Media: On Iran, SPLC’s ‘Extremist’ Is NPR’s ‘Expert’

8 February 2017 — FAIR

NPR: Did Iran's Ballistic Missile Test Violate A U.N. Resolution?NPR’s report on Iran turned for analysis to what the SPLC describes as “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”

Last week, the Trump administration began ratcheting up hostilities with Iran, nominally in response to a ballistic missile test in late January. NPR (2/2/17) dutifully reported Trump’s announcement of new sanctions on Iran, framing the issue as the Trump White House responding to an Iranian “provocation” in regards to Iran’s agreement with the UN, rather than simply executing long-held plans. A follow-up explainer by international correspondent Peter Kenyon (2/3/17) would muddy the waters further and use an incredibly dodgy source to do so.

The piece was headlined “Did Iran’s Ballistic Missile Test Violate a UN Resolution?” and in keeping with Betteridge’s Law, quickly answers its own question with a reluctant “no.” To do this, NPR uses the Vox-approved “most experts agree” formulation (without, of course, bothering to cite any experts that hold with the broad position):

Most nonproliferation experts would say Iran certainly defied the spirit of the UN resolution, but technically didn’t violate it—because it contains no prohibition against such testing, as one of its predecessors, passed in 2010, specifically did.

Here Kenyon concedes Iran didn’t violate the UN resolution, but rather its “spirit,” to help provide the required “both sides” framing. As a matter of law, Iran is not in violation—and thus Trump’s actions are seemingly unwarranted—but another side must exist, so one is dug up.

Frank Gaffney

Frank Gaffney has called for “a new and improved counterpart to the Cold War-era’s HUAC” to root out the “civilization jihad” in the US government.

To do this, Kenyon must go further to the right of the already exceedingly right-wing assumption that  the United States has the right to dictate the energy policy of foreign nations. Enter: Frank Gaffney’s extremist Center for Security Policy:

Conservative critics of the nuclear agreement argued strongly against the language change, calling it a dangerous watering-down of the international position on Iran’s ballistic missile program….

“For its part, Iran says it never agreed to missile restrictions in the JCPOA and claims its missile tests do not violate Security Council resolutions because they are not designed to carry nuclear warheads. This is absurd,” former CIA analyst Fred Fleitz argued in the  National Review last year. “Iran’s missile program is widely believed to be a delivery system for nuclear warheads. If Iran were telling the truth, it would be the only nation in history without a nuclear-weapons program that nonetheless developed missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers or more. Iran is not building long-range missiles to carry warheads full of dynamite or to fire monkeys into space.”

Who is Fred Fleitz? He’s the senior vice president for policy and programs at the Center for Security Policy—an important piece of omitted context, for two reasons: 1) The CSP has close ties with the Trump White House, with its founder and president, Frank Gaffney, personally advising him. 2) The benign-sounding CSP is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” Here’s what the nation’s foremost hate-group monitor said of NPR’s source:

For the past decade, CSP’s main focus has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security. Statements from Frank Gaffney and other CSP staffers, along with claims made in CSP publications, have become increasingly conspiratorial in nature, making such claims as Muslims are attempting to overthrow the US government from within, and that Shariah law is trumping the constitution in American courts.

Conventional wisdom on the issue of Iran has moved so far to the right that high-status Breitbart wannabes are now propped up by NPR as a reasonable second opinion. At the very least, NPR should have noted Fleitz’s ties to an anti-Muslim extremist group instead of simply labeling him a “former CIA analyst,” as if he’s just a neutral party calling balls and strikes.

This is part of a broader pattern whereby the media are very critical of Trump on his unconventional truth-fudging, but give him a pass on truth-fudging that is bipartisan and long-standing in nature (, 1/25/17, 1/25/17). Iran is eagerly seeking a nuclear weapons and must be stopped at all costs is a truism (, 9/9/15), even more so when Trump doubles down on it.

To top it off, Kenyon ends the piece by uncritically echoing former Obama administration official Philip Gordon’s fear-inducing claim that Iran could respond by launching “terrorist attacks on Americans in the Mideast”—despite the fact that Iran has never launched a terror attack on American civilians, in the Mideast or elsewhere.

But the stakes need to be raised, and the conflict between the Trump White House and Iran has to be presented as two equals duking it out, as opposed to a new, hot-headed president—surrounded by Islamophobes, including NPR’s source’s boss—recklessly asserting his will over a sovereign nation.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

You can contact NPR ombud Elizabeth Jensen via NPR’s contact form or via Twitter: @ejensenNYC. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

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