Wednesday, August 16, 2006
A case-study in missing the point
I will never cease being amazed at the speed with which the world's leaders miss the point.

As I write, the Capitol dome is visible through our office windows. I'm thinking about the great ideas that America has championed for more than two hundred years. I'm thinking about freedom of speech.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is feeling heat at home over the money he is spending on his nuclear program and charges that Iran has spent a fortune supporting Hezbollah while 40 percent of the Iranian people live in poverty. So he has launched a new blog, apparently to shore-up support among conservative Muslims at home and abroad.

The site is available in four languages and says precious little in any of them. The president's first post drones on about his childhood, select Iranian history, and of course includes a reference to America as the great Satan. He also asks if the United States and Israel are trying to start World War III.

Is it good for leaders to communicate with their people? I think most folks would say so. Good for them to solicit feedback to better inform their decisions? Again, many of us would agree.

But human rights activists say that is not what is happening in Iran. They say while the president expands his already vast capacity for free speech, his government is shutting down free speech for all its critics -- online, in newspapers, on TV, radio, you name it. And recent history in Iran lends a ring of truth to the critics' charges.

I think the point of free speech is supposed to be that everyone has it, not just the people who can already say what they wish because of their wealth, position or power.

The Iranian president's blog implies that he likes the idea of free speech, but I'll bet he doesn't like what I've written here.

What do you think: Is he missing the point?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 10:20 AM ET
  29 Comments
No, he's not missing the point, he's ignoring the point. Only positve free speech is allowed in countries that are ruled by religious zealots like Iran.
Posted By Anonymous Julie Andrianos Stamford CT : 10:49 AM ET
Mein Kamph celebrates the power of propaganda. Ahmadinejad's blog is nothing but a modern tool for it.
Posted By Anonymous Brigitte, Montreal, Canada : 10:53 AM ET
He missed the point a long time ago. Leaders do need to communicate with their people so they can express the views and/or concensus of the masses. He has done nothing but suppress the masses and curtail their "freedom of speech" or right to expression. He is merely trying to appease the masses with a token gesture.
Posted By Anonymous F. Berg, Del Rio, Texas : 11:05 AM ET
His blog is a "smoke and mirrors" tactic. Of course he is going to spout out that he believes in free- speech, but only the type he wants to hear, nothing more.
Posted By Anonymous Krista, Cincinnati, Ohio : 11:16 AM ET
As an Iranian American, I have to say that I agree with you 100%. Ahmadinejad is constantly critisizing Bush for his actions and accusing him of not caring about the American people and of being an oppressor of the poeple, and how he is opposed to oppression. He is a hypocrite and the biggest opressor of all! The majority of Iranian people, in Iran and abroad, disagree with his principles and believe that instead of accusing others of things that he is guilty of himself, he needs to serve his people and concentrate on how to make Iran back into what it use to be.
Posted By Anonymous mary Houston, Tx : 11:16 AM ET
I agree. I think he is ignoring the point because he knows that promoting fspeach would gain him support from the Iranian people. However, he knows if he fully implemented the freedom of speech, Iranians would criticize the government and maybe lead to the downfall of Ahmadinejad's hegemony.
Posted By Anonymous Tim, Huntington, New York : 11:18 AM ET
He's not missing the point... He is completely IGNORING the point... Free speech is only free for him and his supporters... It will cost dearly for those who speak against him, believe me...
Posted By Anonymous Sherry Sarasota Fl : 11:26 AM ET
Fair is fair..... Iran's idea of free speech may leave a lot to be desired. But I'm not sure which is worst, government controled free speech, like in Iran. Or slanted free speech, which is rountinuely practiced in the U.S. All one need to do is read, listen and watch the major media outlets and politicians here in the U.S. and you will quickly learn that the news stories and so called facts we are fed are more lop-sided than the Leaning Tower of Peisa. I learned this fact about American Free Speech while watching the coverage of the Mid-East crisis. When Free Speech is slanted, isn't that the same as being controled?
Posted By Anonymous RXW from Philly, PA : 11:43 AM ET
Hi Tom, All leaders who oppress others are missing the point. Their power is temporary, ie: Saddam Hussein. The Universe never forgets and they will get theirs.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn Michigan : 11:43 AM ET
Tom: Although the whole "blog" thing is popular among us computer geeks, I find it interesting that he posts a long, long..blah..blah..blah entry and yet even though there is an option to "comment". No comments are posted! So much for that freedom of speech concept!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 12:23 PM ET
Why do you think American is any different? Maybe there was a time when you had free speech, but now if you speak out publicly you're labeled un patriotic. Told you don't love your country. They way I see it America is no longer a beacon of light in a dark world. Everyday, the principle which built this country are reduced and smeared by elected officials for private gain. And we the people choose to ignore it blindly, and scorn leaders of other countries as villains. But dont see that our very home is moving in the same direction. I know we claim that we would never let it happen but it does. Everyday laws are passed to reduce or freedoms in the name of security. One day will we all wake up and realize that its to late, to go back ?
Posted By Anonymous Warren San Diego, Ca : 12:33 PM ET
I think that it is important that we remember that Ahmadinejad was elected by the Iranian people in an election relatively free of abnormalities. He may be oppressing certain groups in his country, but he is certainly not oppressing a majority of them. He has a better approval rating then our current president, so regardless of whether we hate him, a great many of his people love him. That being said, even Hitler was democratically elected.
Posted By Anonymous Michael, Lowell, MA : 12:51 PM ET
Well, if he's missing the point, perhaps we should sharpen it and try harder.
Posted By Anonymous Tikka Madsen, Seattle WA : 12:52 PM ET
RXW: Amen, to that. Those that carry the water from Press Conferences should have to label their 'stories' toxic waste. Not to mention the sound byting by editors that totally misrepresents the speaker's message. When do we start cleaning our own house? Perhaps, instead of the Pulitzer, they could start a 'Baghdad Bob Award'. Please, consider this a bi-partisan comment.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 1:16 PM ET
When you watch the news and see the coverage of Iran and listen to the rhetoric that spews out of their leader's mouth, you cannot help but think that this is the life his people want. You see the citizens chanting and waving Iranian flags and holding signs that degrade America. When you talk to an Iranian here in America you get a completely different story. Most Iranians do not hate Americans. They want the lives we have. They want the freedom to live without fear of their government. There is only one person in Iran that has free speech and that is Ahmadinejad. Everything that comes out of Iran is staged and scripted. Ahmadinejad is a zealot but he is not stupid. He will yell from the highest oil well in Iran that everyone is free to speak their minds and give his regime opinions on what they need but as soon as the cameras are gone those who spoke up will be gone also. He gets it. He just uses it to his advantage.
Posted By Anonymous Fred, Valencia, CA : 1:31 PM ET
I read that blog, and wonder if that guy is really that out of touch with reality, or if he just thinks he can sway any opinion to his version of events. It reminded me of an interview I once saw of a KKK'er who said, "We don't burn crosses, we light them", as if that were some noble gesture.
How do we counter such crap? I read an article in a NZ paper this morning buy a guy claiming that the US and Israel had long conspired and planned to destroy Lebanon, by forcing it into penury with the World Bank. Some people will of course believe both of those opinions.
Posted By Anonymous Sternberg, Mauldin, SC : 1:48 PM ET
"When Free Speech is slanted, isn't that the same as being controled?"

Unless it is all slanted the same way, and forced to be that way by the government, the answer is "No".

People should get their information from many sources (each with their own "slant"), filter and balance out all the slanting, and thereby arrive at being an informed populace.
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Baytown, Texas : 1:57 PM ET
I agree with RXW from Philly, PA. We American's are so quick to criticize leaders such as Ahmadinejad but do not critically observe our own version of "Free Speech". Sure, we have Free Speech but with this current administration if an American citizen exercises this right and criticizes the administration, they are subject to character assassination by news organizations such as Fox News. Look at the names that are given to citizens such as Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore. They are called everything from "crazy" to "extreme radicals" and accused of treason. That said, I still believe America is the best country in the world because while someone's character may be tarnished by the media, the person isn't in jail (or worse) for speaking their opinion in an open court.
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Woodland Hills CA : 1:57 PM ET
Do the people of Saudi Arabia have freedom of speech? But that does not seem to bother you.

Your real concern is not for the people of Iran, but adding fuel to America's new found agenda of installing democracy in all countries around the world that dare defy its will.

It is hard to find "Unbiased Journalism" in the United States; land of the free and home of the brave. But lets not talk about that. It is more important for us to discuss freedom of speech in Iran.
Posted By Anonymous AJ, Hartford CT : 2:11 PM ET
It is facinating when a dictorial government embraces the idea of freedom of speech, and then twists the very definition for which it stands. The Iranian president is hosting a blog for CONSERVATIVE Muslims. And then he shuts down all media venues which would have the opportunity to oppose or critize his presidency. This is clearly a case of turning freedom of speech into a "free dome" of speech where it will only allow praises from a select group of people. Sounds like Elitism to me.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy: Somerville, NJ : 2:20 PM ET
We may have slanted media but, they slant in all directions. Surely there is atleast one north american media outlet that slants in the direction that you agree with.

And, if you don't agree with the media, you can let them know without being shot. You can send a comment.

How does a "leader" of a "nation" have the time to blog anyway, give me a break.
Posted By Anonymous E, Winnipeg, Canada : 2:28 PM ET
Ahmadinejad chooses to make statements on a blog as if his saying them makes them true. Bush associated Iraq with 9/11 as if his saying it made it true. Ahmadinejad is spending money on a nuclear program while 40% of his people live in poverty. In the Richest Country In The World, we already have a nuclear program, so we spend billions in Iraq while 13% of our people live in poverty.

I can't understand why Bush wants to fight this guy; they have so much in common.

If these countries were not sitting on oil needed to fuel the US' Hummers and SUVs, we wouldn't be spending a nanosecond commenting on their leaders blogaganda efforts.

Save us from the righteous, whatever their nationality.
Posted By Anonymous Donna McQue, Orlando, FL : 3:51 PM ET
I agree the point is missed. I also think there is a difference in freedom of speech and a total disregard of history, such as when he states the holocaust never occurred. Then sponsors an exhibit of holocaust "cartoons". Riots occur with cartoon of Mohammad, but holocaust cartoons, and no response from the world community?? Perhaps it is the turn the other cheek motto of most peace loving people use, or ist indifference, or fear of speaking out.

Yes, thee may be ridicule if someone speaks out about the government, and the "Dixie Chicks" may not ever have another sold out venue in the south, yet their lives are not in danger and the government did not tell us not to buy tickets. It was individual choice. I have seen pro-Lebanese, in deed pro-hezbollah--I refuse to capitialize hezbollah--rallies in the United States. I have not seen pro-American rallies in Iraq or Iran.
Posted By Anonymous Susie, Huttonsville, WV : 9:15 PM ET
Please explain how the Iranian president's blog, is any different to our president's radio addresses or public statements?

Both a load of rubbish
Posted By Anonymous Reena, Phoenix AZ : 12:19 AM ET
I am sorry JonBenet died. I am sorry when anybody is murdered.

However, how many african american or hispanic children are murdered and do not get this kind of coverage?

If JonBenet was not blonde hair and blue eyes, this story would never have gotten the kind of coverage it received.
Posted By Anonymous Barbara, Queens, New York : 10:01 AM ET
Ahmedinajad may be coopting the term "free speech" to his own convenience. But he's only a hanger-on in that particular enterprise. We started that here some time ago. You say that "I'll bet he doesn't like what I've written here". Well, in 2001-2002, this sort of criticism directed against our own government would have cost you your job - as it did the couple or three journalists in Texas and Oregon (I think I have the states right) who dared defy the WH and post criticisms of Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft.

To Donna of Orlando, FL who writes "I can't understand why Bush wants to fight this guy, they have so much in common.": it's because there's only room for one megalomaniac in the world at a time. Any would-be grand-poobah with visions of glory knows that! (Loved your comments, by the way including "save us from the righteous")
Posted By Anonymous Leena, Cambridge, MA : 10:33 AM ET
I think that the media talks too much and gives information to the enemy, especially in the time of war. Every single day, I hear information given out that "If two planes were attacked instead of 10, the plan would have worked" and "Here is a city in Israel that is being attacked, it's a good thing that the oil tanks over here are out of harms way so far". Why not just tell the enemy where all of our important assets are and how to get through our securities? I even heard the media tell how someone could put a 1/4" strip of explosives in their shoe and that the security doesn't work at the airports. Why not tell them how to core out the sole too? When is it going end? The enemy is already in our country. We let them in.
Posted By Anonymous Bob in West Hartford, Connecticut : 1:23 PM ET
There is a simple test for people who want to compare freedom of speech issues in Iran to freedom of speech (or supposed lack thereof) in America; take someone like Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan or the countless others that complain day in and day out about our President and America's policies, and imagine them in Iran, saying like things about the Iranian government and its policies. How long do you think they would be free, or be alive even? In America this people are lauded, and they have every right to their opinion.
Posted By Anonymous JPN, St Cloud, MN : 2:03 PM ET
This string of responses started out very much on the point but sadly it has veered into the Lib/Neocon venue.

Ahmedinajad serves at the pleasure and discretion of the ruling theocratic leaders of Iran. He serves as a useful idiot.

He can tout free speech all he wants and give impressions that he encourages comments. The fear of the religiously oppressed population restrains them from replying. It is not so much the government they fear but the certain reprisals they would receive from the faith police. They are everywhere and most do not know who they are. Remember the totalitarian governments that have recently failed? Neighbor watching neighbor? Rewarded for revealing breaches in mandatory proprieties?

Who would dare speak out against any authority figure? Who would dare speak out about religious oppression?

Only those in countries that are free from it. We have not devolved into a neighbor watching neighbor state. We are a pack of unruly school children pointing fingers and name-calling. But we have sense enough to draw the line at that point. Vote our consciences and live with the outcomes. People die for that kind of freedom. Some want to snuf it out so there is no alternative for opression. Opression keeps the unworthy and undeserving in power. They are quite comfrotable there and would not want their lives disrupted or worse.

As crazy as we all seem to be here, God bless America.
Posted By Anonymous Bruce, Vicenza, It : 2:18 PM ET
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