Watching Iranian television these days has a bit of a Washington flavor. There's the presidential debates, for instance, as well as the popular political series "House of Cards."
The reason for the spotlight on politics, real and imagined? It's Tehran's latest swipe to point out corruption in the United States even as American culture continues to seep into Iran through social media, music and satellite TV in a country with a large young and outward-looking population.
Two weeks ago, Iranian state-run television aired the second presidential debate. According to American Iranian journalist Negar Mortazavi, it was the first time that a presidential debate was aired fully in Iran.
Live programming from abroad is highly unusual in Iran, where broadcasts are usually analyzed and censored in advance. In the most recent presidential debate, Iranian commentators extensively analyzed Donald Trump's reaction to his hot-mic recording from 2005 in which he bragged about his sexual advances on women.
— Negar نگار (@NegarMortazavi) October 10, 2016
In September, Iran's censors allowed "House of Cards" to be broadcast by the state-run Namayesh channel. The series depicts U.S. politics — built around the rise of fictional President Frank Underwood — as a Machiavellian world in which anything goes to obtain power.
It's all contrived drama, of course. But it fits in well with the relentless messages from Iran's leadership to fight back against what they call America's "soft war" of cultural influence. On Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a group of students and others that "resistance" to U.S. pressures is crucial to maintain independence.
Speaking to the Associated Press last week, Tehran-based student Mohammad Kazemi said the point of airing "House of Cards" is clear: "It shows how politics is dirty in the United States."
"They do anything to reach power," Kazemi was quoted as saying.
Although a nuclear deal was struck last year between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, historical tensions continue to define relations between Washington and Tehran — and they run deeper than the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran does not forget Washington's role in a 1953 coup that ousted an elected government and restored the pro-Western shah.
Iranian media is not done yet with the presidential race and its mudslinging. On its website, state-funded Press TV has already prominently discussed Trump's claims that the U.S. election campaign is "rigged."
The channel went a step further than the presidential candidate himself, quoting a writer who argues that American elections have been manipulated "for nearly 200 years."
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.