Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts PressTV’s Coverage of John Bolton
PressTV’s Coverage of John Bolton

PressTV’s Coverage of John Bolton

February 5, 2020

Post by Vishnu Kannan

PressTV’s coverage of the Trump administration’s Iran policy pushes a clear overarching narrative: The U.S.’s policies are unprovoked, ideologically motivated acts of aggression. The Iranian state-sponsored outlet has used interviews with analysts and statements by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to suggest that such policies are intended to provide the U.S. with a pretext for war. As Iran seeks to counter American influence, it attempts to discredit foreign policy decision-makers in the U.S. government through its media, particularly those with whom it most disagrees.

While PressTV is clearly no fan of President Trump, the outlet frequently attributes U.S. foreign policy unfavorable for Iran to a small group of American national security officials, sometimes referred to as neocons. In many stories, this group of Iranian opponents is led by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who is routinely painted as intent on driving the U.S. and Iran into conflict. Though both President Trump and Bolton routinely receive negative coverage, Iranian media often plays up conflict between the two.

While coverage of the former national security advisor retreated some after he was ousted from the administration, Bolton has recently resurfaced given his role as a potential witness in the impeachment proceedings. In that coverage, PressTV highlighted that Trump and Bolton were once again at odds

PressTV narratives that portray Bolton negatively include: 

  • His policy stances toward Iran
    • Articles allege that Bolton’s policy stances will inevitably lead to war with Iran and even war with other U.S. adversaries
    • Coverage that paints Bolton as eager for conflict include conspiracy theories. One published interview goes as far to allege that Bolton may have played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Bolton is responsible for cooling U.S.-Iran relations
    • Articles juxtapose official policies—like the U.S. withdrawal from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and additional sanctions on Iran—with Bolton’s role in government. Articles imply that Bolton (part of Trump’s “hawkish ‘B-team’”) is responsible for these measures.
  • Bolton as driving force for a continued U.S. presence in the Middle East
    • Bolton’s position against peace talks with the Taliban and withdrawal from Afghanistan is routinely cited. For example, one article writes that “Bolton is working in exactly the opposite direction” of President Trump’s efforts to withdraw from “unwinnable post-9/11” wars. 
  • Impeachment
    • As noted, tensions between Trump and Bolton on the issue of impeachment have been covered as the proceedings progressed.

One clear divergence from other state-sponsored media is that PressTV makes frequent use of other outlets’ content, including U.S. media outlets. In covering Bolton, PressTV draws on reporting by American outlets to support its characterization of him, further distinguish between Bolton and Trump’s positions on conflict with Iran and suggest that Bolton is the architect of a shadow foreign policy with regard to Iran. 

The suggestion of shadow foreign policy is a crucial difference between PressTV coverage and the U.S. media source reporting upon which they rely. Outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post are careful to distinguish between internal deliberations and final decisions. They identify advisors as holding different positions during internal deliberations but explicitly recognize that the actions of the U.S. government cannot be attributed to any individual other than the president. Additionally, characterizations of Bolton in PressTV differ substantially from those in the source reporting as PressTV consistently fails to articulate Bolton’s underlying reasoning.