Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Iran story (again) and the Revolutionary Guards: a matter of documentation and substantiation

This is not about politics: it is about journalism or even basic methods of documentation. I really want to know about the developments in Iran but know that the media are woefully inadequate: Hizbullah media want us to know that all is well in Iran and that the Western conspiracy against Iran will be smashed (and AlManar TV quotes an Iranian chief of police talking about law and order like Richard Nixon in his presidential campaigns). On the other hand, there is silly propaganda in on CNN and the New York Times. I pointed out when there is damaging story about the enemies of Israel, US media are willing to accept rumors, speculation, and fabrication. I mean, Geoffrey Goldberg (one of the least informed writers on the Middle East in the US--and it shows in his every word) is willing to regale you with stories about Hizbullah presence and power in...Latin America purely on the basis of a conversation he had with a bearded man on a bus. But the Zionists learn from the master: Bernard Lewis. I have pointed out that Lewis is thorough in his documentation when writing about history, but when he writes about current affairs he relies on jokes, cab driver conversation, a letter to the editor, and even a conversation he had with an Arab man at a grocery store (these are actual examples: see my review of Lewis' The Middle East and the West in some issue of Journal of Palestine Studies in the 1990s). All this by way of introduction to a piece by Michael Slackman (who is usually reasonable) about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. These are the sources for the information in the article:
1. "Experts say": "It runs laser eye-surgery clinics, manufactures cars, builds roads and bridges, develops gas and oil fields and controls black-market smuggling, experts say."
2."a political scientist who worked in Iran for years, but asked not to be identified to avoid antagonizing the authorities."
3. "Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California, who says he has a network of contacts around the country."
4. "One political analyst said that many of the rank and file were known to have voted for Mohammad Khatami"
5. "The Basiji, who experts say..."
6."The Rand report quoted one member of Iran’s Parliament who estimated that the Revolutionary Guards might do as much as $12 billion in black-market business annually."

And I am not disputing the facts or talking about politics but would this be considered acceptable methods of documentation if the story is about Israel or UK? I kept thinking that if I were to encounter such methods of documentation in an undergraduate paper of one of my students, the student would not receive a passing grade.