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.

Published November 4, 2009 3:05PM (EST)

(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.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Middle East Washington