Rutgers University Professor Judith Apter Klinghoffer claims that major newspapers are systematically playing down unrest in Iran. She says, "Do me a favor try to find MSM information about the ongoing unrest in Iran. You will fail. There is no dearth of articles on Iran but they do not include any mention of the ongoing unrest there. Just view the results of a Google search of the terms: Iran, unrest." The search string in question, done against the Google News search engine "http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=us&q=iran+unrest" actually returns a different result each day it is run, but the point is taken. At the time of this writing, most the links returned were from The Pakistan Daily Times, British Ahwazi Friendship Society, Gulf News, Caucaz.com -- though there was one from the Christian Science Monitor and another from the Chicago Tribune. But all that proves is that there isn't any unrest in Iran, right? Otherwise the BBC, the Washington Post and the NYT would be all over it.
Well maybe. A week ago I was in Canberra and because I like doing such things, took a walk around town in the pre-dawn darkness. It's a small town and after skirting Black Mountain and Lake Burley Griffin (named after the Chicago architect who designed the city) accidentally found myself in front of an unusual looking place of worship. It turned out to be the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, of which there are apparently only a handful outside Galcia. Funny what you will bump into walking at odd hours. There was a plaque in front of it surrounded by flowers, just as in this photograph of the exact same site, with these words inscribed:
This memorial was erected in commemoration of the greatest tragedy in the modern history of Ukraine, the UKRAINIAN HOLOCAUST, when in 1932-33 a famine was artificially created by the communist regime of the Soviet Union, causing the death from starvation of in excess of 7 million innocent human beings.
And the amazing thing about the death of those seven million Ukrainians is that they never happened in the New York Times. The Wikipedia entry for Duranty reads in part:
The New York Times hired a professor of Russian history to review Duranty's work. That professor, Mark Von Hagen of Columbia University, says Mr. Duranty's reports were unbalanced and uncritical, and they far too often gave voice to Stalinist propaganda.
In his New York Times articles (including one published on March 31, 1933), Duranty repeatedly denied the existence of a Ukrainian famine in 1932–33. In an article in NYT, August 24 1933, he claimed "any report of a famine is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda", but admitted privately to William Strang (in the British Embassy in Moscow on September 26, 1933) that "it is quite possible that as many as ten million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the Soviet Union during the past year."
American engineer Zara Witkin and UK intelligence claim Duranty misrepresented this. Several organizations have called on the Pulitzer Board to revoke his prize, but in 2003 the Board issued a statement announcing its decision not to revoke the prize, although it did state that "Mr. Duranty's 1931 work, measured by today's standards for foreign reporting, falls seriously short". Duranty was also criticized for defending Stalin's notorious show trials.
The English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who worked in Ukraine as a journalist for The Manchester Guardian called Duranty "the greatest liar I have met in journalism."
Nixon's cover-up of a "third rate burglary" in 1972 with his puny Presidential prerogatives at the the Watergate apartments was a crime; but the feat of making seven and perhaps ten million deaths disappear was a demonstration of real power, beside which Nixon's was nothing. A lot of indignant ink has been spilled over "media lies" with the breathless expectation that deceivers will someday get their comeuppance; that an hour of reckoning will eventually overtake the editorial room. Unlikely. Liars -- like Walter Duranty -- almost never pay for their lies. Duranty became one of FDR's advisers and even got the final scoop, accompanying the Soviet Foreign minister on negotiations to effect America's recognition of Stalin. Nothing happened to Duranty. The NYT still displays his Pulitzer. The real cost of lies is borne by people who believe them; borne by those who thought -- until the gates clanged shut behind them -- that Uncle Joe was really a nice man.
The real effect of unreliable journalism is that the public is blinded. Impossible? Here's a test. Name a virus which kills hundreds of thousands of babies in the Third World each year. The answer, as per the NIH, is here. In terms of relative deadliness to children under five the disease it causes is listed at number 3 by the CDC. The answer you were probably thinking of is listed at number 6. That doesn't mean that number 6 isn't a problem, but who ever heard of number 3? Why aren't there rock concert benefits to raise money for it? Dunno. But if I never lurked in the obscure corners of the Internet or wasn't given to walking at all hours I might never have heard of the Ukranian holocaust either.
Nor is the answer to this problem simply adding more conservative media outlets to "balance" things out. There's no reason to think that honesty is an attribute of a particular political orientation. Two versions of a story don't necessarily mean that either one is true. What's needed is a way to reform our organs of sight and escape from a world where practically every terrorist attack is prefaced with a denial that a particular community is a threat; or that taxes can be cut and spending upped without consequences. What's needed is some way out of the maze of lies, not to get at the liars, because liars never pay the price, but to get away from the lie.
BTW, is it really true there is no unrest in Iran?