Amir Taheri is one of the strangest ingredients in America's media soup. There may not be anyone else who simply makes things up as regularly as he does, with so few consequences.
If you're already familiar with Taheri's accomplishments, you might want to skip to #5 below, which details his latest misdeeds. Otherwise, start at the beginning.
1. Taheri, who was once editor of a strongly pro-Shah Iranian newspaper during the seventies, left the country after the revolution. Strongly opposed to Iran's current government, he wrote a 1989 book called Nest of Spies: America's Journey to Disaster in Iran. Shaul Bakhash, a specialist in mideast history at George Mason University, reviewed the book for the New Republic and discovered important sections had been fabricated.
2. In 2006, Taheri claimed the Iranian parliament had passed a law requiring Jews and other minorities to wear special badges in public. The story was picked up all over the world, most prominently by the New York Post, the Drudge Report, and Canada's National Post. It turned out to be false.
3. Elena Benador, PR agent for Taheri (as well as Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Ledeen, Laurie Mylroie, Richard Perle, and James Woolsey) defended Taheri. Benador explained that, when it comes to Iran, accuracy is "a luxury...As much as being accurate is important, in the end it's important to side with what's right. What's wrong is siding with the terrorists."
4. Six days after the Iran story was retracted, Taheri met with George Bush at the White House as part of a group of "Iraq experts."
5. Norman Podhoretz, soon to become a senior foreign policy adviser to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, wrote an article earlier this year called "The Case for Bombing Iran." To argue a nuclear-armed Iran could not be deterred, Podhoretz quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini:
We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.
Podhoretz later used the quote on the Lehrer Newshour, as did Michael Ledeen in National Review.
6. Shaul Bakhash (see #1 above) was surprised by the quote, never having encountered it before and finding it out of character for Khomeini. The furthest back the quote could be traced was a book by Amir Taheri.
7. As reported by the Economist, Bakhash recently wrote for a private newsletter that no one can find the book Taheri claimed as his source in the Library of Congress or a search of Farsi works in libraries worldwide. The statement itself can't be found in databases and published collections of Khomeini statements and speeches.
Will Taheri explain what's going on? Will Podhoretz, or Ledeen, retract the quote? Will PBS tell their audience one of their guests said something completely bogus? I hope to have more information on all these questions soon.