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July 7, 2005

Move Over Zarqawi: The New Iranian President And The 1979 Embassy Take-Over

The Administration would be happy for you to believe that the new president of Iran helped lead the take-over of the U.S. embassy  in ‘79.  So would your own eyes.

Ahmadinejadcrop300

How much does the administration single-handedly create new evil-doers and how much does the press go along?

One thing the White House has been expert at is the personification of evil.  To mask the neocon agenda and to direct attention away from failed policies and theories that don’t add up, they are masters at stoking fear and creating false urgency by building up bad guys.  Sometimes though, the press can take a suggestion here or an innuendo there and conflate these figures on their own.  We had a nice case study of this just last week. 

With the election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new President of Iran, images began circulating on the internet showing the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.  Because of the likeness between one of the hostage takers and Mr. Ahmadinejad, the White House and several of the U.S. hostages — over denials from the Iranians — began implying they were one in the same.

For example, here’s an account by one hostage reported by the NYT:

Donald Sharer, of Bedford, Ind., said on NBC television that he
was virtually certain Mr. Ahmadinejad was the same man. He said he had
been reading the Indianapolis Star recently and saw a recent picture of
the president-elect.

"All of a sudden, up pops the devil, right in front of me," he said.

Mr. Sharer said he remembered, while being held in Tehran’s
notorious Evin prison, having the man he now believes to have been Mr.
Ahmadinejad come in and berate the prisoners as "pigs and dogs" in a
way that left him fearing for his life.

"You tend not to forget people that put your life in threat," he said.

As the story began to build, the Iranians
vigorously denied the charge.  Although Mr. Ahmadinejad was part of the
student movement that helped spark the Iranian Revolution, officials
claimed he had nothing to do with the group that took over the
embassy.  The rebuttal stated that the students involved were not
associated with the group from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s university.

I should say I’m not taking a position over whether the President-elect
was involved or not.  The BAG’s interest is what politicians and the
press tends to do with these kinds of allegations. 

To understand how easily these impressions are made, however, lets look at the previous Friday’s NYT.  Here are the lead images spread across columns two through four above the headline "U.S. Pursuing Reports That Link Iranian To Embassy Seizure in ‘79."
Notice that a current photo of Ahmadinejad is juxtaposed with an image
of the hostage taker.  Presented this way, just the proximity –
combined with the power of suggestion — makes for a convincing case.

1979Fullsizenytred

It’s only when you start considering other information, however, do
you realize how manipulative this cover is.  For example, the Times
website happened to offer this image of the hostage taker below. 

Iran79Onlinefull300

If you had only seen the front page of the print edition, you would
never realize that the cover version had been cropped.  The effect
plays out on a number of levels.  For example, the one-to-one
relationship between Ahmadinejad’s photo and the hostage taker makes it
easy (maybe even likely) to think that he’s the same guy.  It’s not
until you see the full image that you even realize that a process of
comparison is required. 

Also, the cropped shot can’t help but leave the impression that the
man-in-question has a primary role, or is even the boss.  Because the
context of the present day photo of Ahmadinejad is that he’s now the
man in charge of the country, an associative link is formed that way,
as well.

When people look at a photo of Terry Schiavo and insist she’s
sentient, or when Bill Frist says that he can determine the same thing
partly from observing images, it’s hard to argue with what people want
to see.  In fact, in spite of research that has seriously questioned
the nature of visual recall (especially in criminal cases), people
continue to rely on such inferences. 

The account of this story
by the NYT is fraught with these types of recollections.  For example,
the Times reports Mr. Sharer — the former hostage — as having this
interaction with the reporter in identifying Ahmadinejad:

On a scale of 1 to 10, he told the interviewer, he would rate his certainty level at 9.9.

Mr. Sharer said he supposed the Iranians were probably "trying to cover their tracks."

"All I can say," he added, "is I remember the fellow being very cruel-like, stern, a very narrow, beady-eyed charcter."

In light of all this, however, consider this visual data that the
Iranians issued a week ago Saturday.  On the right is the hostage
taker, and on the left is a photo of Mr. Ahmadinejad during the same
time period. 

Ahmadinejadcomparison



Again, I’m not saying that Mr. Ahmadinejad wasn’t involved in the embassy take over
.
Still, it would be nice if the press took a more factual and less
anecdotal approach to this story, as well as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s
background in general.  I say this with a few days hindsight, knowing
that the charges were floated, then the story completely disappeared
from the the news.  (Sort of reminds you of how the Saddam – al Qaeda
link got started.)

And, if Ahmadinejad actually does have a suspicious past — especially to a tune much worse than the embassy takeover (Kurd Murder Claim Against Iran Leader – link) — wouldn’t it be better to have some solid research and follow-up (like the press used to offer) rather than just the usual innuendo?

  • Quentin

    Now the the NY Gray Rag takes all of us again into the realm of U.S. folklore: the Iran hostage taking. In the picture with the hostage I see Ronald Reagan grinnig over the hostage’s shoulder, saying: ‘Don’t worry, you’re helping me to win the presidency, so stay put, and I’ve already arranged your release after my inauguration, as the Ayatollah Khomeiny has promised me. Only later we’ll have to find a way to get him some good weapons.’ You might call that negotiating with terrorists.
    Over the shoulder of President Ahmadinejad I see the grinning face of Judith Miller, saying: ‘Can you believe the Gray Rag still has the gall to peddle the administration’s line so uncritically and you’re still stupid enough to keep paying for it. I knew I was right in going to jail to cover up someone’s First Amendment right to do… well to do whatever they do.’
    The two pictures show perfectly how the Gray Rag is more than willing to take important matters and nonchalantly turn them into anecdotal selling points, like the garbage about Iraq’s mega-weapons. Isn’t that newspaper way overpriced?

  • cj

    I can’t help thinking of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth thing–people tailoring the past to further a ideological/political agenda. It is interesting that a former hostage AKA American hero (rather than our illustrious intelligence sector) is the one to make the initial claim. You would think that with all the millions spent on spying/keeping tabs on Iran during the past 25 years, th4e CIA would have a reasoned opinion on the matter. I do believe that we the public are meant to relive/remember the Iran hostage crisis with these photos and not the current leadership in Iran. Another exemplary job of yellow journalism/propaganda by the NYT.

  • بهنام

    The gentleman in question has been identified by former hostage-takers as Taqi Muhammadi, now deceased.
    Interesting, or sadly, the gentleman on the other side of the hostage is now dead too, having been killed in the Iran-Iraq War. His name escapes me.
    The hostage-takers who did survive are now all reformist and liberal, and opposed to Mr. Ahmadi-nejad. Yet, they’ve all pointed out that Mr. Ahmadinejad was not one of them.

  • Quentin

    Thanks to the previous poster for the lucid information.

  • Scott

    Research? Why should they do any research? Blogs (I mean, online virtual magazines) already take care of that. What a sad statement though that even the Iranian-Hostage-Taker Veterans for Truth have more integrity than the lying weasels we have here. Almost looks like we’re getting ready to “fix the facts” so we can go in and make Iran safe for theocracy too. And why not, we’re doing a pretty stellar job of that in Iraq.

  • http://greenimagination.blogspot.com Daniel Waldman

    That’s amazing. I never thought that a face, possibly one of the most personal and individual aspects of any human being, could be used as a floating signifier.

  • On the Clock

    The day the photo came out — one or two days before the NYT published it — the original source seemed to be a web site named “Iran Focus.” The site no longer carries the photo, which I find interesting considering its “scoop” made p1 of the NYT.
    The web site’s “About Us” link provides not a single name or address responsible for the publication of the not-unsubstantial amount of information published there.
    The “About Us” link says, in full:
    “Iran Focus is a non-profit news service provider that focuses on events in Iran, Iraq and the Middle East. With a network of specialists and analysts of the region and correspondents and reporters in several countries, Iran Focus is able to provide fast and reliable news and analysis on the political, social and economic situation in the region.
    “Iran Focus is dedicated to providing comprehensive, up-to-date information and news on the Persian Gulf region in a fair and balanced manner. We provide a wide array of daily news, weekly and special feature packages, commentary, news analysis, and investigative reporting. Through editorial initiatives and access to intelligence sources, our stories offer an insight into the complex situation in the Persian Gulf region that is indispensable to scholars, journalists, politicians, business people and all those interested in this sensitive part of the world.
    “We hope our services give you a new perspective on major developments in the region. Our editors welcome your comments and suggestions. Story inquiries and other comments may be directed to: [email protected]
    Our tax dollars at work, apparently.

  • Quentin

    ‘Iran Focus’: ‘fair and balanced’. What does that remind you of? Apparently the whole story about Iranian president-elect Ahmadinejad is bogus. The NY Gray Rag Lady is bogus. So what else is new?

  • http://scorpio.typepad.com/eccentricity/ Scorpio

    In identifying old photos, the most importnt factor is eyebrow shape. I had a pic of a first grade. I picked my 40-year old friend out based on eyebrow shape alone. This allegation is big-time bogus.

  • http://medianalysis.typepad.com/louisxiv/ JD

    At Grok Your World, we too noted the parallel with the Swift Boat Vets: “Iran Investigating Bush: Draft Dodger / Coke Head / DUI / War-Monger

  • Jon Koppenhoefer

    We could never hope for the evening news or national newspapers to present such a calm, level-headed discussion of the subject.
    I have become more contemptuous of the so-called mainstream media since Bush’s first election campaign.
    They haven’t improved at all, and are more than ever pandering to morons, imbeciles, and hysterics, it seems.

  • بهنام

    The “Iran Focus” site is associated with the MKO (Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization). It is known for fabricating news. The MKO also happens to be an Iraq-based terrorist organization that attacked the Kurds in ‘91 on Saddam’s behalf. It’s even on the State Dept’s list of terrorist organizations, even though there have been persistent reports that now the US is using them as an asset in its conflict with Iran.
    The picture in question is authentic, and confirmed as such by former hostage-takers. Yet the MKO’s identification of the gentleman in question as Ahmadi-nejad is errorneous.
    بهنام

  • Susan

    There is ANOTHER “thing” and I am loathe to bring it up but it occurred to me when you showed the real YOUNGER pics of the two different men and how OBVIOUSLY different they are – but it is this: “The – THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE Syndrome”!
    As awful and hideously apparent prejudice is, haven’t we heard the TERMS in THIS WAR too?
    I won’t repeat them.
    However, when you have a group of people who do look “somewhat similar” – BINGO – “The – THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE Syndrome” rears it’s ugly head and here is a prime example.
    I’m an artist and was trained to notice the differences in body and facial features during my art school days – even and/or especially in ethnic or similar cultures. The TRUTH IS, it’s not THAT DIFFICULT. All you have to do is PAY ATTENTION.
    Even MY OWN mostly ethnic group has said to me: “You have the map of Ireland written all over your face.” I’m an American of many generations and my heritage is NOT all Irish! So, people can’t help themselves, I guess!
    But I do wonder HOW much of this latest hysteria has do to THAT?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/susanstudioz/ susanstudioz

    Just one more thing, I DO NOT want to leave an impression that to lump all ethnic groups into “The – THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE Syndrome” – is OK. It is NOT.
    I want to point out how EASY it is to do and HOW easy it is for “Authority” figures, whether in government or elsewhere, it is to MANIPULATE on a populace that is terrified and will become more terrified by the use of such manipulations.
    Shame on the NYT and other News outlets…and government agencies to USE this tendency against our people.
    We, as a Nation, of fairly intelligent people (I do sometimes wonder) NEED to educate ourselves on such tactics and OTHERS.
    To jump to the conclusion that those two men were one and the same because they had ethnic similarities (and, by the way, MANY men could fit into that “LOOK”) is not only a “NASTY” manipulation but a cruelty that bears keeping tabs on – not just for the other “ethnic” groups but for ALL OF OUR MENTAL HEALTH.
    SEEING and CRYING WOLF all the time is a bad thing – we know this and that has got to be one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever made – at least lately.
    This so called WAR ON TERROR is supposed to last a very long time. We better do a SANER job of handling it.

  • larrams

    You would think that the CIA would hae noticed a long time ago if this guy was a hostage taker. Most likely, as a leader of Iran, the CIA knows every detail of his life down to the volumn, weight and colour of his stools while he was in diapers. Funny how they havent stepped forward to say if he was or was not involved in the hostage taking.

  • imran

    this is totally totally nonsense

  • Wyatt

    There is little doubt to the fact that Ahmadinejad was one of the students involved in the invasion of us soil in November 1979. It has been proven in several books, one of them is “Guests of the Ayattollah” by Mark Bowden. You can debate whether that is his picture, but there is no doubt about his involvement.
    On a second note. He is a figure head. He can’t zip up his pants w/o Khamanei’s approval.
    Lastly the CIA is not all powerful as some of you may think. Because of serious budget cuts and restrictions placed on it by the Clinton administration the CIA has a very limited amount of human intelligence worldwide, not to mention Iran.
    People should read more sources of information before they spout of their subjective “news” articles.

  • http://bagnewsnotes.typepad.com/bagnews/2005/07/move_over_zarqa.html HowCanYouWin

    You can not win in a word battle, with people that are not listening to what you say. Tell me how can the democrats vote for a bill that the republicans throw together in 2 days and pass in 1 day to censor FREE SPEECH OF moveon.org.
    When John Kerry was attacked in 2004 , about his honor , his war record , his personal thoughts and the democrats did nothing , not create a bill and censor Bush , Cheney , swiftboat vets and the others that created that deceit , lies , propaganda and BS they did “”NOTHING.
    When Bush, Cheney and most of the republicans call democrats and people that talk out about their corruption names and slander like anti-Americans , terrorist , aiding Bin Laden , call death threats again them and d… thing they wish , where is the censor bill and the votes to condemn them and it.
    No, we no longer have a democratic party , but a group of spineless , worthless people that are afraid of their own d… shadow , and the republicans jerk them around and make fools of them at their will.
    We need to purge the democrats now in office, or start a new party that will support the citizens of our country and their democracy & freedom and delete the power and control given to Global Corporation , the wealthy and Oil corporations.

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