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January 4, 2018 1:04 pm

New York Times Explores Whether Iran Protests Are US-Israeli Plot

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Iranians, Like Their Leaders, See Foreign Hand in Protests” is the headline over a New York Times news article.

The article is about protests in Iran, but it carries a dateline indicating it was written from London. It appears under the byline of Margaret Coker, who is the Times bureau chief in Baghdad, Iraq.

The article examines, at some length and with apparent seriousness, the possibility that the protests under way in Iran are all just some kind of American or Israeli plot.

It begins:

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blamed unnamed foreign “enemies” for the anti government protests that have swept his country for the past week, putting the demonstrators at risk of being accused of espionage or treason.

The accusation resonates for many Iranians, whose country has long been subject to foreign interference, from the American- and British-led coup in the 1950s to more recent efforts by the United States and Israel to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. President Trump’s public support for the protesters has only reinforced suspicions of a foreign hand at work.

Later, the Times article circles back to that reference to “the American- and British-led coup in the 1950s”:

Iranian fears of foreign intervention run deep, as far back as to Alexander the Great, who conquered what was then the Persian Empire around 330 B.C. Modern Iran’s security establishment has long held that the biggest threats to the country come from abroad; the belief that the United States wants a change in government is axiomatic. The evidence, as every Iranian schoolchild knows, is the 1953 plot by the Central Intelligence Agency, code-named Operation Ajax, that overthrew Iran’s prime minister and re-installed the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

This offers Times readers a significantly misleading account of Iranian history and of America’s supposed involvement in the 1953 coup.

In July of 2017, Ray Takeyh wrote a Weekly Standard article headlined “The Myths of 1953.” Takeyh has impeccable credentials: he’s a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who also served at the Department of State, has written two books about Iran, and has a doctorate from Oxford.

The Takeyh article used newly declassified State Department records to debunk what Takeyh called “the myth that the Eisenhower administration ousted Mossadeq,” who was Iran’s prime minister in 1953.

Takeyh wrote: “As it has with most historical events, the Islamic Republic has whitewashed the role that the mullahs played in Mossadeq’s downfall.”

Takeyh wrote: “the basic elements of the coup were in place largely independent of American participation…. The fact is that the second — successful — coup was largely an Iranian initiative.”

Takeyh predicted, “It is unlikely that the professoriate and the American left will abandon their myths about 1953. They are too invested in their narrative and too obsessed with defending the Islamic Republic to defer to history’s judgment.”

He could have added “The New York Times” to “the professoriate and the American left.” The Times, too, seems — at least on the basis of this news article — deeply “invested” in the blame-America-first narrative about Iran, notwithstanding the documentary evidence of its falsehood.

If the Times were honest about this, it would run a correction: “A news article inaccurately described the 1953 coup in Iran as ‘American- and British-led.’ In fact it was largely an Iranian initiative.” Don’t hold your breath.

This might seem like an arcane historical point, but it’s crucial. The 1320-word Times article about the idea that the current protests are foreign-inspired includes the word “Israel” or “Israeli” no less than seven times, subtly — or not so subtly — fueling the Iranian dictatorship’s false claim that the whole thing is a Zionist plot.

To its credit, the Times article casts doubt on the idea, conceding “there has been no evidence that foreign governments orchestrated the protests.” But if there is no evidence for the claim, one wonders why the Times treats it so seriously, and at such length. As a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Mary Kissel, tweeted about the Times article: “Shorter NYT news story: ‘We admit there’s no foreign interference in #IranProtests, but hey, let’s fear-monger about it anyway.’”

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

 

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