By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
When Donald Trump banned some major news media from a press conference it led some commentators to make yet more comparisons between America and authoritarian regimes. This has been a constant theme since the 2016 election. Trump is said to represent America’s turn toward “fascism.” He “acts like an authoritarian thug toward the press.” One author compared Trump to how Vietnam and Iran treat journalists. “In the most tyrannical countries, including Iran, Cuba and Russia, only a handful of journalists are in jail because most others have simply stopped writing stories that could risk their lives and freedom. Turkey’s Tayyip Recep Erdoğan is currently the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.” This “look at Turkey” or other countries has been explored by several commentators.
We hear similar stories about Israel and its treatment of human rights groups and others. Israel’s religious establishment is compared to Iran. A recent scandal involving an IKEA catalogue bereft of women led to more “evidence” of how Israel is like Iran. Netanyahu’s treatment of the media in Israel brings comparison to other countries in the Middle East.
But if you buy into this, then shouldn’t Israel and America and other democracies that have “become like Iran,” be treated like Iran by media in other democracies? How does the major media report on authoritarian regimes? Well, it either doesn’t report on them much, or it tends to write positive stories about them where the regime’s handlers and minders are allowed to guide the media coverage. Just try to find actual BBC and CNN reports about Iranian human rights abuses. Try to find coverage of Turkey or Vietnam or other countries that America is compared to?
So if media thinks they are truly being treated like in Iran, then they should be highlighting the “mosaic” and “rich culture” of America like they do Iran and refraining from any critique, the way they don’t critique most Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or basically any dictatorship. When journalists travel to most authoritarian countries they don’t write critical reports, for fear of losing access.