Background on Dickey’s “The Blogfather and the Spy”

Christopher Dickey posted an interesting, though somewhat odd, story on Newsweek’s web site yesterday. Odd, because there’s nothing in the story that’s new since he began repsearching the story in late August. My guess is that the story hasn’t run until now because it’s a story that has no real facts. It’s about an absurd, Kafka-esque conspiracy… and I worry that Dickey’s article may not be entirely clear on how absurd the conspiratorial accusations are.

Hossein Derakhshan has been in custody in Iran for over a year – I’ve written about his detention on the blog several times. In August, in the wake of arrests after the Green Revolution, a series of show trials went on in Tehran, where an unnamed “spy” was said to have “confessed” to being involved with a vast, global conspiracy to overthrow the Iranian government. This conspiracy was widely reported in Persian-language media, and the details of the case made it clear to anyone who knew Hossein that he was the “spy” in question.

Friends who follow Persian media closely alerted me to the testimony because I, along with other individuals, were named in the show trial as Hossein’s collaborators. Investigating the story in August, Dickey contacted me to ask about my interpretation of events. I told him that the conspiracy was absurd, that Global Voices and I certainly knew and worked with Hossein, but that we were in no way involved with attempting to overthrow the Iranian government.

Because the story is completely false and because it makes accusations that are blatantly untrue, we decided not to cover the story on Global Voices and introduce the fabrications into the English-language media. Dickey made a different decision and reprints these imaginings – months after they appeared in Persian-language media, along with my denials that I or Global Voices are involved with anything more than promoting blogging around the globe, and then includes this paragraph:

“There are aspects of the testimony that align closely with reality.” Zuckerman continued. “Hossein participated in the first meeting of Global Voices in November 2004, hosted by the Berkman Center.” Just as the prosecutor said he did.

Let me be very clear about what I was saying in that comment. The aspects of the testimony that align with reality aren’t the ones about me – they’re details about Hossein’s travels and meetings. Yes, I’ve met with Hossein half a dozen times since 2004, when he first came to the Berkman Center’s inaugural Global Voices meeting. That’s not because I’m involved in plotting to overthrown the Iranian regime, but because I’m one of the founders of an international blogging network and Hossein’s a key figure in the Iranian blogosphere.

To understand what’s going on in this case, it’s worth listening to Omid Memarian’s recent story on This American Life. Omid was also a pioneering Iranian blogger, and he was detained in 2004. In his TAL story, Omid describes being forced to write his life story dozens of times, while interrogators attempted to fit details from his life into a paranoid narrative about a CIA plot to destabilize the country. Memarian’s description explains precisely how Hossein’s life story – an unusual and complicated one, to say the least – has been reframed into a spy novel-worthy fantasy. The initial Global Voices meeting at Harvard – memorable mostly because Hossein coined the term “bridgeblog” at the conference – turns from an academic conference into a fantasy vision of an initial planning phase for the green revolution.

Let me just be very clear, because Dickey’s story is not:

– Hossein Derakhshan isn’t an Israeli spy. He’s been unfairly detained for over a year and has likely been forced to issue a “confession” that includes real biographical details as well as fabrications.
– The other people and entities that feature in Derakhshan’s forced testimony – myself, the Berkman Center, Global Voices – have no involvement in Iranian political unrest beyond studying it and reporting on it.
– The Iranian government’s characterisation of my background and ties are as absurd and fabricated as any other aspect of this story.

Dickey gets it right in the last paragraph when he says, “Only a regime as introverted, unworldly, and uncertain as Ahmadinejad’s could believe in the conspiracy theory that’s been pumped up in the Iran show trials.” It’s rather unworldly to be somehow blamed (credited?) with masterminding a plot to overthrow the Iranian government. In reality, my involvement goes no further than sharing my concerns about an old friend who’s been unfairly detained by an unjust regime.


An earlier version of this blogpost suggested that Dickey had acted unethically in publishing our Facebook exchange. Dickey forwarded that exchange to me – which I had deleted – and pointed out that I had not explicitly asked him to keep the exchange confidential. While I still would have prefered that Dickey contacting me before quoting what I had perceived as a background exchange, I retract my earlier accusations and offer him my apology on those grounds.

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3 Responses to Background on Dickey’s “The Blogfather and the Spy”

  1. Walton K. Martin III says:

    Dear Mr. Zuckerman,

    For people truly interested in helping Mr. Derakhshan rather than fabricating stories about him and using unethical headlines to gain attention to their writings, as Mr. Dickey of ‘Newsweek’ has done, I will leave here a petition for Hosswin’s release from Evin Prison. Please pass it among his friends and others who respect our 30 ‘Human Rights’under the United Nations codes.

    Free Hoder: In Support of Hossein Derakhshan http://bit.ly/2uzAkK and Petition http://bit.ly/3Pmghn #Iranelection #Iran #amnesty #SOG #hrw

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