April 21, 2012 · 0 Comments
Join Just Foreign Policy’s effort urging New York Times’s Public Editor Arthur Brisbane to investigate why dubious and unsubstantiated claims about Islam are appearing in the paper as news analysis. Read more or send your own letter.
I am writing to complain about the piece on the Iran nuclear talks that appeared in the New York Times over the byline of James Risen on Saturday, “Seeking Nuclear Insight in Fog of the Ayatollah’s Utterances,” James Risen, New York Times, April 14, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/world/middleeast/seeking-nuclear-insight-in-fog-of-the-ayatollahs-utterances.html. This piece contained two glaring distortions.
First, the piece claimed that Iran’s leaders can’t be trusted, because they are Shiites, and Shiites are allowed to lie. This claim, which was not substantiated in any way nor attributed to any named person, treads in the precincts of racist war propaganda. When a news article claims that, because of their religion, leaders of a country against which the United States has threatened war are fundamentally not like our leaders – they lie – that should raise a red flag for editors. The fact that New York Times editors allowed this unsubstantiated and unbalanced claim to appear in print is deeply troubling. I urge you to correct the record, both in an editor’s note in the article, and by balancing this piece with reporting in the Times that gives a mainstream scholarly view of the Shiite doctrine of taqiyya, especially as it is understood by Muslims in modern-day Iran. For examples of such mainstream scholarly views, see: “Iran’s Forbidden Nukes and the Taqiya Lie,” Juan Cole, Informed Comment, April 16, 2012, http://www.juancole.com/2012/04/irans-forbidden-nukes-and-the-taqiya-lie.html
Second, the piece claimed that there is a contradiction between Ayatollah Khamenei’s statements that Iran would never pursue nuclear weapons and his remarks that – as the article claimed – “it was a mistake for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to give up his nuclear weapons program.”
But according to the reporting of Khamenei’s actual words in the Times article, Khamenei said no such thing. According to your reporting, Khamenei referred to “nuclear facilities,” not “nuclear weapons.” The conflation of “nuclear facilities” with “nuclear weapons program” has been a repeated issue of dispute in the Times reporting on this issue, as you are well aware.
The Times should correct the text of this article to remove any claim that Khamenei said “it was a mistake for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to give up his nuclear weapons program,” unless the Times can substantiate this claim. If the Times can substantiate the claim, it should show readers the evidence.
Thank you for your attention to these important issues.