Stephanopoulos and Ledeen: together in the most accountability-free profession

Once one obtains Seriousness credentials in the Washington media, they are irrevocable no matter one's conduct.

Topics: Middle East, Washington, D.C.,

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

Michael Ledeen of National Review & American Enterprise Institute, writing in “Pajamas Media,” January 4, 2007:

BREAKING NEWS –Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is dead.

Associated Press, January 7, 2007 — 3 days later:

Khamenei addressed hundreds of citizens of Qom, a holy city 80 miles south of Tehran, who gathered outside his residence in the city center.

Michael Ledeen of National Review & American Enterprise Institute, writing in “Pajamas Media,” October 13, 2009:

Khamenei Said to be in Coma

Khamenei has had previous medical emergencies in the past, and recovered, but the source is excellent . . . Here is what he/she says: “Yesterday afternoon at 2.15PM local time, Khamenei collapsed and was taken to his special clinic. Nobody — except his son and the doctors — has since been allowed to get near him. His official, but secret, status is: ‘in the hands of the gods’. . . .

Outlook is uncertain but speculation is — considering that he is in coma since more than 24 hours — that he may not come out of his coma and/or that he may die very soon. . .”

UPDATE (Wednesday Oct 14th):  According to a bulletin from the Greens (Moussavi/Karroubi et al), there are widespread rumors in the Tehran Bazaar that Khamenei has died. The Greens say they cannot confirm it, but that there is an “abnormal atmosphere” in the streets, which almost certainly means there are more security people than usual.

The bazaar will apparently be closed tomorrow, and perhaps Friday as well, pending developments.

George Stephanopoulos, ABC News, October 14, 2009:

Khamenei in Coma?

Rumors rampant. Have been wrong before. If right, will ruling regime close ranks or break apart? Rafsanjani’s moment? Necessitate a stall in nuclear talks?

Here’s more from Michael Ledeen.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 30, 2009:

Several Iranian websites, including the official site of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have published details of an unusual encounter between Khamenei and a student who publicly criticized the Iranian establishment.

The encounter took place in an October 28 meeting between Khamenei and students in Tehran, during which the supreme leader said that questioning the disputed June 12 vote was the “biggest crime.”

According to the reports, a student from Sharif University, named by some websites as Mahmud Vahidnia, criticized the Iranian leader, state broadcast media, the post-election crackdown, and the closure of the reformist press — for a whole 20 minutes.

This was beyond predictable.  Michael Ledeen is one of the most dishonest and ludicrous jokes on the political scene.  Will that stop George Stephanopoulos from using Ledeen as an expert source on Iran?  No, of course not, because once one obtains Seriousness credentials in Washington, they are irrevocable no matter one’s conduct (other than petty sex scandals), and journalism is the most accountability-free profession that exists (which is how the person who did this, this and this can still be considered one of the nation’s leading ”experts” on the Middle East).  If I spend the next 20 years announcing every six months that super-secret sources have confirmed the death of Kim Jong-il, will I be celebrated as a prescient and well-connected expert on North Korea once it finally happens?

One other thing:  re-read what Stephanopoulos wrote and remember:  establishment journalists are vital and irreplaceable because — unlike bloggers — they’re deeply responsible and reliable, subject to rigorous fact-checking, and don’t traffic in irresponsible gossip and rumors that they find on the Internet.

* * * * *

Two unrelated notes:  (1) Jamie Killstein and Allison Kilkenny are two young, aspiring political commentators who have an excellent podcast show from New York; I was interviewed by them last week and that can be heard here (they spend a few mintues at the beginning discussing the interview, but the interview itself begins at roughly the 24:00 mintue mark); and (2) CBS News has an interesting article on the rapidly changing drug policy debate, featuring the report I did on drug decriminalization in Portugal.


UPDATE:  Twitter gets results and credit where it’s due:  after I suggested to Stephanopoulos that he should be a bit more judicious about who he uses as an expert source for Iran, he posted this:

Just to underscore the point, The Guardian had an excellent article from a couple weeks ago dissecting what happened here, with this headline:  ”Ayatollah Khamenei dead? How rumours start — Word that Iran’s supreme leader had collapsed was soon amplified, embellished and picked up by news organisations.”  It notes:

Yesterday Ledeen repeated rumours that have been going around the Tehran Bazaar that Khamenei had died.

But Ledeen has a track record in spreading misinformation, according to the US magazine Vanity Fair, which claimed he was linked in the false reports that Saddam Hussein tried to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger – one of the main pretexts for the invasion of Iraq.

And in January 2007 he falsely reported Khamenei’s death.

Nevertheless, his latest rumour about Khamenei’s possible death has been picked up by a number of respected bloggers and media organisations including ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the Jerusalem Post, and Pravda.

That’s exactly the track record Ledeen has — and has long had — and yet he continues to be employed by National Review and was long employed as a “Freedom Scholar” by The American Enterprise Institute, which should be deemed dispositive in understanding what those organizations actually are.  The fact that he’s still deemed a Serious Expert by many news outlets speaks volumes about how they function, too.  The broader point here is that Ledeen has plenty of company in that regard:  other than Judy Miller, has the credibility of even a single media enabler or “expert” advocate of the attack on Iraq and its numerous lies been diminished in any way? 


UPDATE II:  From The New York Times, yesterday (h/t lysias)

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lashed out at the United States in a speech on Tuesday, criticizing what he called an arrogant American attitude toward nuclear talks and saying the Obama administration had not followed through on its promises of change.

What an impressively rapid recovery from his protracted and life-threatening coma — almost as miraculous as that time three years ago when he quickly bounced back from his own Ledeen-confirmed death.  For the 2007 death announcement, even Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air pronounced, in advance, that it would be a “major embarrassment” for Ledeen and “Pajamas Media” if it turned out the report was false.  But Malkin’s commentators forgot — understandably so — that there is no such thing as a “major embarrassment” when it comes to Serious neoconservative propagandists “analysts.”  What else could explain this?


UPDATE III:  The New York Times has a discussion of the meaning (or lack thereof) of last night’s election.  My contribution is here.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.


    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."


    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>