Iran: Media Loves a Revolution

Jun 23, 09 | 9:29 AM   byMichael Wolff
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More than murder, corruption, war, scandal, it’s revolution that the media adores. Revolution’s the ultimate conflict and the ultimate upset. Even more, the media loves a revolution that produces media—that is, pictures. Even better when you don’t have to send a camera crew, as with the YouTube video of the dying Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan. Curiously, it may not matter whose side is revolting. The 1979 revolution in Iran, even with America cast as the enemy of the revolution, was covered with as much excitement by the US press as the current one.

This is surely one of the major dangers of revolution: the maximum number of cock-sure-sounding people with little idea of what they are talking about—the nature of revolution being, after all, maximum confusion—talking as much as possible about it.

The imperative, from the media point of view, is to reduce the narrative, no matter how complex, contradictory, and unknown, to a simple and compelling story line. The imperative is also to encourage the revolution. Failed revolutions are much less interesting.

Joe Klein, who covers American politics for Time, with a seen-it-all, know-it-all authority, is now using that same voice as Time’s man in Tehran—a place, he says, he visited once before in 2001.

Klein is rapturous on the subject of the current revolution. He sees it as clearly as he sees American politics. He’s deep inside the heads of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, as well as the rest of the Iranian people. Although, as it happens, he knows no more about Iran than anybody who’s hardly been there at all.

But Iran’s not really the point. The point is the really big thing that’s going on. The point is the exhilarating nature of it all. Indeed, if it’s exhilarating enough, the revolution happens. Or, really, if the media becomes exhilarated, the revolution becomes exhilarating enough to succeed. President Obama should, in the media view, vociferously take up the side of revolution because—well, how can he not be part of something so exhilarating? His circumspect view is such a downer.

In another story, Time, that great authority on Islamic culture, speaks with maximal certainty about “the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam,” and how they “provide a schedule for political combat.” Neda’s death, says Time, without source or attribution, “may have changed everything.”

The inescapable point, finally, of nearly all the coverage of the events in Iran, is that revolution happens because of we the media. “Communications is making it very very difficult to run a repressive regime these days,” says Klein, happily, in the video he prepared for Time’s online site. Pay no attention to all those other repressive regimes that continue to exist—or the fact that Iran’s oppressive regime has survived decades of advanced communication technologies. (Or that the Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is a pioneer in using the Internet to monitor Internet users.)

A revolution is, in a sense, the antithesis of information, which is why they mostly end in repression and violent recrimination. But journalists love them anyway.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at
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