The “Yellow Badge” Bamboozler’s History of Bamboozlement

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Turns out that the “yellow badge” fiasco isn’t the first time Amir Taheri has landed himself in a controversy over charges of sloppy reportage. (Put on your oven mitts, this stuff comes pre-heated.)

In the pages of the New Republic noted Iranian scholar Shaul Bakhash reviewed Taheri’s 1989 book, “Nest of Spies: America’s Journey to Disaster in Iran.” He appears to not only have pored over Taheri’s text, but also checked his sourcing. Guess what? He found problems. Oh, did he ever. [You can read the review here.]

Taheri “Repeatedly refers us to books where the information cited does not exist,” Bakhash wrote. He found Taheri “capable of generalizations of breathtaking sweep and inaccuracy.” “His interpretations of the documents are often egregiously inaccurate.” Taheri “has trouble transcribing even the simplest information.”

Now, this wasn’t everyone’s opinion. Christopher Hitchens called the book “finely written and highly intelligent.” The Times of London said it was “well documented and well written.” The Washington Post determined it was a “well-researched book. . . highly readable” and “indispensable.”

But after reading the review by Bakhash — a member of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a professor at George Mason University — it’s hard to understand how Taheri won those plaudits.Here’s a small handful of problems Bakhash found. He included many more in his four-page review, and said later he found many more beyond those:

– Taheri repeatedly quoted text from a book, “Paved with Good Intentions” by Barry Rubin, but failed to credit Rubin. Instead, Bakhash wrote, “they are ascribed by Taheri to his ubiquitous ‘personal’ or ‘private’ sources.”

– As one example of many screwy citations, Bakhash wrote: “[Taheri cites] volume four of a study by Ali Davani, Nehzat-e Ruhaniyyun-e Iran,” as his source for an alleged plot by Khomeni’s followers to assasinate Nixon in 1972. . . But he gets the name of the book wrong; volume four covers only the period up to 1964; and there is nothing in the pages he cites. . . even remotely connected with an assassination plot against Nixon.”

– Taheri “cites an editorial in the newspaper Sobh-e Azadegan regarding the visit to Tehran in 1980 of former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, but no such editorial appears in that issue of that newspaper.”

– Taheri “cites a Los Angeles Times story relating to arms sales to Iran. . . and manages to get wrong both the dates of [a] press conference and the amount in commissions that [one figure] said he was ready to repay.”

– “[Taheri] seems unable to read even himself correctly,” Bakhash wrote. “He asserts that Shapour Bakhtiar, the former Iranian prime minister, intended to set up a provisional government in the southwest Iranian city of Ahwaz. . . In addition to the usual unnamed sources, he cites as evidence. . . an article that appeared in the Sunday Times of London on October 12, 1980. Nowhere does he mention that the article to which her refers was written by him. And nowhere in the article is an intention by Bakhtiar to establish a provisional government mentioned!”

In an angry response to the review, Taheri wrote the New Republic to complain that Bakhash “has regarded me as an enemy for more than 20 years,” and that he had “gone out of his way to attack me through back-biting, rumor-mongering, and gossip.”

I’m still trying to get in touch with Taheri. I reached Bakhash at his home yesterday afternoon; he declined to comment for the record about Taheri, instead referring me to his review.

Late Update: We’ve uploaded Bakhash’s review for you to see here.