By Sherwood Ross
Canada's National Post has apologized for running a fabricated story that Iran passed a new law requiring Jews to wear a yellow insignia. Oddly enough, or maybe not so odd at that, the author of this deceit, Iranian exile journalist Amir Taheri, was invited to the White House last May 30 as one of a group of "Iraq experts" to consult with President Bush.
We learn of the peculiar background of those Bush calls upon for counsel from Larry Cohler-Esses, whose article on Taheri appeared in a recent issue of The Nation, the liberal weekly. Taheri concocted the story for Benador Associates, an American PR firm that operates out of D.C. and suckered National Post into running it.
Once NP's account hit the streets, the deceit was spread by the New York Post, wire services, and Rush Limbaugh, America's king of bombastic talk radio. Limbaugh, it seems, can hardly utter a sentence without indicting "the drive-by media" - newspapers he claims falsely attack Bush. The phrase "drive-by" derives from "drive-by shooting," a cowardly act by motorists who fire from their cars at innocent victims.
Only it turns out, it's Tahiri who's the "drive-by" shooter here and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the victim of his media bullets. Some papers that repeated Tahiri's tale puffed it up with photographs of European Nazi Era Jews forced by Hitler to wear yellow Stars of David under the shrieking headline: "IRAN."
As it turns out, Tahiri has a rap sheet longer than his tongue. In 1988 he published "Nest of Spies," a book exposed by Persian studies expert Shaul Bakhash, a former fellow at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. Bakhash discovered Taheri's footnotes contained references to nonexistent sources, including books that simply did not exist.
And in a New York Post column last year, it was Taheri who falsely identified Iran's UN ambassador Javad Zarif as one of the students who seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Dwight Simpson, an American professor wrote the Post Taheri's allegation was false as Zarif was his teaching assistant at San Francisco State University on November 4, 1979, the day of the takeover. Simpson said the Post never published his letter.
When The Nation's Cohler-Esses contacted Eleana Benador, president of the PR firm that disseminated Tahiri's "insignia" story, she told him accuracy concerning Iran is "a luxury." She asked, "Is Taheri writing one or two details that are not accurate?" Why, she declared, "This is a guy who is putting his life at stake. The Iranian government has killed its opponents." Details? That the insignia law does not exist? That's a detail?
So there you have it: a PR firm that makes a hero of a discredited journalist who concocts falsehoods to spread war fever against Iran. And gullible media like Canada's NP, the New York Post, and Rush Limbaugh, heard on New York City's WABC, which claims the largest listening audience in America, plus hundreds of other outlets nation-wide. The best that can be said for Limbaugh and the NP and Post editors is they are the unwitting dupes of Benador Associates.
Honest publications wouldn't touch Tahiri's articles with the proverbial 10-foot pole. Yet the president invites him to the White House as an "Iraq expert."
Come to think of it, Mr. Bush could fill the White House Rose Garden with quite a crowd if he threw a party for all the Tahiris and Benadors hired to spread lies about the Middle East. We could expect to see Pentagon-contractors Lincoln Group, of Washington, D.C., notorious for their payoffs to Iraqi journalists. Eleana Benador herself might show, perhaps to explain how she has flown so high in the PR world on the wings of barely literate handouts.
Dick Cheney, the vice president who told us Saddam Hussein "for a certainty" had WMD, might be induced to propose a toast to the next war for "democracy" vs. Iran. And the president who lies with a straight face "we don't torture" could shake the hands of his accomplices whose busy fingers will reshape any truth for him. And how about this for party favors? Replicas of the phony "insignias" supposedly required for Iran's Jews. The attendees would get a big laugh out of that one.
Sherwood Ross is an American columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.