Prominent mainstream news publications are in happy agreement on what they have identified as the most important characteristic of the new Iranian president, Hassan Rowhani, selected on Saturday to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: He is a "moderate."
"Iran Moderate Wins Presidency by a Large Margin," reads one New York Times headline. A follow-up piece in the Times calls him "A Pragmatic Victor" in the headline and speculates "some sort of reformist revolution could be under way."
"Iran's Newly Elected President Urges ‘Path of Moderation,'" says a Washington Post headline, following the regime’s spin to the West that Rowhani will pursue different policies than his predecessor.
One Post headline reads, "Iran's New President Promises ‘New Opportunity' For Battered Reformists," while another declares "Moderate Iranian Leader Could Complicate Israeli Efforts To Halt Nuke Program."
A Los Angeles Times headline calls Rowhani a "Cleric Known As [A] Pragmatist" with "a reputation as a centrist." Slate‘s headline describes Rowhani as a "reformist" and approvingly quoted a BBC reporter claiming his selection "may just usher in ‘an age of moderation in the next four years.'" Newsweek/Daily Beast calls Rowhani a "moderate cleric" and a "moderate conservative."
One Iran expert, the Wall Street Journal‘s Sohrab Ahmari, who grew up in the Islamic Republic, offered a rare glimpse of the real Rowhani and how he became president.
"Iran's presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates," Ahmari wrote. "Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest, including a former president, were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal. Eight regime loyalists made it onto the ballots. One emerged victorious on Saturday."
Rowhani began his political career as a close aide to Ayatollah Khomeini and served as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, where he oversaw a murderous crackdown on pro-democracy student protesters in 1999. Then he oversaw negotiations with western countries over the Iranian nuclear program that he later bragged to Iranian state media had been intentionally dishonest.
There is one Middle East political leader who prominent liberal publications agree is indisputably not a moderate or a reformer, but in fact a "hard-liner": the thrice-democratically elected prime minister of the region's only liberal democracy, Benjamin Netanyahu.
When Netanyahu won the premiership in 2009, the Washington Post described him in article after article as a "hard-liner," a practice that continues to this day and that is shared liberally by the New York Times.
When he was re-elected in 2013, such publications again employed "hard-line" as their go-to descriptor of the Israeli leader and indeed of any Israeli political figure not firmly on the left wing of the political spectrum. Readers of the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Slate, and numerous other mainstream publications were presented his temperament and ideology as that of a hard-liner leading a coalition of other hard-liners and blocking peace.
Netanyahu has been calling for peace talks with the Palestinians for over four years. The Palestinians refuse to talk. Yet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who openly denies there is any historic Jewish connection to Israel and whose dissertation at a Soviet university claims Jewish collusion in the Holocaust, is unfailingly described in the same publications as a "moderate."