LAT, HuffPo, The Lede, et al, Issue Propaganda on Iran Election

by Jul 5, 2009Foreign Policy0 comments

A new claim on Iran’s elections is making the rounds. The latest is that photos taken during the partial recount the Guardian Council agreed to perform in response to charges of fraud show evidence that the ballots themselves are fraudulent. The New York Times blog The Lede observes: There’s growing commentary and criticism of photographs […]

A new claim on Iran’s elections is making the rounds. The latest is that photos taken during the partial recount the Guardian Council agreed to perform in response to charges of fraud show evidence that the ballots themselves are fraudulent.

The New York Times blog The Lede observes:

There’s growing commentary and criticism of photographs released by Iranian authorities of ballots included in the Guardian Council’s recount on Monday. The Huffington Post and Roozonline, and online news daily, are among the many observes, including opposition candidate Mohsen Rezai, highlighting two points:

Photographs from Election Day do seem to bear out that Iranian voters–and candidates–had to fold their ballots to fit them into ballot boxes.

1. The name Ahmadinejad appears to have been written on many of the ballots in exactly the same handwriting.

2. The ballots don’t appear to have been folded.trans

Here is a photo of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad casting his ballot:

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While clearly people didn’t “have to” fold their ballot to put them in the box slots, Ahmadinejad certainly did. It’s certainly possible many others did, also.

Here is a photo posted on The Lede purportedly showing evidence of fraud. The caption is The Lede’s:

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Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post shows the same image, only with three of the names boxed in red, along with two other photos:

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Pitney links to the Islamic Republic News Agency website where these images originally came from. He quotes “A reader” who wrote in:

These pictures show two things very clearly: 1) that a whole lot of the ballots that are being recounted are fresh, crisp, unfolded sheets – which makes no sense, given that people typically had to fold these sheets before they can slip them into the ballot boxes, and 2) that the handwriting on so many of the sheets which are votes for ‘Ahmadinejad’ are the same handwriting (and very clearly so).

Take the first claim, that the ballots are unfolded. The implication is that the Guardian Council  simply fabricated these ballots for the purpose of the recount. The election was only three weeks ago. There would be no reason for the paper not to be “fresh” and “crisp” after three weeks of sitting in a box. But the ballots do appear to be unfolded. But as we’ve also seen, the slot in the ballot box is perfectly big enough to accommodate an unfolded ballot. It could equally well be that these ballots simply were not folded by the individuals who cast them.

In the second image, again, it appears there are no folds in the ballots. It’s possible it’s just difficult to see because of the ribbon tied around the center of each, which would likely be where the fold is if people folded their ballot in half. If there indeed are no folds, it may just be people didn’t fold them. They didn’t “have to” as claimed by The Lede and Pitney’s anonymous writer.

But look again at the third photo, which both say show unfolded ballots. The first thing to observe is that these ballots are rolled up. So even if they were folded, it would be difficult to see the folds. The second thing to observe is that some of the ballots clearly were folded. Look more closely at the ballots that are not rolled up in the upper right of the photo. You can clearly see creases where the ballots had previously been folded (I can box things in red, too).

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And there’s another thing. Here are some other images from the same source, IRNA, from the same page as the other photos. What do you notice in each of the photos?

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That’s right, each of these images shows ballots that are or have been folded.

It’s interesting that neither Nico Pitney nor Rogene Fisher found these images worthy of posting, instead choosing only images where ballots appear to be unfolded. Scratch that, even in the photo used by both to show alleged unfolded ballots, you can see folded ballots. For others, the crease lines may have disappeared after having been rolled up in bunches. People may have folded their ballots, but not tightly creased the fold. They may not have folded their ballots at all. This is pretty weak evidence of fraud, and that’s an understatement.

Notice again that Pitney’s third image has names squared in red boxes. Pitney did not download the photo from the IRNA website and add those himself, but simply took the image from another site. The original source for the images appears to be Gooya, a Farsi news site found online at

The advertisements on Gooya are interesting. There’s ads for, Voice of America Persian News Network and Radio Farda, and BBC Persian, among others. How interesting.

This is incidentally not the first time I’ve come across this site after having traced the source of other images and claims. A post of Andrew Sullivan’s at his blog, The Daily Dish at the Atlantic had led me there previously. It’s a propaganda site.

Now take the second claim, that the name of “Ahmadinejad” on the ballots are “clearly” written in the same handwriting.  Well, the handwriting on the ballot in the lower right  clearly is not the same handwriting. The name on the ballot in the upper left is small and at the edge of the camera’s depth of field, so is also slightly blurry.  There’s no way that name is “clearly” the same handwriting. Here are the  other two names rotated to match and blown up:

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Are these “clearly” the same handwriting? Photo 2 I don’t even need to comment on. It simply doesn’t show names that are “clearly” written by the same hand. So take photo 3. Again, the names rotated to match and enlarged:

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I’m neither able to read Farsi nor a handwriting expert. But if I had to venture a guess here, I’d say these three names were penned by the hand of three different individuals. While one could argue that the final letters are very similar, but look at the first part of the name, written from right to left. There’s no similarity between the handwriting at all.

The Lede mentioned, which similarly claims:

These photos show a stack of new and “unfolded” ballot slips some of which bear the name of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad written with the same handwriting.”

Shahram Rafizadeh at is apparently the source for Fisher’s comment about Mohsen Rezai making this claim, too. Rafizadeh writes:

Earlier, Omidvar Rezaei, a member of Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, and the brother of another defeated candidate Mohsen Rezaei revealed for the first time in a press conference that a close look at some of the ballot boxes showed that “70 to 80 percent of the cast votes had used the same pen to write the name of the candidate of choice and in addition displayed the same handwriting in different ballot boxes.”

These remarks were “confirmed” by the photos from IRNA, Rafizadeh asserts.

It’s not just the blogosphere. This dubious claim has made it into the mainstream, with flair. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Official photographs of the recount showed thousands of unfolded ballots, even though voters were required to fold their ballots before dropping them into boxes. At least some of the votes for Ahmadinejad appear to have been written in the same handwriting and same pen, according to the official photographs.

The purpose of this new propaganda claim, of course, is to “prove” that the election was fraudulent and that Ahmadinejad is not the legitimate President of Iran. That some are resorting to passing on such crude propaganda as evidence for this is perhaps indicative of how solidly founded the claim is.

This is not to say for certainty that there was no fraud. There very well may have been. But the evidence provided thus far for it has been far from conclusive.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

My writings empower readers with the knowledge they need to see through state propaganda intended to manufacture their consent for criminal government policies.

By recognizing when we are being lied to and why, we can fight effectively for liberty, peace, and justice, in order to create a better world for ourselves, our children, and future generations of humanity.

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