Algemeiner, By Ira Stoll
Monday, 3 July 2017
The New York Times is trying to save its troubled business by expanding both internationally and into video.
If a recent Times video about what the newspaper calls Iranian “counterterrorism” is any example, though, both moves risk backfiring.
The print Times isn’t exactly a paragon of journalistic excellence. But even by the low standards of the Times in print, the Iran video, which was getting big promotional play on the Times online homepage, seems way off base.
The video lists a variety of what it calls Iranian “counterterrorism” tactics, among them “backing Shi’ite militant groups like Hezbollah,” “working with al Qaeda extremists,” and “internal monitoring” to “arrest and interrogate” political opponents.
To American or Israeli ears, this sounds strange, to say the least, and maybe there is some kind of story there, a story like “Iran tries to whitewash its support for terrorism under the guise of ‘counterterrorism.’”
At moments in the video, the Times seems hazily cognizant of this irony. The video is headlined “How Iran Fights — and Aligns With — Terrorists,” and some additional text says, “Iran’s leaders use elaborate anti-terror methods to thwart its enemies, from backing militant groups like Hezbollah to working with Al Qaeda – when it’s convenient. We explain their unconventional strategy.”
One expert interviewed about the Quds Force, a subdivision of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, says, “The Quds Force is one of the most active counterterrorism groups and units in Iran but ironically it is also one of the units that is in charge of helping terrorist groups like Hezbollah beyond Iran’s borders.”
“Ironically,” indeed, though the Times itself seems to prefer describing Hezbollah as a “militant” group rather than the terrorists they are.
The video also notes, about the “internal monitoring,” “critics say this intelligence is a double edged sword and has been used to monitor political dissidents and crush opposition to the government.”
That’s true. The Times should be able to say so in its own voice without the cowardly dodge of hiding behind the phrase “critics say.”
The video concludes by portraying Iran primarily as a victim of terrorism rather than as a perpetrator. “Iran has been and very much remains a target,” the video says.
The New York Times journalist who produced the video, Nilo Trabrizy, is a Canadian who was born in Iran, according to her Twitter feed. According to her LinkedIn bio, she graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2011 and worked afterward at Al Jazeera and at Vice News.
In her Twitter feed, Tabrizy also claims credit for pronouncing the country “Qatar” “like a Persian” in this other Times video, a highly sympathetic look at Al Jazeera. She isn’t credited in the video, which doesn’t disclose that she used to work there.
Maybe the Times thinks it can grow its audience with video content sympathetic to Iran or Al Jazeera. And perhaps it can. But it also risks alienating its traditional audience of American readers. It is, after all, the New York Times, not the Tehran Times. While the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, took place long enough ago that they were ten years before this Times video producer even graduated from college, they are nonetheless remembered well enough in the hometown of the New York Times that at least some viewers will be justifiably unsettled by this video that describes “working with al Qaeda extremists” as an “anti-terror” tactic.