Democracy When?

(Note: I contacted “Democracy Now!” with this complaint. They never answer my emails.)

When did “Word is . . . ” and “There are rumors . . .” become statements of fact, and when did Democracy Now begin reporting nonfactual material? I’ve been following your coverage of the Iran election, and you seem to be promoting a point of view, forcing you to avoid (and your audience to be denied) facts that are inconvenient. I expect this of CBS and NPR and the US government, but not of news sources I’ve relied on for responsible reporting.

Your guest today informed us that Basij carry knives and are scary, but he wasn’t clear about where they were in the videos you were showing of the Tehran demonstrations or what evidence he had that they killed people. He didn’t say how many knife wounds had been reported, and he didn’t mention the arsons at all, even though they were on the screen for all of us to see even as he was speaking. He left us to speculate on who was doing the burning. He said nothing on whether the election was fraudulent, conceding, rather, along with the entire media herd, that election fraud isn’t the issue now. All America now advocates the overthrow of Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah in the interest of freedom and women’s rights, and Democracy Now agrees. Do your reporters really think a majority of Iranian voters want to advance women’s rights or personal freedom?

The discussion on Democracy Now has been so one-sided as to be misleading. You presented irregularities affecting 3 million voters as a discrepancy of 3 million votes–grossly misleading–much like the mass media’s intentional mistranslations of Ahmadinejad’s words about Israel. You argue, without evidence, that the demonstrators are “reformers” who are “fighting for democracy.” Journalists shouldn’t use that sort of counterfactual metaphor, and you know your audience doesn’t feel informed by it.

Many of us believe that it’s impossible to fix a paper-ballot election without leaving evidence and that Ahmadinejad was almost certainly elected fair and square. We’re not surprised that an Iranian American filmmaker like your guest, able to enjoy a Margarita whenever he feels like having one, might want his aunts and cousins to have leaders other than the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad, but we don’t expect Democracy Now to endorse him uncritically or allow his counterfactual assertions to go unanswered.

There’s been a spectacular rush to judgment that reporters can’t cover as an event, because they’re the story, and because the story disconfirms what’s been reported so far. For example, you reported, as confirmed fact, that Basij militia killed some university students. Since then there have been conflicting accounts, but you can’t report them because you rushed to judgment. And so Democracy Now presents conjecture. Who shot the bystander? How many are dead? Who sparked the violence? Were foreign governments involved? The correct answer is, “We don’t know yet.” Your answer has been in every case a judgment without evidence.

All this puts your credibility in doubt. News-consumers start to believe you’re there not so much to inform an audience as to draw one. If you’re trying to attract supporters you’re not doing journalism but hawking a point of view, we think. It occurs to us that maybe the accomplishments of Iran’s revolution and accurate translations of Ahmadinejad’s words just don’t sell. This leads us to wonder whether your Somalia reporting or Supreme Court reporting might also be promoting a point of view.

We can’t forget that we saw you disregard a credible poll of Iranian voters with a wave and a wink. You still haven’t discussed it. In fact, today you seemed to be saying that the fairness of the election is irrelevant and that the government should be overthrown even if it received a majority of the votes. We would expect Democracy Now to be concerned about the will of the majority. Even if you don’t like the outcome, you’re supposed to endorse it. “Democracy When?” we ask.

And ask. Did it escape your notice–it didn’t escape ours–that the events in Tehran are uncannily familiar, reminding us of demonstrations in Venezuela, when antigovernment snipers shot their own protesters and blamed it on the government? With the connivance of the US media? When did you stop following such leads?

Could you have failed to notice that the Tehran police, facing vast, hostile crowds, showed more forbearance than the Twin Cities cops who roughed you up in response to a miniscule assembly of compliant political tourists? And how about the irony of the US media, so upset over an election in Iran when they endorsed two stolen elections here? Too bad you can’t discuss any of that.

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