by Arash Norouzi
July 17th, 2007
For close to two years, the media has stubbornly clung to a long discredited story about the Iranian President’s alleged threat to “destroy Israel” with nuclear weapons Iran doesn’t have and denies any intent to acquire. ‘Wiped off the map, wiped off the map,’ they bleat incessantly, even though his actual words, “The Imam [Khomenei] said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” were paralleled with the fall of regimes like the Soviet Union and Iran’s former U.S.-installed monarchy [see: “WIPED OFF THE MAP” — The Rumor of the Century for a thorough disassembly of this claim]. From the start of his Presidency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has rhapsodized regularly about the demise of the ‘Zionist regime’ in various metaphorical terms. He and his associates in the Iranian government have compared its fate to the Pharaohs of Egypt and the former apartheid regime in South Africa (which they also did not recognize), but never have they threatened to start a war with any country.
Yet the rumor persists. Top respected journalists, advocates for peace and dialogue with Iran, and individual Iranians themselves bring up the misquote regularly, as do noted Iranian-American scholars. The media’s constant drumbeat has even duped top world leaders into believing the myth. On October 29, 2005, the false quote was officially condemned by all 15 Security Council members in a United Nations statement, just following Israel’s prior demand that the Security Council expel Iran from the UN due to the remark.
The effect this misquote has had on American policy towards Iran is undeniable. The majority of 2008 Presidential candidates in both parties have repeatedly mentioned the alleged threat in speeches and interviews, obviously influenced by media reports.
And yet suddenly, after all this hoopla, at least two of the biggest media titans, the BBC and the Associated Press, appear to be backing away from the incorrect “wiped off the map” quotation they’ve been drilling into people’s minds for so long. It’s happening quietly and undemonstratively, but some recent subtle changes in their presentation indicate a tacit acknowledgement of their previous misreporting.
The details of how this reversal came to be, their curious handling of the subject in some of their recent news items, and contradictory arguments defending their work, is a story in itself. Let’s begin with the legendary British Broadcasting Company.