Arguably, the most serious ethical crisis in U.S. journalism is the deep-seated bias about the Middle East that is displayed by major American news outlets, particularly the Washington Post and the New York Times.
When it comes to reporting on "designated enemies" in the Muslim world, the Post and the Times routinely jettison all sense of objectivity even when the stakes are as serious as war and peace, life and death. Propaganda wins out over balanced journalism.
We have seen this pattern with Iraq and its non-existent stockpiles of WMD; with the rush to judgment about Syria's supposed guilt in the killing of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri; with the false certainty about Libya's role in the Lockerbie bombing; and many other examples of what everyone just "knows to be true" but often turns out isn't. [For more on these cases, click here.]
The latest example of this ethical failing relates to reporting about Iran on such topics as the buffoonish plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and a new set of dubious allegations about Iran's nuclear weapons program.
In these cases, U.S. mainstream news media happily marshals sources with histories of credibility problems; treats implausible scenarios with utmost respect; jettisons crucial context; and transforms the grays of ambiguity into black-and-white morality tales of good versus evil.
Then, behind these war drums of the U.S. press corps, the American people are marched toward confrontation and violence, while anyone who dares question the perceived wisdom of the Post, the Times and many other esteemed outlets is fair game for marginalization and ridicule.
An example of this propaganda passing as journalism has been the recent writings of Joby Warrick of the Washington Post about a vague but alarmist report produced by the new leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
On Monday, the Post put on its front page a story about Russian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, a leading expert in the formation of nanodiamonds who spent several years assisting Iranians develop a domestic industry in these micro-diamonds that have many commercial uses.
But Warrick's story is fraught with spooky shadows and scary music that suggest Danilenko is really part of an ongoing drive by Iranian authorities to overcome technological obstacles for a nuclear bomb. Just like in that spy thriller, "Sum of All Fears," a greedy ex-Soviet nuclear scientist is helping to build a rogue nuclear bomb.
"When the Cold War abruptly ended in 1991, Vyacheslav Danilenko was a Soviet weapons scientist in need of a new line of work. At 57, he " struggled to become a businessman, traveling through Europe and even to the United States to promote an idea for using explosives to create synthetic diamonds. Finally, he turned to Iran, a country that could fully appreciate the bombmaker's special mix of experience and talents."
Now, Warrick continued, Danilenko has been identified by Western diplomats as the unnamed scientist cited in the IAEA report as advising Iran on the explosive techniques to detonate a nuclear bomb. Warrick's story continues:
"No bomb was built, the diplomats say. But help from foreign scientists such as Danilenko enabled Iran to leapfrog over technical hurdles that otherwise could have taken years to overcome, according to former and current U.N. officials, Western diplomats and weapons experts."
However, Warrick crafts the story in a very misleading way, leaving out key facts that would create a less ominous picture. For instance, the article fails to mention that the U.S. intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 that Iran had stopped its work on a nuclear bomb in late 2003.
Danilenko, who has insisted that his work was limited to advising Iranians on the explosions used to manufacture nanodiamonds, last worked in Iran in 2002 and the explosive test that the IAEA associates with Danilenko -- and which supposedly might have nuclear implications -- was conducted in 2003.
In other words -- even if one accepts that Danilenko is lying about his work in Iran -- nothing in the Danilenko story undercuts the U.S. intelligence community's NIE. To leave out this crucial context in the Post's article suggests an intention to frighten rather than to inform.
Indeed, what is notable about the curious IAEA report is how much of it predates late 2003. [For a contrasting view of the Danilenko evidence, see Consortiumnews.com's "Iran's Soviet Bomb-Maker Who Wasn't."]