Friday, September 16, 2005

# Posted 8:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH WOULD KILL FOR THAT KIND OF PRESS COVERAGE: I think there is pretty strong agreement across the political spectrum that American journalists always make at least a token effort to ensure that both sides have their say in any given newspaper article. But actually, that's not that case.

Take a look at the article about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on page A26 of this morning's WaPo. The article is basically a summary of Ahmadinejad's press conference in New York. Even when he says things that are fairly absurd or insulting, you don't get a counterpoint from any of his critics, domestic or foreign.

Why is that? To some degree, I think that when you are a charter member of the Axis of Evil, journalists assume that no one will believe anything you say, so why take up space with a counterpoint?

The second reason is that Ahmadinejad himself is the implicit counterpoint to what we generally hear from the White House. He can say things like the United States "should not humiliate others, should not consider itself superior to others" because journalists possibly assume that their readers are already familiar with the opposing point of view.

What's interesting is that certain American politicians also benefit from this sort of treatment. If you turn to page C1 of this morning's Post, you can read about Rep. John Lewis' (D-GA) argument that John Roberts isn't fully aware of just how much blacks suffered as a result of Jim Crow. There are actually two brief quotes from Roberts supporters, but the article is 95% Lewis.

In this instance, you obviously can't say that readers will know not to trust what Lewis says. To the contrary, his status as a "civil rights icon" ensures that his argument will carry the presumption of truth. Yet since Roberts' confirmation is now pretty much beyond question, I think that perspectives such as Lewis have become implicit counterpoints, since the argument for Roberts is so well known.

Although Lewis comes pretty close to saying that white conservatives can't possibly be fair to black people, I don't care so much about the lack of balance there because the Roberts issue has already been decided. Plus, there are always lower standards for the 'C' section, even though its contents are often the same as the hard news in 'A'.

But I think it is profoundly irresponsible to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a free pass. The issue here isn't whether his cheapshots at the United States go unanswered. That's irrelevant. But any article about the Iranian government should also let us know about the ongoing efforts of the Iranian opposition to stop rampant human rights violations in Iran and bring down the clerical dictatorship.
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