I’m very pleased to see that the GSN has in fact now corrected one of the factual inaccuracies that I pointed out to them in Elaine Grossman’s 9/28 piece. See my original post on this immediately below this one. Just to reiterate, I did try to communicate with Elaine, and with the editor Chris Shneidmiller, directly at first about the inaccuracies. Elaine sent me back an email in which she denied that there were factual inaccuracies, and said she stood by the piece as written.
It was only after that that I decided to blog about it. So I have to say that the additional attention this has gotten could have been avoided if my first attempts at direct communication had been taken more seriously. But nevertheless, I’m glad to see that in the end the GSN has done the right thing and has changed the originally factually incorrect language.
As I noted in my previous post, the original wording of the problematic sentence was: “Netanyahu, in his Thursday address to the U.N. General Assembly, argued why he believes Iran — which has threatened to obliterate Israel — must not be allowed to develop an atomic bomb of its own.”
After my critique of this language on ACL, the sentence has now been changed to read: “Netanyahu, in his Thursday address to the U.N. General Assembly, argued why he believes Iran — whose leaders have referred repeatedly to Israel’s future demise — must not be allowed to develop an atomic bomb of its own.”
This is of course a correct statement, and is journalistically responsible. I’ll just reiterate that I think it is important that journalists do their due diligence when reporting about Iran, and don’t just rehash things that they assume are true, or would like to be true. Journalists play an important role in opinion making, and on this subject in particular the cost of irresponsible journalism could be war. So the responsibility to report carefully, and not to spin or embellish, is particularly great.
I was reading this Global Security Newswire article this morning, authored by Elaine Grossman. Now, I am a big fan of the GSN service. I’ve used it for years, and have found it to be professionally invaluable for keeping up with current events in nuclear law and diplomacy. I’ve cited to it numerous times here on the blog. However, I noticed a couple of factual inaccuracies in this piece that made me, for the first time, contact the editor to request a correction.
The first inaccuracy is the most important. It comes in this sentence:
“Netanyahu, in his Thursday address to the U.N. General Assembly, argued why he believes Iran — which has threatened to obliterate Israel — must not be allowed to develop an atomic bomb of its own.”
I’m referring to the statement that Iran has threatened to obliterate Israel. That is just a straight out, factually inaccurate statement. No source is given for it in the article, and there’s a reason for that. There aren’t any.
The debate about what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has actually said and meant in his statements about Israel has been going on for years. There are a number of good sources on the debate: e.g. here and here. The debate has really been over the question of whether Ahmadinejad has said that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” and what he meant when he said the words in Farsi that have been erroneously translated in this fashion by many in the West and in Israel.
The debate has recently culminated, finally, in an admission even by a senior Israeli official, Dan Meridor, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, that in fact Ahmadinejad never said either that Israel must be wiped off the map, or that Iran would play any role in wiping Israel off the map. See Meridor’s comments here.
This is a very welcome statement by a senior Israeli official, and agrees entirely with the best analysis of what Ahmadinejad’s statements meant in context. Taken in context, and properly translated, Ahmadinejad appears in the most often quoted statements to have been making a circumspect, historical point about the state of Israel, and a negatively normative point about its eventual disappearance. Now, that’s not a nice thing to say about Israel, certainly.
However, and this is the important point for examination of the immediate GSN statement, there is absolutely no basis for asserting that Ahmadinejad or any other senior Iranian official has said that Iran would play any role in the disappearance of Israel, much less “threatened to obliterate Israel.” In fact, this statement in the GSN is the most provocative and unhinged-from-the-facts manner in which I’ve ever seen this erroneous assertion reported by a media outlet.
And it’s an important point, because the idea that Ahmadinejad has directly threatened Israel with destruction has become such a common trope in political discourse about Iran, especially in the U.S., that it has assumed an almost mantric quality. Whenever Ahmadinejad’s name is mentioned in the context of Israel, the reporter or politician must then immediately appease the gods of the zeitgeist by repeating at least once, preferably twice, the assertion that he has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. And having it reported in this erroneous and uber-provocative fashion by the GSN just adds to the ubiquity and unquestioned veracity of this mistaken allegation.
This assertion about Ahmadinejad’s statements has formed one of the primary bases underlying all of the pressure tactics, both diplomatic and financial, and the outright shadow war of cyber attacks and other sabotage, that the West has been engaged in against Iran for years.
It’s about time that media got it through their heads that in fact Ahmadinejad has never threatened to use military force against Israel, much less “threatened to obliterate Israel,” and that to unquestioningly report that he has is the worst kind of irresponsible and unprofessional journalism – that of being either willfully or unwittingly an accomplice in the prosecution of a war based upon lies.