Jewish World Review Feb. 19, 2002 / 7 Adar, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Front Page fiction -- THE NEW YORK TIMES, the newspaper that can never find anything good to say about the United States, is upset with President Bush for having named Iran as part of the "axis of evil."

"Millions of Iranians marched with unusual vigor to mark the 23rd anniversary of their Islamic revolution," the Times said in an editorial Feb. 12. Bush's speech, the Times said, "has clearly strengthened the hand of the hardliners."

If it were true that millions of Iranians had turned out voluntarily for the annual "Death to America" day, this could be cause for concern. But the Times' estimate of the size of the crowds is vastly greater than that made by other news organizations.

"Tens of thousands of Iranians declared their defiance towards the United States," said Agence France Press.

"Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Iran yesterday to protest President George Bush," said the left-wing British newspaper, the Independent.

Reuters, the BBC and MSNBC also estimated the crowds in the "tens of thousands."

The big event took place in Azadi (Freedom) Square in downtown Tehran. Azadi is not a square but a roundabout, about twice the size of Times Square in New York, say Iranians who've been there. How credible is it that the equivalent of the population of Dallas could be fitted in a space that small?

It turns out that the Times' estimate of "millions" came from the Iranian government, a fact reporter Neil MacFarquhar didn't mention until the 16th paragraph of his story.

Even if the Times' inflated number were correct, it would be no big deal by the regime's historic standards, said Dr. Sami Hajjar of the U.S. Army War College.

"Millions of Iranians in Tehran's Azadi Square chanted "death to America...on the 15th anniversary of the Islamic revolution," the Dallas Morning News said in 1994. "Hundreds of thousands" packed Freedom Square for the 14th anniversary celebration in 1993, the Los Angeles Times said. In 1992, "about 2 million people pressed into Azadi Square," the AP said. In 1991, "five million(!) Iranians filled Tehran's snow-covered Freedom Square," the AP said.

Considering the effort the government put into recruiting it, this year's crowd was "an insult to the regime," said Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and a JWR columnist.

"The secret police...went around threatening students and teachers, warning of dire consequences if they didn't show up," said Ledeen, who has many contacts in Iran. "All government employees, and all members of the armed forces were ordered to participate. The poor were told that if they didn't celebrate, their welfare would be cut off. Thousands of buses dragged people from the countryside to the city. And still the best they could come up with was about a third of the usual turnout."

Ledeen's sources told him there were no more than 300,000 people in Azadi Square this year. Azar Nafisi, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, thinks it was more like 200,000:

"My friends tell me this was such a pitiful demonstration," she said. Much larger crowds took part in five days of anti-government protests which started after a soccer game October 24, Nafisi said.

"For the football (soccer) revolution 1 million people came into the streets," she said.

But those protests - in which at least 2,000 were arrested - didn't make it to the front page of the New York Times. A 573-word story on the protests did run on page 7 on Oct. 26, but didn't estimate the size of the crowds.

The editors of the New York Times think people in underdeveloped countries don't mind being enslaved and impoverished, so long as their oppressors are anti-American. The facts say otherwise. But it's hard to find those facts in the New York Times.

"The motto of the New York Times is 'all the news that's fit to print," said Prof. Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University. "It's really 'all the news that fits our preconceptions.'"

"Under the guise of liberalism, there is such contempt for the people of the region," Nafisi said.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly