Iowa Newspaper Pans Elvis (Can't Sing), Mossadegh (Red Dupe)
Memphis, Tennessee, August 1953: An eighteen year old Elvis Presley records his first ever songs on a double-sided acetate disc for four dollars. While the future King of Rock & Roll’s career was just beginning, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh’s long political career was coming to an abrupt and inglorious end – the result of a bloody, Anglo-American-backed military coup in Tehran.
With a hit debut album and movie, plus several TV appearances with record-viewership in the tens of millions, 1956 would be the year Elvis Presley exploded onto the cultural landscape. It was also the year Mossadegh completed his three year jail term and was returned to Ahmadabad to spend the rest of his days under house arrest. His pursuit of the takeover of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company had overlapped with a similar fight in Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, finalized in July 1956 weeks after Gamal Abdel Nasser assumed the Presidency.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette, an Iowa newspaper established in 1883, didn’t like Nasser, Mossadegh, or Elvis one bit. When a reader corrected a claim that Mossadegh had been killed by mobs in Iran, they conceded the error – but produced new ones in their rebuttal. While they might be excused for not knowing of the CIA role in the coup (even though it had been revealed in a 1954 Saturday Evening Post article), the charge that Mossadegh was “Red-backed” was a contrivance, unsupported by evidence. Nor was his life “spared” by the Shah, since it was unlawful to execute a person of his age.
The Gazette was misguided on more than just the Middle East. Opposite their reply to the letter in "The People’s Forum" was an original editorial about Elvis (seen below). It seems they just couldn’t recognize his talent. “He can’t sing and he can’t strum his guitar with any great musical skill”, they wrote of the young man who would become one of the most iconic and influential vocalists of all time. Mossadegh, in turn, continues to be widely regarded as “a great popular hero” and one of the most significant individuals in the history of Persian civilization. There’s a phrase for this kind of myopia – it’s called being on “the wrong side of history”.
For what it’s worth, The Gazette would sing a different tune nearly 24 years later. In a June 1980 editorial, they endorsed a U.S. investigation into “American interference in Iranian affairs”, a possible criminal trial for the ‘pariah’ Shah in international court, and stated plainly that the CIA role in the 1953 coup was “common knowledge”.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette — September 14, 1956
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