ABOL GHASSEM SADEGH, director of foreign press department of Iran's Ministry of National Guidance, complained the other day that American correspondents were concentrating their coverage on the hostage situation. That issue, he said, "is for us like one degree in a circle of 360 degrees. But the Americans have shown that in order to safeguard their interests they choose to ignore 359 degrees of the circle and fix their glare on the one degree of the hostages." Mr. Sadegh's remedy has been characteristically revolutionary: to cut down the American press corps in Tehran -- it now stands at only two.
Actually, his complaint is silly. At least in the weeks since the failed rescue mission, the hostages have not been at the center of American press coverage. Perhaps they should have been, but they have not. One reason is that the hostages appear to have been dispersed, a step removing the Tehran embassy as a news focus, and another is that coverage has accurately reflected the greater surface passivity of American policy since the rescue effort. While the administration was actively gearing up in its different ways to pressure or cajole or negotiate the release of the hostages, the press reported the effort. But now the administration seems to believe any release will be made more likely by removing its own efforts and anxieties from the international spotlight, not incidentally diminishing the worldwide attention the captors have so relished and exploited. And the press, consequently, has a less visible story to cover.
If Mr. Sadegh nonetheless still feels oppressed by American journalistic concern with the hostages then we have the perfect solution for him: release them. That would put an end to his grievance and to those of the United States as well. But this logic eludes Mr. Sadegh. He is caught in an inconsistency: he evidently supports the continued holding of the hostages for whatever value their captivity may have to his clerical/conservative faction in Iran's tightening internal power struggle, even while he hopes to avoid paying the costs that flow from that continuing captivity. His faction seems torn between feeling that the press represents the very foreign corruption the Iranian revolution was made to oppose, and that it represents a necessary and useful connection to help sustain the revolution -- otherwise, one would not so much complain about the foreign press as simply close it down completely.
But we are not the only ones troubled by the attitudes expressed by Mr. Sadegh. Ayatollah Khomeini unburdened himself the other day of the surprising judgment that the revolution should cut through its self-generated static by choosing a prime minister, disposing of the hostage question and getting on to other questions. On this occasion at least, the ayatollah did not bother alleging that the vexatious foreign press was not properly serving the revolution. On the contrary, he seemed to be saying that the problem was of the revolution's own making. In this part of his analysis he was completely right.