Iran, 9/11, and the New York Times

Quick Programming Note: I’m not going to be posting as much in the coming weeks. I have a couple of big projects I’m working on which, along with other commitments, leaves little time for the blog. I’ll still update when I find something of note, but unless the U.S. starts a war with Iran (not impossible!) it will be a little less frequent for a while. 

Here’s something interesting: The New York Times has finally corrected its articles stating that Iran sponsored 9/11.  It took long enough. I actually first noticed it about a week ago in a June 29 article about the Manhattan skyscraper that was due to be seized by U.S. authorities due to its owners’ links to Iran. Here’s the original copy:

The government has agreed to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could bring as much as $1 billion, to the families of  Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 11 attacks.

While it’s true that the federal court that made the ruling regarding compensation of victims of terror attacks included Iran as among those responsible for 9/11, there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim. The way the NYT wrote it plainly asserts it as an established fact. It would be hard to blame the average reader for taking it as such. The Times is, after all, the paper of record.

Here’s the correction they issued on July 6, 2017:

An article on Friday about a jury’s decision to let the federal government seize a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper it says is controlled by Iran overstated Iran’s responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks. While a federal court found that Iran had some culpability for the Sept. 11 attacks as a state sponsor of terrorism, it has not been established that Iran sponsored the attacks, which were planned and executed by Al Qaeda. (A similar error occurred in a Sept. 25, 2013 article in The Times.)

It’s that last sentence that really gets me. I wasn’t even aware that this same mistake went as far back as FOUR YEARS AGO. I hadn’t even applied for my PhD program yet. Think of how may people may have seen that story or cited it as an indication of Iranian involvement in the September 11 attacks in the time since then.

Just to be clear, I don’t point this out as part of some argument against the BIASED LAMESTREAM MEDIA or whatever. I still think that the NYT is an excellent paper, but it is this kind of sloppy reporting that fans the flames of those who wish to discredit the media (or objective truth in general). With the possibility of a U.S.-Iran conflict becoming ever more real, these kinds of mistakes are unforgivable.

(h/t FAIR)

[Update — 7/8/17]

A lawyer friend has pointed out to me that there are two ways to understand the NY Times mistake. The first is as a news report of a misguided judicial decision. To the unquestioning observer, the court appears to be reasoning that since the 9/11 attacks were acts of terrorism, and Iran finances terrorists, Iran bears some responsibility for the injuries suffered on 9/11. This may be syllogistically logical, but charging Iran with a causal contribution is factually very attenuated.

The other way of looking at Iran’s relationship to 9/11 is to accept the linkage by those who believe that every U.S. enemy must have had a hand in the attacks. This requires ignorance of reality and context. If Al Qaeda terrorists, an organization of mostly Sunni Muslims, brought down the airplanes, and Iran’s leadership and population are over 90% Shia Muslims (who are considered heretics by extremist Sunnis), it is problematic to assert that Iran colluded with Al Qaeda in planning the 9/11 hijackings. This does not mean that Iran is not a sponsor of terrorist activity, but it suggests that it is misleading and, possibly dangerous, to base news analyses and policy justifications on Iranian responsibility for 9/11.

In either case, that a legal decision contradicts or ignores facts  may be evidence of Shakespeare’s conclusion that “The law is an Ass.”

Author: Jonathan Leslie

PhD candidate at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s