In a Twitter battle earlier this week that maybe, though almost certainly not, was of interest to someone other than me and Washington Times reporter Eli Lake, I critiqued the latter — or gave him shit, to use the popular vernacular — for a 2009 piece he wrote suggesting the head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Trita Parsi, was illegally serving as a foreign agent for the regime in Tehran.
If true, the claim would be damning. Neoconservatives have long claimed those who opposed their liberation-by-occupation agenda were in the service of foreign despots and here, finally!, is the proof. So why, I wondered, a year and a half after the exclusive exposé took the right-wing commentariat by storm, had Parsi not been charged? I mean, this is a secret agent for Iran we’re talking about, mingling with lawmakers in the nation’s capital, no less.
Lake’s response to my question, posed to him on Twitter, was to thank me for my “illiteracy,” in his typical smug-when-criticized manner suggesting I just didn’t understand, I just couldn’t grasp, what his story was about. “I reported NIAC violated IRS disclosure laws,” he wrote. And on that charge he claimed validation: In the “latest 501c4 NIAC registered as a lobby.”
Now, Lake’s story did indeed deal with whether NIAC was violating its tax status by engaging Capitol Hill on U.S. policy toward Iran, encouraging diplomatic engagement rather than the military conflict sought by Lake and his fellow Beltway cheerleaders for wars they’ll never personally fight. But the much more salacious claim, the bombshell that led the story to be picked up by everyone from David Frum to Michael Goldfarb, was always that Parsi was in the pay of the mullahs, his puppet masters, in Iran.
Lake eventually conceded that yes, his story did deal with whether Parsi was serving as an unregistered foreign agent. But adopting the pose of Objective Journalist, not an Ideologue, Lake maintained he merely laid out both sides to the story — even as he at the same time suggested I was “embarrassing” myself by daring to disagree with a former FBI official’s assessment, quoted in the story, that Parsi was likely an Iranian mole.
At the risk of embarrassment, I’ll just point out that, if the charge against Parsi were true, we’d probably have seen an indictment by now — unless, that is, the Obama administration and the Department of Justice are also filled with Iranian moles; no doubt the Washington Times is on the story. But even Lake’s lesser charge, the 501whatever allegation, isn’t true.
In an email, David Elliott, NIAC’s assistant policy director, tells me that his organization has not, in fact, changed its tax status. So when Lake reports that in its latest filing “NIAC has registered as a lobby,” he is (and I’ll be charitable) just plain wrong. Again.