national post retracts Iran Jews story

The National Post apologises to readers for their monumental screw-up of last Friday. Their apology fails to address many issues - but clearly someone at the National Post should resign over this. And they could say they are dropping Amir Taheri as a correspondent. This retraction appears on Page 2 and is only available to subscribers to the website!! So they are hardly "facing up to their mistakes in an honest open fashion" as they claim. I'll put their apology here to help them out. (I saw it at born with a tail and MEPForum.)

As noted at The Gazetteer, and by myself, the story was "circularly sourced" - the letter from Rabbi Marvin Hier to Kofi Annan quoted Taheri's story "to appear in Friday's National Post". So all of this traces back to Taheri, and the NP doesn't admit this, nor the circular sourcing. As a comment at Born With a Tail notes, all of Wattie's sources were second-hand and outside Iran and that is not good enough for a story of this magnitude. Having lived in Iran, I have lots of sources there who could check that quickly - but the idiotic journalists at the National Post just couldn't be bothered making calls outside the US and Canada. They relied on Iranian exiles no-one has ever heard of. Nor could they be bothered looking at an Iranian news website containing the text of the bill.

The reaction of the Iranian embassy was just about believable though - relations between Iran and Canada are really rock-bottom, though they haven't gone as low as the crediblity of the National Post after this story.

I wonder if the Murdoch rag, the New York Post, will publish a similar retraction, as they published a similar article on May 20, the day after the National Post story appeared?

Our mistake: Note to readers

Douglas Kelly
National Post

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Last Friday, the National Post ran a story prominently on the front page alleging that the Iranian parliament had passed a law that, if enacted, would require Jews and other religious minorities in Iran to wear badges that would identify them as such in public. It is now clear the story is not true. Given the seriousness of the error, I felt it necessary to explain to our readers how this happened.

The story of the alleged badge law first came to us in the form of a column by Amir Taheri. Mr. Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist, has written widely on Iran for many major publications. In his column, Mr. Taheri wrote at length about the new law, the main purpose of which is to establish an appropriate dress code for Muslims. Mr. Taheri went on to say that under the law, "Religious minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faith."

This extraordinary allegation caught our attention, of course. The idea that Iran might impose such a law did not seem out of the question given that its President has denied the Holocaust and threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." We tried to contact Mr. Taheri, but he was in transit and unreachable.

The editor who was dealing with Mr. Taheri's column wrote to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. The Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human rights organization that keeps a close watch on issues affecting the treatment of Jews around the world, and maintains contacts in many countries, including Iran. Asked about the specific allegation that Iran had passed a law requiring religious minorities to identify themselves, Rabbi Cooper replied by e-mail that the story was "absolutely true." When a reporter spoke to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a short while later, Rabbi Hier said the story was true and added that the organization had sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking him to take up the matter. (Rabbi Hier has
since said that, contrary to the understanding of the reporter, the Wiesenthal Center had not independently confirmed Mr. Taheri's allegation.)

The reporter also spoke with two Iranian exiles in Canada -- Ali Behroozian in
Toronto and Shahram Golestaneh in Ottawa. Both said that they had heard the the story of the badges from their contacts in Iran and they believed it to be true.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department did not respond to questions about the issue until after deadline, and then only to say they were looking into the matter. After several calls to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, the reporter reached Hormoz Ghahremani, a spokesman for the embassy. Mr. Ghahremani's response to the allegation was that he did not answer such questions.

We now had four sources -- Mr. Taheri, the Wiesenthal Center and two Iranian exiles in Canada -- telling us that according to their sources the Iranian law appeared to include provisions for compelling religious minorities to identify themselves in public. Iranian authorities in Canada had not denied the story. Given the sources, and given the previous statements of the Iranian President, we felt confident the story was true and decided to publish it.

The reaction was immediate and distressing. Several experts whom the reporter had tried unsuccessfully to contact the day before called to say the story was not true. The Iranian embassy put out a statement late in the day doing what it had failed to do the day before -- unequivocally deny such a law had been passed.

The reporter continued to try to determine whether there was any truth to the story. Some sources said there had been some peripheral discussion in the Iranian parliament of identifying clothing for minority religions, but it became clear that the dress code bill, which was introduced on May 14 and has not yet been passed into law, does not include such provisions.

Mr. Taheri, who had written the column that sparked the story, was again unreachable on Friday. He has since put out a statement saying the National Post and others "jumped the gun" in our characterization of his column. He says he was only saying the provisions affecting minorities might happen at some point. All of the people who read the column on the first day took it to mean the measure was part of a law that had been passed. Mr. Taheri maintains the zonnar, or badges, could still be put in effect when the dress code law is implemented.

On Saturday, the National Post ran another front-page story above the fold with the Iranian denial and the comments of the experts casting doubts on the original story.

It is corporate policy for all of CanWest's media holdings to face up to their mistakes in an honest, open fashion. It is also the right thing to do journalistically.

We acknowledge that on this story, we did not exercise sufficient caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources. We should have pushed the sources we did have for more corroboration of the information they were giving us. That is not to say that we ignored basic journalistic practices or that we rushed this story into print with no thought as to the consequences. But given the seriousness of the allegations, more was required.

We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the story. We take this incident very seriously, and we are examining our procedures to try to ensure such an error does not happen again.

Douglas Kelly,


National Post


At Friday, May 26, 2006 1:54:00 AM, Blogger Gazetteer said...

Hey Richard.

Thanks for posting this woeful half cup of mama mea culpa in it's entirety.

I hope you don't mind, but I've also posted it up at my place.




Post a Comment

<< Home