Earlier this week, I lambasted Robert Morgenthau for his alarmist, fear-mongering speech at the Brookings Institution and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which he suggested darkly that Iran and Venezuela were engaged in cooperation on nuclear weapons and that the two countries were secretly building ominous factories in remote areas of Venezuela. He seemed to imply a 2009 version of the Cuban missile crisis is in the works, and like some modern-day Paul Revere, he’s riding to the rescue.
In the blog entry, I mentioned that Morgenthau’s thesis was transmitted, in even more simplistic and alarmist form, over WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., by J.J. Green, the station’s national security correspondent. After seeing my blog posting, Green helpfully sent me an audio of the broadcast, which I’ve transcribed below. In my mind, it’s a stunning example of bad journalism. As you will see, if you bother to read it, not once do Green or the WTOP anchors express an ounce of skepticism about Morgenthau’s thesis, nor do they raise an single question about it. They simply regurgitate what Morgenthau said, as if the Manhattan D.A.’s tendentious and ideologically driven analysis is the Word of God. The transcript, in italics, follows below, along with my comments:
ANCHOR 1: There’s an East-West connection that’s raising alarm bells in the US because of who the players are and what they might be up to. It’s about Iran and Venezuela, two countries with half a century of diplomatic ties, but now those ties appear to be morphing into something more cohesive, more directed, and more threatening.
Notice how the anchor says, right up front, that the Iran-Venezuela ties are “threatening,” not even bothering to mention that it’s Morgenthau’s opinion, not fact.
ANCHOR 2: And joining us with insights into Iran’s connections in Latin America, WTOP’s National Security Correspondent, J.J. Green. And J.J., this issue got a lot of attention because yesterday, Manhattan’s legendary district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, talked about it in a speech at the Brookings Institution. What is he suggesting here?
A nice touch, that “legendary.” Meaning, don’t question what he says.
JJ GREEN: He’s suggesting that we should not sleep on Iran and Venezuela. We shouldn’t think that they’re just exercising their geopolitical rights to get together and talk business and make business and make deals. What he’s saying is, that Iran and Venezuela hate the U.S., the U.S. needs to look very carefully at their financial connections, and even more carefully at what’s going on out in the remote areas of Venezuela, where there’ve been construction projects that no one seems to really know what’s going on, and he’s also saying that we need to keep an eye on what’s happening between Iran and Venezuela when it comes to nuclear weapons technology and things that are used to facilitate that.
Amazing. All innuendo. They “hate” the US, there are construction projects where no one knows what’s going on, and it could involve “nuclear weapons technology”! Green ignores the fact that neither Iran nor Venezuela have nuclear “weapons” technology, although Iran does have a carefully monitored nuclear enrichment program that produced low-enriched uranium fuel.
ANCHOR 1: Well, in fact, Morgenthau says that he thinks that Venezuela is helping to finance and bankroll Iran secretly to help them get the money to help them continue develop nuclear weapons.
This point is especially absurd. Iran has lots of oil revenue, more than Venezuela in fact, and it certainly doesn’t need Caracas’ money to “develop nuclear weapons,” if indeed it wanted to. Worse, the anchor says that Iran is building nuclear weapons as if it’s a fact, when even the US intelligence community said that Iran halted its weapons program in 2003. Responding to this assertion, Green answers, inexplicably, with an utter non sequitur about “narco-trafficking.”.
JJGREEN: Narco-trafficking is the key. Within the next couple of weeks I can guarantee that you will hear a lot more about this whole problem in Latin America. Now the big problem in Latin America is its connection to the FARC, Colombia’s, uh, guerrilla movement. Uh, and there is evidence in a number of places, and Mr. Morgenthau points this out in his speech, including evidence in the GAO, that Venezuela has pretty close relations with the FARC, including giving them weapons, etc. This money is being used in part, is being laundered by banks that Iran has set up in that country, banks that can’t be monitored, banks that we know have had suspicious ties to other financial dealings around the world, but it all goes back to Tehran. So what he’s saying, very clearly, is that this is no time to pretend that Iran and Venezuela are not haters of the U.S.
A pastiche of complete nonsense. Green implies that laundered drug money is helping Iran build a nuclear bomb? That is so stupid and wrong that it boggles the mind.
ANCHOR 2: Do we have any indication of what the U.S. is doing to perhaps monitor the situation and try to stop some of this stuff from going on?
JJ GREEN Well, the Israelis are doing a lot. And as you can almost imagine, there’s been a lot of angst and anxiety in Israel because of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And they are talking regularly about what to do about Iran. Let’s make no mistake about it: Venezuela does not want a confrontation with the United States. Iran does not want one with the U.S. But together they feel like there’s strength in numbers and maybe they’ll find a way to beat up on the U.S. The bottom line on this is, the U.S. and its allies showing these countries that, look, we’re watching you, we’re keeping our eyes on you, and we have options that may include attacks, options that may include some of your neighbors turning a cold shoulder to you, and the world financial community shutting you out. And don’t discount these possibilities.
Where to begin? Yes, we know there is “angst and anxiety” in Israel over Iran’s nuclear program. But Green seems to relish delivering his dark warning that the US might “attack” Iran and Venezuela (“options that may include attacks”) while simultaneously suggesting that Israel may take care of it for us. All of this without a shred of evidence that there is anything to this story at all! Does Green bother to call any experts on Iran or Venezuela or the nuclear issue to get a qualified or contrary or dissenting view about Morgenthau’s evidence-free assertions? No. Does he raise any doubts about any of this? No–he treats it as gospel. Does Green bother to note the catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran, involving the US in a third war in between the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course not.
ANCHOR 1: All right, J.J. I’m sure we’ll be checking in on you again on this.
Walter Cronkite must be spinning in his grave. Unless, that is, he is secretly buried in some remote area of Venezuela’s rain forest.