June 01, 2006

The Taheri Affair

There's a relatively major journalistic ethical scandal going on right now, but since involves errors made by a right-wing journalist instead of a lefty or neutral one, I'm yet to see a great deal of outrage about it in the blogosphere.

Amir Taheri, an Iranian exile and columnist for the National Post in Canada and the New York Post in the U.S., wrote two weeks ago that Iran's parliament had passed a law requiring religious minorities to wear identifying clothing- and require Jews to wear yellow badges. This latter provision has special significance, of course, because Jews in Nazi Germany were required to do the same thing.

Judging by the insane, apocalyptic rhetoric favored by Iran's current president, the story certainly sounded plausible- but that, of course, doesn't make it true. The story fell apart within days, as it became clear that no such law had passed. The National Post went on to retract the story the following week.

Shameful? Of course. The Iranian regime has done enough horrible, evil things that are true, that those of us who believe they need to be confronted don't need false stories to bolster our argument.

But look at this blog post, by my pal Judith from KesherTalk. She defends Taheri, calling him "a respected and knowledgeable pundit on the Middle East," and pointing out that Taheri and others "still claim that this is being discussed and considered by the Iranian regime." And a commenter points out that "of COURSE the story is both believable and makes sense," and that "I'm inclined to believe the worst about Iran until proven otherwise, not the other way around."

Please. The story wasn't true. Believing that it could be true isn't the same as it actually being true. "Being discussed and considered" is not the same thing has "having passed," which is what Taheri reported. And as for "believing the worst... until proven otherwise," that's not how journalism works. The reporter has the burden of proof in proving their story is accurate, not the other way around.

A false story is a false story, and newspapers tend not to retract major scoops unless they absolutely have to. And I fail to see how the behavior of Taheri and his defenders is any different from that of Rather, Mapes, and Co.

Posted by Stephen Silver at June 1, 2006 10:57 PM

Truthiness is the quality by which a person purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or to what the person might conclude from intellectual examination.

Posted by: Jeff S. at June 1, 2006 11:45 PM
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