Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 07: BDS & The Moral Narratives of Colonization

In Episode 7 of Citations Needed, we explore how the media discusses the issue of BDS and the broader topic of Palestinian liberation.

What are the stakes? Who are the smear artists? What are the similarities with past apartheid boycotts? We discusses these topics and more using a pro-apartheid 1989 Christian Science Monitor op-ed as our guide.

The Guest

Steven Salaita previously held the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut. Author of six previous books, he is a regular columnist for Electronic Intifada and a member of the Organizing Committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Citations Needed, News Brief: Charlottesville, The ACLU, and the Moral Limits of 'Free Speech'

In a new Citations Needed News Brief, Adam and I discuss Charlottesville, the ACLU, and the moral limits of 'free speech' with George Ciccariello-Maher, Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies at Drexel University.



August 17, 2017 - An op-ed by K-Sue Park in The New York Times entitled, "The A.C.L.U. Need to Rethink Free Speech" addresses this issue nicely. Worth the read.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 06: The Media’s Default Setting of White Supremacy

(Artwork pictured by @/yesitsalex___)

On Episode 6 of Citations Needed, Adam and I explore how the media both consciously and subconsciously works to smear black victims, protect the police, and works overtime to ameliorate the sensibilities of white media consumers.

The white supremacist regime at work in the media can be broken down into three main narrative devices:
  1. The use of language to downplay state violence and assert false parity
  2. The uncritical dissemination of exaggerated or made up threats to police to turn the aggressor into the victim
  3. The posthumous smearing of black victims to rationalize their killing after the fact.
In this episode, we examine the mechanisms of these genres, how they influence public perception and why they create the media environment that makes more Mike Browns all but certain.

The Guest

Dr. Jared A Ball is a professor of Media, Communications, and Africana Studies at Morgan State University in Maryland. Dr. Ball is a prolific writer, speaker, and multimedia producer at His commentary can be read everywhere from the Washington Post to The Nation, the Grio to the Root, and beyond. A forthcoming book from Third World Press entitled, Not Our President: New Directions from the Pushed Out, the Others, and the Clear Majority in Trump’s Stolen America, will featured his essay “Agent Orange: Donald Trump as Political Chemical Warfare.”

Here's the episode:

Show Notes for this episode can be found here.


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

No, LA Times, That's Not What Nuclear 'Breakout Time' Means

Writing in The Los Angeles Times on Sunday about Donald Trump's threat to effectively pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, veteran reporter Doyle McManus noted, "No matter what the president thinks, the facts will get in the way." McManus was referring to the sheer petulance of Trump's pathetically telegraphed plan "to declare Iran in violation of the 2015 agreement to limit its nuclear program" when the next Congressionally-mandated certification date rolls around this coming October.

As such, McManus correctly points out that Donald Trump's approach to the Iran deal demands "Alice-in-Wonderland"-style reality distortion: in spite of its overblown rhetoric, the White House is literally unable to "offer any substantive reason to declare Iran out of compliance with the deal — because there isn’t one."

The periodic recertification is not required by the deal - known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - itself; rather, it is an empty ritual designed by anti-Iran lawmakers frustrated by the Obama administration's successful multilateral diplomacy. The actual nuclear agreement - agreed to by Iran, Great Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union, and concretized by the UN Security Council - is not beholden to specific U.S. legislation or presidential reauthorization every three months. In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the sole authority empowered to verify Iran's continued compliance with its obligations, namely maintaining a limited stockpile of low-enriched uranium suitable only for research and fueling power plants and ensuring that no fissile material is diverted for military purposes. Since the signing of the JCPOA, according to the IAEA, Iran has consistency fulfilled its obligations.

While McManus is undoubtedly correct that facts don't matter to the reality TV host who sometimes sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office - because he's both unaware of what they are and wouldn't care about them if he did - the LA Times reporter's own grasp of reality regarding Iran's nuclear program unfortunately has limits of its own.

The second paragraph of McManus's column notes, "before the agreement, Tehran was believed to be less than a year from making nuclear weapons that would have threatened Israel and Saudi Arabia."

There are a lot of assumptions in that sentence, all of them false.

To start, McManus gives the deliberate impression that, prior to the signing of the JCPOA in July 2015, Iran was actively attempting to build nuclear bombs with which to threaten its regional adversaries, both of whom are close U.S. partners. This is untrue.

Iran does have a nuclear energy program, monitored and safeguarded by the IAEA. The IAEA has affirmed time and again that Iran has never taken steps to divert nuclear material to military purposes. Furthermore, since the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community and its allies, including Israel, has officially maintained that whatever research relevant to nuclear weaponization Iran may have conducted in the past stopped by 2003 and has never started. The NIE has been consistently reaffirmed ever since (in 2009, 2010, and again in 2011).

Even allegations that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program before 2003 are dubious, and rely on Israeli-linked evidence that is most likely completely fabricated. The authenticity of these accusations has been repeatedly questioned by the IAEA, as well as by the United States itself. U.S. intelligence officials, noted former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei in his 2011 memoir, Age of Deception, "did not share the supposed [new Israeli] evidence that had led them to confirm the existence of a past Iranian nuclear [weapons] program, other than to refer to the same unverified set of allegations about weaponization studies that had already been discussed with the Agency." And when Israel provided the IAEA with more allegedly incriminating documentation in 2009, no one was fooled. As ElBaradei explains, "The Agency's technical experts, however, raised numerous questions about the documents' authenticity," adding in a footnote, "The accuracy of these accusations has never been verified; however, it is significant that the conclusion of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate were not changed, indicating that they, at least, did not buy the "evidence" put forward by Israel." 

Quite simply, the much-heralded "Iranian nuclear weapons program" simply doesn't exist, and never has.

Thus, the scenario presented by McManus - that, before the deal, Iran was "less than a year from making nuclear weapons" - is false. You can't be year away from finishing something you're not starting in the first place.

The "year away" calculation for what's known as "breakout time," however, is a commonplace canard in reporting on Iran's nuclear program. It relies on the presumption that the Iranian leadership has made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program (there's zero evidence for this) and will at one point kick IAEA inspectors out of the country and embark on full-scale weaponization of enriched uranium to then mount on a ballistic missile headed for Tel Aviv, Riyadh, or Langley, Virginia. The "breakout" scenario seeks to put in time-bound terms the potential threat that a nuclear-armed Iran could theoretically pose. Yet it's all hypothetical.

McManus, like so many others, has misunderstood the U.S. government's own assessment of Iran's capabilities. For years now, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has confirmed that Iran is not building nuclear weapons and that its leadership hasn't given the order to start doing so. Since 2010, the phrase "We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons" has been repeated in each and every annual "Worldwide Threat Assessment" report delivered by the DNI to Congress. Following the implementation of the JCPOA, the assessment has noted, "Iran's implementation of the JCPOA, however, has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year."

All too often, reporters like McManus conflate "the amount of time Iran would need to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon" with the amount of time it would take to field a deliverable nuclear bomb. These are not the same thing.

Former National Security Council advisor Gary Sick explained this exact problem with "breakout" alarmism as nuclear negotiations hit their final stretch in 2015:
Put simply, for purposes of this agreement, "breakout" exists when Iran masses enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) needed for one nuclear device. Note that "breakout" does not mean Iran will have a nuclear device. It is the starting point to build a nuclear device, which most experts agree would require roughly a year for Iran to do–and probably another two or more years to create a device that could be fit into a workable missile warhead. Plus every other country that has ever built a nuclear weapon considered it essential to run a test before actually using their design. There goes bomb No. 1.
So when officials, pundits, and interested parties talk about a one-year breakout time for Iran, what they are really saying is that if Iran decides to break its word and go for a bomb, it will take approximately one year to accumulate 27 kilograms of HEU. The hard part follows.
"In short," as former CIA analyst Paul Pillar has noted, "breakout is a scary fantasy, but no more than that. It is a badly flawed standard for formulating a negotiating position or for evaluating a deal with Iran."

Also missing from McManus' article is any context for Iran's own civilian nuclear program. It is not, as the press would so often have us believe, a nefarious outlier on the world stage. Far from it, in fact.

For over a decade now, it has been acknowledged that, in addition to the nine nuclear weapons states (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea), perhaps "40 countries or more now have the know-how to produce nuclear weapons," according to ElBaradei, though not all of those nations have domestic enrichment capabilities like Iran.

This is simply a matter of science. Nuclear technology and knowhow can inherently be used both for peaceful and military purposes. "[I]f a nation has a developed civilian nuclear infrastructure—which the NPT actually encourages—this implies it has a fairly solid nuclear-weapons capability," nuclear physicist Yousaf Butt has pointed out. "Just like Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and Japan also have a nuclear-weapons capability—they, too, could break out of the NPT and make a nuclear device in short order. Capabilities and intentions cannot be conflated."

This is not news. It's the fundamental reality of dual-use technology like nuclear energy. "Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made," noted a 1996 report by a former weapons system analyst. "Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two."

In 2013, the University of Maryland conducted a study of media coverage on Iran's nuclear program. It found that mainstream reporting is "plagued with error, often decontextualized, and hews strongly to official American and Israeli government narratives." Moreover, the study revealed that, on the rare occasion that the media addresses "Iranian nuclear intentions and capabilities, it did so in a manner that lacked precision, was inconsistent over time, and failed to provide adequate sourcing and context for claims."

When it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, basic facts are misunderstood, then repeated ad nauseam. It is no wonder why the phony threat of a non-existent nuclear weapons-armed Iran has proliferated so thoroughly throughout the media and onto the public.


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Return of the Media's Zombie Narrative About Iran's Nuclear Program

Democracy may die in darkness, but the Washington Post continues to murder truth when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program.

In an August 2, 2017 article about a recent bill, passed nearly unanimously in Congress and begrudgingly signed into law, that pointlessly imposes more sanctions on Russia and two other countries that don't toe the American line, the Washington Post described the measure, in part, as punishment "against North Korea and Iran for those countries' nuclear weapons programs."

(Screenshot via @thekarami)

Not only does this description misunderstand the contents of the bill itself, which actually targets totally legal conventional (read: non-nuclear) weapons and research programs, but it brazenly states as implicit fact that Iran has a "nuclear weapons program."

Similarly, a Washington Post analysis on the merits of pursuing regime change (in wholesale violation of international law or the will of the target's population, which are never mentioned), published just three days earlier on July 31, repeated a number of common tropes about Iran. Not least among these talking points, offered uncritically by two associate professors of political science, is that "[r]egime change in Tehran is thus the surest route to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program."

Leaving aside the imperial audacity of such a statement, that the Washington Post would publish this sentence is shocking. Why?

Because Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.

In fact, it never has.

This is neither controversial nor a matter of nuance. It is plain and simple fact. Yet this point continues to be ignored in the service of the undying political and media narrative in this country that Iran is a malevolent, if not genocidal, monster that threatens peace and stability around the world and whose every nefarious move (which is every move, of course) must be opposed and resisted by the noble United States, simultaneously the world's policeman and Good Samaritan.

The Facts

Since the signing of the multilateral nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers in July 2015, the IAEA has routinely confirmed the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. This assessment has been repeatedly affirmed by the United States government.

But this is nothing new.

International intelligence assessments have consistently affirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but rather a nuclear energy program with domestic uranium enrichment facilities. All of these facilities are legal and protected under international law; all of Iran's nuclear fissile material is under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes has ever been detected in the history of the Iranian program.

These facts have been consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA. In fact, the IAEA itself has said that there is "no concrete proof" Iran's nuclear program "has ever had" a military component.

Despite longstanding Iranian policy that has held, unequivocally, that nuclear weapons are not only strategically and geopolitically obsolete, but also ethically abhorrent and religiously prohibited, hysteria over an imaginary Iranian nuclear weapons program has been exploited for more than than three decades to justify sanctions, threats, assassinations, sabotage, surveillance, and other covert actions against Iran in the hopes of overthrowing the government that came to power after ousting the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979.

Even claims that Iran had a dedicated nuclear weapons program before 2002 or 2003 are dubious at best, and rely on evidence that is most likely completely fabricated. The authenticity of these allegations has been repeatedly questioned by the IAEA, as well as the United States. As former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei noted in his 2011 memoir, Age of Deception, U.S. intelligence officials "did not share the supposed evidence that had led them to confirm the existence of a past Iranian nuclear [weapons] program, other than to refer to the same unverified set of allegations about weaponization studies that had already been discussed with the Agency."

In fact, even the IAEA's "Final Assessment" of Iran's alleged past weapons work, published in December 2015 fell flat. The agency concluded that "a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003," and that "these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities." Moreover, the IAEA reaffirmed - as it has for the past decade - that there were "no credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material" from Iran's nuclear energy program at any point ever to a possible parallel military effort.

After reviewing these findings, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter insisted, "There hasn't been a more meaningless conclusion of such an over-hyped issue since the CIA assessed that Iraq had 'dozens of WMD program-related activities' in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation of that country." Ritter even added that the supposed "range of activities relevant" to a nuclear weapon "are far less threatening than the ominous description provided by the IAEA would lead one to believe. In every case, the IAEA was either forced to concede that their information was baseless (allegations concerning the manufacture of "uranium metal," for instance), or else could be explained through 'alternative applications' involving Iranian commercial and military activities unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program."

Professor Dan Joyner, a nonproliferation and international law expert, noted that the IAEA assessment wholly vindicates Iran against allegations that its past activities violated its legal obligations. The IAEA has "now given its opinion that Iran has not violated NPT Article II through any of the alleged PMD activities," Joyner wrote, "because none of the assessed activities can be said to rise to the prohibited level of the manufacture or other acquisition of a nuclear explosive device." Also, because there was never any diversion of nuclear material from peaceful to military uses, the IAEA had effectively "determined that none of these activities constituted a violation of Iran’s safeguards obligations. As Article 1 of Iran's comprehensive safeguards agreement makes explicit, the IAEA's safeguards activities in Iran are implemented 'for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.'"

The Never-Ending Problem

The offending "nuclear weapons program" phrase in the Washington Post's August 2 sanctions article was caught immediately by journalist Arash Karami.

This is more than a matter of sloppy writing or editing, however, as it demonstrates the pervasive nature of a nuclear narrative that holds, despite all evidence, that Iran is, was, and always will be pursuing nuclear bombs with which to threaten American interests and dominance.

Indeed, the Washington Post has a particularly troubling history of pushing this line. Back in December 2011, Patrick B. Pexton, then the Post's ombudsman, challenged the paper's routinely irresponsible and alarmist reporting on Iran's nuclear program, writing that the IAEA "does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one," and warned that such misleading characterizations of such an important issue "can also play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran."

Others in similar roles at leading media organizations - from the New York Times, NPR, and The Guardian - have concurred with Pexton's determination.

Nevertheless, the same damaging language has been used repeatedly by these very same outlets since. Rather than fix their reporting and editorial standards to adhere more closely to the truth, papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times have instead permanently eliminated the position of Ombudsman and Public Editor altogether.

As the U.S. government has again put Iran in its crosshairs, the zombie narratives about Iran's nonexistent nuclear weapons program will continue to be resurrected by the dutiful mainstream media. It remains incumbent on readers to challenge such falsehoods as forcefully as possible before our brains all turn to mush.



August 6, 2017 - The Washington Post has posted a correction to its August 2 article and removed the word "nuclear" from the originally published sentence:

Kudos to Arash Karami for bringing this to their attention.

Unfortunately, the Post's July 31 article remains uncorrected.

***** ***** *****

Considering political and media propaganda about Iran's nuclear program is continually recycled, I too have reused parts of my own previous writing in this post. I mean, you can only write the same stuff in different ways so many times.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 05: The Great American Socialist Whitewash

Fred Hampton

On Episode 5 of Citations Needed, Adam and I explore the history of the media erasing socialists of color from the history books and present day discourse––a tactic that serves to both commodity and water-down black radicalism and pawn off leftwing politics as a uniquely white or middle class enterprise.

Our guests this week are Robert Greene II and Roqayah Chamseddine.

Robert Greene II is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of South Carolina. His research covers American intellectual history, the history of the United States South since World War II, and political history since Reconstruction. Mr. Greene has a book chapter coming out as part of the Southern Studies collection Navigating Souths: Transdisciplinary Explorations of a U.S. Region, forthcoming from UGA Press, along with essays published by Scalawag, The Nation, Jacobin, Dissent, and Politico. He has also published the essay, “South Carolina and the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement,” in the journal Patterns of Prejudice, and is a blogger and book review editor for the Society of U.S. Intellectual Historians.

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and editor in chief of Wanderings. Magazine. Along with Kumars Salehi, she co-hosts “Delete Your Account,” a weekly podcast covering politics and pop culture. She is a staff writer at Shadowproof, contributing writer at Paste Magazine, and Mondoweiss, and former researcher for Abby Martin’s The Empire Files on TeleSur English.

Here's the episode:

Show Notes for this episode can be found here.


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.