WTOP Yellow Journalism on Iran-Venezuela

Earlier this week, I lambasted Robert Morgenthau for his alarmist, fear-mongering speech at the Brookings Institution and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which he suggested darkly that Iran and Venezuela were engaged in cooperation on nuclear weapons and that the two countries were secretly building ominous factories in remote areas of Venezuela.

Earlier this week, I lambasted Robert Morgenthau for his alarmist, fear-mongering speech at the Brookings Institution and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal,
in which he suggested darkly that Iran and Venezuela were engaged in
cooperation on nuclear weapons and that the two countries were secretly
building ominous factories in remote areas of Venezuela. He seemed to
imply a 2009 version of the Cuban missile crisis is in the works, and
like some modern-day Paul Revere, he's riding to the rescue.

In the blog entry, I mentioned that Morgenthau's thesis was
transmitted, in even more simplistic and alarmist form, over WTOP radio
in Washington, D.C., by J.J. Green, the station's national security
correspondent. After seeing my blog posting, Green helpfully sent me an
audio of the broadcast, which I've transcribed below. In my mind, it's
a stunning example of bad journalism. As you will see, if you bother to
read it, not once do Green or the WTOP anchors express an ounce of
skepticism about Morgenthau's thesis, nor do they raise an single
question about it. They simply regurgitate what Morgenthau said, as if
the Manhattan D.A.'s tendentious and ideologically driven analysis is
the Word of God. The transcript, in italics, follows below, along with
my comments:

ANCHOR 1: There's an East-West connection that's raising alarm bells
in the US because of who the players are and what they might be up to.
It's about Iran and Venezuela, two countries with half a century of
diplomatic ties, but now those ties appear to be morphing into
something more cohesive, more directed, and more threatening.

Notice how the anchor says, right up front, that the
Iran-Venezuela ties are "threatening," not even bothering to mention
that it's Morgenthau's opinion, not fact.

ANCHOR 2: And joining us with insights into Iran's connections in
Latin America, WTOP's National Security Correspondent, J.J. Green. And
J.J., this issue got a lot of attention because yesterday, Manhattan's
legendary district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, talked about it in a
speech at the Brookings Institution. What is he suggesting here?

A nice touch, that "legendary." Meaning, don't question what he says.

JJ GREEN: He's suggesting that we should not sleep on Iran and
Venezuela. We shouldn't think that they're just exercising their
geopolitical rights to get together and talk business and make business
and make deals. What he's saying is, that Iran and Venezuela hate the
U.S., the U.S. needs to look very carefully at their financial
connections, and even more carefully at what's going on out in the
remote areas of Venezuela, where there've been construction projects
that no one seems to really know what's going on, and he's also saying
that we need to keep an eye on what's happening between Iran and
Venezuela when it comes to nuclear weapons technology and things that
are used to facilitate that.

Amazing. All innuendo. They "hate" the US, there are
construction projects where no one knows what's going on, and it could
involve "nuclear weapons technology"! Green ignores the fact that
neither Iran nor Venezuela have nuclear "weapons" technology, although
Iran does have a carefully monitored nuclear enrichment program that
produced low-enriched uranium fuel.

ANCHOR 1: Well, in fact, Morgenthau says that he thinks that
Venezuela is helping to finance and bankroll Iran secretly to help them
get the money to help them continue develop nuclear weapons.

This point is especially absurd. Iran has lots of oil
revenue, more than Venezuela in fact, and it certainly doesn't need
Caracas' money to "develop nuclear weapons," if indeed it wanted to.
Worse, the anchor says that Iran is building nuclear weapons as if it's
a fact, when even the US intelligence community said that Iran halted
its weapons program in 2003. Responding to this assertion, Green
answers, inexplicably, with an utter non sequitur about

JJGREEN: Narco-trafficking is the key. Within the next couple of
weeks I can guarantee that you will hear a lot more about this whole
problem in Latin America. Now the big problem in Latin America is its
connection to the FARC, Colombia's, uh, guerrilla movement. Uh, and
there is evidence in a number of places, and Mr. Morgenthau points this
out in his speech, including evidence in the GAO, that Venezuela has
pretty close relations with the FARC, including giving them weapons,
etc. This money is being used in part, is being laundered by banks that
Iran has set up in that country, banks that can't be monitored, banks
that we know have had suspicious ties to other financial dealings
around the world, but it all goes back to Tehran. So what he's saying,
very clearly, is that this is no time to pretend that Iran and
Venezuela are not haters of the U.S.

A pastiche of complete nonsense. Green implies that
laundered drug money is helping Iran build a nuclear bomb? That is so
stupid and wrong that it boggles the mind.

ANCHOR 2: Do we have any indication of what the U.S. is doing to
perhaps monitor the situation and try to stop some of this stuff from
going on?

JJ GREEN Well, the Israelis are doing a lot. And as you can almost
imagine, there's been a lot of angst and anxiety in Israel because of
Iran's nuclear weapons program. And they are talking regularly about
what to do about Iran. Let's make no mistake about it: Venezuela does
not want a confrontation with the United States. Iran does not want one
with the U.S. But together they feel like there's strength in numbers
and maybe they'll find a way to beat up on the U.S. The bottom line on
this is, the U.S. and its allies showing these countries that, look,
we're watching you, we're keeping our eyes on you, and we have options
that may include attacks, options that may include some of your
neighbors turning a cold shoulder to you, and the world financial
community shutting you out. And don't discount these possibilities.

Where to begin? Yes, we know there is "angst and
anxiety" in Israel over Iran's nuclear program. But Green seems to
relish delivering his dark warning that the US might "attack" Iran and
Venezuela ("options that may include attacks") while simultaneously
suggesting that Israel may take care of it for us. All of this without
a shred of evidence that there is anything to this story at all! Does
Green bother to call any experts on Iran or Venezuela or the nuclear
issue to get a qualified or contrary or dissenting view about
Morgenthau's evidence-free assertions? No. Does he raise any doubts
about any of this? No–he treats it as gospel. Does Green bother to
note the catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran, involving the
US in a third war in between the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course not.

ANCHOR 1: All right, J.J. I'm sure we'll be checking in on you again on this.

God forbid.

Walter Cronkite must be spinning in his grave. Unless, that is, he is
secretly buried in some remote area of Venezuela's rain forest.