human being.”

We also have to remember that Bush administration officials asserted, three to four years ago, that there was, of course, no firm inclination to invade Iraq.

Characterically, Baker’s own newspaper, on its hawkish editorial page, proceeded to hike the temperature by raising the specter of Iran wiping Israel off the map and claiming that while ?some? in Washington say the Iranian bomb is 10 years away, ?some independent experts say three.? So there?s an equal chance of either? It?s like saying ?some? scientists say global warming is a fact but ?some? disagree.

All of this bullpen talk may be nothing but “bull.” But let’s hope this game does not get out of hand, and the ace in the bullpen, the U.S. press, can just do its job, day by day, winning a few, losing a few, without having to get the American team out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth.

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