This is a guest-post by Dr. Serkan Zorba, a Turkish assistant professor of physics at Whittier College.
The Daily Telegraph foreign editor and correspondent Con Coughlin wrote a piece on September 14, 2010, in the British newspaper alleging that the party of the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdo?an received $25 million from Iran. Coughlin provides no proof to support his claim, simply citing “Western diplomats” as his source, only once quoting an official described as a “senior Western diplomat.”
Furthermore, at the top of the article is a photo of smiling Erdo?an and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shaking hands, with a caption that reads: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shakes hand with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” The picture is undated, with no context given, and appears to imply the photo was taken at the occasion of the alleged $25 million donation.
But a reader doesn’t need to guess about poorly captioned stock photos or worry that Tehran and Ankara might be trying to pull the wool over their eyes. They need only look at Coughlin’s past record.
Coming from a science background, I’m accustomed to meticulous “verification.” While the prevalence of anonymous sourcing makes this difficult in some types of journalism, one expects reporters to clearly demonstrate that a story has multiple reliable sources — not, seemingly, a single official.
And if the U.S. audience is to learn from its mistakes, they should be leery of poorly sourced claims linking supposedly hostile actors into a conspiracy. Part of the justification for the Iraq War, after all, was a result of the Bush administration trumpeting ties between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. Those dubious claims turned out to be based on poor or incomplete intelligence, but that did not stop the press at the time from repeating the bad information they had been given, often by unnamed officials.
In fact, one of the journalists who happened to pass on false claims to his readers during the Iraq war was none other than Con Coughlin of the Daily Telegraph. In that instance, he took the notorious “Habbush letter” and reported its contents — alleging direct links between Saddam, Al Qaeda, and the 9/11 plot — on the front page of the Telegraph. The piece was accompanied the same day by a longer item by Coughlin where he wrote of the letter’s origins:
While it is almost impossible to ascertain whether or not the document is legitimate or a clever fake, Iraqi officials working for the interim government are convinced of its authenticity, even though they decline to reveal where and how they obtained it. “It is not important how we found it,” said a senior Iraqi security official. “The important thing is that we did find it and the information it contains.”
That interim government officials — installed by the U.S. — were passing along the document should have raised some alarms. And while Coughlin acknowledges uncertainty over the letter’s authenticity, he never notes that it was roundly regarded as a forgery.
Indeed, investigative journalist Ron Suskind later reported that the document was certainly a forgery — with its origins in the Pentagon. That such a blatant forgery didn’t challenge Coughlin’s credulity should give readers pause when considering his more recent work.
In his piece on the alleged Iranian donation to Erdo?an’s ruling party (AKP), he concludes by writing (with my emphasis): “Apart from transferring funds to the AKP, diplomats say Iran has also agreed to provide financial support for the IHH, the Turkish Islamic charity IHH which supported last May’s aid flotilla which ended in disaster when it was intercepted by Israeli commandos, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists.”
Coughlin’s disdain for the AKP as well as the IHH have long been on display. In the aftermath of the now-infamous Israeli flotilla debacle, he penned a piece titled “Turkey’s role in the Gaza flotilla affair should worry us all in the West.” The title speaks for itself as to where Coughlin is coming from.
After Erdo?an’s bold and scrupulous stance against recent Israeli wrongs in the region and his “audacity” to come darn close to resolving the Iranian nuclear issue with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, why do I think that Coughlin’s recent work is part of ongoing neocon efforts to discredit Erdo?an in the eyes of the West by trying to organically link him and his party to Iran and other extremist Islamic elements? (See Jim Lobe’ s report on how the neocons have already declared “war” on Erdo?an early in the summer of 2010, following the Gaza flotilla incident.)
Alas, it is to no avail, as Erdo?an and his party are marching forward ever more relentlessly, after winning — yet again — a decisive victory in the recent 12 September 2010 referendum for a more democratic constitution in Turkey, and boasting record economic growth rates among G20 nations, second only to China.
Edited by Ali Gharib