The Iranian Election and a Hysterical Media

Here comes the hysteria and bold-faced lies. In the wake of the Iranian election, various commentators and so-called reporters in the United States are reacting as if the end of the world was at hand. Although nobody knows for certain and everyone only has the words of western press pundits and an angry candidate to go by, virtually every mainstream US news source is calling the re-election of Ahmadinejad the result of fraud. There has been no verification of this from any objective source, nor has there been any proof beyond the speculation of media folks who either want to create a story or are so convinced of what they believe to be the incumbent’s essentially evil nature that they can not comprehend his re-election. A good example of this is a story by Bill Keller in the New York Times. In that piece, Ahmadinejad was once again incorrectly called a Holocaust-denier and his support was put down as being comprised mostly of women hating peasants and civil servants who somehow benefited from his patronage. The liberal reformer Moussavi’s supporters were portrayed in a considerably more favorable light.

Completely missing from Keller’s piece and many other pieces in the US mainstream media (and liberal magazines like the Nation) is any genuine attempt to analyze both the class nature of the different candidate’s supporters and the role Washington plays in the media’s perception of Iranian politics. Keller’s most honest analytical statement in his entire piece: “Saturday was a day of smoldering anger, crushed hopes and punctured illusions, from the streets of Tehran to the policy centers of Western capitals.” Keller and his fellow journalists accept that the desires of Western capitals, especially Washington, should be important to Iranians. While this may certainly be the case among a small number of the intelligentsia and business community in Iran, the fact is that the West, especially Washington, is still not very popular among the Iranian masses. Not only are they aware of decades of western intervention in their affairs, the fact that thousands of US troops continue to battle forces in two of Iran’s neighbors makes Washington unwanted and detested. Why should they do anything to please it? Yet, in the minds of the US news media, it is Washington’s needs that dominate all discussion.

As for the class analysis. Rightly or wrongly, Ahmadinejad seems to appeal to the majority of peasants and workers in Iran. Just like Marat and the Jacobins appealed to the peasants and urban poor during the French revolution while Brissot and the Girondins appealed to the merchants and educated classes, Ahmadinejad’s support comes from those who need bread while Moussavi’s comes from those with plenty of bread and now want more civil liberties. While it is arguably true that Ahmadinejad’s policies have caused as many economic policies as they have solved, the fact remains that his supporters believe in his 2005 campaign call to bring the oil profits to the dinner table. Mr. Moussavi’s statements regarding the eventual reduction of commodity subsidies that benefit the poor may have hurt him in that demographic more than his supporters acknowledge. In a Washington Post article published the day before the election, it was noted (along with the fact that Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election with a “surprising” 62% of the vote) that his economic policies included the distribution of “loans, money and other help for local needs.” One of these programs involved providing insurance to women who make rugs in their homes and had been without insurance until Ahmadinejad came to power. Critics, including Moussavi, argue that his “free-spending policies have fueled inflation and squandered windfall petrodollars without reducing unemployment.” There are other elements at play here, including the fabled corruption of certain unelected leaders in Iran and the role the international economic crisis plays in each and every nation’s economy–a factor from which Iran is not immune. In addition, the particular nature of an Islamic economy that blends government and private business creates a constant conflict between those who would nationalize everything and those who would privatize it all.

In regards to what this means for relations between Washington and Tehran–they will continue down whatever path Mr. Obama wishes them to go. Tel Aviv, which criticized the election results, would not have changed its desire to quash Tehran no matter who won. Indeed, the fact that Ahmadinejad was re-elected makes it easier for Tel Aviv to continue demonizing the only genuine threat to its dominance of the region. The bottom line, however, is that the president of Iran really has no power in the course Iranian foreign policy takes. That power remains with the Council of Guardians and the legislature. Mr. Obama would do well to continue his attempts to negotiate without conditions. He would also be wise to end any covert activity against the Iranian government currently being conducted. The western media would do well to inform themselves on the real nature of Iranian politics and society instead of taking the viewpoint that what’s best for Washington is best for Tehran. Then again, that media should consider the non-Washington viewpoint in all of its international coverage.

For the left, the answer is clear. The situation in Iran has changed. The apparent popularity of Moussavi and other officially reocgnized reformers showed this before the election. The dispute over the truth of the election results proves this even further. However, neither Ahmadinejad or Moussavi represent a genuine move away from the power of the bazaar class and its appointed clerical council. The desire for more civil freedoms must be coordinated with the need for economic justice. Both of these aspirations seem to be currently at odds. It seems apparent that only a leftist movement is capable of bringing the two together in a nation divided between its cities and its countryside;its middle class and its workers and rural dwellers. This was the case prior to the takeover of the Iranian revolution by socially conservative religious forces in 1980 and it could be the case again.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on June 15th, 2009 at 9:45am #

    Nice piece, Ron.

  2. Michael Kenny said on June 15th, 2009 at 10:04am #

    A French TV commentator made a very good point: the world has tended to see the Iranian election through their own eyes and gave as a (perfect!) example the way in which many Europeans just couldn’t believe that American voters would re-elect GWB in 2004. I don’t see how fraud could have had anything to do with it. Fraud can swing a tight election, but fraud cannot convert a loss into a 65% victory.

  3. Barry99 said on June 15th, 2009 at 10:50am #

    Maybe American voters did not re-elct GWB in 2004. Maybe Ohio was rigged – like Florida was rigged in 2000.

    I tend to think Admadinejad either actually won the election, or it was too close to let nature takes its course. It’s difficult to tell by the Western media – who insist on interviewing English-speaking youth, often in California. The conservatives in Iran have a large base in the petty merchant class of Iran – these are people who rarely show up in a Western interview.

  4. Robert70 said on June 15th, 2009 at 6:49pm #

    It is legit. Most of the poulation is in the rural areas and like you said they just want the bare essentials. Ahjy is like his friend Hugo, both come across as champions of the poor, give the subsidies, etc, while the upper class hates him. My thing is nobody anticipated this reaction, so my thoughts are like a lot of others in that the CIA, etc is involved in the rioting to destabilize Iran.

  5. Foster Foskin said on June 16th, 2009 at 2:59am #

    It’s good to read a clear sighted assessment of the situation in Iran. Once again the MSM have shown how myopic they are. Some of the reports on the unrest have been positively moronic. The youths running riot are wearing green for a good reason. They are MUSLIMS. It has nothing to do with being eco-green, as one reporter tried to convince his readers.

    The majority of Iranians are young because their fathers died in the terrible war with Saddam’s Iraq. They don’t care about what the USA wants. They are tired of being dominated by the peasant class. They want more freedom, but they want it Iranian style. When will the US ever learn that American democracy is not a dream for the rest of the world…it is a curse. The Iranians are not interested in US democracy. And no matter who finally comes out on top, you can be sure he will not favor the US any more than Iran has done ever since they threw out the Shah.

  6. mary said on June 16th, 2009 at 4:25am #

    As usual Israel has its mucky paws in this ‘revolution’. Another role for Hasbara.
    Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter

    There is a informed discussion on going at Craig Murray’s blog where there are 100 comments so far –

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 16th, 2009 at 4:07pm #

    What is happenning in Iran is, I believe, a re-run of the US coup against Mossadegh in 1953, and countless other US interventions since, to subvert elections and foster phoney, ‘Made-in-the -USA’ ‘colour revolutions’. If successful there will be installed a new Shah, or a Mubarrak like despot or a compradore along the lines of Yuschenko, Saakasvilli et al. The claim that the US is interested in ‘freedom’ or ‘ democracy’ is so ludicrous that it takes the carefully handpicked psychopaths of the Western media to disseminate it. What really continues to amaze me is that the vermin of the Western media, with their unbroken record of lying and misrepresenting every issue to suit the Rightwing politics of their owners, are taken at all seriously. If these scum say its a bright and sunny day, I reach for my umbrella.

  8. brian said on June 16th, 2009 at 4:17pm #

    a bit on Mousavi:

    ”Unfortunately, the excitement about the possibility of a mass civil disobedience campaign arising does lead to an astonishing final sentence – the idea that Mousavi could be a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King beggars belief. In fact, the more one learns about Mousavi, the more unsavoury he seems, and the more it bcomes clear that his candidacy is essentially an enterprise of the plutocratic Rafsanjani family. And, as the Angry Arab has pointed out, when Mousavi was prime minister the Iranian state was much more repressive than it is now. In fact, it’s hard to go along with Dabashi’s wholehearted support for the ‘reformists’ who have yet to demonstrate that they are worthy of leadership of such a movement as this’

    ‘Lionized by the Western press, Mousavi is an unlikely champion of “reform.” During the period he held the post of prime minister—1981-1989—he presided over mass executions of political dissidents, many of them leftists, as well as the Iran-Iraq War, in which Iran suffered a million casualties, dead and wounded.
    Considered a “hardliner” during this period, he has been cast as a reformist and a modernizer in an appeal to the Iranian middle classes. Behind his campaign, however, are right-wing elements within the clerical hierarchy and, most importantly, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, reportedly the richest man in Iran”

  9. David Kendall said on June 18th, 2009 at 2:04pm #

    “Completely missing from Keller’s piece and many other pieces in the US mainstream media (and liberal magazines like the Nation) is any genuine attempt to analyze both the class nature of the different candidate’s supporters and the role Washington plays in the media’s perception of Iranian politics.”

    This is an essential point, and I think the overall point of Jacob’s article. Superficial labels like ‘Left’ versus ‘Right’ and ‘Liberal’ versus ‘Conservative’ and ‘Democrat’ versus ‘Republican’ are little more than smoke-screens that tend to conceal the underlying dynamics of class struggle. The interests of those whose incomes are derived primarily from passive ownership are directly opposed to the interests of every other life form on the planet. If I understand correctly, the recent election in Iran is indeed a triumph for approximately 99.9-percent of the human beings on this planet in this regard, and for the innumerable other life forms that depend upon us for their survival.

    Does this mean Barack Obama will be forced by the dominant 0.1-percent of the human population to declare war on Iran for daring to vote the wrong way in their own election? I certainly hope not. But if that is what happens, I would also hope that some 80-percent of the human population is prepared to mobilize effectively against that kind of decision. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case.

  10. Dave Silver said on June 26th, 2009 at 6:24pm #

    It is a question of class m\not a religious conflict. The demonstratorsmostl upper middle class students, business owners and Intellectuas a\was verysimilarto those in the Referendum in Venezuela
    against Chavwz/ A Moussavi regime would open o\to msny demnds of
    US Imperialism and Israe[[ surrogates to contro the entire Mideast.

  11. lichen said on June 26th, 2009 at 6:32pm #

    70% of the demonstrators were not middle nor upper middle class, says people who were actually there.

  12. Max Shields said on June 26th, 2009 at 7:46pm #

    lichen, who said anything about 70%? Just wondering what you’re point is and where the number came from on this post?

    I don’t think it matters who, exactly make up the numbers on the street.

    What we know is that the US has been looking to find a hegemonic answer to Iran for decades. We know the US supported Saddam/Iraq during its war with Iran. We know that hundreds of millions just during the last couple of years of Bush were poured in to destablize the government. We know that time and time again, Ahmadinejad is mis-quoted as having said things he never said – all meant to inflame and demonize.

    To simply buy the idea that this was an upraising unaided and unabetted by the US empire/Israel seems like the thinking of someone residing in a parallel universe to the planet Earth.

  13. lichen said on June 26th, 2009 at 7:58pm #

    It is from Hamid Dabashi that I gained that information. It certainly does matter that they were young, ‘working class’ people out in these demonstrations; and it is insulting to say many of the things people have posted here, apparently under the presumption that because the US media was inviting the protests that meant people here had to attack them. I guess much older people in the west know better than they do about their own political movements. Moussavi pledged to get rid of the ‘morality police,’ and I think that interested in a lot of people–and especially not rich people because if you are picked up on the street their to be tortured for PDA or otherwise, if you have money you can bribe your way out of it, while if you don’t you’re out of luck.

    We all know that the media and twitter, etc pounced on this after it happened, but that does not mean it wasn’t the genuine will of the Iranian people to do this. Amadinajad is not Chavez; he isn’t a socialist who has brought extreme improvements to the daily lives of his people, and the results of this election clearly were rigged and falsified – as the people who live their say.

  14. Max Shields said on June 26th, 2009 at 8:16pm #

    Amadinajad is not Chavez is not Obama is not Che is not Castro is not Blair is not really very meaningful…

    I agree, if your point is not to glorify Amadinajad (but than I wouldn’t glorify Chavez even if the two are different and for different reaons).

    We shouldn’t go overboard with the enemy of my enemy is my “friend” or whatever the foolish cliche is.

    This is NOT about Amadinajad, who is a relatively minor character who plays to a variety of audiences. So, yes it would be a big mistake to lose sight of the real issues and it’s not by making Amadinajad a “good guy or saint” in reaction to US imperial propaganda.

    Amadinajad is not a socialist but to complete that little syllogism, calling oneself a socialist doesn’t make you one and being one does not make you better than, say, Amadinajad.

    I really don’t know an election which doesn’t have, at the very least, tampering of one sort or another. When does that line cross? Does it really matter in this case, given the candidates were all vetted by the cleric and that some of these other candidates really have a more repressive past?

    So what’t the deal? People are revolting. But why? Do we really know? Why the spontaneous combustian? What energized it? Who’s the leader? Too many questions and no real anwers….yet.

  15. lichen said on June 27th, 2009 at 2:00pm #

    It probably doesn’t matter to you how much this or that election is tampered with; but it obviously matters to the Iranians. I know plenty of foreign people said “so what” when Bush stole our elections, but it certainly mattered to us. And yes, we know why they are revolting from the reports sent out by the activists actually involved.

  16. lichen said on June 27th, 2009 at 2:03pm #

    And yes, Chavez is better than Ahm-jad for what he had done for the people of his country, and the people in the comments above claiming falsely that the protesters are like the right wing oligarchy protesting Chavez are dead wrong.

  17. lichen said on June 27th, 2009 at 2:11pm #

    And yes, Max, I will reply to which comments I want, and when someone is the first one to compare Chavez and Ahm-jad, I will respond to that comparison of theirs in my own way; and if you don’t like it you, can go f*ck yourself.

  18. Max Shields said on June 27th, 2009 at 2:15pm #


    All and all, Amadinajad is a populist with significant appeal, apparently to the working class. No one thinks he’s better than Chavez. Both are human beings with many foibles; but they are different.

    If you think anyone or thing is great if it has the label “socialist” than yea, Chavez is “great”.

    But this is not about the difference between to people. One with considerably more power than the other (Chavez appears to have much more power than Amadinajad).

    As far was what protesters say. I don’t think much of going to protesters and asking them what their protesting about. It’s obvious they are, for whatever reason (and they may have many assorted reasons) dissatisfied.

    But you can’t tell me what provoked them. You don’t know how many are for real and how many are plants. You must assume that the US and Europe have nothing to do with this. The Iranian people just decided enmasse to revolt because of an election.

    If you think for one second these students represent a “socialist” ideal, then you are not up on what’s happening here. I don’t care if some Marxist organization sides with George W. Bush or OBL.

  19. Max Shields said on June 27th, 2009 at 2:18pm #

    This from our “leader”: Obama Moves to Fund Iranian Dissidents.

  20. lichen said on June 27th, 2009 at 3:27pm #

    Take whatever stupid fucking issues you have with the word socialism elsewhere, loser. My points stand, and I stand behind them; people in Iran prefer the opposition because they are better, because they are more populist than ahm-jad is.

  21. Max Shields said on June 27th, 2009 at 3:38pm #


    Since you have no clue what the “people of Iran prefer”, it would be hoove you to stop writing this foolish like you do.

    Calling me a loser seems to fit well with your rather low self-esteem.

  22. lichen said on June 27th, 2009 at 3:40pm #

    Yes, from listening to what the actual people of Iran say as about to those old americans who think that they are the cause of all political movements in the world, I learned what they wanted. Making continuous obnoxious droning comments to me and acting as if this isn’t the exact same thing as name-calling fits well with your lack of depth and idiocy.