Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Jeff Jarvis gave me a link (Hooman told me about it), so maybe I'll get some visitors. A few days ago I wrote about an article by William Beeman studying the influence of Michael Ledeen. I posted some comments, which I'll repost here, because the article has gone stale now.

My problem with Dr Ledeen is the inaccuracy of some of his reports on National Review Online. Here are two examples:

1. He has written many times that Montazeri issued a fatwa against suicide bombing in April 2002 (Jewish World Review and National Review Online) and was quoted by David Warren, former CIA director James Woolsey,, Glenn Frazier, Andrew Sullivan and many others.

Whereas Bill Samii of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported the same statement as:
"Montazeri backs suicide bombers"
and Christopher de Bellaigue, the Economist correspondent for Iran, in the New York Review of Books simply
saw the statement as endorsing a two-state solution.

If you can read Persian, you can find the original statement here. There is no condemnation of suicide bombing. He is just saying the two peoples should move towards peace.

2. Along with SMCCDI, he's always writing about huge demonstrations which aren't happening! (The-regime-is-about-to-fall type writing.) Apathy characterises the situation here best. In one article he wrote about a demonstration where women burned their headscarves in public (after SMCCDI). Lots of Iranians reading the blog had never heard about it.

I've always found "The Economist" to be the most objective English publication about the size of the demonstrations. The correspondent (who actually lives in Iran, unlike Ledeen) wrote in the New York Review of Books about the hype:

In the November 25 on-line edition of National Review, Michael Ledeen claimed that "something like half a million" Iranians had taken to the streets on November 22, "to demonstrate their disgust with the regime of the Islamic Republic." On December 6, in the same publication, he misrepresented events as follows: "The revolution is being led by students, workers, intellectuals, and military officers and soldiers."

So far as I know, Ledeen hasn't visited Iran since the days of Iran-contra —in which, acting as a consultant to Ronald Reagan's administration, he played a small and inglorious part.[*] His distorted analysis of events in Iran—which conflicts diametrically with my own experience—has unaccountably been given a platform by The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. It would be interesting to know the sources of the information he and other conservative American commentators have been circulating about Iran.

(The de Bellaigue article's criticism of Ledeen has previously been noted at Blog Left and Cobban. But it's supposed to be copyright, so hasn't been noticed much in the blogosphere.)
For someone who has such massive influence, these kinds of mistakes are disturbing. Apart from the language barrier and the closed nature of Iran increasing the likelihood of such mistakes, these errors are the kind of things Westerners would LIKE to believe, so they get propagated extensively in English language media.

It could be just that he is getting wrong information from his sources, of course, but the kind of incidents reported in the NY Review of Books article above really make it clear that on-the-ground sources have much higher credibility. However such sources don't always have the wide distribution that Ledeen does.

Unfortunately I don't get many visitors to this blog, so I told William Beeman about the above and I'll see what happens. (Once in some comments on I believe that I took Ledeen's word on the fatwa, but there's no evidence for it except for Ledeen himself.)

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