Wash. Post assigns more credibility to Iran than to Israel

Leo Rennert
As Iran and the West ratcheted up tensions in recent weeks over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, mainstream media reports continued to cling to an even-handed parallelism when it comes each side's credibility.   The context for rising tensions usually has it that the West believes Tehran is on a course to develop nuclear weapons, while the Iranians insist that their nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Readers and listeners thus are left to ponder a he-said-versus-he-said enigma without  guidance as to which side might have more credibility.  Western and Iranian versions are given equal weight.

What tends to be missing, however, is that there is a third party to this equation -- the latest report from the UN nuclear watchdog which tilts the credibility scales against Iran by concluding that there are indeed worrisome signs that Tehran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability.  More often than not, Western journalists find it easier or more politically correct to overlook the UN findings and thus fail to differentiate as to whose version is really believable.

A similar neglectful approach can be found in recent days in Washington Post articles by Jerusalem correspondent Joel Greenberg about Iranian attacks aimed at Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, and Thailand.  Regardless of fairly conclusive forensic evidence, Greenberg not only still relies on a he-said-versus-he-said formula, but actually tends to be more skeptical about Israeli pronouncements than Iranian ones.

Take for example his Feb. 16 dispatch about Israel pointing a finger at explosive devices found in Bangkok with similar ones in New Delhi and in Tbilsi, Georgia.  ("Israeli cites more links to Iran in bombings -- Devices in Thailand said to resemble those used in India and Georgia" page A12).

As far as Greenberg is concerned this is all just Israel's version and he spares no ink in matching it with stout Iranian denials.  Here is his second paragraph:

"(Israeli) officials, citing findings of local investigations, said the forensic evidence buttressed earlier Israeli assertions that Iran was behind the attacks.  Iran, which had threatened to retaliate for the killings of several of its nuclear scientists in similar bombings, has denied any involvement in the explosions, calling them Israeli provocations."

Greenberg's bottom line:  Here is what the Israelis claim and here's what the Iranians claim, so don't ask him who's telling the truth.  But in giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, Greenberg stumbles about actual evidence that ought to be fairly conclusive that Tehran was behind these attacks.

In his third paragraph, Greenberg writes:  "Indian and Thai authorities have said they still do not have evidence that would indicate who was responsible for the blasts."  But then he contradicts himself in the seventh paragraph when he writes:  "Thai police arrested two of three Iranian men who fled the house after the blast."  So Thai authorities do after all have evidence that Iran was involved.  But Post readers are left to decide whether to believe the third paragraph or the seventh one.  Greenberg won't help them make that decision.

Throughout the article, Greenberg remains determined to help Iran befog the situation.  As he does in his fifth paragraph when he starts by quoting an Israeli official that the bombs were of the same make in all three countries -- the way they were assembled, their electronic elements and other findings pointing to an Iranian connection.  But is Greenberg persuaded?  Not at all.  He immediately shoots down this Israeli explanation by warning readers that the Israeli official "did not elaborate."   Israel, according to Greenberg, just hasn't made its case.

When it comes to Iranian accounts, however, Greenberg is less picky.  Farther down in his 13th paragraph, he writes that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman "accused Israel of orchestrating the string of explosions this week to conceal its real essence in carrying out terrorist acts, particularly assassinating Iran's scientists."  So Israel bombed its own diplomats, but in this instance, Greenberg doesn't bother to caution readers that the Iranian spokesman failed to elaborate.  It's easier for Iran to get un-rebutted claims in Greenberg's copy than for Israel to get such gentle treatment.

While being softer on Iran than on Israel, Greenberg omits a key finding that Iran has been behind these bombings -- Thai police recovered Iranian passports from two of the Iranians apprehended in Bangkok.  No mention of this by Greenberg.  But in probability, if Greenberg had reported the passports angle, he probably would have coupled it with word from some expert that passports can be faked.

As for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's public statement that the bombing attacks "exposed Iranian terrorist acts for all to see" and that "Iran undermines stability in the world, harms innocent diplomats, and the world must draw "red lines against the Iranian aggression."  All that is relegated to the last couple of paragraphs in Greenberg's dispatch. 

Not the first time that Israel gets back-of-the-bus treatment in the Washington Post.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

As Iran and the West ratcheted up tensions in recent weeks over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, mainstream media reports continued to cling to an even-handed parallelism when it comes each side's credibility.   The context for rising tensions usually has it that the West believes Tehran is on a course to develop nuclear weapons, while the Iranians insist that their nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Readers and listeners thus are left to ponder a he-said-versus-he-said enigma without  guidance as to which side might have more credibility.  Western and Iranian versions are given equal weight.

What tends to be missing, however, is that there is a third party to this equation -- the latest report from the UN nuclear watchdog which tilts the credibility scales against Iran by concluding that there are indeed worrisome signs that Tehran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability.  More often than not, Western journalists find it easier or more politically correct to overlook the UN findings and thus fail to differentiate as to whose version is really believable.

A similar neglectful approach can be found in recent days in Washington Post articles by Jerusalem correspondent Joel Greenberg about Iranian attacks aimed at Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, and Thailand.  Regardless of fairly conclusive forensic evidence, Greenberg not only still relies on a he-said-versus-he-said formula, but actually tends to be more skeptical about Israeli pronouncements than Iranian ones.

Take for example his Feb. 16 dispatch about Israel pointing a finger at explosive devices found in Bangkok with similar ones in New Delhi and in Tbilsi, Georgia.  ("Israeli cites more links to Iran in bombings -- Devices in Thailand said to resemble those used in India and Georgia" page A12).

As far as Greenberg is concerned this is all just Israel's version and he spares no ink in matching it with stout Iranian denials.  Here is his second paragraph:

"(Israeli) officials, citing findings of local investigations, said the forensic evidence buttressed earlier Israeli assertions that Iran was behind the attacks.  Iran, which had threatened to retaliate for the killings of several of its nuclear scientists in similar bombings, has denied any involvement in the explosions, calling them Israeli provocations."

Greenberg's bottom line:  Here is what the Israelis claim and here's what the Iranians claim, so don't ask him who's telling the truth.  But in giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, Greenberg stumbles about actual evidence that ought to be fairly conclusive that Tehran was behind these attacks.

In his third paragraph, Greenberg writes:  "Indian and Thai authorities have said they still do not have evidence that would indicate who was responsible for the blasts."  But then he contradicts himself in the seventh paragraph when he writes:  "Thai police arrested two of three Iranian men who fled the house after the blast."  So Thai authorities do after all have evidence that Iran was involved.  But Post readers are left to decide whether to believe the third paragraph or the seventh one.  Greenberg won't help them make that decision.

Throughout the article, Greenberg remains determined to help Iran befog the situation.  As he does in his fifth paragraph when he starts by quoting an Israeli official that the bombs were of the same make in all three countries -- the way they were assembled, their electronic elements and other findings pointing to an Iranian connection.  But is Greenberg persuaded?  Not at all.  He immediately shoots down this Israeli explanation by warning readers that the Israeli official "did not elaborate."   Israel, according to Greenberg, just hasn't made its case.

When it comes to Iranian accounts, however, Greenberg is less picky.  Farther down in his 13th paragraph, he writes that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman "accused Israel of orchestrating the string of explosions this week to conceal its real essence in carrying out terrorist acts, particularly assassinating Iran's scientists."  So Israel bombed its own diplomats, but in this instance, Greenberg doesn't bother to caution readers that the Iranian spokesman failed to elaborate.  It's easier for Iran to get un-rebutted claims in Greenberg's copy than for Israel to get such gentle treatment.

While being softer on Iran than on Israel, Greenberg omits a key finding that Iran has been behind these bombings -- Thai police recovered Iranian passports from two of the Iranians apprehended in Bangkok.  No mention of this by Greenberg.  But in probability, if Greenberg had reported the passports angle, he probably would have coupled it with word from some expert that passports can be faked.

As for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's public statement that the bombing attacks "exposed Iranian terrorist acts for all to see" and that "Iran undermines stability in the world, harms innocent diplomats, and the world must draw "red lines against the Iranian aggression."  All that is relegated to the last couple of paragraphs in Greenberg's dispatch. 

Not the first time that Israel gets back-of-the-bus treatment in the Washington Post.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers