How The Press Promotes Fear

Today’s Globe includes an excellent example of how the press promotes fear and hysteria.

The headline, on page A5, reads ‘US says Iran has enough uranium for a nuclear weapon’. In the current climate of hysteria over Iran, that’s enough to send more than a few people over the edge, especially if they’re of the Republican persuasion, and certainly if they’re of the Republican wingnut persuasion.

The first paragraph proceeds to deepen the fear inherent in the headline:

The United States warned yesterday that Iran is close to having the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon, and joined major European powers in urging Tehran to “turn the page’’ and engage in dialogue to prove its atomic program is peaceful.

Scary, eh?

But then the story continues with this:

Glyn Davies, the chief US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the latest report by the nuclear watchdog shows that Tehran is either very near or already in possession of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade.

“This ongoing enrichment activity . . . moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity,’’ Davies told the agency’s 35-nation board of governors.

Oh. Well. That’s a bit different. All they have is low-enriched uranium. That’ll work for nuclear electrical generation, but not in a bomb.

And there’s no evidence they’ve made a decision to enrich it to weapons grade uranium.

So the story goes from “The Iranians could build a bomb right away” in the headline, to “The Iranians are quite a ways away from creating the material for a bomb”.

Was the Globe deliberately seeking to create fear? These days, given the press’s uncertain loyalties to ethics and honesty and its willingness to toe any Federal government line that includes a question of loyalty or patriotism, it’s not possible to say with certainty what their motive is, and it is, as always, best to question their motive and intent.

If we assume a charitable position, we can say they simply wrote a stupid headline. But the damage is done. And as professionals they should know better. That they didn’t suggests either an overworked editor, or a right-wing partisan editor, or an editor who simply doesn’t know his job and doesn’t really care. One would have to consider also that more than one person was responsible for the headline: someone had to look it over, perhaps.

From such small events, one piled on another, come the first steps to war, to the destruction of nations and slaughter of millions.

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6 Responses

  1. if the decision were made to further enrich it.

    Uh, yeah – pretty significant caveat buried deep in the bowels of the article (as if most people bother to read that far).

    Unlike you, I’m not going to assume a charitable position. I’ll play the “bad cop” role and suggest that the editor was acting on the assumption that “fear sells,” an assumption that is second only to the widely known “sex sells” gambit.

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    • Bad cop, eh? Does that mean you get to wear a uniform and carry a whip? Some of those bad boy Republicans like that sort of stuff. You could have a whole new career ahead of you.

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  2. If I had some ham, I could have some ham and eggs, if I had some eggs. If is by far the biggest two-letter word in the language.

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  3. I have to agree with Chappie, here. It sounds like the editor suffers from Faux News Syndrome. FNS causes editors and writers to skew the facts to fit the worst possible scenario if it will make the President or the Democratic Party look bad (of course, FNS has the opposite effect when a Republican is in power (but then, I’m getting a little cynical)). FNS preys on ignorance. And it feeds quite well.

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    • How dare you be cynical? Didn’t you get the memo that this is a time of hope and optimism and ice cream for all? Just remember that when you’re standing in line for your ice cream you’ll more often than not need to duck the bullets.

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  4. Didn’t you get the memo that this is a time of hope and optimism and ice cream for all?

    That memo is buried under the truckload of documents revealing how ineptly Obama and the Dems are handling health care reform. I figured the conditions of the memo had been superseded by the conditions of reality.

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