Saturday, June 27, 2009

Iran Coverage You Should Trust

CEPR's Weisbrot Commits Journalism

In talking about the national economy, I've referred quite a lot to the work of Dean Baker, an economist, who is also co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), but Dean's colleague at CEPR, Marc Weisbrot, is an equally able economist who tends to focus most of his attention on Latin America and the global economy. Marc's most recent piece, Was Iran's Election Stolen?, focuses on Iran in a blessedly hard-headed and clear-eyed way. In fact, Marc's piece is, I think, a model of journalistic investigation in a period when real journalism seems a dying craft.

Marc notes that it may "not matter whether the elections were stolen because the government has responded to peaceful protests with violence and arrests. These actions are indeed abhorrent and inexcusable, and the world's outrage is justified," but, he continues, "the issue of whether the election was stolen will remain relevant, both to our understanding of the situation and to U.S.-Iranian relations."

He then goes on to explore the question of fraudulent vote counting and other irregularities in impressive detail and comes to the reasonable conclusion that Ahmadinejad likely did win by something reasonably close to the reported margin. In arriving at that point, Marc enlisted the help of a faculty member at the University of Iran and interviewed an Iranian poll worker by phone. He obtained additional information from "Rostam Pourzal, an Iranian-American human rights campaigner," who confirmed that the description of vote-counting procedures outlined by his other sources seemed factually accurate.

All told Weisbrot's piece is a model of fact-finding, attention to detail and timely commentary. Perhaps more to the point, as Marc notes, it does no good, at all, for Washington and Western Europe to pretend the election was stolen, if such accusations serve only to deepen the divide between Iran and the West. That, he says,
"will boost hardliners here - including some in the Obama administration - who want to de-legitimize the government of Iran in order to avoid serious negotiations over its nuclear program. That is something that we should avoid, because a failure to seriously pursue negotiations now may lead to war in the future."

Iranian Demonstrations Inspire Others

Pretty much everyone has something to say about what's going on in Iran. So do I. And it seems likely to me that Iran is headed, over an unknown period of time, to more freedom and less theocracy. I don't know enough about the details of political life there to say anything more specific than that, but that movement isn't going to occur without some bloodshed and considerable pain for ordinary Iraqis.

There have been a number of dramatic and powerful demonstrations against autocracy in recent years, like Tiananmen in 1989, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in Burma. All of them were and are full of promise. But the reality is that historically the struggle for expanded freedom is dangerous, complicated and painfully slow. Moments of real inspiration are not that frequent, either, but their importance is underscored by the fact that authoritarian regimes everywhere are severely restricting the availability of information about events in Iran. (Read an article about that here.)

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