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Argo, Tehran in 1980, and My Dad

I was a teenager, a junior in high school, when Iran revolution happened and the US Embassy was stormed and the hostages taken. Seeing “Argo” a month ago brought back some potent, powerful memories of that time. Foremost among them: that two months after the “Canadian Caper” depicted in Argo, my Dad, a DC-based journalist, flew off to Tehran to spend two weeks reporting on the Iranian revolution with an Iranian photojournalist, Amir Pishdad. Those two weeks felt like two months to me, my mother and my brother.

After seeing the movie we had a few conversations about his trip, and my dad sent his grandson (Z, the 16-year-old kid who lives in our house) about his experience and I asked him if I could “re-print” one of his emails here:

Thought you might like to hear my opinion on Argo. I thought it was excellent, especially in turning a heavy, scary tragedy into a comedy. That is difficult to do but when it’s successful, which this was, it’s beautiful to see. The two Hollywood wise guy producers, along with Affleck, ought to get Oscars, but Affleck somehow got overlooked, Iunderstand.

The only flaw is the same one I fell victim to in my contemporarneous columns. And that was the failure to keep the story focused on the 52 hostages, which is the real reason we were all there. They were right under everyone’s noses in the American embassy and the setting and timing for this movie was right in that neighborhood (although I hear it was mostly filmed in Ankara.) Yet you count the references to them in the film on one hand. Of course, the drama was about the five American escapees hiding out in the Candian embassy. But there was no public knowledge about them until recently. The hostages were a daily story for 444 days. Since you couldn’t see or talk to them, I glossed over them. Argo back and get the story, Hall.

The other mistake in Argo is more forgivable. The Canadians and Americans had made only weak attempts to try to find friends among the Iranian population. So the bogus film shooting took on an “us vs. them” project fraught with danger. When I was in Tehran at about the same time this intelligence effort was being mounted, Amir Pishdad and I, plus his corps of friendly relatives, had us all over Tehran in open pickup trucks and no efforts at disguise.

I stood out, obviously, but we were never stopped or questioned, except at the airport and passport office. The million-person “Death to Amerika” march — a show for the western cameras — was even more frightening than portrayed in the movie, but we were not ever personally threatened. I always felt in Tehran we were in a fashionable European city, with occasional reminders of its present Islamic domination.

In addition to the email exchanges, my Mom sent along some of the columns my Dad wrote from Tehran for Z to read. I re-read them this morning and they’re examples of journalism at its very best. I remember our televisions filled nightly with scary images of thousands of Iranians protesting, US flags being burned, and other horrors. My Dad’s columns provided much needed context, and a closer, more intimate and more humane portrait of a city and country in turmoil — and a great reminder of why journalistm matters.

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