Rick Santorum is running as the "more AIPAC than thou" candidate. But David Gregory wants people to think of him as a "journalist." We can hold David Gregory to a higher standard.
On Sunday, Republican Presidential Rick Santorum told David Gregory on NBC's Meet the Press that, unlike President Obama, he would "be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those [nuclear] facilities, you begin to dismantle them and, and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that."
David Gregory did not challenge Santorum's statement. But Gregory knows -- or should know -- that Iran's nuclear facilities are already under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Politicians will say whatever they can get away with, but journalists have an obligation to correct serious misstatements of fact.
Of course, one can try to come up with excuses for why David Gregory didn't correct the record. Let's consider some potential excuses, and why they are no good.
"Journalists can't correct everything candidates say." This was a one-on-one interview, and the topic of discussion was Iran's nuclear program, and Rick Santorum's claims that he would be tougher than President Obama in confronting Iran about its nuclear program. Is there another context where it would be more appropriate for David Gregory to correct the record about what is known about Iran's nuclear program?
The question of what is known about Iran's nuclear program, and in particular, what is known about UN inspections, is a key fulcrum on which preventing war depends. If politicians can make up whatever they want about this, and journalists let these claims stand, a key barrier to war will be removed. The experience of the run-up to the Iraq war makes this abundantly clear. Bush Administration officials pushed baseless claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, including claims that Iraq had evaded UN weapons inspectors, and big media didn't challenge these claims. That's a key reason the country was stampeded into a war that cost thousands of Americans their lives and left hundreds of thousands of Americans physically and psychologically wounded, some for the rest of their lives.
"Maybe Santorum means that he believes that Iran has secret nuclear facilities that the UN doesn't know about." If that's what Santorum means, then David Gregory is supposed to force him to say that that is what he means by pointing out that Iran's nuclear facilities are under UN inspection. And then we can discuss if there is any objective basis for Santorum's claim. But that's not what happened.
The United States government has a huge intelligence apparatus -- your tax dollars and mine. Spying on Iran's nuclear program is a very high priority of this apparatus, and so far the intelligence apparatus of the United States has not turned up any evidence of secret nuclear facilities in Iran that could produce a nuclear weapon.
Maybe Rick Santorum would claim he knows something that US intelligence agencies don't know. If so, he should be forced to say so, and to defend his claim.
If you think David Gregory and Meet the Press should do a better job of informing the public about what is known about Iran's nuclear program, why not send them a note?