Cia tried to use press for 1953 coup
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The New York Times
C.I.A. Tried, With Little Success, to Use U.S. Press in Coup
New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Apr 16, 2000. pg. 1.14
Central Intelligence Agency officials plotting the 1953 coup in Iran hoped to plant articles in American newspapers saying Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi's return resulted from a homegrown revolt against a Communist-leaning government, internal agency documents show.
Those hopes were largely disappointed. The C.I.A.'s history of the coup says that its operatives had only limited success in manipulating American reporters and that none of the Americans covering the coup worked for the agency.
An analysis of the press coverage shows that American journalists filed straightforward, factual dispatches that prominently mentioned the role of Iran's Communists in street violence leading up to the coup. Western correspondents in Iran and Washington never reported that some of the unrest had been stage-managed by C.I.A. agents posing as Communists. And they gave little emphasis to accurate contemporaneous reports in Iranian newspapers and on the Moscow radio asserting that Western powers were secretly arranging the shah's return to power.
It was just eight years after the end of World War II, which left American journalists with a sense of national interest framed by six years of confrontation between the Allies and the Axis. The front pages of Western newspapers were dominated by articles about the new global confrontation with the Soviet Union, about Moscow's prowess in developing nuclear weapons and about Congressional allegations of ''Red'' influence in Washington.
In one instance, the history says, a C.I.A. officer who had been a reporter was apparently able to use his old contacts at The Associated Press to put on the news wire an article from Tehran about royal decrees that the C.I.A. itself had written. But mostly, the agency relied on less direct means to exploit the American media.
The Iran desk of the State Department, the document says, was able to place a C.I.A. study in Newsweek, ''using the normal channel of desk officer to journalist.'' The article was one of several planted press reports that, when reprinted in Tehran, fed the ''war of nerves'' against Iran's prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh.
The history says the Iran operation exposed the agency's shortcomings in manipulating the American press. The C.I.A. ''lacked contacts capable of placing material so that the American publisher was unwitting as to its source.''
The history discloses that a C.I.A. officer, working under cover as the embassy's press officer, drove two American reporters to a house outside Tehran where they were shown the shah's decrees dismissing the prime minister.
Kennett Love, the New York Times reporter in Tehran during the coup, wrote about the royal decrees in the newspaper the next day, without mentioning how he had seen them. In an interview, he said he had agreed to the embassy official's ground rules that he not report the American role in arranging the trip.
Mr. Love said he did not know at the time that the official worked for the C.I.A.
After the coup succeeded, Mr. Love did in one article briefly refer to Iranian press reports of American involvement, and The New York Times also published an article from Moscow reporting Soviet charges that the United States was behind the coup. But neither The Times nor other American news organizations appear to have examined such charges seriously.
In a 1960 paper he wrote while studying at Princeton University, Mr. Love explained that he ''was responsible, in an impromptu sort of way, for speeding the final victory of the royalists.''
Seeing a half-dozen tanks parked in front of Tehran's radio station, he said, ''I told the tank commanders that a lot of people were getting killed trying to storm Dr. Mossadegh's house and that they would be of some use instead of sitting idle at the radio station.'' He added, ''They took their machines in a body to Kokh Avenue and put the three tanks at Dr. Mossadegh's house out of action.''
Mr. Love, who left The New York Times in 1962, said in an interview that he had urged the tanks into action ''because I wanted to stop the bloodshed.''
Months afterward, Mr. Love says, he was told by Robert C. Doty, then Cairo bureau chief and his boss, of evidence of American involvement in the coup.
But Mr. Doty, who died in 1974, did not write about the matter, and by the summer of 1954, Mr. Love decided to tell the New York office what he knew. In a July 26, 1954, letter to Emanuel R. Freedman, then the foreign editor, Mr. Love wrote, ''The only instance since I joined The Times in which I have allowed policy to influence a strict news approach was in failing to report the role our own agents played in the overthrow of Mossadegh.''
Mr. Love said he had hoped that the foreign editor would order him to pursue the subject. But he never received any response, he said.
''I wanted to let Freedman know that I knew there had been U.S. involvement in the coup, but that I hadn't written about it,'' he said. ''I expected him to say, 'Jump on that story.' But there was no response.'' Mr. Freedman died in 1971.
Copyright New York Times Company Apr 16, 2000