Fact-checking Rudy's testicular toughness

In a new ad, Rudy Giuliani tells a historical fable to prove he is super-duper manly.

By Michael Scherer

Published December 5, 2007 8:20PM (EST)

Former New York tough-guy Mayor Rudy Giuliani has a new tough-guy ad out today. Against grainy black-and-white images of the American hostages in Iran, he spins a macho fable.

Once upon a time, there was a wimpy Democratic president named Jimmy Carter, the story goes. He tried and tried but just could not free the hostages in Iran. Then along came a tough-guy Republican president named Ronald Reagan. One hour later the hostages were freed. The Moral: You need a president with big balls. Here's the ad:

For those who don't like watching video online, here's the script Giuliani reads: "I remember back to the 1970s and the early 1980s. Iranian mullahs took American hostages and they held the American hostages for 444 days. And they released the American hostages in one hour, and that should tell us a lot about these Islamic terrorists that we're facing. The one hour in which they released them was the one hour in which Ronald Reagan was taking the Oath of Office as President of the United States. The best way you deal with dictators, the best way you deal with tyrants and terrorists, you stand up to them. You don't back down."

This is not the first time that Giuliani has told this fable. In May, at the first Republican debate, the former mayor spoke of the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "He has to look at an American president and he has to see Ronald Reagan," Giuliani said. "Remember, they looked in Ronald Reagan's eyes, and in two minutes, they released the hostages."

Never mind that Giuliani once said it took two minutes and he now says it took an hour. The whole story is basically wrong. According to a comprehensive New York Times account from the time, the Iranians reached out to the United States in September of 1980, nearly two months before Reagan won the White House. "Washington received a secret message from the West German Government that [the Iranian negotiator] Tabatabai wanted to meet urgently in Bonn with a senior American official to discuss possible terms for releasing the hostages," the Times reported. At the first meeting in Bonn, "Mr. Tabatabai said that Iran wanted to resolve the problem quickly and that if an agreement could be achieved, the Americans would be free in a relatively short time."

In short, Reagan had nothing to do with it. All that was left was haggling over the details. Then Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher hoped, according to the article, that the release would come hours before Reagan took office, but there was some last-minute confusion over the details of an escrow agreement. Then, Christopher said, there was an apparent problem rounding up the hostages. "Mr. Christopher believes that the Iranians, at the last moment, had problems rounding up the hostages and this, rather than an effort to embarrass Mr. Carter, delayed their freedom until a half hour after Ronald Reagan was President," the story reports.

So why would Giuliani release an ad that is so patently misleading? The answer is simple: He is not trying to get the historian vote. He is trying to get the Daddy Party vote. He is trying to show that he is to Hillary Clinton (if not George W. Bush) what Reagan was to Carter: a tougher guy. And as anyone knows who has ever been in a bar fight, the facts don't matter much when manhood is on the line. Look tomorrow for a bunch of newspaper stories pointing out that Giuliani is misrepresenting history. Then look for Giuliani's response. It will be something like, "What did you say, pencil neck? You wanna step outside with me?"

Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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2008 Elections Rudy Giuliani