The January 31 ABC World News broadcast featured a blatantly propagandistic report on the supposed threat from Iran.
The newscast focused on that day's Senate testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who told lawmakers that the U.S. intelligence community believes that Iran may be "now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."
"America's top spy warns that Iran is willing to launch a terrorist strike inside the U.S." announced anchor Diane Sawyer at the top of the program. "We'll tell you his evidence." The ABC report was actually very light on evidence. It did, however, pass along numerous incendiary allegations from government officials–without the skeptical scrutiny that is real journalism's primary function.
Echoing the government, Sawyer set up the report with an assertion that Iran is "more determined than ever to launch an attack on U.S. soil." Correspondent Martha Raddatz, claiming that the "the saber-rattling coming from Iran has been constant," told viewers that Clapper delivered "a new bracing warning…. Iran may be more ready than ever to launch terror attacks inside the United States."
In its effort to substantiate Clapper's strong claim, ABC could only provide the most dubious evidence. As Raddatz announced:
He pointed specifically to last year's plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States and to reports that Iran has been supporting Hezbollah cells in Latin America.
From the beginning, there have been serious questions about the Saudi ambassador assassination plot (IPS,10/17/11, FAIR Blog, 10/12/11). As University of Michigan Iran expert Juan Cole (Informed Comment,10/12/11) pointed out, the claim that the Iranian government tried to hire a Mexican drug gang to kill a diplomat "makes no sense." The Wall Street Journal (2/1/12) quoted Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace saying, "If that's the only data point, I think it's a stretch to conclude that the regime is now looking to commit acts of terror on U.S. soil." But in ABC's report, it's unquestioned fact.
The idea that Hezbollah has active cells in Latin America has been challenged as well–as PolitiFact noted (11/22/11), the State Department determined there are no such groups in our hemisphere.
How any of that might be connected to Iran is unclear, but ABC did its part by running footage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting politicians the United States does not support: "Ahmadinejad recently traveled there, meeting leaders like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro who have little love from the U.S."
ABC also illustrated the supposed Iranian threat with stock footage of weaponry and soldiers from an Iranian military parade–suggesting without spelling it out that viewers ought to feel threatened by a military force roughly1/40th the size of the United States' armed forces.
It's important to remember that U.S. officials have regularly threatened that "no options" are "off the table" in dealing with Iran. That is code for using nuclear weapons–and Barack Obama's repetition of that apocalyptic threat got a standing ovation during his January 24 State of the Union address (The Hill, 1/24/12).
It is hard to argue honestly that the real escalation is coming from the Iranian side. But that's why they invented propaganda.
ACTION: Tell ABC that its January 31 report on Iran failed to challenge official claims about the supposed threat from Iran. At a time of heightened tension, journalists should act to question official rhetoric–not generate propaganda.
ABC World News with Diane Sawyer
Phone: (212) 456-4040