Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Amir Taheri in NY Post: Jesse Jackson claims Obama will tilt U.S. policy against Israel

A grain of salt warning is not sufficient for this story. Maybe a boulder of salt is required. Amir Taheri has been accused of falsifying stories for political reasons on several occasions. (Read here and here.) Shaul Bakhash (professor of Persian Studies at George Mason University) reviewing Taheri's book Nest of Spies in the New Republic, found that many of its footnotes referred to non-existent documents, i.e. they were deliberately falsified. Taheri's previous "reporting" included an invented claim that Iranian Jews were being forced to wear yellow stripes reminiscent of the yellow stars that Nazis forced on Jews -- a claim that was taken seriously and entered the debate over U.S. foreign policy until it was debunked.

Most recently, Amir Taheri was the author of a disputed story (also in the Post) claiming that Obama was secretly working behind the scenes with Iraqi back channels to delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq (read here). This story was promoted by the likes of Melanie Phillips who wrote of it in a typical state of selective distress "(y)et more disturbing evidence of Barack Obama’s patent unsuitability for high office has dropped like a stone having briefly surfaced in the mainstream media" (read here), and repeated as true by Sarah Palin (read here). Palin must know how to judge accuracy in news because, as she told Katie Couric, when it comes to newspapers and magazines, she "read(s) most of 'em / all of 'em" (view here). What Phillips and Palin fail to address is the fact that Obama's alleged contact, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, denies this ever happened or that he even talked to Taheri, and Taheri's other source seems a bit iffy on whether the discussion he overheard concerned the Status of Forces agreement or a Strategic Framework Agreement (read here and here). Taheri's source appears to be playing a dangerous game of telephone.

So Taheri is clearly not a reliable reporter, just a sometimes reliable, sometimes unreliable, source who has repeatedly evidenced a vested interest in distorting stories for political reasons. In order to repeat what he reports as news requires another confirming source. If anyone knows of a second, confirming source, feel free to post it to the comments below. In the meantime, I give the possibility of this story being accurate even odds at best. My sole reason for repeating it is to point out the absurd lengths the anti-Obama smear artists are going to, and (Melanie Phillips statement to the contrary notwithstanding) how their biased and/or false reporting reaches the mainstream media and helps distort our political discourse.

With that lengthy proviso in mind: Taheri, writing in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, says that Jesse Jackson has told a conference of the World Policy Forum meeting in Evian that Obama is planning to tilt U.S. foreign policy against Israel. He allegedly went on to accuse "Zionists" of controlling the U.S. If Jackson truly said this, I put as much stock in Jackson's view of Obama's intentions with respect to Israel as I do with respect to Jackson's other views about Israel: not much. I also can't help but recall the last time Jackson made the news by latching onto Obama's fame. For reasons known only to himself (most likely a need for for attention), he called for Obama to be given a form of radical involuntary surgery usually done by lynch mobs, not doctors. That joking threat is the sort of verbal weapon used on school playgrounds by bullies, not by reasonable adults who claim to be your friends.

Now another story concerning Jackson's view of Obama is spreading through the Republican blogosphere. Republicans are anxiously looking for ways to cast Obama as dangerous in general and anti-Israel in particular. They may choose to promote Jackson's (alleged) statement as an accurate view of Obama. But choosing to believe Jesse Jackson, or for that matter Amir Taheri, about this merely because it's convenient is no excuse. To be frank, neither man's opinion is worth a hill of beans.

Now can someone confirm Taheri's story, or will it permanently reside in the netherworld of purported news from reporters of dubious reliability?


Prepare for a new America: That's the message that the Rev. Jesse Jackson conveyed to participants in the first World Policy Forum, held at this French lakeside resort last week.

He promised "fundamental changes" in US foreign policy - saying America must "heal wounds" it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the "arrogance of the Bush administration."

The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end.

Jackson believes that, although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.

"Obama is about change," Jackson told me in a wide-ranging conversation. "And the change that Obama promises is not limited to what we do in America itself. It is a change of the way America looks at the world and its place in it."

UPDATE 10/16/2008:

Jesse Jackson has issued what must be considered a non-denial denial of this story. (Read here.) He condemns Taheri for reporting on his statement but does not deny making it. That as good as confirms the story's truth. I apologize for doubting Amir Taheri's reporting on this. I had no idea that Jesse Jackson was giving such frank exclusive interviews to conservative columnists. I stand by what I wrote about Taheri's earlier questinable reporting.

By the way, does this remind anyone else of Jackson's condemnation of the Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman for reporting Jackson's childish, bigoted reference to Jews as "Hymies" and New York as "Hymietown"? (Read here.) His statements about Barack Obama, Israel and Zionism were similarly reckless, childish and bigoted and his condemnation of Taheri for reporting about this were similarly ill-advised.

And for the Republicans attempting to capitalize on Jackson's meaningless ravings: Obama has utterly disavowed Jackson's comments and stated unequivocally that he Jackson is in no way privy to any information about Obama's positions beyond what is available in the media. Obama's national security spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi, said Obama has an "unshakable commitment to Israel's security." She went on to say:

"Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is not an adviser to the Obama campaign and is therefore in no position to interpret or share Barack Obama's views on Israel and foreign policy. As he has made clear throughout his career and throughout this campaign, Barack Obama has a fundamental commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and he is advised by people like Dennis Ross, Daniel Kurtzer, Rep. Robert Wexler, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Senator Joe Biden who share that commitment."

For his part, Jackson has admitted that he "has never had a conversation with Sen. Obama about Israel or the Middle East." His statement was based on nothing and consisted of his own distorted, wishful thinking. Anyone among the Republicans who chooses to believe Jesse Jackson about this subject has to explain how Jackson could be wrong about everything else he says about Israel, but somehow is a reliable source about this.

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