Interview with American journalist Danny Schechter



Kourosh Ziabari – Danny Schechter is an American journalist, filmmaker, media critic and author. He has the experience of working with global television networks such as CNN, ABC News, Press TV, Russia Today and Al Jazeera. He has visited 65 countries as a journalist and has traveled to Iran twice.

As a media critique, he believes that the mainstream media sometimes fail to give fair and balanced coverage to the important international developments.

“I know how the mainstream media frames issues and excludes critical perspectives. As an independent filmmaker, and occasional trouble maker, I also know how difficult it is to offer counter-narratives or critique of policy, especially in build ups to war in many media outlets. They tend to march in lock step with government,” he says.

Danny Schechter is known as the “news dissector” and blogs at

Q: Do the Western media provide a fair and balanced coverage to the international developments, especially of those taking place in the Middle East and Islamic world?

A: Some outlets try, but most fail, and sometimes fail miserably contributing to misunderstanding while promoting and deepening conflict. There are cultural and political factors at work here, as well as external media management and pressure from interested parties especially military allies like Israel, trading partners like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There have been many studies documenting this but as our media environment evolves we have more diverse voices, that is, social media, videos, international satellite channels offering more outlooks. Fewer Americans, for example are reading mainstream newspapers or watching network news.

Q: Who runs the mainstream media in the United States and Europe? Some media critics argue that the political lobbies associated with Israel are behind the corporate media in the West. Is this true?

A: The idea that Israel is “behind” the corporate media or runs it, is in my experience, not true, which is not to say that pro-Israel coverage does not dominate. Media wants to be popular to win ratings and revenues. They focus on issues they believe the public is interested in and supports. The media is mostly commercial, run by big corporations whose bottom line is more important than any one issue. They are very keen not to “get ahead” of the government. International issues are mostly downplayed and offered with little background or context. Many news departments have been downsized with entertainment coverage and political coverage treated with entertainment, i.e. personality oriented techniques. There has been a dumping down over years. Thanks to the internet, news consumers can now get access to a much broader range of news and views.

Q: It’s widely believed that the media in the United States enjoys absolute freedom to publish whatever it likes or criticize the government at will, without being persecuted or restricted. Is this true?

A: Of course not. There are only a few “alternative” or independent media outlets without the resources to compete with the corporate owned channels. There is more diversity online but to reach audiences, outlets need marketing funds, not just production monies. As an independent documentary filmmaker, I am dependent on funding which is hard to come by.

Q: Are the mainstream media capable of laying the groundwork for a military invasion of Iran? Some political analysts believed that it was the New York Times that rationalized and paved the way for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. What’s your idea?

A: Elite critics focused on NY Times coverage of Iraq obsessively; an outlet they read religiously, while ignoring the far more influential impact of TV News that they don’t watch. The TV coverage was much more insidious and distorted. But yes, many of the same techniques “deployed” against Iraq are being used to prepare public opinion for a conflict against Iran, or used to justify intervention in Syria. I write about that daily. The question is, “how savvy is the Iranian government in dissecting and responding?”

Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the restriction of civil liberties in the United States following the 9/11 attacks? The controversial Patriot Act has many opponents, and it’s said that it violates the spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its first ten amendments. What’s your take on that?

A: It doesn’t threaten all ten amendments but does inject fear and a chilling effect into what remains of democratic discourse. 9/11 was clearly used as a cloak for an expansion of intelligence agencies and war making. The American people were victimized three times; first by the failures to stop the 9/11 attacks or to understand its causes, second by the wave of repressive laws that have threatened freedom of expression, and third by the massive in the military leading to two major wars and interventions in the world over. What we have not learned yet is the disproportionate ability of a small elite, in concert with mass media, to spread fear and justify a vast expansion of military power and surveillance.

Q: The laws that put into effect restrictions on the media and constituted acts of censorship in the United States seemingly date back to the era of President John Adams who signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Has there been a history of media censorship in the U.S. in your view?

A: Have there been abuses throughout our history? Of course. But there has also been a tradition of protest, defiance, and movements for change that challenged and challenge censorship. Unfortunately, self-censorship is the more insidious crime against freedom and democracy

Q: With regards to civil liberties and media freedom, could President Obama realize what he had promised during his electoral campaign in 2008? It was reported that in 2011, Obama asked the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stop releasing Abdulelah Haider Shaye who reported the U.S. involvement in the bombings in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. What’s your analysis?

A: I haven’t followed this closely enough. But it seems clear that Obama has “been captured” by and rarely critical of the military and intelligence complexes.

Don’t assume that because he is in office, he is in power or has to the power to unilaterally change course. He is part of a government that pouts a big premium on managing information and trying to suppress information that challenges U.S. policy.

You can see how the government reacted to Wiklileaks and threatens whistleblowers at home. His policies depend on public support and he wants the public to get news and information that buttresses his view. In the political campaign, Obama’s aides insist on providing “quote approval” to journalists guiding who and what journalists can quote.

I believe that Obama, now locked in an intense campaign for reelection, and having been unable to bolster a failing and depressed economy, is playing the “commander in chief” card-bragging about his “successes” overseas, such as the liquidation of Osama bin Laden, if it was really him, and his hawkish and interventionist policies towards Libya, Syria and Iran. Understand that the United States is not just a nation but a wannabe Empire and acts like one. Threats against Iran are being used as part of domestic political strategies.

Q: What’s your analysis of the White House’s reaction to the release of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables by Wikileaks last year? Doesn’t their reaction resemble some kind of a dualistic and hypocritical approach to the concept of “freedom of speech” and “free flow of information?”

Q: Well of course, they freaked out. Candid assessments of foreign politics by the U.S. diplomats are supposed to be kept confidential. This was highly embarrassing and no doubt led even our “allies” to think twice about meeting U.S. diplomats. Relatively few of these cables have been printed in the press, and most require readers to know a lot more about the context and background than they do. Some of these documents are banal and not worth much. No government would want its secrets made public. Even as so much information is over-classified!

Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement and its achievements? Has the movement succeeded in realizing its goals? What’s your viewpoint regarding the future of capitalism in the United States? Do you see capitalism as a source of problems and recessions in the U.S. economy?

I have written a book about the first six months of the movement called “OCCUPY: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street” published by Cosimo Books. I did a special report on how the occupation in New York was organized for Press TV. I am very supportive of the movement and the sincerity of its core activists even if critical of some strategy and anarchist tactics.

Of course, OWS has not “succeeded” in making change. How could it making achievements in less than a year, especially given its much decentralized organizational model, but it has succeeded in making the issue of the 99% versus the 1% big news in a media dominated culture.
It has sparked resistance and educated many abut the financial crisis and its origins. It can not at this stage overthrow capitalism but capitalism seems to be doing a good job in overthrowing itself, given its failure to revive an economy heading in the direction of a deep depression.

I am not sure that Capitalism is the only source of the problems. We are dealing with a crisis created by financial crime. I make my case in my film Plunder ( and my book “The Crime o Our Time” published by Disisinformation Books. I write about these issues daily on my blog available at

This interview was originally published on Tehran Times.