“Could there be something to all the talk of an Obama effect, after all? A stealth effect, perhaps?”
So asked Helene Cooper, the New York Times‘ diplomatic correspondent in a news analysis of the massive anti-regime protests in Iran published in Sunday’s Times.
It took US President Barack Obama eight days to issue a clear statement of support for the millions of pro-freedom demonstrators throughout Iran risking their lives to oppose the tyranny of the mullahs. And after eight days of vacillating and hedging his bets and so effectively supporting Iranian dictator Ali Khamenei against the multitudes rallying in the streets, Obama’s much awaited statement was not particularly forceful.
He offered no American support of any kind for the protesters. Indeed, it is hard to say that in making his statement, the American president was speaking primarily as an American.
He warned the likes of Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose goons are currently under orders to beat, arrest and murder protesters, that “the world is watching… If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.”
According to several prominent Western bloggers with direct ties to the protesters, Obama’s statement left the Iranians underwhelmed and angry.
But as Cooper sees it, the protesters owe their ability to oppose the regime that just stole their votes and has trampled their basic human rights for 30 years to Obama and the so-called “Obama effect.” Offering no evidence for her thesis, and ignoring a public record filled with evidence to the contrary, Cooper claims that it is due to Obama’s willingness to accept the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical tyranny that the protesters feel emboldened to oppose their regime. If it hadn’t been for Obama, and his embrace of appeasement as his central guiding principle for contending with the likes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, as far as Cooper is concerned, the people on the streets would never have come out to protest.
By this thinking, America is so despised by the Iranians that the only way they will make a move against their regime is if they believe that America is allied with their regime. So by this line of reasoning, the only way the US can lead is by negative example – which the world in its wisdom will reject.
While Cooper’s analysis gives no evidence that Obama’s policies toward the ayatollahs had any impact on the tumultuous events now sweeping through Iran, it does make clear that the so-called Obama effect is a real phenomenon. It just isn’t the phenomenon she claims it is.
THE REAL OBAMA effect on world affairs relates to the US media’s unprecedented willingness to abandon the basic responsibilities of a free press in favor of acting as propagandists for the president. From Cooper – who pretends that Obama’s unreciprocated open hand to the mullahs is what empowered the protesters – to Newsweek editor Evan Thomas who referred to Obama earlier this month as a “sort of God,” without a hint of irony, the US media have mobilized to serve the needs of the president.
It is hard to think of an example in US history in which the media organs of the world’s most important democracy so openly sacrificed the most basic responsibilities of news gatherers to act as shills for the chief executive. Franklin Delano Roosevelt enjoyed adoring media attention, but he also faced media pressures that compelled him to take actions he did not favor. The same was the case with John F. Kennedy.
Today the mainstream US media exert no such pressures on Obama. Earlier this month NBC’s nightly news anchorman Brian Williams bowed to Obama when he bid him good night at the White House.
On Wednesday ABC News will devote an entire day of programming to advancing Obama’s controversial plan to nationalize health care. Its two prime time news shows will be broadcast from White House. Good Morning America will feature an interview with Obama, and ABC’s other three flagship shows will dedicate special programming to his health care reform program.
On the other hand, ABC has refused Republican requests for a right of reply to Obama’s positions. The network has also refused to sell commercial advertising time to Republicans and other Obama opponents to offer their dissenting opinions to his plans.
This media behavior has been noted by the likes of Fox News and the handful of other US news outlets that are not in the tank for Obama. But the repercussions of the Obama effect on US politics and world affairs have been largely ignored.
THE MOST IMPORTANT repercussion of the US media’s propagandistic reporting is that the American public is denied the ability to understand events as they unfold. Take for instance The New York Times‘ write-up of Khamenei’s sermon this past Friday in which he effectively declared war on the protesters. As Russell Berman pointed out in the Telos blog on Saturday, the Times‘ write-up was misleadingly selective.
The Times did not mention that Khamenei ascribed world events to a Zionist conspiracy which he believes controls the US. It similarly failed to mention his long rant against the US for the FBI’s 1993 raid on David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Had the Times – and other major media outlets – properly reported Khamenei’s speech, they would have made clear to their readers that he is not a rational thinker. His view of world events is deeply distorted by his hatreds and prejudices and paranoia.
But then, if Times readers were permitted to know just how demented Khamenei’s views of the world are, they might come to the conclusion that Obama’s intense desire to sit down with him, and his constant pandering to Iran’s “supreme leader” are ill-advised and counterproductive. They might come to the conclusion that it is impossible to achieve a meeting of the minds with a man who calls Americans “morons” and leads his subordinate government officials in chants of “Death to America,” “Death to Britain” and “Death to Israel.”
And if they came to these conclusions, how could Obama be expected to affect anything?
Sunday, Cooper argued that Obama has changed the course of history in Iran simply by being the US president. In her words, unnamed Obama supporters claim that “the mere election of Barack Obama in the United States had galvanized reformers in Iran to demand change.”
And Obama’s power as president to change the world is not limited to Iran. As far as his media servants are concerned, his “mere election” is responsible for everything positive that has occurred in the US and throughout the world since last November.
TAKE HIZBULLAH’S defeat in the Lebanese parliamentary elections two weeks ago. As far as the US media are concerned, it was Obama’s speech to the Muslim world on June 4 that emboldened the Lebanese to back the anti-Syrian March 14 slate of candidates. Never mind that his speech – which refused to condemn Iran for its support for terrorism and its nuclear weapons program – actually strengthened Hizbullah’s position by demonstrating that the US would take no action against its Iranian masters. As far as the US media were concerned, Obama won the election for Hizbullah’s pro-Western rivals.
Yet this is not true. According to actual electoral data, what swung the balance towards Saad Hariri’s March 14 camp was Hizbullah-allied Christian leader Michel Aoun’s failure to convince Lebanon’s Christian minority to acquiesce to Hizbullah’s takeover of the country. And Lebanese Christian voters did not reject Hizbullah because Obama is President of the United States. They rejected Hizbullah because the Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir warned them on th
e eve of the election, “We must be alert to the schemes being plotted for us and thwart the intense efforts which, if they succeed, will change the face of our country.”
WHILE OBAMA’S supporters in the US media are certain that Obama’s “mere election” is responsible for every positive development on the world scene, they are equally certain that he bears no responsibility for the negative developments that have happened so far on his watch.
For instance, the fact that North Korea chose to escalate its nuclear brinksmanship shortly after Obama took office with a promise of appeasing Pyongyang is considered irrelevant. The fact that he ordered deep cuts in the US missile defense budget as North Korea tested a long-range missile and a nuclear bomb, and that he has maintained these cuts despite North Korea’s announced plan to launch a missile against the US on July 4 has gone largely unreported.
Furthermore, the US media were quick to celebrate the UN Security Council’s recent resolution against North Korea which calls for inspections of suspicious North Korean ships travelling in international waters as a great Obama achievement. But they failed to inform the public that the resolution has no enforcement mechanism. Consequently, today the USS John McCain, which is tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying ballistic missiles, lacks the authority to interdict it and inspect the cargo.
OUR WORLD today is complex and fraught with dangers. Some of these dangers are new, and some are old. All require serious discussion.
In free societies, the media’s primary responsibilities are to report current events to the public, place those events into an historical context to enable the public to understand how and why they occurred, and to present the public with the options for going forward. It is due to the media’s historic role in maintaining and cultivating an informed discussion and debate about current affairs that they became known as democracy’s watchdog. When media organs fail to fulfill their basic responsibilities, they degenerate quickly into democracy’s undertaker. For an uninformed public is incapable of making the sorts of decisions required of free citizens.
Obama and his media flacks would have us believe that by speaking of American values and by distinguishing friend from foe, former president George W. Bush raised the hackles of the world against America. Perhaps there is some truth to this assertion. Perhaps there isn’t.
What they fail to consider is that by genuflecting to tyrants, Obama has made the US an international laughingstock. Far from sharing their adulation of Obama and his cool demeanor, most of the nations of the world believe that the US has abandoned its leadership role. And unlike the US media, they realize that America has no understudy.
Unfortunately, unless the Obama effect wears off soon, by the time the American people become aware of this fact it may be too late to make a difference.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.