Friday, April 17, 2015

Because ... he died in 1989?

There is, as alert readers might have noticed, a pretty straightforward problem with Thursday's Obama Shock Outrage question: Mistah Khomeini, he dead. Thus it's kind of fun to trace the tale back through the journalistic checkpoints to its apparent beginnings. (Yes, you can draw conclusions about the quality of Near East reporting these sources provide.)

The Fox Nation -- which, oddly, managed to find a picture of the right guardian/jurisprudent for the homepage -- borrows both its film clip here and its text from the Daily Caller, as credited in the insert:
During Thursday’s White House briefing, the Associated Press’ Jim Kuhnhenn interrogated press secretary Josh Earnest over the Obama administration’s unequal treatment of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Not entirely true, but hang on a second:

Kuhnhenn asked the White House flack why the Ayatollah is getting “the benefit of the doubt” from the administration over comments about the Iran deal last week, but Netanyahu does not after his comments that there would be no Palestinian state.
Earnest pushed back against the notion that the Ayatollah is getting the benefit of the doubt, saying that “distrust and verify” is the approach the administration is currently taking.
The Caller, in turn, gives a "h/t" to Real Clear Politics:

At Thursday's White House briefing Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press questioned White House press secretary why Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran gets the benefit of the doubt while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not.

"I want to go back to something the president said on Saturday at a press conference which was when asked about comments that Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini made he suggested that politics was driving that, internal politics in Iran. That there hardliners and in the end that might not end up being the final position that Iran takes in these negotiations," Kuhnhenn said.
The recording is ambiguous; it sounds to me like the reporter gets the diphthong in the wrong place, but I wouldn't assume that means he has the wrong guy* -- certainly not to the point of adding a bracketed reference to the one who died in 1989.** That appears to be solely the invention of Real Clear, and it was a good enough invention to fool the Near East policy experts at the Daily Caller and The Fox Nation.
The AP reporter isn't the clown who brought Khomeini back from the dead, but that doesn't mean he isn't wearing a big red nose of his own to the press briefing. Fox has a White House contingent of its own, capable of asking all the questions Mr. Ailes wants asked; shouldn't the AP be concentrating on the space left over after the party press has done its work? What sort of answer do you figure he expected?
  • And we would have gotten away with it, if it hadn't been for you kids!
  • Because ... we don't have a major political party dedicated to launching a preemptive war with Israel to keep it from developing a nuclear arsenal?
  • You're right, Associated Press! Maybe we should stop guaranteeing those loans for the Iranian government!
It'd be nice to know that the AP (and, for that matter, the White House press office) knew that there isn't a position called "the Ayatollah" in the Iranian political structure. That's Khamenei's clerical rank, not his office. (Kennedy and Carter were both Navy lieutenants, but that didn't mean Carter became "the lieutenant" when he moved into the White House.) That's "trivia," in a sense, but it's trivia that points to a bigger problem: US political interactions with Israel are pretty drastically different from US interactions with Iran, and have been for some time. Does the AP White House staff really not get that, or is it Foxbaiting for some other reason?

The AP tends to get a lot of stick when it announces changes to the ponderous Stylebook, generally on the (specious) grounds that it's caving in again to the monolithic American left and its insatiable lust to demean all we hold dear. That's both unfair to the AP and, to be technical about it, deeply stupid. The AP's fault is ideological but not partisan; it's obliged to honor the boundaries of debate among Important People as they are presented. If the question is whether Obama hates Israel because he's a secret Muslin or because it's the easiest way for him to weaken America, the AP doesn't leave itself much room to leaf through a list of informal logical fallacies and point out that that's not a question at all.
* Yes, there's a rule against altering direct quotes; it's not intended for cases in which you think you heard an error that the speaker didn't make. That's another good argument against thinking that you can write dialect well.
** Or that he said "That there hardliners" -- you know, if you don't want people to listen to the thing, why put it up there?

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