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Media Alert: “An Existential Threat”: The US, Israel And Iran
Friday, 04 September 2009 05:02
by Media Lens

On August 26, the Guardian newspaper published an article titled, ‘US takes on Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran's nuclear programme in one massive gamble.’ Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill told readers:

“The Obama administration's approach to two of the world's most intractable and dangerous problems, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran's nuclear programme, is to link them together in the search for a solution to both.

“The new US strategy aims to use its Iran policy to gain leverage on Binyamin Netanyahu's government.”

The “Iran policy” is based on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s threat of “crippling sanctions” against Iran. (BBC online, ‘Israel-US settlement deal “close”’, Analysis by Jeremy Bowen, August 26, 2009)

The sanctions threat is to ensure that Iran does “not compromise on uranium enrichment by the end of next month.” The Guardian told its readers that not only are sanctions supposed to pre-empt any Israeli military action against Iran, “they are also a bargaining chip offered in part exchange for a substantial freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” The paper quoted one official “close to the negotiations”:

"The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not."

So much for Obama’s much-hailed Cairo speech in June 2009 in which he promised a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” (‘Obama speech in Cairo’, Huffington Post, June 4, 2009)

The Guardian article presented the US as a valiant peace-seeker:

“The Obama administration is setting out to juggle two potentially explosive global crises, while walking the tightrope of a shaky and nervous global economy. It is not going to be easy, but Washington appears to have decided it has no option but to try.” (Borger and MacAskill, op. cit.)

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This is a deeply misleading picture of the US in the Middle East and the wider world, as we have often explained in our books and in media alerts. We are to believe that the world’s number one rogue state is searching for benign solutions to the world’s most “intractable problems”. This fiction is standard in corporate media coverage.

As the independent journalist Jonathan Cook commented to us:

“This analysis in yesterday's Guardian is almost a masterclass in how the liberal media unthinkingly reflect elite priorities." (Jonathan Cook, email, August 27, 2009)

But then the Guardian has form. Recall, as one of many examples, the front-page story in May 2007 claiming that Iran had secret plans to wage war on, and defeat, US forces in Iraq by August 2007. (Simon Tisdall, ‘Iran’s secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq’, Guardian, May 22, 2007). The bogus claim was based almost solely on unsupported assertions: ‘US officials say’; ‘a senior US official in Baghdad warned’; ‘the official said’; and so on. There were fully 26 references to official pronouncements with no scrutiny, balance or counter-evidence. The high-profile Guardian piece was little more than a Pentagon press release. It was a particularly onerous and blatant example of propaganda. But Guardian reporting on the Middle East is routinely restricted to an established framework that accepts uncritically the stated intentions of US power.

A Challenge To Face-Value Guardian “Journalism”

We wrote to the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, on August 28:

Hello Julian,

Hope all’s well there. I’m sorry to say your article on Tuesday was poor journalism. [1]

Your analysis took Washington’s stated policies and motivations at face value. Why did you stick to the Israeli and Washington view of Iran’s nuclear programme - a legal, civilian nuclear programme - as one of “the world’s most intractable and dangerous problems”?

On the issue of Middle East peace, you give two “expert” opinions, both from people closely associated with the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Superficially, your article might look balanced; but it is not.

The article asserts that:

“Washington’s plan to link two intractable problems raises international hopes of deal to restart the Middle East peace process.”

But an honest analysis would note that for the past 30 years “the Middle East peace process” has largely been a sham. Throughout that period, the US has consistently opposed the international consensus on a peaceful solution. Instead, the US has consistently provided valuable cover for Israel – militarily, diplomatically, economically – in evading its obligations under international law. Genuine peace in the region is actually a threat to an Israeli programme of illegal occupation and expansion that can be achieved only through violence under cover of war, conflict and the crushing of Palestinian human rights. [For more details and background references, see Chapter 9 of ‘NEWSPEAK in the 21st Century’, David Edwards and David Cromwell, Pluto Press, 2009.]

And you twice mention Iraqi “sanction-busting”. But you are silent about the sanctions themselves which directly contributed to the deaths of over one million Iraqis between 1990-2003; half a million of them were children under the age of five. Hans von Sponeck, the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad, documented the effect of the UN sanctions regime, maintained with cruelty by Washington and London, in ‘A Different Kind of War’: a book which the Guardian appears to have totally ignored.

Why did you quote nobody with the above widely-held rational views?

Why, instead, was your analysis so one-sided? Why so skewed towards the propaganda framework favoured by the US and Israel?


David Cromwell


[1] Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill, ‘US takes on Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran's nuclear programme in one massive gamble’, Guardian online, August 25 [August 26 in print version], 2009; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/25/us-obama-israel-palestine-iran We have received no response from the Guardian.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Julian Borger, Guardian’s diplomatic editor Email: julian.borger@guardian.co.uk

Ewen MacAskill, Guardian’s Washington DC bureau chief Email: ewen.macaskill@guardian.co.uk Please copy to:

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Siobhain Butterworth, Guardian readers’ editor Email: reader@guardian.co.uk

Please also send a copy of your emails to us. Email: editor@medialens.org

Please do NOT reply to the email address from which this media alert originated. Please instead email us: Email: editor@medialens.org

This media alert will shortly be archived here: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/09/090902_an_existential_threat.php

A new Media Lens book, 'NEWSPEAK in the 21st Century,' by David Edwards and David Cromwell has just been published by Pluto Press. John Pilger writes of the book:

"Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth."

Further details about 'NEWSPEAK': http://www.medialens.org/bookshop/newspeak.php

Our earlier book, ‘Guardians of Power: The Myth Of The Liberal Media' (Pluto Books, London), was published in 2006: http://www.medialens.org/bookshop/guardians_of_power.php

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