Having spent most of the last five days as far removed from breaking news and the 24/7 political drone as it's possible to get in 2009, I come back and find myself fascinated by the Iranian election and the wild aftermath, and still trying to get my arms around the situation. Here are 3 questions about what's going on in Tehran -- none of them rhetorical (for a change).
1. Why is the American TV coverage, especially on cable news, which is supposed to exist for a situation like this, so lame?
Indeed, the hashtag (don't ask) "#cnnfail" has been going through the roof on Twitter today, because so many political junkies are tuning into the most news-oriented of the cable news networks, only to find 5 quick minutes of Christiane Amanpour at the top of the hour and not the around-the-clock coverage that they crave. Tonight, the New York Times' Brian Stelter is on the case:
Steve LaBate, an Atlanta resident, said on Twitter, "Why aren't you covering this with everything you've got?" About the same time, CNN was showing a repeat of Larry King's interview of the stars of the "American Chopper" show. For a time, new criticisms were being added on Twitter at least once a second.
Andrew Sullivan, a blogger for The Atlantic, wrote, "There's a reason the MSM is in trouble," using the blogosphere abbreviation for mainstream media.
Seriously -- what gives here? How much of the lack of American news coverage is the result of massive Iranian censorship, which is a very difficult problem for them to overcome? But how much of it is because of the huge cutbacks in staffing and funding of international news coverage, which is something that CNN, MSNBC, the networks, etc., can do something about. I remember vividly watching CNN's aggressive coverage of the Tiananmen Square unrest 20 years ago this month -- it's great to see that with all the advances in technology in two decades that we're somehow marching backwards here. Sigh.
2. Is it my imagination, or do liberals seem a lot more excited about the street protests in Tehran and elsewhere than conservatives do? If so, why is that?
Again, this is not a rhetorical question. The cartoon characterization has always been that liberals were the ones insufficiently outraged by the tyrrany of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about his Holocaust denying-bluster, his hostile stance toward Israel, pursuit of nuclear weapons, etc. So it would stand to reason that conservatives, favoring a more aggressive stand toward the short-fingered vulgarian in Tehran, would be urging Iranians to take to the ramparts over a stolen election.
Instead, it's the liberal blogs -- especially the Great Orange Satan, Daily Kos, but also progressive-oriented sites like Talking Points Memo -- that are practically giddy over the two days of protests, and are becoming primary sources (along with Twitter) for Americans seeking the news they aren't getting on CNN. Conservative blogs that I've checked out...much more muted. What's the reason for that?
Is it Occam's Razor (the best explanation is the simplest one), which in this case may be that the dirty freakin' hippies on the left (and I say that affectionately) simply like people singing songs and carrying signs, whether it's Berkeley in the '60s or Tehran in the '00s, while conservatives find this all so...messy. Or is it what I wrote about earlier tonight, a validation of "the Obama effect" in the Islamic world? Or are there just some right-wingers who's rather take Ahmadinejad out with bullets, not ballots?
3. What would you do if you were President Barack Obama?
Talk about a tightrope act. The knee-jerk reaction, regardless of ideology, is to want the American president to come out and openly support the people in the streets of Tehran. But to do so might provoke a backlash from the Iranian military that would in fact mean death to the people in the streets of Tehran, which could crush any eventual hope of a true democracy very much in the way it all went down in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
So his mission, should he choose to accept, should be to do as much to covertly aid the protestors as possible, while keeping it all top secret and while people on the American left and the American right and around the world are screaming at him to do something. Should Obama engage with Iran if these results stand, which they probably will? I would hold off on that for a little while, to be sure.