March 13, 2009
“Dear Iranians, your children have put the first indigenous satellite into orbit…. [T]he Islamic Republic of Iran has officially achieved a presence in space.” —Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, February 3, 2009
If a tree falls in the forest, and the media ignores it, does it make a noise? If a crisis happens—specifically, one that hurts the new president that reporters adore—and the media ignores it, is it a crisis?
Recall that Joe Biden, back when he was Senator Barack Obama’s running mate, warned that a President Obama would be “tested” in his first six months.
Well, what if that test has occurred, and Obama failed, or at least looked pretty bad, and the media chose to ignore it? Perhaps precisely that has happened in Iran.
That thought was posed to me by Don Kroah, the excellent talk-show host out of WAVA-FM in Washington, DC, upon reading a column I wrote on President Obama and Iran: “Hugs and Kisses from Iran.” To consider Kroah’s point, let me quickly revisit that piece:
I noted that Obama, both on the campaign trail and as president, has repeatedly offered to “talk” with Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. In response, Ahmadinejad has demanded apologies from Obama, has demanded “deep and fundamental change” from the new president and America, has denounced America’s “Satanic views,” has maintained that Obama’s offer to talk means the American system and ideology “has become passive” and has “failed,” and much more. For good measure, he tossed in a couple more Holocaust denials. In essence, Ahmadinejad took up Obama’s offer to “listen,” and then replied with a fusillade of verbal hand-grenades. He ridiculed the president’s overtures.
Then, after all that, Ahmadinejad made the shocking announcement on Feb. 3, the 30th anniversary of the Ayatollah’s Islamic revolution, that Iran had succeeded in putting into orbit its first indigenous satellite. The civilized world, including Obama’s State Department, quickly noted this was a stunning step toward an Iranian “military nuclear capacity”—specifically, the ultimate ability to deliver a nuclear warhead via an advanced long-range missile.
But the Iranians were not finished. Two weeks later, U.N. officials announced another shocker: Iran has produced enough fissile material to produce an atomic bomb. As the Financial Times reported, the revelation came as “the Obama administration is drawing up its policy on negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.”
So, Iran’s theocracy has the missile, has the fissile material, and is thus very close to a nuclear bomb. That’s farther than Saddam Hussein ever got.
This Iranian leap is a crass, complete repudiation of Barack Obama’s very public thinking—and his core policy prescription. His plan for Iran has blown up in the immediate days of his administration. The whole spectacle has been a painfully embarrassing example of naïveté from the leader of the free world.
Yet, this begs the question raised by Don Kroah: How does the American public even know of such naïveté, such a blow up, such an international loss, such a mushrooming crisis, if it isn’t highlighted on their TV screens? Is this the crisis, the “testing” of Obama that Joe Biden had predicted.
Now, it isn’t exactly the Bay of Pigs. But it’s arguably Sputnik—the Iranian version. I wasn’t alive when the Soviets launched their first satellite into orbit, but it was a big enough deal that I learned about it 30 years later. Newspapers draped their entire front pages with gigantic images of the Soviet satellite, followed by thousands of words of alarmist text. It was a mammoth headliner. The Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, was pressed repeatedly to address the situation by a panic-stricken, frenetic media.
I would bet that nearly 100 percent of Americans knew about Sputnik.
How many Americans realize that the Iranian leadership—the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism for 30 years—has just done the same? I bet that less than 10 percent of the public is aware of what has happened in Iran—which is arguably worse than Sputnik. Nikita Khrushchev, while no Mr. Rogers, was not a suicidal, genocidal lunatic who always left an empty seat for the Hidden Imam anytime he spoke.
The Iran story got coverage, sure, but not the incessant, hand-wringing, full-blown, wall-to-wall attention it deserves, or would normally get. This was the satellite equivalent of Hurricane Katrina. It was certainly a bigger story than Sarah Palin’s wardrobe.
Speaking of Sarah Palin, does anyone doubt that the Iranian situation would be a 24-7 news story—the mother of all crises—if Governor Palin was our current freshman president? Katie Couric would lead with the story every evening.
Yes, yes, I know: We constantly complain about the media; it’s easy to blame the press. But it is true that Americans are educated by the media, and especially by the TV media, and most specifically, even in this new technological age, by CBS, NBC, and ABC.
We have begun eight years—not four, but eight—in which the American president is going to be protected to an unprecedented degree by an extraordinarily sympathetic mainstream media. It will be astonishing to behold. It will also mean that a genuine crisis—at least one that would hurt the press’s president—will have an uncanny ability to barely make a noise in the forest.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperPerennial, 2007) and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).