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Activist Group Accuses New York Times Reporter of Pro-Iran Bent

Farnaz Fassihi publishes 'inaccuracies, falsehoods' that empower Iran, according to National Union for Democracy in Iran

The New York Times building on 8th Avenue / Getty Images
• September 14, 2021 5:00 am

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An Iranian-American group composed of activists who oppose the hardline regime is hammering the New York Times‘s top Iran reporter, accusing her of "unprofessional conduct and inaccurate reporting."

The National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI) lodged a formal complaint with the Times late last week that says reporter Farnaz Fassihi routinely publishes "inaccuracies, falsehoods, and denials of basic truths" that empower Iran's anti-U.S. leaders.

The letter, sent to Times executive editor Dean Baquet and the paper's editorial board, comes on the heels of an open letter issued last week by Iranian journalists, dissidents, and victims of the regime's crimes leveling similar charges against Fassihi. "Farnaz Fassihi's professional infractions … include normalizing the Islamic Republic's brutality through the obfuscation of truth in her journalism over the course of several years," the group of Iranians wrote alongside a detailed list of reports they claim are factually inaccurate and slanted in favor of the Iranian regime.

"Farnaz Fassihi is an accomplished reporter who has covered Iran for several decades," a Times spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon. "We are confident in the accuracy of her reporting for the New York Times."

Fassihi says she has been subjected to misogynistic vitriol online in the past several months, leading the Times to issue a blanket condemnation and defense of the reporter's work in early August. NUFDI, in its letter, condemned vitriolic attacks, but said it has substantial concerns with Fassihi's work.

The group points to Fassihi's reporting on the assassination last year of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. In one piece from January 2020, for instance, Fassihi claimed that Soleimani "had near cult figure status" and was "almost universally admired" by Iranians. The report quotes several individuals who bolster this characterization.

Fassihi's "commentary was so positive that the Islamic Republic's state propaganda services repeatedly cited Ms. Fassihi's writings as global recognition of Mr. Soleimani’s popularity," NUFDI writes. "The selection of these particular quotes, which all endorse a single viewpoint, ignore any and all opponents of Mr. Soleimani and those who supported his elimination."

NUFDI also says the reporter "has yet to provide any evidence to back her claim that the majority of the Iranian people consider Soleimani a ‘national hero.'" Fassihi's report also fails to acknowledge that many Iranians risked imprisonment and torture to celebrate Soleimani's demise by a U.S. drone strike authorized by former president Donald Trump, according to the group. NUFDI raises additional concerns with Fassihi's failure to quote anti-regime dissidents and opposition activists who are working to topple the hardline regime.

Fassihi's "claims of Mr. Soleimani's status as a national symbol or cult-like figure are totally unsupported by data from reputable sources," NUFDI wrote. "Statistics available from non-governmental sources indicate Mr. Soleimani was indeed among the least popular political figures in the country. Ms. Fassihi (and co-authors) made the same, unfounded claim about Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the assassinated nuclear scientist, referring to him as the ‘man considered a national hero.' No references or sources were cited to back up the claim."

NUFDI also highlights inaccuracies in Fassihi's reporting about Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752, which Iran shot down last year, killing 176 people aboard the flight. Family members of the victims of this flight signed onto the open letter issued last week about Fassihi's work.

Fassihi's January 2020 account of the incident indicates the strike was a mistake carried out by a low-level Iranian military officer. NUFDI says the report "effectively exonerates [Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani and the IRGC," Iran's paramilitary fighting force. The reporter's narrative, the group says, "is similar to the official position of the regime."

A United Nations investigation into the incident accused Iran of covering up the airstrike and failing to answer questions about how a low-level military official could have authorized two back-to-back attacks on a civilian airliner.

"Ms. Fassihi's account of the regime's massacre of the 176 passengers and crew aboard PS752 is shockingly out of touch with the reality reported by independent experts and the United Nations," NUFDI writes. "This is likely because her account is based solely on senior, unnamed sources within the regime's security apparatus and government officials. As the families of the PS752 massacre indicated in their letter to you yesterday, you have long expressed a ‘distaste' for such anonymous sources. Yet in this critical ‘investigation' into one of the most brazen aviation massacres in recent memory, your reporter based her ‘reporting' solely on such anonymous sources."

Published under: Iran, New York Times