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Contentions

NY Times Simulates Journalism on Iran

There’s a moment in the middle of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger where Auric Goldfinger, now thoroughly annoyed with how Bond keeps turning up, tells 007 that “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” That’s how readers of the New York Times must feel when confronted with the paper’s unsubtle front page campaign to brush back Israeli action against Iran.

Last month the Times ran a double bylined A1 article by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, headlined “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” Just to make sure readers knew how to contextualize the de facto talking points, the article kicked off with: “even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program…” The disclaimer was a reference to IAEA investigations, which the Times had previously buried on A8, cataloging the evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

A more interesting approach, and one thoroughly within the abilities of the two experienced journalists, would have been to report out which U.S. agencies were at odds with the notoriously cautious IAEA. But explaining how U.S. officials were provided to the paper as part of a more or less open anti-Israel campaign wouldn’t really fit into the broader theme. So instead readers were led through a fantasy world in which Iran had never been caught working on nuclear explosive devices, or holding damning weapons blueprints, or investigating how to mate nuclear warheads to missiles, or enriching nuclear material past what’s necessary for medical research and energy production.

Fast forward to the yesterday, with the Times weirdly declaring from the front page that American Jews are divided on an Iranian attack. Jonathan promptly dismantled that claim.

And now this morning, with the Times publishing another double bylined Mazzetti piece, this time with Thom Shanker, on the front page. Whereas last time the talking point was “Iran isn’t going nuclear,” this time its charming assumption is that “Israeli self-defense will get American boys and girls killed:”

A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials… The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans.

You have to keep reading to find out that the simulation was:

(1) Not designed to evaluate the effects of an Israeli strike – “the exercise was designed specifically to test internal military communications and coordination among battle staffs.”

(2) Inconclusive on the effects of an Israeli strike – “the exercise’s results were not the only possible outcome of a real-world conflict.”

(3) Likely wrong – “many experts have predicted that Iran would try to carefully manage the escalation after an Israeli first strike in order to avoid giving the United States a rationale for attacking… it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior Iranian leadership… Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration.”

The military invented — not evaluated, not declared likely, but deliberately invented — a scenario where Iran attacked and killed 200 Americans, so it could test how U.S. military communication would hold up if Iran attacked and killed 200 Americans. On the basis of that artificial, simulated, and by-admission improbable Iranian escalation, the Times wrote a story in which Iran would attack and kill 200 Americans.

The story is the equivalent of the U.S. military testing how its internal communication system would respond to an alien invasion in the aftermath of a solar storm, and the Times reporting that the U.S. military believes the next solar storm will trigger an alien invasion. The scenario might not be false, but it’s the premise not the conclusion of the simulation.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Paper of Record was out to preemptively blame Israel for the deaths of Americans, and that this story was the best they had on hand this morning.


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