CNN Breaking News: A Bomb Didn't Go Off in Tehran Yesterday!

As I wrote on Friday, the heterodox opinion that Twitter has been an untrustworthy source of information during the Iranian uprising has fast become the orthodox view. Too much talk of a "Twitter revolution" from the Fox fembots and, like those who hated Nirvana simply because they were too popular, the blog backlash begins. So when Jon Stewart stupidly attacked CNN for running "unverified material" from YouTube, Twitter, and Flickr, it was reasonable to defend their honor considering that their reporters, like those of all Western news organizations, are at the mercy of the Iranian regime. And it should also be pointed out that they rebounded quite well from a generally subpar performance in the first days of the protests.

But while critics wring their hands about dodgy rumors spreading via social networking sites—which are usually identified as dodgy rumors by those pass them on—few people have engaged in meaningful debate about those relaying information originally "reported" by the dictatorship's media outfits.

Case in point: This weekend viewers of CNN (and readers of DailyKos, among others) were told that a bomb exploded at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, killing two worshipers and the bomber. According to whom? Why, Iranian state television, of course! On Sunday, I caught this CNN segment on the alleged bombing, hosted by a rambling, clueless anchoress called Fredricka Whitfield:

"Iran state television reports a bomb exploded at the mausoleum of the Ayatollah Khomeini, then leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution. It says three people died there, including the bomber. That's an increase from the two we reported last hour, so that latest update, three dying including the bomber."

The "latest update" had that Pravda-like detail providing a whiff of authenticity—death told ticking up from previous reports—despite no independent confirmation of the story. It took an Iranian guest, Badi Badiozamani, to challenge the suicide bomber dissidents angle:

WHITFIELD: And here you see throngs of people in the street. There have been at least three deaths, including a bomber outside the mausoleum.

BADIOZAMANI: That's questionable. We will get to that, that bombing thing.

As promised, he came back to the issue:

BADIOZAMANI: And especially about the bombing, the alleged bombing.

WHITFIELD: Yes. You are not sold on that.

BADIOZAMANI: Because we haven't seen a picture yet.

WHITFIELD: That's true.

BADIOZAMANI: Two or three hours ago.

WHITFIELD: Although, the images are being restricted in so many different ways.

BADIOZAMANI: No, no. This was the first, the news, about bombing has been coming from the government sources within Iran. So there is no restriction on them.

Here is CNN's Betty Nguyen, who at least points out that the only source reporting a bombing is Iranian state television:

And that again, state-run television there in Iran reporting that two people have been injured in a bombing at the mausoleum of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the father essentially of the Islamic revolution in 1979. Important information coming in out of state run TV. Again, this is government-backed television, but some of the best reports that we can get right now of what is happening on the ground.

If the regime is offering "some of the best reports we can get right now" of this "important information," perhaps CNN, which has a rather large operating budget, needs to cultivate a few more sources on the ground.

Even Iranian state television's own video, which now claims that three people suffered "minor injuries," can find no damage to the mausoleum, despite their cameraman's best efforts. While CNN is rightfully warning viewers that, with severe restrictions imposed by the government, it is relying on unverified material supplied by citizen journalists, they are nevertheless passing on "important news" ginned up by a regime fighting for survival.

Did a suicide bomber attempt to blow up the mausoleum? Probably not. If a bomb did go off, it's hardly Truther territory to suggest an attempt by Ahmadinejad's forces to delegitimize the opposition. And is Twitter the greatest source of misinformation coming from Tehran? Having sifted through a fair number of Twitter feeds from Iran, my vote still goes to either IRNA or PressTV.

But perhaps the team at the State Department can get to the bottom of this by simply asking their Iranian guests next week, when they all join together, fists unclenched, for a hotdog-scarfing competition.

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  • hmm||

    It's the internet. Beside rule #34 nothing holds more true than the need to filter most of the bullshit you see the same way you would filter the water after month one on a 18th century cruise from England to the New World.

  • the innominate one||

    Did John Stewart fuck your sister and not call her back?

    He didn't make fun of CNN for running unverified material from Twitter et al. about Iran, he pointed out that they had already been running unverified material from various emails, tweets, etc., but claimed that they had not been doing so, that the use of unverifiable digital sources in the current Iran crisis was a new thing for them, necessitated by the Iranian government's policies.

  • Douglas Gray||

    Nothing wrong with reporting unverified material, as long as you state it is unverified. Generally speaking, earthquakes are reported inaccurately, then the USGS gives the correct Richter reading. Nothing wrong with reporting a 5.7 initially that turns out to be a 5.5. Same with Iran.

    The interesting thing about the protests is that it shows the strength and potential of the society, beneath the the current theocratic tyranny. It is hard to imagine such mass protests and participation in any other country in the region.

  • the innominate one||

    Douglas - true enough on both counts.

    My long winded point previously was Stewart's point was CNN claimed not to have relied on unverified reports de rigeur, but they had, and he showed evidence that they had.

  • hmm||

    Who cares what the fuck John Stewart thinks. If I want to laugh I will watch him, maybe. Otherwise his opinion is the same as every other persons.

  • Basquiat||

    We need to go past the "post-redneck" era of Limbaugh... we need real to support freedom for all - including women!

    Sorry - Limnbaugh rednecks!

  • the innominate one||

    hmmm - true, but this wasn't Stewart's opinion, you realize, but evidence from CNN's own tapes contradicting their claims.

  • db||

    Nothing wrong with reporting a 5.7 initially that turns out to be a 5.5. Same with Iran.



    Yeah, what's a factor of 100 one way or the other?

    (Your point is taken, but perhaps you could have used an example that didn't use a number two orders of magnitude different than reality.)

  • Colin||

    I wonder if they'll get Brent Scowcroft to toast the Iranians at the hotdog photop?

  • Stephen Smith||

  • underzog||

    Jon Leibowitz is an idiot and a jerk.

    He's not funny either.

    Go Michael Moynihan!

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here!"

    The Jewish Defense League Marching Song

  • ||

    Pretty much off topic, but Iran-related so I'm just going to shoot:

    1) I've watched a bunch of videos, and the Basij and cops seem to be the only ones with batons to beat protesters. The protesters have a lot of rocks, but why don't they walk around with steel pipes and beat the piss out of the Basij?

    2) Do both sides have to stop 5x a day to pray?

  • ||

    Say, I don't think Nirvana was anything special, and that has nothing to do with the popularity of the band.

  • LarryA||

    Rule of thumb: If it's a government report, video favorable to the government won't be withheld. If they're reporting a bombing in the middle of a city there should be pictures of a hole within a half-hour.

  • the innominate one||

    What's underzog's deal? Or is this another case where ignorance is bliss, like edweirdo et al.?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    tio - either an earnest and unbalanced social pariah, or a poorly-done, should-have-been-banned-a-long-time-ago spoof.

    Either way, I don't get why reason keeps blogwhores like LW and UZ around.

  • ||

    underschmuck is a rabidly pro-Israel maniac, tio. I don't think he's a spoof. But man, he sure is entertaining.

  • Elemenope||

    Who cares what the fuck Jon Stewart thinks. If I want to laugh I will watch him, maybe. Otherwise his opinion is the same as every other person's.

    The democracy of opinion is crap, crap, utter crap. Some people hit and miss, while others just miss. I would put Jon (and Colbert, O'Rourke, Carlin, and many others) in the former category. It's hard to take a comment like "every opinion has the same value" seriously in a world that has given us both Sean Hannity and Edward R. Murrow.

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  • Art-P.O.G.||

    It's hard to take a comment like "every opinion has the same value" seriously

    The opinion you quote (not your opinion) contradicts itself very nicely by being worthless.

  • ed||

    a rambling, clueless anchoress

    "Rambling" and "clueless" are keywords on their resumes. All that matters is that they look good before a camera. They should be forced to read their own transcripts. One wonders if their superiors are equally clueless. How else to explain this shocking absence of analytical skills?

  • ||

    db | June 22, 2009, 10:03pm | #

    Nothing wrong with reporting a 5.7 initially that turns out to be a 5.5. Same with Iran.
    Yeah, what's a factor of 100 one way or the other?

    (Your point is taken, but perhaps you could have used an example that didn't use a number two orders of magnitude different than reality.)


    two orders of magnitude on the richter scale would be a difference of 2 whole numbers, not 2/10ths of one number - your understanding of the Richter scale is off by one order of magnitude.

  • Rich||

    Remember "trust but verify"? Hee-hee. However, as LarryA pointed out, ways do exist to help interpret the kaleidoscope, the offspring of Wag the Dog and the Blair Witch Project. Unfortunately, many people can't handle Logic 101, much less non-monotonic reasoning.

  • Billy!||

    I hated Nirvana because they sucked. Popularity had nothing to do with it.

  • ||

    I hated Nirvana because they sucked. Popularity had nothing to do with it.


    That's what they all say (seriously).

    But while critics wring their hands about dodgy rumors spreading via social networking sites-which are usually identified as dodgy rumors by those pass them on-few people have engaged in meaningful debate about those relaying information originally "reported" by the dictatorship's media outfits.

    Ha, nice. But remember, Twitter and Facebook are icky; young people these days are stupid; and who cares what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast, anyway?

    It's time to step out of the twentieth-century echo chamber, people. There's a whole new world stemming up at the grass-roots level. You can either be a part of it, or you can be forgotten.

  • Brett Stevens||

    The West loves to agitate for someone else's downfall.

    It's like we know our current type of society is doomed, and so want others to join in so they go out with us.

    That way, we don't "lose."

  • ed||

    You can either be a part of it, or you can be forgotten

    But the internet makes us immortal!

  • ||

    The West loves to agitate for someone else's downfall.

    huh? unlike the east which was praying GWB would make it through his trials and tribulations?

    The west is not usually happy when their friends go down, however they can be unreasonably optimistic when their enemies are in trouble. Just because one awful ruler fell doesn't mean he won't be replaced by an even awfuler ruler.

  • Paul||

    May I remind everyone that the Iranian State News Services were put into place by steely-eyed student revolutionaries who tore down the Western Puppet regime of the Shah in 1979? If university students are behind a political revolution, it must be good and righteous. 'Cause the young folks a'carryin' signs always push for greater freedom.

  • ||

    Could someone please gently remind the Obama administration to use all-beef hot dogs at the embassy hot dog eating get-togethers with the Iranians?

  • the innominate one||

    ...and who cares what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast, anyway?

    Demi Moore, right?

  • SocraticGadfly||

    It's not just "heterodox" or "orthodox" Americans. As noted here, the very arguable dean of Middle East reporting, Robert Fisk, says Tehran's been heavily laden with rumors, Twitter-borne or otherwise.

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