Back on October 11, the Washington Post’s Robin Wright published an article criticizing U.S. funding for Iranian democracy programs. Her article was a striking example of how an agenda-driven reporter can eschew balance to advocate a position. Take the list of signatories: Open Society? The Utah Green Party? Justice Through Music? The American Friends Service Committee (which hosted Ahmadinejad during his visit to New York?), World Can’t Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime? Are these groups liberal and pro-democracy? She neglects to mention the quality and history of the signatories, as well as their distance from the issue, in order to imply greater legitimacy to their viewpoints.
Wright’s article looks like she published a press release from an agenda lobby or sought to do a favor for a group with whose positions she identifies; in the process, she undercut the integrity of the Washington Post news section. Her aim appears to have been to influence an ongoing debate. She made no effort to balance the piece or present an alternate argument. It is difficult to believe she showed the Washington Post editors the base material upon which she constructed her story.
A broader question which consumers should ask the ombudsmen for the Washington Post and other papers, as well as academics who tend to modify labels with “far” (e.g. “far rightwing”). Do you have standard definitions of labels: What is liberal? What is progressive? What is conservative? What is neo-conservative? What is pro-democracy? And, in the Iranian context, what is “reformer”? Writers increasingly abuse labels. When I’m on college campuses or debating policy, people throw around labels to dismiss arguments rather than debate ideas. It is too bad that the Washington Post does so as well, or perhaps Robin Wright meant to imply balance where none exists.
Anyway, I have an op-ed in today’s Washington Post that came out of reading Wright’s piece.