The Art of Censorship

Friday, April 10, 2009


This week Iran charged Iranian-American reporter Roxana Saberi with spying for the US. Saberi has been imprisoned for more than two months. OTM producer Nazanin Rafsanjani reports on the implications of Saberi's detainment for diplomatic relations and press freedom.

    Music Playlist
  • Afsaneh
    Artist: Jamshid Sheybani

Comments [18]

Derek Monroe from Illinois

(2013) I think there is an old adage in saying: the truth does hurt. To all the detractors what I wrote about in 2009 happened just as I predicted. Carrying multiple passports and using them in one's convenience while many locally hired staff do not have this "get out of jail card" and often wind up paying the piper while the high flyer star takes off on to another posting is just shameful and in contradiction of any values, journalistic or not. It also reflects multiple ethical flexibility which I think stands in a way to good and honest reporting, not to mention fairness and accountability. I think people need to look at the history of the word "freelance" and what it means. It should not be "the end justifies all means" as it is practiced nowadays and careers based on manipulation and outright lies.

Jun. 15 2013 12:39 PM
Middle Eastern reporter

Reading the comments by "mr. Derek Monroe," I can only conclud that he is another overfed, ignorant, coddled white American who would probably die within 24 hours of leaving the safe amniotic sack of his suburban American life. The fact that he spouts off with such hatred against journalist he doesn't even know, but who are brave and successful, wuld seem to suggest desperate envy. I agree with mr. Goldman: this clown is a classic case of "wannabe" self-loathing. May he enjoy his american coma.

May. 30 2009 03:18 AM
John Morgan from Ohio

You should be ashamed to present only another version of the "analyze what's wrong with Iran" story. I wish we could count on you to give the needed perspective that is missing in the rest of the U.S. media. Put it in perspective--the U.S. has held journalists for years in often brutal conditions without trial. Why not analyze why we do that?

Greenwald did said 5/11 what we need to hear:


May. 13 2009 10:52 AM
working journalist

My thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Saberi and her family. Some of the posters here need to get out of thier mom's basements a little more. They sound like 13-year-olds. The fact that they don't know that most foreign correspondents carry multiple passports as a matter of course, their idiotic statements about loyalties, and their ad-hominem attacks on reporters languishing in prisons only exposes their own immaturity and cluelessness. I doubt that any of these fantasists has made a real acquiantance with a deadline, much less served time behind bars for their principles. Pretty shameful, vile stuff.

Apr. 30 2009 04:07 AM
Bilal Carter

I believe that she might be right. This is not a direct attack on the journalist or the fact that she is an American also. I think it might in fact be an attack on journalist altogether that is free to pretty much print and produce anything thing that they feel. She is a great target to get her point across through because she is a citizen of both countries and the other government can’t jump in and protect her as easily. She is in a jail because she was doing her job, and that saddens me entirely. The fact that people can’t do their jobs is bad. She knows the trials and risks that are in place when one commits to become a journalist and are embracing them the best way that she knows how. She is making news out of it and is doing her job from behind the bars.

Apr. 27 2009 05:13 AM
derek monroe

For the last. Mr Goldman, "good" journalists are first and foremost employees and they do what they are being told. And they don't go to where the story is, rather more often than not, it's the story that comes to them in form of AP wire or other syndicated message and it goes from there. It's all about money and if the story is expensive to do it's just not going to happen (not to mention possibility of pissing off an advertiser in a process, a big no no). Please grow up and smell the coffee.

Apr. 15 2009 12:41 PM
derek monroe

As for the Ms Saberi, I wish she comes back to her country sound and safe. Just like in Salopek case the manufactured outrage will prevail and issues such as buying alcohol/working without press credentials/permit will be all forgotten and dandy. ( The spying charge is always the lowest common denominator defense of all authoritarian regimes regardless of ideaology so there is no credence here). After she comes back to the US she can count on a book deal, guest pundit spot on FOX, NPR and everyone else who comes up with payola. Then there will be another niche US-Iranian opening for another reporter who will drink the cool aid and get with the program.

PS. According to my info, Ms Saberi drove a hard bargain when negotiating with BBC in Teheran. I'm pretty sure she can fend for herself here too. Evita: "Don't cry for me, Argentina."

PPS. I think the current state of US journalism warrants a screenplay for another "Wag the dog" comedy about the trade. If you have your personal story that relate to that feel free to drop me the line at

Apr. 15 2009 12:26 PM
derek monroe

Well, Mr Goldman must be a psycho-analyst in his free as he diagnosed my "self-esteem issues". I'm doing quite ok, thank you very much. After seeing some of our embedded journalistic establishment in action I have the opinion made of experience and not prejudice. Mr Salopek is a calculated and arrogant coward, that is smart enough to know that political dynamics are in favor of reporters from big name outlets when dealing with/reporting on foreign state actors. When I compare that caliber of character with truly heroic sacrifice by many Russian journalists or others who pay for their written words in blood then Mr Goldman's argument is really thin. Another issue which I find extremely interesting in the US journalism is the rhetoric and framework of reporting. It's done in the mode of manufacturing the message that is pallatable and digestible to American audience/corporate sponsors. In that mode we have reporting from Iraq about Iraqis without Iraqis, reporting from Afghanistan about Afghanis without Afghanis and recently from Iran about Iranians without Iranians (sorry, the US-born,bred and educated diaspora does not count). It's not for the lack of talent or lack of perfect skill set. It's simply the idea whether that person can be trusted and get with the program. That is why the local minders were used in Iraq as reporters when the things got too hot for "expatriates" to work. But once again , things are back to normal so you can hear your familiar voice, again (it doesn't matter if the person has no experience in culture, language, history etc.) That's what interpreters are for. It's an issue that comes across all of US media , corporate and NPR without any exeptions. I suggest for people who want to get real news to read up on: Die Zeit, La Republica, FT, Guardian, Spiegel, Trybuna etc.

Apr. 15 2009 11:55 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Sarah Dee, I'm guessing that it was "Afsaneh" by Jamshid Sheybani, as written above. I find Iranian music generally very beautiful and haunting, as befits that long-tortured land.

Apr. 14 2009 09:00 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I am reminded of that cousin who, according to him, when he enterd Iran had to take a boat twelve miles out to crack a safe and drink a beer and, when he left, could drink anywhere he chose but he was dodging bullets while doing so.

Mr. Monroe, you posit the argument that you were naive and to call Ms. Rafsanjani's probably wise choice cowardice is malicious. Perhaps she will risk her life on another story where the cards aren't so freshly and visibly stacked against her. Who is to judge?

Mr. Nunez-Penaloza, congratulations! For practically my entire life my Mom's best friend was a Ruth and I never questioned the meaning of the name, despite famiarity with a derivative one which, in this context, seems so an appropriate a description of yourself, though not in the usual sense of it; ruthless. When the "dean" of ABC News can't even properly read a teleprompter, or correct himself when he misreads it, is it any surprise so many young journalists chase Pulitzer's with no idea of the potential costs?

Mr. Monroe wasn't wrong to bemoan careerists in the trade, even if I don't see Ms. Rafsanjani as one of them.

Apr. 14 2009 08:56 PM

Huh? So what if she is a spy? Don't understand the story.

She is brave though, braver than any other Iranian passport holders I have heard of.

Apr. 14 2009 07:13 PM
Francisco Goldman

Wow. A few commenters, such as Derek above, have some serious self-esteem issues. Saberi knew the risks, and paltry monetary and prestige rewards for stringing in a hostile country, yet remained there; clearly she was wedded to the story. Likewise. Salopek didn't leave his two 'native' co-workers behind. (The phrase itself reeks of the poster's racism.) He refused to be rescued without them, and indeed helped one get asylum in the U.S. Good journalists go where the story is--as opposed to sitting back in the safety of another hemisphere and venting their envious bile online. Get a therapist guys--and a real life.

Apr. 14 2009 06:39 PM
Daniel Nunez-Penaloza from Boston, MA

I lament the imprisonment of Ms Saberi, no one should be arrested for enjoying an alcoholic libation.

The OH-so-much tauted Freedom of Speech angle, is another story. That was plain, unabridged arrogance and stupidity on her behalf to go into enemy territory.

She was very aware she was Persona Non Grata in Iran - hence, after losing her journalistic credentials there, did she think that repressive gorvernment is made up of foolish people? Did she for one minute think because she is a journalist, she is of a special cast, so she would not be spied on, in hopes she would foul up in some manner?

As with Daniel Pearl, a jewish man playing Super Hero reporter amongst the most unforgiving of savages, I cannot feel ruth for Ms Saberi. The Old Country ain't what it used to be, my dear - was it ever a fair place?

For all you young budding reporters, some advice: stop dreaming of Pulitzers for putting your neck on the line. You are not bullet-proof because your lambskin says you are a journalist. Stop tempting the magalomaniacs of the world with heroics - check to see if your race, religion, gender and nationality will get you in trouble, before you take a foreign assignment. Every time one of you thoughtless historians is trapped and worse, more doors close as a consequence, and the world loses a chance to know what is going on.

Apr. 14 2009 06:19 PM

But what if Iran's accusations are true? Countries don't like to be spied upon. And what is spying? Not sure what the story is here (besides that).

Apr. 14 2009 04:04 PM

Go to Tehran and compete for a Pulitzer. Or stay in the comfortable cocoon of NYC and compete for a shout-out link to the e-newsletter of the Columbia University Journalism School.

No wonder professional journalism is dead.

Apr. 14 2009 01:50 PM
Sarah Dee from NH

Can anyone tell me the name of the song played at the end of this piece? Thank you.

Apr. 13 2009 02:21 PM
derek monroe from round lake , il

I wish Ms Saberi quick return to the US where she can pursue her career in more friendly environ. Here are some facts:, Ms Saberi was arrested when purchasing a bottle of wine, itself a violation of law in Iran. Second, Ms Saberi also reported for Fox News which I find very strange for a journalist that is supposed to objective and fair. Why are these facts not mentioned in the US media and NPR is beyond me. Any ideas anyone? I have met some very courageous citizen journalists from Iran (both from there and exiled) and I have nothing but a great admiration of what they are trying to accomplish and hardships they go through to get their stories out. Ms Rafsanjani for her own protection could renounce her Iranian citizenship and then if she gets in trouble she can be serviced by US interest section of Swiss Embassy in Teheran. Second, if Ms Rafsanjani is/wants to be a journalist, certain risks do come with the job (ie. Russia, Iraq). As it is now , Ms Rajsanjani's position reeks of standard US journalistic and careerist opportunism devoid of idealism and sense of mission. This issue reminds me of the story of another coward and opportunist, Paul Salopek who went to Darfur with several passports and then got whole international journalistic establishment behind him when he got arrested for breaking Sudanese law (no entry visa). Naturally he got off after big bru-ha-ha and left his two local (native) drivers to fend for themselves. I guess Pulitzer price comes with good story telling and not necessarily the strength of character and integrity. If anyone feels my judgment is harsh I can assure you that once upon a time I risked my life for a story out of conviction or perhaps naivity (Bolivia) and lived to tell the tale. One credit can be given to Ms Rafsanjani that she at least comes out and tells it straight without normally associated mumbo jumbo of hypocrisy and grand standing. Cowardice acknowledged is better than cowardice denied.

Apr. 12 2009 06:57 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

It was wonderful to hear from Ms. Rafsanjani and I can empathize with her decision entirely. Look at poor Bob Woodruff. He had a brilliant career ahead of him but for covering what I am tempted to call the Middle East, since the tensions between the Muslim East and Jewish and Christian West has spilled into that region from it.

When I hear of the prison that Ms. Saberi is held in, I cannot forget the echoes that eminate from the time of the Shah's Savak (Abu Graib, under Saddam also comes to mind) nor forgive, really, my late cousin for bringing my aunt and uncle to that regime's royal table, though I love him still.

No one should end in that prison for her work.

Apr. 12 2009 04:39 AM

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