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Lies, Damn Lies, and Forbes: What the Turkish President Didn’t Say about Iran

Author’s note: This is a response to Claudia Rosett’s “Turkey Tilts toward Iran,” published on 26 March 2010 by Forbes.com.

Forbes columnist Claudia Rosett — who just so happens to be “a journalist-in-residence” with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neo-conservative think tank — feigns her regret for having to report a “disturbing talk” that she claims went with an otherwise pleasant tea with Turkish President Abdullah Gül.  Rosett finds it regrettable that Turkey is seeking “zero problems” with one “of the world’s roughest neighbors . . . Iran.”  However, what is really regrettable and truly disturbing for us is that this so-called interview is apparently fictional and yet Forbes nevertheless decided to publish it, complete with lies about the Turkish president’s opinion on Iran and its nuclear program (shamelessly and repeatedly labeled a “bomb program” by Rosett).  According to President Gül’s press release (published on the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey website on 27 March 2010):

Following today’s reports by some press organizations [claiming] that Mr. President gave an interview to the Forbes Magazine, the announcement below was deemed necessary:

“Neither today nor in the past has Mr. President ever given any interview to the Forbes Magazine.  We respectfully inform the public.”

To date, Forbes has not published a correction or even a clarification on the matter, let alone an apology, nor has it taken the article offline, despite the Turkish president’s public rebuttal that “[n]either today nor in the past” has any such “tea and interview” affair with the Forbes columnist ever taken place.

The question is why Forbes — the self-proclaimed “home page for the world’s business leaders and No. 1 business news source in the world” — pursues such an unprofessional behavior.

The answer may lie in the broader American policy for framing Iran and its leadership — or “regime” as the Western media prefer to call it — as irrational and dangerous.  That policy is now getting more momentum than ever before, including the Bush era, driven by the Euro-American efforts to subject Iran to “crippling” sanctions which the Western leaders hope will bite the “regime” (meaning the country) to its core.

As part of its “crippling sanctions policy,” the West seeks to exhaust every opportunity to normalize a discourse that refers to Iran as a bomb-building revolutionary (read irrational) “regime” threatening the peace-building, democracy-promoting, security-concerned West.  The help of its leading corporate media is crucial for that endeavor.

Rosett’s disturbing article is emblematic of the tireless Western efforts to abuse any context at hand, or even just fabricate one, to portray a picture of an aggressive Iran designed to justify the Western governments’ own aggressive policies against the legitimate and peaceful Iranian nuclear program along with Iran’s wider role in the Persian Gulf and Middle East region.

Now that Turkey is one of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, its leaders’ words carry a heavier weight.  Rosett’s dubious article has President Gül make comments such as follows:

Gul says he has no doubts that Iran wants the nuclear bomb: “This is an Iranian aspiration dating back to the previous regime, the days of the Shah.”  For Iran’s current regime, says Gul, “I do believe it is their final aspiration to have a nuclear weapon in the end,” as a matter of “‘national pride.'”

That alone is testament to Rosett’s penchant for misrepresentation and fabrication of facts, for Iran’s nuclear program, either during the Pahlavi regime or under the Islamic Republic, has never been a “bomb program.”

For another vivid example of irresponsible journalism, look how Rosett sneaks in her favorite phrase, “Iran’s bomb program” in the following mishmash of supposed quotes and out-of-quote statements, smoothly putting her own words in President Gül’s mouth:

Gul reaches the sweeping conclusion that the real solution to Iran’s bomb program is “to eliminate nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East.”  This, he suggests, is the way to “guarantee the security of Israel.”  But neither he nor any of the other Turkish government officials we spoke with in Ankara were able to provide a plan for ensuring that Iran — undeterred by years of European, American, U.N. and Turkish diplomatic talks — would genuinely abandon its bomb program.

Such is Forbes‘ degenerate realpolitik today.  The real business for Forbes seems to be not to provide its corporate audience with reports and analyses that they need to succeed at work, but, ironically, to frighten them away from their opportunities to do business with one of the most potentially profitable business partners that they may ever have, namely Iran.

All this is not surprising given the history of corporate media’s taste and talent for fear mongering, but it is, to use Rosett’s words, “a perilous guide,” as is demonstrated by the media’s role in paving the way for the bloodbath that we have seen, and are still seeing, in Iraq for example.  Following such a guide is not to anyone’s long-term benefit, even that of the world’s senior business executives.

What may become of the “Free World,” where the freedom of baseless allegation — or “gossip” in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s words — is practiced on a daily basis in the name of freedom of expression, all for the purpose of manufacturing consent to doing to Iran what has been done to Iraq?

President Gül’s rebuttal of the so-called “interview” is welcome, as it may enlighten Forbes‘ current readers and future interviewees about the magazine’s modus operandi.  However, to save the “Free World” from itself as well as save Iran from the “Free World,” the Turkish leadership would have to exert itself more energetically.


Shirin Shafaie is an Iranian researcher and PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London.  She was educated in Iran (BA in Philosophy and MA in Philosophy of Art) and in the UK (MSc in Middle East Politics).  The core of her research is critical war studies in general and the Iran-Iraq War in particular.




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