There’s something big happening right now in Iran.
In several cities, Iranians are flooding the streets in protest of the country's Islamic fundamentalist government.
It’s true that this unrest was sparked by a couple of issues, including economic hardships. But more important and newsworthy than the protest's economic roots is the fact that the unrest has morphed into something much bigger aimed at Iranian leadership corruption.
That thousands of Iranians have found the will to take on Iran’s leaders in such a public and bold fashion is a major news event. It is the most significant anti-totalitarian demonstration since 2009, when world leaders looked the other way as Iranians pleaded for solidarity and aid.
Back in the U.S., the American press has reported on the ongoing protests. However, much of the coverage has been unimpressive, which is to say it has been either sparse, tardy, slightly misleading, or angled in such a way as to favor the mullahs.
The New York Times, for example, tweeted a headline Monday that read, “Iranian authorities have clamped down on Tehran after demonstrators across the country ignored calls for calm.”
The story’s lede notes that government forces killed an estimated 12 demonstrators, but then the report adds that this happened because those protesters “ignored calls for calm by President Hassan Rouhani."
The paper was also chewed up badly on social media after it published an article titled, “Scattered Protests Erupt in Iran Over Economic Woes.”
The “economic woes” bit isn’t technically wrong, but this seems a bit like downplaying, does it not? To be fair, the article was published on Dec. 29 — just as the nationwide protests were picking up steam. Still, for a major news publication with a correspondent in Tehran, and for the article to have been authored by none other than the Tehran bureau chief, you’d expect something sharper and less sympathetic to the mullahs.
Over at the Times’ opinion page, things were equally unimpressive.
“How Can Trump Help Iran’s Protesters? Be Quiet,” read the headline to an opinion article penned by Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Philip Gordon.
“At this stage, we have little idea what these protests are really about or where they will lead,” writes Gordon. “But we can be fairly certain that high-profile public support from the United States government will do more harm than good.”
He added, “If Iranians do choose to rise up and push aside their government, it will not be the result of support from Washington.”
Interestingly enough, this exact sentiment was echoed at the New Republic by columnist Sarah Jones.
“Would be great, as usual, if the right-wing stopped talking about Iran,” Jones, who appeared to believe at one point that Rouhani was actually a “reformist,” said in a tweet promoting her article, which was itself titled, “Are right-wing hawks undermining the Iranian protests?”
This "just be quiet" suggestion was echoed later on social media by such notables as former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Obama national security adviser Ben Rhodes. Imagine that.
As for cable news, the best that can be said about the three main networks is that they at least gave the protests some attention. Cable news coverage didn’t begin in earnest until early Saturday morning, according to TheBlaze managing editor Leon Wolf. CNN gave the most coverage, with a full 30 minutes dedicated to the protests. Fox News came in second place with 16 minutes. MSNBC flunked out with only six minutes worth of coverage.
Meanwhile, Reuters had a brief social media dustup of its own after it tweeted a story, titled "10 dead as protests continue in Iran," featuring a bizarre photo choice: An image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an aide looking oh-so-ominous and shifty.
Reuters eventually deleted the tweet.
CNN, for its part, ran a headscratcher this weekend suggesting Iranians are angry “because they expected life to get better when severe sanctions were lifted after a deal was reached in 2015 between the P5+1 and Iran over its nuclear program.”
Even stranger than that line of argument is the fact that when CNN got around this weekend to reporting on Iranian unrest, it did so by focusing on pro-government counterprotests. Because Iranians saying they love their government in a country that brutally cracks down on dissent is the real story.
To be fair to everyone involved, the situation in Iran is moving quickly and there are a lot of factors in play. Pundits and reporters can be forgiven their lazy coverage or boneheaded analysis. After all, information is a bit sparse now. But going forward, as the reality of the situation in Iran becomes clearer, there’s no excuse for any more of the sort of coverage we saw this weekend.