MSNBC Goes to a Suspect Source on Iranian Scientist’s Killing

Various forces have been accused of being behind the January 12 killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi–including the Iranian government, the Iranian opposition, the United States and Israel. To sort through this murky subject, MSNBC (1/12/10) turned to Democratic congressmember Jane Harman, who confidently told Andrea Mitchell:

I think the logic here is that the Iranian government or some group associated with them took this guy out. I mean, it’s a sign of desperation to start killing your own nuclear scientists.

So who is Harman, that we should trust her sense of what the “logic” behind Middle East violence is? A military hawk, she was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee until 2006; when Democrats retook the House, she was not named as the new Intelligence chair, in part because Time magazine (10/20/06) had reported that Harman in 2005 had promised an Israeli agent that she would try to help pro-Israel lobbyists who had been accused of espionage; in return, the lobbyists’ organization, AIPAC, would push Nancy Pelosi, then expected to become House speaker, to make Harman Intelligence chair.

Congressional Quarterly (4/19/09) later advanced the story by reporting that Harman’s promise had been recorded by a Bush administration wiretap, and that the reason Harman was not prosecuted for what would seem to be illegal influence-peddling was that Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, wanted to use Harman to try to stop the New York Times from publishing the story that revealed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. And Harman did, indeed, call the Times to try to get them to kill the piece (Who Runs Gov, 4/21/09).

What was it exactly about this background that suggested to MSNBC that Harman would be a trustworthy source on the question of which player in the Middle East, with Israel among the suspects, might have killed Mohammadi? And what led NBC Nightly News (1/12/10) to take that quote from Harman’s interview and use it as the last word in its January 12 report on the assassination? The answers to those questions may be as hard to discover as the identity of Mohammadi’s killers.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.