Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Khamenei Dead?

What do you get when you mixed an overly repressive regime, people who love a good conspiracy, constrained traditional news media and overeager bloggers? One hell of a rumor.

According to Michael Ledeen, an "excellent" source has informed him that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has fallen into a coma. Suggesting Khamenei's health has deteriorated from the stress of the post-election protests and subsequent political jockeying, the source concludes: "Outlook is uncertain but speculation is [...] he may not come out of his coma and/or that he may die very soon."

And then the blogosphere erupted, with some even suggesting Khamenei has already passed away.

Maybe the rumor's true. Khamenei is 70 years old and has had health difficulties before. Then again, maybe it's not true. I don't know. In fact, the problem is nobody knows.

But there is reason to be skeptical. For one, most of the bloggers spreading this rumor clearly are rooting for it to be true. It's hard to imagine the blogger Anti-Mullah praying for a speedy recovery. Or consider the blogger Dinah Lord who warns at the top of the page "Muslims, Moonbats, Marxists and Misogynists - enter at your own risk." Yet Michael Ledeen is a legitimate scholar, working for a (right-leaning) think tank. That's why he promises to "Trust, but verify" before making any final conclusions.

But the real reason I'm skeptical is the silence of the traditional news media. Admittedly, they have faced extreme difficulty operating in Iran recently - as evidenced by their own reliance on Twitter, Facebook and the like. But given their desire to break news exclusively, it's odd none of them have even mentioned rumors of Khamenei's health. In the past, they have broadcast unconfirmed rumors out of Iran while warning their audience of their inability to confirm or deny. Why aren't they doing so now? Surely, they're reading the same blogs and tweets I am.

In fact, the only other authoritative source I've found so far comes from Ali Alfoneh of the American Enterprise Institute, who doesn't seem so convinced.

So until CNN, Fox News, the NY Times or other think tanks start talking about these rumors, I'm going to treat them as just that: unreliable rumors.

UPDATE: As I was writing this, George Stephanopoulos was apparently doing the same. But he seems as in the dark as the rest of us.

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