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But Clapper said very little in his remarks that would justify the propagandistic coverage we're seeing. His main point was that Iran could launch attacks if it felt threatened. It is hard to see how this is particularly surprising. Clapper pointed to the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. as evidence that Iran seems more eager to assert itself, perhaps even inside the United States. But there were many people who raised serious questions about that rather implausible scenario (which involved hiring a Mexican drug gang to carry out the assassination).
As the Wall Street Journal reported (one of the few corporate outlets I saw pushing back against the official alarmism):
There is still widespread doubt that an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was authorized at the highest levels in Tehran, said Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"If that's the only data point, I think it's a stretch to conclude that the regime is now looking to commit acts of terror on U.S. soil," he said.
That kind of caution was in short supply on the network newscasts. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (1/31/12) announced:
Iran's threat. Not just the nuclear program. Tonight, U.S. intelligence warns Iran may be prepared to strike on American soil.
Williams called Clapper's testimony a "chilling new assessment about the scope of the threat from Iran." As correspondent Andrea Mitchell explained, "Experts warn that the U.S. is even more vulnerable than Israel if Iran retaliates or launches a pre-emptive bomb plot.... Soft U.S. targets like embassies throughout the Persian Gulf, and 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan, next door to Iran."
It wasn't until the end of Mitchell's report that any notes of caution were sounded:
Still, intelligence officials told the Senate today they don't think Iran has taken the final step, deciding to build a bomb. But Israel does think Iran has crossed that red line, and U.S. officials say if attacked, Iran would not hesitate to retaliate against both Israel and the U.S.
So Iran is a substantial threat, though then again it might not even be developing the weapons the U.S. and Israel claim are in the works. And really, the "threat" seems mostly that Iran might be ready to respond to an attack on its country--something virtually any country in the world would do.
But for sheer propaganda value, ABC World News' January 31 broadcast would be tough to top.
First, start with alarming graphic:
Then Pentagon correspondent Martha Raddatz announced, "The saber rattling from Iran has been constant."
Match that with threatening B-roll footage from the enemy country. Weapons on display at a military parade, for instance:
Iran "may be more ready than ever to launch terror attacks in the United States," Raddatz explained. Cue footage of apparently menacing soldiers:
Don't forget to show the enemy county's leader (or, rather, a close approximation) meeting with other Official Enemies. Like this:
And why not one more, while reminding viewers that such figures "have little love for the U.S.":
It's important to remember, amidst all this hoopla, that it is U.S. military officials and the president who have regularly threatened that "no options" are "off the table" in dealing with Iran. That is code for using nuclear weapons--and Barack Obama's latest repetition of that apocalyptic threat got a standing ovation from Congress.
It is hard to argue honestly that the real escalation is coming from the Iranian side. But that's what propaganda is for.