The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday rebutted charges of spying against one of its reporters that appeared recently in Iranian media outlets.
The stories called Farnaz Fassihi a secret go-between for the Obama administration when it sought to make contact with the Iranian opposition Green Movement in 2009. The movement rose to prominence and sparked mass demonstrations following Iran's disputed presidential election that year.
The Journal said the allegations "are completely false, outlandish and irresponsible."
"Ms. Fassihi is a highly accomplished, longtime Wall Street Journal senior writer who has reported fairly and accurately from the region for more than a decade," said Gerard Baker, Editor in Chief of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Journal. "Her reporting has been a model of courageous, fair and high-impact journalism. She has repeatedly risked her life and safety from the front lines of wars and uprisings to document the truth, which make these scurrilous allegations all the more galling."
The accounts last week in Iranian media cited a Forbes opinion article from early August that asserted the Obama administration had relied on a "Wall Street" contact of Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) to act as a go-between with the Iranian opposition. The Forbes piece didn't identify the intermediary.
Mr. Schumer's office had no immediate comment.
The author of the Forbes piece, conservative scholar Michael Ledeen, said in an interview that Ms. Fassihi wasn't the go-between, whom he had described in the article as a man, and that the Journal wasn't involved.
"There was no Wall Street Journal connection of any sort, of any kind," said Mr. Ledeen, who is an occasional contributor to the Journal's editorial page.
The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting in Iran has long been a challenge for Western news organizations, given the authoritarian nature of the regime and its competing power centers.
Iran's leadership has been particularly distrustful of outside journalists who, like Ms. Fassihi, are of Iranian descent. In particular, Iranian officials worry that dual nationals can talk to regular Iranians and explain the differences between the people and the regime, said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.
The Iranian government didn't respond to requests for comment to the foreign ministry and the U.N. mission in New York.
Several other journalists of Iranian descent have fled the country or been jailed in recent years after being accused of spying. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian currently is in jail in Tehran awaiting a verdict on charges that included espionage.
"The threat for dual nationals is very enormous" when it comes to covering Iran, said Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist who has written for American publications including Politico and the Daily Beast.
The stories accusing Ms. Fassihi first appeared Aug. 12 in three conservative Iranian newspapers including Kayhan, the hard-line flagship widely viewed as a mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A sidebar accompanying the front-page story called Ms. Fassihi a link between U.S. officials and Iran's "seditious leaders." Kayhan's article said that because of her dual nationality, Ms. Fassihi "could come and go covertly and as an ordinary citizen."
Several conservative outlets followed with stories the next day, including a website linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps. The IRGC article said that Ms. Fassihi "has a long history of anti-Iranian activities and has written over one hundred articles against Iran and our national security in The Wall Street Journal."
It added: "We conclude that The Wall Street Journal has been turned into the headquarters of a soft revolution against our country."
The Journal said that suggestions that the newspaper is part of a conspiracy against Iran are "transparently false." It added: "The Journal is an independent news organization with accurate and timely reporting on critical developments in the region."
Esmail Kousari, a lawmaker and a member of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committees, called on Aug. 13 for the judiciary to open a criminal investigation into the links between Washington and Iran's opposition.
On Saturday the head of the Iranian parliament's national security committee, Alaadin Boroujerdi, said the Ledeen article "was documented proof that this person is a prostitute and only Iranian by name." He said anyone who was involved in this affair must apologize to the people of Iran.
Tehran's prosecutor's office also carried a story about the allegations on its website, and said the Journal was the liaison between the opposition and Washington.
Ms. Fassihi categorically denied the allegations, which she called outrageous.
"I have watched with horror and dismay as these false allegations against me have circulated in Iranian media. I am a journalist. My independence and reputation are sacred to me," she said in a statement.
Ms. Fassihi, 44 years old, joined the Journal in January 2003 as a Middle East correspondent. She was Baghdad bureau chief from 2003-2006, then went to Beirut, where she was deputy bureau chief for Middle East and Africa. From 2009, she was a senior writer based in Beirut. She recently completed a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University and is now based in New York.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran are at a critical juncture. Iran and Western powers, including the U.S., recently sealed a deal aimed at constraining Iran's nuclear program, a move the Obama administration hopes will bring the country back into the international mainstream.
Write to John D. McKinnon at email@example.com
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 19, 2015 12:25 ET (16:25 GMT)
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