1953 Radio Drama Portrays Mossadegh as Anti-Communist
“I want a story on Mohammad Mossadegh!” booms the editor of The New York World, Mike Shaughnessy from the major newspaper’s Paris office. His ace foreign correspondent, Brad Douglas, has just learned that he will be flying to Tehran immediately to cover the popular Premier and his National Front backers.
Douglas of the World was a weekly half-hour radio program chronicling the adventures of famed globetrotting reporter Brad Douglas, a fictional character who always managed to find himself in the center of real, developing international events while keeping a close eye on the ladies. The part of Douglas was played by seasoned radio announcer/performer Jack Moyles, also an actor of stage and small screen. The show was produced by the United States Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) for military personnel stationed worldwide.
Douglas of the World aired for 26 weeks in 1953, from March to September, according to the schedule recorded in The Stars and Stripes. Its third episode, airing at 1:00pm on March 21, 1953 (in Europe, at least), was all about Iran, “danger spot of the world”. And surprisingly, its approach was a radical departure from the conventional media treatments at the time.
SynopsisIn "The Terrorists", Douglas is assigned to file a story on what makes the “highly emotional” Iranian Prime Minister tick. He can recite a basic Mossadegh bio at the drop of a hat, but his boss isn't interested in any cookie-cutter write-ups, he wants “real, living characterizations” straight from the people. “Mossadegh fought successfully to get Russian troops out of Iran in ‘46”, recalls Shaughnessy. “Ahhhh, that was courage!”. The story, he conveys to Douglas, has international significance:
In the cab ride to the hotel, Douglas gets his first such opinion of Mossadegh. Even though the oil standoff has affected his income, the driver is in full solidarity with the Premier. Then guns are heard being fired, and Douglas learns it is the police chasing members of the outlawed Tudeh, who had previously attempted to assassinate the Shah. Douglas inquires about their motivation...
Douglas then meets the hotel manager, "Petros", whose Greek-origin name might be a clue to his Western orientation. Enamored with American culture (particularly comic strips like Lil’ Abner), Petros is more cynical about the prospects for an oil settlement. “Mossadegh would rather see the ruin of Iran than give [the oil] to the British”, he tells Douglas, adding that the Russians are smiling and waiting for their chance to pounce on it while “the common people suffer for the pride of a few”.
In the lobby, he meets Nadia Allah, whose brother, Karim, a petroleum engineer at the Abadan refinery, was recently kidnapped by the Communists while rug-shopping at the bazaar. Nadia solicits Douglas’ help in finding him, but while investigating, the two are knocked out and kidnapped themselves. They wake up in the hidden location where Karim was being held. Though he has been out of work since the closing of the AIOC installations, Karim remains a committed supporter of Dr. Mossadegh. He tells them that their Tudeh thug kidnappers intended to force him to write a note stating that he was attacked by National Front members for having once worked for the British.
Douglas wants to expose the plot, but then the evil captor enters, telling them that they will all be killed unless Douglas, whom they have learned is the famous reporter, writes a propaganda dispatch stating that “National Front terrorists” assaulted them. “Oh, you'd like people to believe that Mossadegh hates Americans”, says Douglas. “Exactly”, he replies.
Karim insists that the captors will murder them anyway, but Douglas is resistant. “Mossadegh wishes only a membership in the free world for a free Iran”, Karim says, who would rather die than go along with the Communist's demands.
Douglas winds up writing the dispatch, but uses code-words from Dick Tracy, Superman and Lil’ Abner comics to clue in Petros about their location. In the end, the three manage to fight their way out of being executed, buying enough time for the police to discover them.
Safe at the hotel, Douglas reads the conclusion from the real article he has been writing to the others. Everyone — Petros included — approves...
AnalysisThis lost program is a most peculiar Cold War artifact. On the one hand, it's typical, warmed-over slop from the McCarthy playbook. Hyping the alleged threat, Tudeh agitators are caricatured as ruthless villains working closely with their Soviet masters to prevent Iran from tilting Westward. Reading this setup with the benefit of knowing the historical outcome, one would expect its purpose was to promote the possibility of some intervening American role — even a military one.
Yet the show betrays one of the most stubborn propaganda talking points — the flawed notion that Mossadegh relied on Tudeh support. Here, Mossadegh is presented as the antithesis of the Communists, who are determined to ruin his plans for Iran by pinning their reign of terror on the Nationalists. This would suggest that Mossadegh was a natural U.S. ally, whose government ought to be engaged on friendly terms, not sabotaged.
"The Terrorists" certainly defies expectations. With that title, a plot involving Muslim fanatics like Feda’ian Islam, known for employing assassination as a political weapon, might have seemed more appropriate. Even Mossadegh himself could have been implicated. In 1952, one newspaper argued that Mossadegh’s strength was “based more on terrorism than popular support”, while TIME magazine offered similar insinuations. Anything would have been more predictable than a narrative in which Premier Mossadegh was the pro-Western, implacable, hated foe of the Communists.
This episode of Douglas of the World brings to mind another Douglas — Justice William O. Douglas, who tirelessly worked to spread the message that Mossadegh “offers an alternative to Communist leadership”. They seemed to be making the same case.
Irony spills over in the script (by William Tundberg, who previously wrote Western serials), which has Communist troublemakers deliberately stoking divison, spreading black propaganda, and causing false-flag terrorism in the country. These acts would mirror many of the tactics used by the CIA in the actual run-up to the 1953 coup.
It’s certainly difficult to explain how this improbable radio drama — produced by the U.S. government for a military audience, during the Eisenhower administration, after Operation Ajax was already in motion — came into being. If “propaganda” was what you were expecting, well, perhaps that’s what it was. Pro-Mossadegh propaganda.
Eisenhower’s Diary: U.S. Would Be “Embarrassed” If CIA Role in 1953 Coup Discovered
Pulitzer Winnning Columnist Marquis Childs on Iran, Mossadegh, the Shah (1951-1979)
LIFE Magazine Compares Oil Nationalization To Boston Tea Party — August 11, 1952
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”