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CNNFail

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June 15, 2009

Back on January 16, 1991, it seemed as though anyone with cable TV was glued to their set, watching the beginning of Operation Desert Storm.  As the coalition forces began their aerial assault on Baghdad, most American reporters were pinned down at the Al-Rashid Hotel.  As it turned out, CNN was the only news service able to communicate with the rest of the world during that time.  Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett gained instant fame as CNN’s “Boys of Baghdad”, providing non-stop coverage of the invasion from Room 906 of the Al-Rashid.  The event helped establish CNN as a “top tier” news organization.  CNN’s coverage of this event became the subject of a documentary film by HBO, entitled Live From Baghdad.

On Friday June 12, many of the world’s news services focused their attention on Iran’s presidential election.  Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was being faced with a serious challenge by Mir Hussein Mousavi, one of three other contenders for the post.  Mousavi’s supporters were highly organized and energetic.  They adopted the color green as their symbol and they began calling for a “green revolution”.  Al Jazeera reported that Yadollah Javani, political chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, had issued a warning from his website that any such revolution would be “nipped in the bud”.  This should have been a tip that the Revolutionary Guard had every intention of subverting the public will.

On Saturday, June 13, Iran’s state-owned news service, Fars, declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner, with nearly two-thirds of the vote.  A landslide of such proportions was completely unexpected, given the large turnout at rallies in support of the leading challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, as well as the recent poll, indicating that Ahmadinejad was leading his three challengers with only 34 percent of the vote.  As a result, many expected that a runoff election between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi would have been necessary.  Because of this claimed “landslide” victory, it immediately became obvious that the election had been stolen.  Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, wrote the following on his blog, Informed Comment:

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning.  Mousavi’s spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi’s camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable.  And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

The public reaction on the streets of Tehran was documented for Slate by Jason Rezaian:

A feeling of dejection hung in the air for most of Saturday. Spontaneous street demonstrations early in the day were small and were quickly broken up by riot police on motorcycles.

As reality set in, people began taking to the streets en masse. Around 5 p.m. on the approach to Fatemi Square, where the Interior Ministry is located, I could see that the entire traffic circle had been closed to car traffic. About 200 riot police waited in the middle of the square. I headed down an alley, just steps away, where protesters had created a blockade of flaming garbage cans.

The demonstrators pushed aside a garbage can, opening a path, and rushed forward. Simultaneously, baton-wielding police charged. The protesters hurled rocks, and the police responded by beating everyone who couldn’t escape into one of the connecting alleys.

Citizens, nearly all on the side of the protesters, left their front gates open just a little to offer those of us fleeing the police an escape route.

The ensuing riots resulted in phone cam videos posted to YouTube.  Messages were sent out over Twitter under the hashtags: #IranElection and #Iran Election.

Many mainstream media news outlets had reporters “on the ground” in Tehran.  ABC News had Jim Sciutto there.  Mr. Sciutto sent a message out over Twitter at 9:20 on Saturday morning:

police confiscated our camera and videotapes.  We are shooting protests and police violence on our cell phones

Sciutto and other reporters whose equipment had been confiscated, began shooting riot videos on their phone cams.  Many networks, including ABC, MSNBC and Fox News began to broadcast these  …  but not CNN.  Many Twitter users, following the Iranian violence became outraged over CNN’s failure to cover the rioting.  As a result, they started a new discussion thread, using the hashtag:  #CNNFail.  Many of these postings criticized the quality of CNN’s limited reporting on these events.

Here were some of the messages I found on CNNFail:

Shazzy919 — ChristianeAmanpour:  “No indication of curfew or further forceful action” really????

ahockley — There’s currently a story on CNN titled “Do journalists Twitter too much?”

charlieprofit —  CNN just ran the same report aired earlier where they call some Iranian protesters Vigilantes

Robot117 —  My animosity toward CNN for their utter incompetence in reporting this news is growing

georgedick — CNN still referring to “The landslide win of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”.   WTF.

In fact, ABC’s Jim Sciutto made the following comment on Twitter concerning CNN’s fiasco:

Did CNN Intl really just air pix of a water-skiing squirrel?  Anyone remember ‘Ron Burgundy’? 12:14 AM Jun 14th from web

A review of CNN’s website reveals that some of their coverage seemed like an attempt to legitimize Ahmadinejad’s “victory”:

The landslide defeat of Ahmadinejad’s leading opponent, Mir Hossein Moussavi, who some analysts predicted would win the election, triggered angry protests in Iran and other cities around the world.

*    *    *

Moussavi’s supporters say the election was rigged. But the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad’s victory speech Sunday leaves no doubt that the president carries plenty of support.

For all the ridicule directed against Twitter and its users, the CNNFail event will become an historical milestone for the moment when this communication medium finally earned some respect.

Iran Votes

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June 11, 2009

Friday, June 12, brings us the big election in Iran.  The infamous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up for re-election.  He is running against Mir Hussein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai.  At a time like this, it’s nice to check in on Al Jazeera to see how things are going.  (I always have a link to Al Jazeera on the Blogroll to the left, for keeping up with reactions to world events from their unique perspective.)  From Tehran, Alireza Ronaghi informs us that Ahmadinejad has quite a fight on his hands to maintain power.  Here’s some of what Mr. Ronaghi had to say about the candidates:

Ahmadinejad’s reformist rivals are Mehdi Karroubi, the former parliament speaker who led a reformist-dominated parliament between 2000 and 2004, and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was Iran’s prime minister during the eight-year war with Iraq until a constitutional amendment abolished that post in Iran’s political system.

Both Karroubi and Mousavi accuse Ahmadinejad of mismanagement, both in foreign policy and the domestic economy.

*    *    *

Mohsen Rezai is an ex-commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards —  Iran’s elite armed forces.

Rezai has previously claimed — despite a presumed proximity between his and Ahmadinejad’s political views — that the latter’s policies “are driving the country over a precipice”.

Mr. Ronaghi’s article points out how Ahmadinejad’s questioning as to whether the Nazi Holocaust ever really happened, has been exploited by his reformist opponents, with some success:

Ahmadinejad has fired back by accusing his critics of being affiliated to the Zionist regime, the title with which Iranian officials refer to Israel.

“I asked that question to anger the Zionists, so why are you so angry?”  Ahmadinejad asked in a speech delivered to a gathering of his supporters in recent days.

From Mr. Ronaghi’s report, we also learn that Ahmadinejad has something in common with his good buddy in our hemisphere, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  As it turns out, Ahmadinejad introduced something called “justice stocks”:

As part of the “justice stocks” move, the government distributed billions of dollars worth of stocks in state-run companies and factories among Iran’s lower economic classes.

It was meant to re-distribute the country’s wealth in a fairer way.

Danesh Jafari also disagrees with the way this has been carried out.  He says that the main plan, as laid down under Article 44 of the constitution and decreed by Iran’s supreme leader, had been for recepient social groups to reimburse the price of the stock in installments over 10 years.

“The government only insists on distributing the dividend profit of the stocks,” Danesh Jafari says, “But as far as reimbursement is concerned, the government has only gathered some $200 million of the planned $2 billion first installment,” the former economy minister told Al Jazeera.

It should come as no surprise that this policy has negatively impacted Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian middle class.

Many of us outside of Iran are concerned about the reaction of Iran’s “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the election of a reformist as president.  After all, Iran’s president is ultimately subservient to the supreme leader.  If a reformist won the election, would Khamenei dispatch his henchmen, the Revolutionary Guard, to restore “order”?  Another article from Al Jazeera points out how these goons are already getting anxious:

The political chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has warned reformists in the country against seeking what he called a “velvet revolution”, vowing that it would be “nipped in the bud”.

Yadollah Javani’s comments appeared aimed at Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reformist candidate in the country’s presidential elections and followed another day of bitter exchanges between Mousavi and his rival and current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

*    *    *

In a statement on its website, Javani drew parallels between Mousavi’s campaign and the “velvet revolution” that led to the 1989 overthrow of the communist government in then Czechoslovakia.

“There are many indications that some extremist [reformist] groups, have designed a colourful revolution … using a specific colour for the first time in an election,” the statement said.

Calling that a “sign of kicking off a velvet revolution project in the presidential elections”, Javani vowed that any “attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud”.

Meanwhile, Steve Clemons of The Washington Note, through his New America Foundation, in conjunction with Terror Free Tomorrow, conducted a poll of Iranian voters.  From the poll results, it appears as though a runoff election will be necessary, since no candidate will likely win 50 percent of the vote.  Here’s how it breaks down:

At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 percent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s closest rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was the choice of 14 percent, with 27 percent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for.  President Ahmadinejad’s other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they don’t know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system.

89 percent of Iranians say that they will cast a vote in the upcoming Presidential elections. The poll shows that 87 percent of Persians, 94 percent of Azeris and around 90 percent of all other ethnicities intend to vote in the upcoming elections.

About seven in ten Iranians think the elections will be free and fair, while only one in ten thinks they will not be free and fair.

The current mood indicates that none of the candidates will likely pass the 50 percent threshold needed to automatically win; meaning that a second round runoff between the two highest finishers, as things stand, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Moussavi, is likely.

So, if you bought any champagne to celebrate on Friday night, you may prefer to just hang onto it.  We would need to find out when the runoff election is going to take place.  That final election could be quite an exciting event.  In the mean time, take a look at the poll results discussed above.  They contain a good deal of other interesting information about what the Iranian citizens are thinking.