While the United States presidential elections dominate the Western media's attention, another influential 2012 election took place in Iran three weeks ago. In its first vote since the contentious 2009 election, Iran faces an economic crisis from within and international animosity due to its nuclear program. While a strong government is critical during this sensitive time, Iran's leadership is becoming increasingly factionalized. Iran's two state authorities - Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad - are pitted against one another in a bitter struggle for power while the opposition Reformist party is condemned to the sidelines. In the media's coverage of this intricate political situation, the facets that it chooses to represent tend to say more about the who is covering the event than the event itself. An analysis of the journalistic decisions made by The New York Times and The Guardian reflect biases that vary with the changing times, but ultimately are rooted in each country's historical relationship with the Middle East.
In January 2012, the Middle East was experiencing a wave of revolutionary protests by various populations against the regimes in power. These events, collectively known as Arab Spring, generated hope for new governments that would be sympathetic to Western interests. The media's coverage of the Iranian election reflected Western optimism for the people's ability to change the political landscape. "'You might think that the reformists are eliminated from politics,'" Ahmad Salamation tells The Guardian, "but look at the uprisings in the Middle East and you'd realize those who have taken power now, were the people who were absent for their dictators last elections.'" The commentator evokes the recent revolutionary tendency in the region, and expresses hope that the opposition party will follow suit. The New York Times coverage takes on a similar perspective, as this revolutionary narrative plays well into American liberal ideals and also suggests potential for a more sympathetic government.
The history of United States-Iran relations sheds light on the underlying motives behind this revolutionary support. In 1953, the CIA organized a coup d'etat against Prime Minister Muhammad Mussadiq - a strong voice of Iranian nationalism (especially with regard to British control over the country's oil resources) and a potential communist sympathizer. After Mussadiq was deposed, power became firmly concentrated within the Shah, who was known to be sympathetic to American interest. During the 1979 revolution, however, America took an ambiguous stance as the Iranian people fought against the injustice of the America-friendly Shah. While America presents itself as the international defender of liberal ideals, its support is often motivated by the protection of its own interest. With both of Iran's leaders firm antagonistic stance towards the West, American support for alternative leadership is unsurprising.
The promise of the opposition is also reflected by the special attention that the Western media gives to the harsh suppression of journalists and bloggers. On January 26, The New York Times devoted an entire article to the arrests of two female Iranian journalists, painting a vivid picture of their injustice though in-depth descriptions of their backgrounds. This served to humanize the Iranian people, who are usually either ignored or maligned as being hateful towards the West. Another component of this issue highlighted by both The Guardian and The New York Times was the importance of social media and technology. "Some speculated that they were arrested because they knew how to navigate their way around the Internet and transmit information to their circle of friends abroad."iv This depiction of the repressed journalists reaching out to American interests makes them more sympathetic to American readers. The World Wide Web serves as a bridge between Middle East and the West. Through January, there is an unusual kindness towards the Iranian people, however, this was soon to change as a result of current events.