As news organizations and experts question the effectiveness of new Iran sanctions, Fox pushes Trump’s propaganda

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Multiple cable and broadcast news personalities and major national newspapers have cast doubt on the effectiveness of President Donald Trump’s new “hard-hitting” sanctions designed to keep Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and top Iranian military officials from accessing parts of the international banking system. But Fox News figures, including several anchors and reporters from its supposed “straight news” division, are echoing Trump’s framing of the sanctions’ effectiveness, describing them as “harsh,” “crippling,” and “tough.”

Foreign policy experts and former Treasury Department officials have said that Trump’s latest sanctions are unnecessary and will have no real impact. Kate Bauer, a former Treasury official who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explained to The New Yorker that Trump didn’t even need to sign a new executive order because the authority to implement such sanctions already existed under a 2012 executive order signed by President Barack Obama. 

Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer told Business Insider that Trump’s “latest sanctions are more bark than bite; they don't change the economic calculations for the Iranian regime.” 

MSNBC global affairs analyst Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of state who led the team that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, suggested to host Chris Hayes that the new sanctions will have virtually no effect on the intended targets. According to Sherman, most of the people targeted in Trump’s executive order were already sanctioned by a previous executive order, and “none of them have much to do with international financial institutions because international financial institutions don't want to have anything to do with them.”

Some of the nation’s largest newspapers also published articles explaining that Trump’s new sanctions will likely have little effect. The New York Times reported they “will have almost no impact on the ayatollah” and “the same appears to be true for most of the other individuals sanctioned on Monday.” Another article from the Times stated that “any additional pressure from the new sanctions is likely to be minimal.” International Crisis Group President Robert Malley, a former senior Obama administration official on the Middle East, told the Times that the sanctions are “symbolic politics at its worst” and “at every level it is illogical, counterproductive or useless.” Brookings Institution Iran scholar Suzanne Maloney told The Washington Post, “Any new measures are only incremental and possibly redundant.” Sanctions expert Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security also told the Post, “Further economic sanctions are almost entirely symbolic, rather than being economically significant.”

Many broadcast and cable news reports about Trump’s new sanctions also questioned their effectiveness. PBS NewsHour’s Monday report featured Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who said, “I don't think it's probably going to be enough to break them and force them to capitulate, but it could trigger a further Iranian response in this escalation cycle we’re already in.” CBS News White House correspondent Paula Reid said on CBS Evening News: “These new sanctions may only have a minimal impact as top Iranian officials likely do not keep significant assets in international banks.” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell cited reporting from the Times that “any additional pressure from the new sanctions is likely to be minimal.” And CNN anchor Erin Burnett questioned the Trump administration’s framing of its new sanctions.

ERIN BURNETT (ANCHOR): “Highly effective” or are they? Is this real action or just tough talk? Take for example Iran's supreme leader. No one really knows where his money is to even lock it up. He hasn’t even left Iran in years. Plus our Fred Pleitgen, who spent last week in Tehran, says -- tells us tonight that these sanctions have no wider impact on Iran's military or political leadership than the ones already in place.

But Fox News -- which has a significant influence on the president and has been pushing Trump’s propaganda on Iran while mostly nudging him toward war -- started echoing Trump’s framing of his newest sanctions. Prime-time host Sean Hannity hyperbolically said that Trump was “delivering even more crippling sanctions on this radical, rogue regime.” But it wasn’t just the opinion host who pushed Trump’s message; some of Fox’s so-called “news division” anchors and correspondents also presented Trump’s sanctions as powerful and effective, contrary to what experts have been saying. On her show Fox News @ Night, anchor Shannon Bream called the sanctions “potentially crippling” and correspondent Gillian Turner said that the sanctions are “some of the most targeted, biting sanctions the Treasury has dropped in decades.”

Fox’s chief White House correspondent, John Roberts, also parroted Trump’s propaganda, referring to what he called “tough new sanctions” on both Outnumbered Overtime and The Daily Briefing without noting that they will have little impact on their targets. On Your World, he framed them as “harsh new sanctions,” but on Special Report, Roberts went even further in his effusive promotion of Trump’s framing: 

JOHN ROBERTS (WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT): The Trump administration has imposed more than a thousand sanctions against Iran since the U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2017. But the sanctions that were announced today take the economic squeeze to a whole new level.