National Review Quietly Edits Blunder

An Embarrassing Moment, Saved by An Unlikely Source

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | July 28, 2015                         

National Review Quietly Edits Embarrassing Iran Blunder (Josh Gelernter / NRO)

This past weekend I had the honor of becoming an unwitting guest editor for the venerable conservative publication National Review, something I’ve always longed to add to my résumé. While I sincerely doubt they were eager to accept my unsolicited advice, they apparently couldn’t deny my usefulness.

Conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008) Obviously, I wasn’t paid for my services, nor was I even credited — but permit me to bask in the notion that William F. Buckley, Jr., who founded the magazine in 1955, is nodding politely at me from above. Or up at me from below? Anyway...

It all began on Saturday morning, July 24th, when I came across a new piece of historical revisionism in National Review. The article claimed that Iran’s former Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, was a lame and unscrupulous leader who had been overthrown not by the CIA, but by angry Iranians in favor of the beloved, capable and progressive Shah, who, as dictators go, was among the world’s finest.

“The common wisdom is wrong; a history lesson is in order”, it crowed, proceeding to explain that the myth prevails because America-hating leftist academics have successfully pressed this narrative to advance their warped agenda. “So why do so many people believe the imperialist-calamity version of modern Persian history?”, asks the author in its conclusion. “Because the world is filled with freshmen and sophomoric adults.”

I’ve scrutinized the exasperating coup-denial phenomenon before, and was already expecting more outrage to come given the approaching anniversary of the the 1953 coup and the intense focus on Iran in the current election cycle, following the historic and controversial Iran nuclear deal.

Self-refuting Ray Takeyh This latest entry, Iran: The Truth about the CIA and the Shah by Josh Gelernter, is an extremely pedestrian effort even by the Denier’s standards. It was inspired by — and mostly reliant upon — the discredited screeds of self-refuting Ray Takeyh, who happens to be the Rev. Jim Jones of the freakish Coup-denial cult.

The number of simple factual errors in the piece, which should have been incredibly easy to avoid, is astonishing, especially because Gelernter went to such lengths to sermonize from on high about the supposedly naïve, “widely believed nonsense” propagated by the academic establishment in America.

Here is the comment I hastily added to the National Review Online (N.R.O.) page before I rushed off for the day, randomly selecting one mistake to correct in order to reveal its ironically slipshod scholarship:

Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967) For an article which pompously shames the academic community for its alleged ‘sophomorism’, one would think the author would not want to so expose himself to ridicule for precisely the same sin.

This article is riddled with so many inaccuracies it’s dizzying. Just one example, for demonstration — “thanks to the Shah, Mossadegh was sentenced to three years’ house arrest”. Wrong, he was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement, followed by lifetime house arrest. There are heaps of similar errors.

As this propaganda piece is largely based upon the writings of one self-refuting Ray Takeyh, who once drew a direct line between the 1953 coup and the 1979 revolution before completely changing his tune, do read this crushing 30-page response before making up your mind — ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi.

If that isn’t convincing enough, examine this private diary entry from the President himself: “The Things We Did Were Covert” — Eisenhower’s Diary Confession of CIA Coup in Iran: Oct. 8, 1953.

Another incontestable, little-known document is this secret memo from the CIA Director at the time: Allen Dulles Hails CIA Coup in Iran as “Major Victory” (1954). Clearly, it cannot be claimed that these men were just boasting, as these documents were classified. Need more convincing? Here are yet even more secret CIA commendations for its personnel in Tehran, applauding the success of the U.S. coup plot in its immediate aftermath.

Advice to revisionists: if you’re going to engage in promiscuous coup-denial, at least get your basic facts straight.


Anticipating the likelihood they would correct the embarrassing error, I saved the original text for comparison just in case they changed it.

The next day, I discovered that, sure enough, they had quietly edited the article in response to my criticism!

Now, at the bottom of the page, it reads: “EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.”

National Review vindicates Mossadegh Project, quietly editing error in revisionist Iran article

Naturally, they don’t indicate what portion has been corrected, as is the standard practice of most reputable newspapers and magazines, nor do they acknowledge the Mossadegh Project for coming to their rescue.

Yet there is no question that the note from the Editor specifically refers to my contribution alone, because when you compare both versions, you’ll find that it was the only edit made. Imagine if I had corrected more mistakes, how many other edits there might have been!

Now, the prison sentence detail may seem trivial out of context, but it’s actually more significant in view of how it was abused by the writer. Throughout the piece, Gelernter was building upon a narrative that the Shah had always been a merciful, tolerant guy, perhaps even a mensch. Gelernter thinks Mossadegh was lucky not to be executed, and should have been thankful to the “liberal” Shah for sparing him. So the actual verdict matters as it pertains directly to his point.

Compare the whole paragraph to see it in proper context:


“Even Mossadegh was a beneficiary of the Shah’s liberal attitude toward retribution: According to a contemporary New York Times piece, the court that tried Mossadegh “refused to accede to the prosecutor’s demand that Dr. Mossadegh be sentenced to death or at least imprisonment for life as a result of the Shah’s intervention. . . . Most persons had expected the defendant would be exiled or imprisoned for life.” Instead, thanks to the Shah, Mossadegh was sentenced to three years’ house arrest.[The NYT article actually said “It was widely believed the court had refused to accede to the prosecutor's demand...”, making it hearsay and not a definitive truth]


“Instead, thanks to the Shah, Mossadegh was sentenced to three years in prison followed by house arrest.”

Mossadegh Sentenced To 3 Years in Solitary

You’ll notice that the editors still chose not to indicate that Dr. Mossadegh’s prison term was in solitary confinement — a far crueller fate — and that his house arrest term was for the remainder of his entire lifetime, not some temporary period as implied. That’s because the purpose here is to soften the Shah’s actions and make him seem as benevolent as possible.

So this is not even close to being an academic exercise. It’s nothing more than a one-sided, poorly sourced, poorly edited, and error-ridden piece of right-wing propaganda.

That’s why you’ll not hear a word from National Review about the fate of Mossadegh’s young Foreign Minister Hossein Fatemi, who was beaten up, knifed and finally executed by the Shah’s firing squad. Nor will you learn of the numerous other individuals who were executed, jailed, or exiled after the coup, such as Iran’s best known restaurateur / philanthropist, Hassan Shamshiri (Even Shamshiri’s funeral was violently disrupted by the Shah’s security forces). Another loyal Mossadegh adherent, Karimpour Shirazi, was thrown in prison — simply for his political beliefs — and later burned alive.

Besides, the article is largely just a lazy summary of another writer’s work — self-refuting Ray Takeyh (Gelernter repeatedly passes the ball to Takeyh throughout the piece, quoting hunks of his revisionist ramblings). This technique — light on original research, heavy on sprinkled mooching — might not even fly in most universities.

As I mentioned earlier, Josh Gelernter could have easily avoided making pathetic blunders like the one about the verdict against Mossadegh in his military trial, which he stated was merely “three years’ house arrest”.

And here’s proof — remember that New York Times article he quoted loftily as the basis for his statement? It was a December 22, 1953 report by Welles Hangen titled Mossadegh Gets 3-Year Jail Term. And this is the very first sentence of that article:

TEHERAN, Iran, Dec. 21 — Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was sentenced to three years’ solitary confinement tonight by a five-man military tribunal for an attempted rebellion against Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi.

If it were a snake, it would have bit him.


Related links:

SENTENCED TO HANG: Mossadegh’s Media-Contrived Death Verdict

The CIA on Twitter: A One Year Retrospective by Arash Norouzi

THE FOLLY OF COUP-DENIAL | Negating History for Political Expediency

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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