1) Unreflectively narrowing the meaning of vague or ambiguous words. The word "harm" (or, depending on the translation, "blow") in Ahmadinejad's
remarks had no clear, specific referent. But pegging the word to the assassination of Iranian scientists, and pegging its repetition to the murder of Israeli tourists, can happen
pretty automatically if your mind is so inclined.
2) Accepting evidence uncritically. Commentary is the one player in this game of telephone that seems not to have distorted anything.
Still, if Ahmadinejad's remarks, as misleadingly conveyed by Israeli media, hadn't fit so nicely into Commentary's world view, might they have
been treated more skeptically? Certainly, in the case of Commentary--and in the case of all of us--you can imagine a translated quote from a world
leader that would so violate our world view that we'd demand corroboration of the translation before trusting it. But evidence that is welcome gets a pass.
3) Making slight and essentially unconscious fudges. Translation is a complicated thing, and even something as straightforward-sounding as
grammatical tense can be fuzzy. If you go into the process of translation thinking you already know what the speaker was saying, the fuzziness can grow.
Obviously, I don't know exactly what was going on in the heads of the players in this story, and this reconstruction has involved some speculation.
But the main point is that the incendiary reports about Ahmadinejad's remarks in Israeli and American media were very likely wrong, yet it's highly
plausible that at no point did anyone consciously choose to perpetrate distortion. That's the way human psychology is.
I want to emphasize that I think it's entirely possible that Iran is, in fact, behind the Bulgarian bus bombing. And, if so, retaliation for the
assassination of Iranian scientists would indeed be a plausible motivation.
Still, two points are worth making:
First, given the way human psychology works, the thought that Ahmadinejad "gloated publicly... over the deaths of Israelis" may well be more conducive to war than the belief that Iran is responsible for the deaths. And this "gloating," which many Israelis now believe happened, apparently
Second, as we listen to Bibi Netanyahu and others assure us that they have overwhelming evidence of Iranian involvement, it's useful to keep in mind that confirmation bias is at work in politicians and intelligence analysts as well as in the rest of us. If
we learned nothing else from the runup to the Iraq War, we should have learned that.
I'm sure that Colin Powell believed the things he told the UN Security Council about evidence of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass
destruction, and I'm sure George Bush believed them, and I assume the people who briefed Powell and Bush believed them. But they weren't true. And now
100,000 people are dead, and Iraq is still a cauldron of violence.