How Misinformation Poisons the Iran Debate | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

How Misinformation Poisons the Iran Debate

Shibley Telhami describes the findings of a new University of Maryland Critical Issues poll taken earlier this summer. There are a number of interesting results from the survey, but perhaps the most striking one was the discovery that more Americans incorrectly believe Iran possesses nuclear weapons than know that Israel has them:

Seventh, more Americans think Iran possesses nuclear weapons than think Israel does. While Israel has been known to possess nuclear weapons for decades (without officially acknowledging it) and Iran is not known to have ever possessed any, the American public perception presumes a different reality: 60.5%, including 70.6% of Republicans and 52.6% of Democrats, say Iran possesses nuclear weapons – compared to 51.7% who say Israel does, including 51.7% of Republicans and 51.9% of Democrats.

The results are maddening on one level, but they make a kind of sense when you consider how Iran’s nuclear program is covered and Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal is almost never mentioned. It is commonplace in news stories, commentary, and television coverage for people to talk about Iran’s nuclear program as though Iran’s government is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Many news stories still mislabel Iran’s program as a nuclear weapons program when it is well-established that Iran has not had anything like a nuclear weapons program in almost two decades. Iran and North Korea are frequently lumped together in presidential speeches and in news reports, and the two are often treated as if they pose comparable threats when they absolutely do not.