Iranian parliamentarians presented an ugly scene on Tuesday with raucous chants calling for the executions of two opposition leaders -- and the U.S. news media was quick to denounce the Iranian government -- but there is a complex history that Americans aren't getting.
Who, after all, are former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former House Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, the two opposition leaders who continue to insist that the 2009 election giving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term was rigged or stolen?
Are Mousavi and Karrubi the noble "democrats" as they are portrayed in the U.S. press or are they brazen political operatives seeking to claim through disruption in the streets what they could not achieve at the ballot box? As disturbing as the scene in the Iranian parliament was, are there explanations for this unappealing fury?
And what about the U.S. news media, from Left to Right? Are American journalists displaying their bias against Ahmadinejad in a replay of their behavior before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when many liberal commentators supported the war against the "evil" Saddam Hussein?
In a February 2003 article entitled "The I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club," Bill Keller, the current executive editor of the New York Times, boasted that his pro-invasion contingent included "op-ed regulars at this newspaper [the New York Times] and The Washington Post, the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek."
With such a star-studded supporting cast, is it any wonder why President George W. Bush thought he could launch an invasion of Iraq in violation of international law, a war of choice that would leave hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and millions injured or dispossessed?
So, before another dangerous propaganda bandwagon gets rolling -- with Keller now joined by MSNBC's "progressive" voices like Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews -- perhaps some context is in order.
First, it is long past time to admit that -- whether Americans like it or not -- the unsavory Ahmadinejad won the 2009 election. Yes, the Iranian electoral system is badly flawed, with Islamic religious leaders restricting voter choices.
But the U.S. system is far from perfect, too, with a two-party system that requires presidential candidates to raise obscene amounts of money to become "credible" in the primaries and to compete in the general election. Then, there is the Electoral College which is weighted in favor of small-population states and which sometimes lets the loser win, i.e. Election 2000.
So, while the loutish Ahmadinejad is understandably disdained by the West and by many of Iran's better-educated voters, he retains a strong following among the nation's poor and the religious conservatives whose votes apparently reelected him by a substantial margin.
Though widely ignored by the major American news media, a study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found little evidence to support allegations of fraud or to conclude that most Iranians view Ahmadinejad as illegitimate.
PIPA analyzed multiple polls of the Iranian public from three different sources, including some before the June 12, 2009, election and some afterwards. The study found that in all the polls, a majority said they planned to vote for Ahmadinejad or had voted for him. The numbers ranged from 52 to 57 percent just before the election to 55 to 66 percent after the election.
"These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. "But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad."
An analysis by former U.S. national security officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett reached a similar conclusion. They found that the "personal political agendas" of American commentators caused them to side with the anti-Ahmadinejad protesters who sought to overturn the election results. [See Consortiumnews.com's "How US Media Botched Iran's Election."]
Among those biased American journalists on assignment in Iran in 2009 was Times executive editor Keller, one of the liberal "hawks" on Iraq. He co-authored a "news analysis" that opened with an old joke about Ahmadinejad looking into a mirror and saying "male lice to the right, female lice to the left," disparaging both his Islamic conservatism and his rise from the street.