Martin Schram - Media buried news of nuclear program endorsement


Too often you have to work too hard to find crucial news. Especially if it's about a faraway crisis that has no easy answers, but must be solved before it explodes into our next war.

But don't give up. You can eventually find the front-page news you most need to know -- if you're willing to turn enough pages. And maybe wait long enough.

That's how it was in this past week's coverage of stunning events at the conference of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement, hosted by Iran. As we discussed a week ago, the Tehran summit may have signaled a change in the way the world works, as the nonaligned nations sought to assert their independence from western powers and even the United Nations.

The weeklong conference was held against a backdrop of controversy involving Iran's nuclear program. In Israel, officials and citizens debated openly about the advisability of a preemptive military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. In the United States, Obama officials urged Israel to not abandon diplomatic efforts; Republican Mitt Romney blithely claimed (citing no specifics) Obama officials had thrown Israel "under a bus."

And the UN International Atomic Energy Agency issued a chilling report, concluding Iran has greatly increased its capability to enrich uranium and installed new centrifuges in underground facilities that may be invulnerable to attack.

Perhaps the most startling news came at the end of the conference, when the 120 nonaligned nations presented host Iran with a major victory -- and rejected positions of the U.S. and UN. They unanimously endorsed Iran's right to develop a nuclear energy program and criticized economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the west, at Washington's urging.

If you didn't hear about that news, don't be too hard on yourself. Even the most famous vessels in America's mainstream media -- The New York Times and Washington Post -- sometimes seemed lost at sea on this one.

While The New York Times covered the big IAEA report on page one on Aug. 31, the next day it played the story of the unanimous backing Iran's nuclear program on page A4. To The Times' credit, its article was lengthy and hit all the important points, including that Iran flouted the UN Security Council's demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment until it showed it wasn't running a bomb-making program.

But those who rely upon The Washington Post for their news may still be uninformed. The Post buried the IAEA report news way back on page A16. And it never found room in print for the unanimous backing of Iran's nuclear policy and rejection of the U.S.-led sanctions.

Meanwhile, Washington was sharply critical of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for agreeing to attend the conference. U.S. officials tried to convince them not to reward Iran with their presence. But in retrospect, maybe Washington should have paid their airfare.

For as Iran fumed, Morsi and Ban delivered strong rebukes of Iran's regional ally, Syria, for killing civilians. Yet both the Post and Times played that seemingly page-one news inside.

While Washington Post speed-readers may have missed the conference's significant news when it happened, those who were patient enough to wait half a week -- and who were then willing to turn enough pages -- were ultimately rewarded.

On Sept. 4, The Post's outstanding reporter and analyst, Walter Pincus, reported in his "Fine Print" column on page A13 details of Ban's and Morsi's comments that made clear why their Iranian hosts were so displeased. After all, Ban admonished that Iran, which will chair the Non-Aligned Movement until 2015, must prove the "peaceful nature" of its nuclear program.

And finally, the UN secretary general seemed to be directing one comment to a wide-ranging audience -- from those in Israel who are debating preemptive attack to those in the U.S. presidential campaign who are prone to pander and bombast. After urging all parties to "stop provocative and inflammatory threats," Ban pointedly added:

"A war of words can quickly spiral into a war of violence."

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.)

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