I published a post here about the shoddiness of Iranian-Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar’s research and expertise in reporting on issues related to Iran and its nuclear program. Perhaps the most egregious violation of journalistic standards appeared in a Comment is Free article about the last IAEA report. In order to make it appear the report made definitive judgments that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon, he falsely attributed a quotation to the report that was actually lifted from the New York Times. There David Sanger had himself far overstated the IAEA’s evaluation of the Iran’s intentions to produce a bomb.
The effect was to put words into the IAEA report that weren’t there. This would help buttress the notion in the world media that a respected international body believed Iran was on the path to making WMD. That in turn would make world opinion far more receptive to a hostile, confrontational approach to Iran that could easily in the end lead to war.
I took my concerns about the false attribution of the quotation, which was first noted by Nima Shirazi, and brought them to various CIF editors. They were unresponsive. Then I decided to approach the managing editor, Julian Borger. To his credit, he alerted his staff to the problem I pointed out and the editors informed me of the changes they would make to the article and the note they would publish indicating there’d been a correction:
“This article was amended on 11 January 2013. In the original, the phrasing implied that a quotation in the second paragraph was from an IAEA report. It was actually from a New York Times article about the IAEA report.”
That’s how a classy newspaper handles a potentially embarrassing editorial oversight. But unfortunately, virtually every publication Javedanfar writes for is exposed to his egregious errors. For example, Shirazi also noted that Javedanfar published a November 2011 article in The Diplomat whose sub-headline reads:
“The latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program has strengthened the hand of those calling for tougher action.”
The first sentence of the article reads:
“Evidence that Iran has been involved in ‘efforts to master the technology needed for atomic weapons’ can’t simply be ignored or dismissed by the international community. Ten different intelligence agencies contributed to the Atomic Energy Agency’s carefully vetted findings, which were leaked yesterday.”
If you recall the author’s previous Guaridan misattribution of a quotation to the IAEA report that actually came from another source, you’ll find the same thing here. The sub-headline refers to the report, while the next sentence offers a quotation saying Iran is mastering “the technology needed for atomic weapons.” A reasonable reader would infer the quotation is from the report. It’s not. It’s from a rather hawkish (like David Sanger) Washington Post article by Joby Warrick. In other words, the “evidence” is not from the IAEA but from a Post reporter who is in no position (nor does he claim) to provide such evidence. Further, Javedanfar’s Diplomat piece does not provide the source or link for the quotation, adding further impetus for readers to assume it’s from the IAEA report. As far as violating journalistic standards, this error is even worse than what he did in the Guardian because there at least he linked to the NY Times story. In The Diplomat, he neither linked to nor credited the Washington Post as the source for his quotation.
Later in this same Diplomat piece, Javedanfar makes a new error, when he writes:
“Iran’s government, for its part, still subscribes to the view that “Zionists” control U.S. foreign policy, arguing that if not for Israel and its supporters, the United States would be taking a less hostile approach towards Iran.”
The problem with this sentence is that the link does not support Javedanfar’s claim. In fact, the article linked from PressTV says that Helen Thomas believes that Zionists control U.S. foreign policy. Here is the operative sentence:
“Renowned American author and veteran journalist Helen Thomas says the “Zionists” are in full control of the US foreign policy.”
The article has nothing to do with Iran’s view of U.S. foreign policy. Rather it is a profile of Helen Thomas and her views on various Middle-East related issues. There may be legitimate ways for Javedanfar to have supported the contention that Iran’s government believes Zionists control U.S. foreign policy, but the method he’s chosen is false and borders on fraudulent.
I’ve written to the editor and publisher of The Diplomat about the problems with this piece, but they have not responded.
The question is: are Javedanfar’s deficiencies attributable to sloppiness or to deliberate fabrication? I think the answer is probably both. The truth is that he’s a haphazard researcher with sloppy methods. But he is also a devout, implacable foe of the Iranian regime. There is little in that regime that recommends itself to reasonable people. But those who harbor the deepest enmity toward it are prepared to believe lies and make up their own facts in order to buttress efforts to discredit it.
There is a fine line between political analysis and overt propaganda. Meir Javedanfar wants you to believe he’s engaged in the former when he’s really engaged in the latter.
Last month, the Frontline Club and BBC Arabic invited Scott Peterson, Javedanfar and several other Iran analysts and academics to join a panel to discuss the prospect of war against Iran. I listened to most of his contributions to the 90 minute presentation (video) and they were riddled with errors, distortions, made up facts, and blatant racism.
The most disturbing claim is this:
During the second Intifada, 700 Israelis were killed with suicide bombs paid for by Iranian money. Or half at least. The other half came from Saudi Arabia…That’s the equivalent of 1,800 Britons dying on buses in Manchester and London.
First, Javedanfar’s claim that 700 Israelis were killed in suicide bombings in the second Intifada is false. The Shabak itself says (Hebrew, pdf) that 516 Israelis died.
I have searched the internet for his source concerning Iran and Saudi Arabia’s role in terror. There are various reports and claims by Israeli intelligence and other pro-Israel advocacy groups that Iran and Saudi Arabia are funders of terrorism. But I’ve found no specific claim regarding the second Intifada. No doubt, there may be one published somewhere. But I’ve never read such a statement in any credible media source and don’t believe one exists. If I am right, at worst Javedanfar has invented facts, a violation of journalistic norms that should render him unpublishable in any serious media outlet. At best, he’s lifted this bizarre claim from a propaganda source which deserves no credibility.
Here again is evidence that Javedanfar harbors such animus toward the Iran regime that he’s willing to fabricate stories that indict it for crimes for which there’s little or no evidence. That should simply be impermissible.
In another portion of the Frontline Club discussion, Javedanfar argues that Iran and Israel should be friends and allies rather than enemies. The implication here is that were it not for the evil Ayatollahs, such a thing could be possible. At any rate, here is the crux of his argument:
Israel and Iran have no history of animosity. Israelis and Iranians are not enemies. The next time you are in Israel ask the cab driver what he thinks of Arabs and then what he thinks of Persians. The view is positive [of Iranians].
Perhaps Tom Friedman can get away with asking cab drivers to pontificate on political issues and the publishing it in the NY Times as if they’ve said something profound–but Javedanfar shouldn’t. Is this the level of political analysis to which we’re going to stoop in examining the attitudes of Israelis to Iran? Not to mention the blatant racism inherent in the claim that Israelis love Persians but hate Arabs.
Good work. Many thanks!
RE: “During the second Intifada, 700 Israelis were killed with suicide bombs paid for by Iranian money. Or half at least. The other half came from Saudi Arabia…” ~ Meir Javedanfar
SEE: “The Dogs of War: The Next Intifada”, By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 9/03/11
ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/09/02/the-next-intifada/
Julian Borger says
I am Julian Borger. I am the diplomatic editor, rather than managing editor, of The Guardian, and forwarded your complaint to our readers editor, who functions as an independent ombudsman. He made the adjustment. There is no implication by The Guardian that Meir Javedanfar sought to mislead readers, or that having a link to a news report on the IAEA findings rather than on the IAEA findings in the body of the text represented deliberately false attribution.
Richard Silverstein says
My apologies for misstating your position & for mistakenly believing you had anything to do with the correction of Javedandar’s article.
I note you called the correction published by the ombundsman an “adjustment,” which is so very English of you. Here in America where we’re more direct, we call it a correction.
Also, I did not explicitly say Javedanfar’s error was a case of “deliberately false attribution.” Neither one of us can know whether Javednafar did this deliberately or not. But you can certainly see from his other similar errors at The Diplomat and elsewhere, that he does things like this regularly. And when he does so, it usually advances a particular pre-conception he has about the suspect motives & intentions of the Iranian government. So whether this is mere sloppiness on his part or deliberate misrepresentation, I don’t know.
Though I understand that you do not wish to take responsibility for the correction that the Guardian published, I presume if you believed the correction was being made in error you would have made your feelings known & things would have gone differently.
You should also be made aware that Javedanfar is exploiting the statement you made above to claim you have vindicated him.