A Sliver of Truth: The Curious Case of Mother Jones’s Shane Bauer

Did award-winning journalist fabricate parts of his memoir? Asking for a friend.


“Most of the answers to your questions are in that book.”

Shane Bauer – from an email sent to the author on January 26, 2019

Every profession seems to have a few key gatekeeper who draw the limits of respectable opinion and directs his or her minions to attack “the enemy.” Prize-winning reporter Shane Bauer of Mother Jones, known for his attack on “Assadists,” “Tankies,” “Stalinists,” and , “red-brown” fascists collaborators is one such gatekeeper. (Note: Mother Jones was a finalist in our 2017 Hack List competition.)

Bauer gained notoriety in 2009 for being one of three hikers imprisoned in Iran. Sliver of Light, his thinly-sourced memoir written with Sarah Shourd, now his wife, and college buddy Josh Fattal, tells the dramatic tale of of their capture, imprisonment and release in Iran after crossing into that country from Kurdistan.

The memoir starts on the third day of a three-day vacation. Having crossed the Turkish border, the trio found themselves at a hotel in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq named the Nirwan. Was the owner’s name Mudhafer Mohammed, as CNN claimed, or was it Muzafad Mohammed Zeli, as reported by Joshua Hammer? Did Mohammed advise the party to go to the Ahmed Awa waterfall “many times,” as reported by CNN? Did he speak to the travelers about a mysterious fourth hiker, Shon Meckfessel, as has been alleged? You won’t find out in the book.

Screen Shot from Google Maps.

It takes about two hours to reach the Iranian border from the Ahmed Awa waterfall where the hikers spent the night. Bauer claims in the book that he and his companions woke up at 4 a.m. to start hiking and had a picnic and a nap before they were apprehended. Meckfessel, the fourth hiker, claimed he received a call from Bauer at 1:13 p.m. If one assumes they spent two hours picnicking and napping, two hours to reach the border and one hour for the arrest, that still leaves four hours unaccounted for in the book.

Consider that during the Iraq-Iran War the Zargos Mountains had been seeded with active land mines, that it is a well known smuggling area for Kurdish kolbars and that it had recently been the site of battles between Iranian forces and the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), which had been recently added to the U.S. terrorist list under questionable circumstances.

Why would a struggling hotel owner or tea vendor knowingly send American hikers to their doom and why is there no mention of any of this in the book?

Did the hikers even know what direction the waterfall was in? Meckfessel claimed they thought it was to the northwest. They had, it’s alleged, loaned out their Middle East Lonely Planet guide and had to resort to a “poorly detailed map printed from the Web.”

Meckfessel said they left at about 6:30 p.m. Surely they would’ve seen the setting sun and known in which direction they were heading? Why the trio stashed the map only a few hundred yards from the border isn’t clarified in the book, In fact, it’s impossible to confirm if they even had one.

“The lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran.”

2010 Wikileak-ed document

“Those claims are illogical and unsubstantiated,” Shourd, who was released on a $500,000 bail, denied these claims in an interview with the New York Times, saying it was ridiculous to claim that mountain climbers would be agitating along a border.”

In regard to logic and substantiation, Bauer had just written a piece for The Nation titled “Iraq’s New Death Squad,” on U.S.-trained Iraqi Special Operations Forces. He was also working on a piece about Israeli Defense Forces use of American-made high-velocity teargas canisters. Joshua and his brother Alex Fattal had recently been in Stockholm, apparently working on a documentary covering the Iranian expat Green Movement protests over the 2009 elections in Iran, and although it’s not mentioned in his book, it was assumed by Sandy Close of New America Media that Bauer was in Kurdistan covering the parliamentary elections.

The King Hussein Bridge, which crosses the Jordan River into the occupied West Bank, is where Sharmine Narwani claims to have met and talked with Bauer shortly before his arrest. What’s odd is that there’s no mention by Shane in his memoir of ever being in Jordan. The country isn’t even listed by the prosecutor when he read off Shane’s travel destinations from his passport.

When Sharmine posed the question on Twitter back in October of last year, Bauer swiftly questioned whether she was present at the bridge and accused her of being a conspiracy nut. Then he deleted his tweets

Bauer had had many reasons for crossing into the West Bank, but not necessarily from Jordan — although that’s the only way in or out for Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid rule. So why was Shane so upset about Sharmine possibly knowing this detail of his itinerary? Why did he delete his tweets with Sharmine and then call other skeptics of his account “conspiracy theorists”?

Screen shot from Twitter

These are a few of the curious things in the memoir concerning Bauer and his companions’ hike. The most interesting is that in 2003, the future Mother Jones star — along with MSNBC whore David Corn and Kevin Drum, the blandest writer of this or possibly any time — applied for a Boren Scholarship to study Arabic abroad. This scholarship came through the National Security Education Project (NSEP), in conjunction with the CIA and department of Defense, State and Homeland Security — odd bedfellow for a “progressive” journalist.

A minimum requirement for the Boren Scholarship is at least a year’s service to one of the above government departments. When Bauer brought his concerns up with his community college counselor she told him, he writes, “not to sweat it” and that none of her students over the past ten years fulfilled that component of the application.

When I asked a Boren representative about that I was told that 98 percent of its recipients fulfill this requirement and the rest receive deferments. Otherwise, the Treasury Department hunts them down.

Most of my friends thought it was a bad idea [to apply],” Bauer writes. “Now, I think they were right.” He doesn’t confirm or deny that he had fulfilled the Boren requirements in the book, though he does confirm he received the scholarship. Because the scholarship is through the NSEP, federal reporting records are publicly available online, though the names of the recipients are secret.

Screen Shot from National Security Education Annual Report for the years 2003-2004

When the Iranian prosecutor asked if the Pentagon funded the grant and accused him of espionage, Bauer replied: “The State Department.” When the prosecutor asked Bauer if he was sure the funding didn’t come from the Pentagon, he replied, “Uhhh. I don’t think so, I think it was State.”

How many months did this blatant lie cost him and his friends in Iranian prison? Suffice it to say that his book raises far more questions than it answers.

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