Over the past week, a lie has traveled from Israel to the U.S. pro-Israel media and spread around the world. The claim, originating with a news report by Israel’s Channel 2, claimed that in a recent speech Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “gloated” over Iran’s success in murdering five Israelis in Burgas.
Now, take a step back and think rationally whether it’s remotely likely that the leader of any country except perhaps North Korea would gloat over his country’s success in killing citizens of another country. Even if Iran had authored the attack is it even remotely possible he would open his country to the savage reprisals from Israel that would follow such an admission? So if you were a journalist who read Channel 2’s account you’d exercise some caution in accepting this as fact, right? Maybe you’d ask a Farsi speaker to translate it for you to confirm the accuracy of the translation…especially considering the powder keg that is Israeli-Iranian relations.
Not so for the neocon-funded Times of Israel or Commentary, which went to town on Ahmadinejad’s alleged boasting. They featured it on their respective front pages and did their own version of gloating over the Iranian leader’s supposed carnivorous ravings. Each of them wants and expects Israel to attack Iran and this story was offered up on a silver platter.
Except that it wasn’t true. Ahmadinejad did make a speech and it did talk about Iranian responses to western attacks against it. But it never mentioned Burgas, never mentioned any Iranian act of terror or violence against Iran’s enemies. In fact, native Farsi speakers describe the speech as a rather typical, pedestrian one in which the Iranian was railing against western sanctions and saying that for every blow they strike against our economic interests, we will counter with one of our own.
This isn’t the first time the new Times of Israel has made a journalistic fool of itself. A few weeks ago it allowed hasbara hack Lenny Ben David to call Yasser Arafat a “sexual deviant,” thereby reinforcing the false claim that Arafat died of AIDS. The op-ed editor’s defense was that he doesn’t censor his bloggers (even when they make idiots of themselves and his paper).
Robert Wright, a journalist whose head and heart is in the right place on many issues of war and peace concerning the Middle East, but who nevertheless maintains a tad too much credulity concerning Israeli government intentions, picked up on this story. He disagreed with Iranian-American blogger Nima Shirazi, who first reported the story and claimed the mistranslations were “propaganda.” Instead, Wright labelled this an instance of “confirmation bias,” which can best be summarized by Paul Simon’s lyric from “The Boxer:”
“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
For some reason, it’s important to Wright to give the benefit of the doubt to the pro-Israel media by claiming they didn’t deliberately lie about the content of the speech, but rather read what they expected into the speech. The outcome remains the same whether the error was deliberate and a lie or inadvertent. It takes us that much closer to war against Iran.
War isn’t just a decision arrived at through deliberations of generals and politicians in a war room. It’s a thousand news reports shaping a nation’s view of the enemy. Even if the generals want war, they need the approval of the populace. This is why Israel has devoted such an extraordinary amount of effort to its perception management campaign in this country that lays the groundwork for such an attack against Iran.
The willfull distortion of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s words has become a cottage industry for these same hawkish media outlets, which ginned up the fraudulent claim that he called for “wiping Israel off the map.” That too is based on a mistranslation of a decades-old speech by Ayatollah Khomeini. Ahmadinejad has never called for the elimination of Israel or for an Iranian attack on Israel. Yet that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of those who want war or expect war from spreading the fictional version of this speech.