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The CIA’s Masterful Use of Fake News

The CIA’s Masterful Use of Fake News

Iranian demonstrators burn a representation of a U.S. flag and a caricature of then-President Barack Obama during an annual state-backed rally in front of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on Nov. 2, 2012. That rally commemorates the hostage crisis that began at the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. (Vahid Salemi / AP)

In early 1954, writing in the magazine Encounter, F.R. Allemann slammed the ex-prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, for alleged abuses. In a “Letter from Teheran” titled “Persia: Land of Unrealities,” Allemann referred to Mosaddegh’s aborted term as a “pseudo-revolutionary pseudo-dictatorship” and claimed Mosaddegh could only cram laws through Iran’s Parliament by summoning thugs to street protests—that is, through demagoguery.

Allemann depicted Mosaddegh’s rallies as “terror campaign[s] of the political-religious secret societies” whose vocal support gave only the impression of a genuine mass movement. Lest the London-based magazine’s white, European readership miss these subtle cues to revile the out-of-office politician, Allemann, a Swiss journalist, offered his readers a buffet of Orientalist buzzwords. Rather than a rational leader elected by his people, Mosaddegh instead was a charismatic “dervish,” and “nobody was more inclined toward Munchausen escapades [like those of Mosaddegh’s incumbency] than the Oriental in general and the Persian in particular.”

Decades later, one must ask, where were Encounter’s fact-checkers? Contrary to the article, Mosaddegh was legally elected during a period of robust Iranian democracy, and he was known as a beloved leader and a fiery speaker. His was such an iconic voice for his people that he was voted Time magazine’s Man of the Year after being named prime minister. It was strange that such venom as Allemann’s should describe a popular democrat once praised by President Harry Truman. Was Allemann signaling some conflict between the respective interests of Mosaddegh and Encounter?

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