It was one of the New York Times’ shining examples of investigative journalism, as it reported last week that the “U.S. is moving forward with reconstituting nuclear weapons, while concurrently attacking Iran for similar behavior.” The story raised serious questions about U.S. double standards in dealing with an alleged nuclear threat, while at the same time violating its own obligations - under the Non-Proliferation Treaty - requiring it to dismantle its nuclear stockpile.
We can dream can’t we? Although one of the hottest stories of the year was reported by the Inter Press Service last week, the U.S. plan for new nuclear weapons production was completely ignored in the mainstream media. That Obama allocated $55 million for nuclear weapons production runs directly contrary to the myth that the U.S. fulfills its international legal obligations, while punishing “rogue regimes” for violating international law. This story, however, was dead on arrival when it was first reported by the Inter Press Service (IPS) on Wednesday, September 30th.
The IPS report states that “despite the statements by Barack Obama that he wants to see the world reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, the U.S. Department of Energy continues to push forward on a program called Complex Modernization, which would expand two existing nuclear plants to allow them to produce new plutonium pits and new bomb parts out of enriched uranium for use in a possible new generation of nuclear bombs.” The story’s timing is particularly ironic considering that the U.S. is openly admitting to reconstituting nuclear weapons, while there is currently no physical evidence that Iran is running a nuclear weapons program.
The combined stories of Iran’s “weapons program” and U.S. nuclear reconstitution are one of the most explosive news developments of the year, although one wouldn’t know by following the news. The IPS story was picked up by progressive, non-mainstream news sources such as Truthout, CommonDreams, and ZNet, but received no coverage in mainstream sources. The Obama administration’s calling out of Iran was covered in 66 news stories, op-eds, and/or editorials from September 30th to October 6th. The New York Times ran 19 pieces, the Washington Post 18, the Houston Chronicle 7, the Washington Times 6, the Boston Globe 6, the Los Angeles Times 5, the Chicago Sun Times 4, and the San Francisco Chronicle one. In contrast, no headlines, op-eds, or editorials in these papers featured the U.S. decision to reconstitute nuclear weapons. There is not a single reference to the Complex Modernization program anywhere in the reporting of these papers, nor is the program mentioned in any of the news programs from ABC News, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News over the last week. References to Iranian “nuclear weapons” appear, in contrast, in nearly four dozen stories in these television outlets.
A brief review of newspaper stories on Iran from the last week demonstrates the extraordinarily propagandistic nature of reporting and commentary on Iran, to the exclusion of criticisms of the U.S.:
- From the Washington Times: “The Coming War with Iran; Real Question is not if, but when,” “Righteous Indignation: Countdown to War and Armageddon,” and “Big, Ominous Win for Iran; Buying Time for Continue Clandestine Work.”
- From the Washington Post: “U.N. Chief Says Iran Must Prove its Sincerity on Nuclear Issue,” and “Nuclear Disarmament is an Issue of Morality.”
- From the New York Times: “Iran Agrees to Key Concessions on Uranium, but Doubts Linger,” “Iran May Have All it Needs for Bomb U.N. Agency Says Functioning Nuke is in Reach,” “Challenge for Obama: Holding Iran to its Word,” “The Possibility of a Nuclear-Armed Iran Alarms Arabs,” and “Answering Iran’s Nuclear Challenge.”
- From the Los Angeles Times: “Access Delay May Give Iran Time to Obscure Data.”
- From the Houston Chronicle: “Iran Will Send its Enriched Uranium to Russia Concession a Win for West - if it’s Not Hollow.”
It is disturbing that the U.S. plan for nuclear weapons production is completely censored from our discourse. Obama promised to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The Department of Energy’s plans clearly violate this promise, and run counter to U.S. obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue U.S. nuclear disarmament, rather than rearmament.
It is no surprise that the U.S. media and political establishment ignored this story. U.S. political and media elites expect Americans to be ignorant regarding official double standards, but this is only possible if media outlets refuse to talk about these double standards. Most Americans, for example, probably don’t know much about U.S. support for Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, when he was committing the worst of his atrocities against the Iraqi and Iranian people. This ignorance is not surprising, since most media outlets refused to discuss U.S. support for Saddam in the 1980s, or during the run up to the 2003 invasion. Most Americans probably don’t know much about how the U.S. increased its support for Saddam during the worst of his atrocities, and how U.S. corporations and government officials provided Hussein with the necessary precursors for developing his infamous weapons of mass destruction. U.S. hypocrisy in regards to Iraqi WMD played out over a period of a few decades, however, so it was easier for officials and journalists to omit discussion of this inconvenient history. In the case of Iran, however, Obama’s verbal attacks took place just five days before reporting on the United States’ nuclear weapons reconstitution (Obama made his speech criticizing Iran on Friday, September 25th, while the IPS story on U.S. nukes was released on Wednesday, September 30th). Americans may be ignorant of their history, but it’s unlikely that they’re so ignorant that they’d fail to notice blatant nuclear hypocrisy over the period of a single week. It is not surprising, then, that journalists refuse to publicly embarrass Obama for his militaristic approach to Iran.
Anthony DiMaggio teaches U.S. and Global Politics at Illinois State University. He is the author of Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the “War on Terror” and the forthcoming: When Media Goes to War: Hegemonic Discourse, Public Opinion, and the Limits of Dissent (February 2010). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org