Iran v Honduras: the Times' Selective Promotion of Democracy

Published at EXTRA!, the monthly magazine for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

By Michael Corcoran and Stephen Maher

When the results of the June 13 Iranian elections were decried as fraudulent (charges that were later backed up by a detailed study by Chatham House--6/21/09), U.S. media instantly became the champions of the oppressed Iranians who took to the streets in protest. Cries of righteous solidarity echoed from virtually all mainstream editorial outlets, and the large demonstrations were front-page news on every newspaper in the country each day.

The Islamic regime's harsh suppression of demonstrations was rightfully the focus of prolific news coverage and vigorous editorial discussion. As the pages of the New York Times informed Americans, a "genuine democratic movement...including women, young people, intellectuals and members of the moderate clerical establishment," had "united" in "resistance" against Iran's clerics (6/14/09), who used "overwhelming force to crush the demonstrations" (6/16/09), and against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (6/14/09), "an intensely divisive figure here and abroad."

"Death to the dictator," the protesters were quoted as crying, after Ahmadinejad's victory "provoked deep suspicion" given Iran's tendency towards "vote-rigging" which had "often been raised." Indeed, the Times (6/15/09)editorialized , "given the government's even more than usually thuggish reaction, it certainly looks like fraud."

By contrast, about two weeks later, demonstrators in Honduras who took to the streets to demand the reinstatement of the democratically elected president who had been violently abducted by soldiers that were armed, trained and advised by the United States received no such media support or attention. Hardly a mention that hundreds of protesters--two of whom were killed and 60 injured, according to the Chinese press agency Xinhua (6/30/09)--were confronting tanks and droves of armed forces in the Honduran capital could be found in mainstream news outlets or editorial pages.

The New York Times (6/29/09) framed its reporting on events in Honduras much differently: President Manuel Zelaya, "a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela,"was ousted by the U.S.-backed Honduran military, which was "acting to defend the law" after "months of tensions over [Zelaya's] efforts to lift presidential term limits"--efforts that "critics said [were] part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the constitution's limit of a single four-year term for the president."

This portrait of events laid out by Times reporters and opinion writers has been wildly inaccurate and misleading.

Read the rest here.