Give NBC credit for allowing Parnaz Foroutan the opportunity to challenge the media’s embrace of Iranian propaganda — including at NBC. Just one day after running it, however, it became evident that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews didn’t bother to read it. Earlier today, Matthews compared Qassem Soleimani’s death to that of Elvis Presley and Princess Diana in terms of cultural impact in Iran:
Chris Matthews: Soleimani killing on par with deaths of Elvis, Princess Diana pic.twitter.com/Z089Sx3pjl
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) January 9, 2020
Why yes, these are quite similar inasmuch as Elvis and Diana spent their brief time on Earth [checks notes] conducting terror campaigns across vast regions, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people, and killing thousands of dissenters in the US and UK.
Matthews makes the very errors that Foroutan decried in her op-ed for Matthews’s network. He assumed that public displays of support for the regime and grief for a death within it occurs in the exact same context as it does in liberal democracies. Foroutan’s family fled Iran in 1983 when she was just six years old, but she recalls very clearly how the mullahs enforced “public opinion” and made sure to quash any hint of dissent. They did so with lethal force, and everyone in Iran quickly learned the lesson or eventually and suddenly reached room temperature.
Foroutan apparently assumed that Western media understood how dictatorships like the Iranian theocracy operate. While watching coverage of the public demonstrations of grief over their chief enforcer Qassem Soleimani, Foroutan couldn’t believe her eyes:
Since Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed last week, I have been listening very carefully, to hear what is not being said. I have done this because these many decades later, I have witnessed Western media fail to discern between the public display of ideology sanctioned by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the quickly silenced protests and opinions of those who dissent.
I listened to The New York Times say that “Iran is in mourning” after his death. Headlines repeated the word mourning and showed crowds in the streets of Iran weeping and holding signs that promised revenge for the death of a beloved hero. The news has repeatedly referred to Soleimani as revered by the Iranian people.
What has not been widely said is that this revered hero was the same man who oversaw the deaths of at least 1,500 Iranians protesting the regime just this fall, when it blacked out the internet and its security forces opened fire on the millions who took to the streets — a response understood to be under Soleimani’s orders, given his role in suppressing dissent. I haven’t heard anyone refer to Soleimani’s statement, which I heard broadcast on my Los Angeles radio station only weeks ago, that he was ready to kill millions more of his own countrymen in order to protect the regime.
Here’s a case in point from NBC’s Tehran office, and it’s not the only one this week from the network:
NBC's Tehran Bureau Chief @aliarouzi has deleted this tweet that claims to show footage from last night's attacks. In fact, video is from Aramco oil fields in KSA. This comes on heels of Ali gong on MSNBC last night & falsely claiming 30 US troops killed in missile attacks. pic.twitter.com/ogPlQy72kI
— Jordan Schachtel (@JordanSchachtel) January 8, 2020
MSNBC spent quite a bit of time operating with Iranian casualty figures too, before finally backing away from them as it became clear that they were false. Those are the easy-to-reveal moments, however. Foroutan marvels over the way that American networks bought into the regime’s talking points about Soleimani’s “revered” status, and even more so, wonders why they didn’t even bother to look for dissenters or ex-pats who could have addressed the issue:
Say that the satellite images were accurate, and a million people willingly came to show their grief, to mourn. Iran has 83 million people. Who will give voice to the other millions who did not take to the streets?
The press has quoted the threats of Soleimani’s daughter. The press has written extensively about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s teary displays and promises of retribution. Random supporters in the funerary crowd were quoted demanding blood for blood. But what of the others, the millions of others, who are silenced by fear? Who are watching this one-sided narrative that depicts complete support of a corrupt, murderous police state they have been enduring for decades? Who will speak for them?
Unfortunately, this is a chronic failing of American media, and not just in relation to Iran. The coverage of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain suffered from the same kind of ideological blindness, only occasionally pierced by events such as the Solidarity movement in Poland. Until almost the moment the Soviet system collapsed, American media portrayed it as a reasonable and functional alternative, and even occasionally superior in outcomes, in comparison to Western capitalism and democracy. They would cite “public opinion surveys” to bolster these claims without much note to the fact that the public wasn’t allowed to have opinions other than those approved by the government.
Nor did that chronic failing change much after getting pantsed by the fall of the Berlin Wall. The reporting from the interregnum in the Iraq wars was routinely awful, and CNN later had to admit that they slanted the news in Saddam Hussein’s favor to maintain their access to Baghdad. The media still likes to use Castro-generated data to claim that the Cuban health-care system is superior to the US. They routinely portrayed Venezuela as a success story for a “new” style of socialism from Hugo Chavez, even while its economy was collapsing. And so on.
The answer to Foroutan’s question, therefore, is depressingly obvious. If anyone speaks for the repressed Iranian people, it’s not going to be the American media, especially while it perceives Donald Trump to be the greater evil.