Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Ethics, Media — Rick Moran @ 4:41 pm

Laura Rozen is doing some great work ferreting out the Debat story for Mother Jones. Today, she has some shocking revelations that were originally reported in the French magazine Rue89:

Riché also reported that Debat claimed to have a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne that he did not in fact complete, and that he had exaggerated his CV in other respects—claiming to be an advisor to the French Ministry of Defense on transatlantic issues, for instance, when in fact he had been a lowly desk clerk in the bowels of the ministry for less than a year; claiming to be a visiting professor at Middlebury College, when in fact he had been a visiting instructor for a short winter term at Middlebury, and other such exaggerations. Mother Jones has obtained an annotated CV the French Embassy prepared about Debat—whose claims to be a former government official have apparently long irritated the government in Paris—outlining these and other discrepancies. (ABC believed the annotated CV was prepared by the French embassy, but sources now say it may have been annotated by a Washington-based French academic.)

Didn’t anybody check this guy out before hiring him?

Evidently, Debat had a big booster at the network. Chief Investigative Reporter Brian Ross passed along some of Debat’s juicier scoops apparently without vetting the information properly. The result was an embarrassing retraction on a story involving the Pakistani military willing to turn the other way regarding the location of Osama Bin Laden as long as he didn’t cause any trouble. And another story involving the claim that “the U.S. government was advising and encouraging an Iranian Baluchi separatist group Jundullah which was carrying out attacks against the Iranian regime” was greeted the following day by a “sharp denunciation” from the Pakistani government.

Who was this guy?

Overall, the picture of Debat that emerges from these interviews is of a smart, ambitious and cunning operator who would claim to be getting text messages from Middle Eastern intelligence operatives while at meetings with Ross and others at ABC, with tips that seemed too good to be true (which some colleagues believe were bogus), yet were used as “exclusives.”

Debat seems to have had a Walter Mitty complex. (Text messages from spies in the middle of production meetings? And that didn’t set off any alarm bells?). But was there something more sinister at work here? Was this part of a Neo-Con plot to take over the news media?

Attywood thinks so:

In the meantime, little attention had been paid to the French journal Politique Internationale — which published Debat’s bogus “interviews” with Barack Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

But the French magazine deserves closer scrutiny. In continuing to connect the dots between Debat and the push for a neoconservative agenda that includes ratcheting up war tensions with Iran, it turns out that a prominent member of the neocon movement has served as editor of Politique Internationale for much of this decade.

Iranian-borm Amir Taheri (pictured at top) — who edited a leading Iranian newspaper prior to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and has since written for a number of western publications, including several owned by conservative press lord Rupert Murdoch — has been a leading voice in Politique Internationale. It’s not clear what his current role is, but in numerous press reports from 2001 through 2006 he was listed as its editor.

To put it mildly, Attywood is barking up the wrong tree.

Taheri may or may not be a “neo-con” - and the way that Attywood and others on the left toss that appellation around makes me think they don’t have a clue regarding who or what a neo-con is - but the idea that Politique Internationale is some French offshoot of The Weekly Standard is loony. This is a French Ministry of Foreign Affairs website describing Politique Internationale:

Over the past 27 years, Politique internationale has become the most influential French-language publication devoted to international politics. It is read by leading decision-makers in the fields of politics, diplomacy, economics, industry and finance on all five continents. Its contributors include heads of state and governments, leaders of political parties and many others who either make the news or decipher it.

Sounds pretty harmless to me. But what about that fellow Taheri? After all, he wrote for Rupert Murdoch owned publications (think Fox News, not tens of thousands of dollars donated to Hillary).

Taheri has also written for Arthur Sulzberger but no one I know has ever accused the former Iranian editor of being a liberal. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and other perfectly legitimate mainstream news organizations as well. After all, he is trying to make a living as a writer and Taheri is not someone in huge demand as far as being sought after by major dailies for op-eds. He must hustle up his own business as any writer would. The fact that his views track closer to the New York Post than the New York Times - even though he has had op-eds appear in both publications - should not be considered sinister or even unusual.

Unless you’re trying to connect non-existent dots to posit a neo-con conspiracy theory.

Taheri is, for better or worse, one of the leading voices in the debate over what to do about Iran. He has made no secret of the fact that he wishes to see regime change in his native country. The left has tried to turn Taheri into something like a “Chalabi II” or another “curveball” without much success.

Attywood points out several stories Taheri has advanced that proved less than accurate, most recently a piece in Canada’s National Post that had conservatives all atwitter about a report from Iran detailing how non-Muslims were forced to wear color coded patches to identify them. The Iranian government denied it. Other Iranian experts expressed grave doubts about it. Taheri stood by the story. The Post issued a retraction.

It appears to me that the story should never have been run, that it wasn’t solid enough. But in Attywood’s own comments on the linked post, someone quite familiar with Iranian persecution of religious minorities speaks out:

Having handled the asylum cases of several Iranians who belong to the Baha’i faith, I have learned a great deal about the persecution religious minorities suffer in that country. So I was extremely interested in this part of your post, and I went to the article you linked.

If you read the article closely, most of the individuals who are debunking the idea of having people identify themselves as non-Muslim are either spokespersons for the Iranian government (e.g. an attache for the embassy in Ottawa) or individuals still living in Iran. Thus, there denials are somewhat suspect.

However, even if the forced wearing of colored badges and other identifying materials is an incorrect allegation, all you have to do is to read the most recent International Report for Religious Freedom for Iran, linked below

It describes just how desperate the situation is for non-Muslims in Iran, particularly those who converted from Islam to another religion and are thus considered ‘apostates.’ It used to be that apostacy was a capital offense in Iran.

So while this may have only been a small point in your piece, there are very, very real concerns for the safety of non-Muslims in Iran.

My clients were granted asylum on the basis of their religion alone, so I think that’s pretty conclusive that whether non-Muslims are forced to wear colored badges or not, they are in grave jeopardy in that country.

Taheri will continue to agitate for the US to overturn the rule of the mullahs. But besides the fact that he was editor of Politique Internationale and Debat contributed to that publication (on an infrequent basis over the years), I don’t get the “neo-con connection” the dots are supposed to link.

That’s because Debat was no neo-con - not by a long shot. As director of the terrorism and national security program at the Nixon Center, it would be a stretch to identify him as anything except a moderately conservative realist on foreign policy. From Sourcewatch:

While genuinely non-partisan, as reflected in the composition of its Board of Directors and Advisory Council, the Center has a philosophy of an enlightened pursuit of national interest. The specific goal of the Center is to explore ways of enhancing American security and prosperity while taking into account the legitimate perspectives of other nations.

The Board of Directors and Advisory Council is very heavy with Kissinger Realpolitik staffers as well as former Reaganauts and Bush #41 refugees. The left’s favorite, Brent Scowcroft, is on the Advisory Council as well as Lee Hamilton, Robert McFarlane, and other critics of the Iraq War (perhaps Julie Eisenhower is a neo-con spy).

The point is simple. There is little or no evidence that Debat is a neo-con so there are no dots to connect him to Taheri. The story raises enough questions about press standards and procedures without Attywood going off on conspiracy tangents.

For those, let’s go back to Rozen who sums up one of the ethical dilemmas for ABC:

One ethical issue raised by ABC’s handling of Debat concerns the investigative unit’s use of paid sources/consultants, who are often put on monthly retainer. But in ABC’s use of Debat as a paid “consultant” who also had for the past year and a half an appointment at the Nixon Center, ABC also frequently had him reporting on its blog, the Blotter, and appearing as a “source” inside others’ stories, blurring the line between source (and a paid one at that, with outside — also paid — affiliations) and a journalist, not clearly identified in the report. ABC also sent Debat frequently abroad, to gather information which he would put on the air and on the investigative unit’s website.

There is some question whether ABC is handling their internal investigation correctly by using the Ross investigative unit to look into their own potential failures. I see the potential for problems but who else could do it? These are people familiar with the stories as well as the sources and methods of how those stories were developed. It would seem that they would be the best qualified to discover anything untoward advanced by Debat in his sourcing of stories or in his reporting.

In the end, despite warning signs that Debat was a poseur of fantastic proportions, several respected media outlets (and probably the Nixon Center as well) were taken in by this fellow hook, line, and sinker. But to posit the notion that Debat was some kind of neo-con who was feeding false information to ABC and others in order to advance some kind of agenda is a big stretch. More likely, Debat is exactly who he says he isn’t; a fakir who suckered people who should have known better.


  1. He is like Norman Hsu.

    We don’t have to background him, because the other guys must have done their homework, so now we can just let him hit the ground running.

    The art here is keeping the stories interesting enough to stay employed but not high profile enough to catch anbody’s attention.

    In the flood of words in the worldwide media and the net, not really a hard row to hoe, except for gathering the initial cred.

    Comment by SlimGuy — 9/14/2007 @ 8:21 pm

  2. A Sporting Chance: Spies Like Us…

    Fair play? Sportsmanship? Not when there are billions of dollars at stake, notes PJM columnist Rick Moran, taking a look at the multiple scandals in professional sports involving spies, lies and videotape…….

    Trackback by Pajamas Media — 9/15/2007 @ 3:32 am

  3. As if anybody needs more proof the MSM is a joke.
    Sigh. I miss Cronkite.
    The worst part of their patheitc attempts at “journalism” is now I’m starting to wonder has the MSM always been this horrible, but we just didn’t know it?

    Comment by busboy33 — 9/16/2007 @ 1:47 am

  4. Rick, I’m astonished you don’t think Taheri is a “neocon.” Aren’t you familiar with Mdme Benador? (as in Benador Associates?) You need to study up on this classic disinformation specialist, going all the way back to when he used to inform on Iranian resistance figures in the United States (and Taheri then was an agent for the Shah)

    Secondly, it is simply WRONG to say that all Iranian religious minorities are persecuted simply, in and of itself, due to their religious identity. That’s not to say that there haven’t been serious problems for various individuals (and of course the Baha’i), especially leading “evangelical” figures who refused (back in 1989( to cut deals with the government. (Most religious minority groups have reached various accommodations with the IRI - that have mostly “held” even during the Ahmadinejad Presidency)

    In short, the Taheri story was an utter, total fabrication, as even leading Jewish groups and Israeli scholars angrily disassociated themselves from it.

    Comment by Scott — 9/16/2007 @ 6:36 pm

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