Argo, and TIME

TIME had a front row seat to the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

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Ayatollah Khomeini Man of the Year in January 1980.

Ayatollah Khomeini, 1979 TIME Man of the Year

As most folks in America know, the film Argo won the Oscar for Best Picture on Sunday night. Its fictionalized parts have already been widely discussed, and criticized, but TIME has a particular perspective on them, having had a front row seat to many of the events.

Within a month of the hostages being taken in November 1979, inquiring minds in Washington with access to diplomatic staff directories realized there was a discrepancy. The Iranians only had 50 of the 58 embassy employees (two of their captives were not embassy workers but Americans visiting the embassy at a particularly bad time). By December both TIME and Newsweek were contemplating cover stories showing individual photos of all the embassy staff and were asking the State Department about the discrepancy.

After a request from State, TIME decided not to publish the individual photos. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance personally called Newsweek‘s publisher, Katherine Graham, but to no avail: Newsweek published its cover shortly thereafter. It became an open secret in Washington that the Canadians were harboring the six missing Americans.

(PHOTOS: Khomeini’s Long Shadow: 30 Years After the Iran Hostage Crisis)

Meanwhile, TIME’s correspondent in Tehran at the time, Bruce Van Voorst – who had accompanied Ayatollah Khomeini back to Iran from Paris and was at the embassy the day after it fell – had gotten to know Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. “Early on, he told me if you ever get in trouble, call me,” Van Voorst recalls. “He took a real risk and really kept their secret.” Says Van Voorst: “I was really distressed about [the movie’s] failure to give Ken Taylor his due. I got to know Ken during this period. I would see him in his capacity as ambassador and quickly learned how astute and competent he was.”

Van Voorst visited Taylor in the residence at least three times, and Taylor managed to keep the presence of the hostages secret.  “We would exchange tidbits on what we knew – he on the diplomatic situation, while I told him what was going on in the streets where I, wearing my newly purchased Iranian surplus military trousers and jacket, spent much of my time.”

Van Voorst was finally ejected from Iran three days before TIME named Khomeini Man of the Year in January 1980.

MORE: Ben Affleck’s Argo: Can a Fake Movie Save Real Lives?

9 comments
Westend29
Westend29

@TIME It was all Canada's Ideas. Do your homework !.

sapz01
sapz01

@TIME didn't America ask Britain and France first for help? Viva Canada!!!!

Ronnie_Matrix
Ronnie_Matrix

@TIME The CIA fooled Iran and the entire world by pulling off that top secret operation/rescue 'Argo' during the hostage crisis in Iran.

outsider
outsider

Thanks Jay - i appreciate the quote of Van Voorst's statement about Taylor's representation in the movie.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay. Imagine if YOU went back in time and could go to Iran to cover the revolution and hostage crisis. (Of course, every time you go overseas or to a Tea Party rally, we always worry for your safety so we'd have to have send Ana Marie Cox back in the DeLorean also to create Swampland on the primitive internet w/ green text computers like in "WarGames", but I digress.) If the Revolutionary Guards harassed you, you could always claim to be an Aussie, or even better, part of a Canadian film crew. 


But from your recent Iran trip / reports, do you have stories to share about how everyday Iranians feel about us, the revolution, how THAT crisis plays over now, etc. in light of "Argo"? Granted when you were there, that film likely wasn't yet a big deal there, but now maybe you can look back and remember, "Oh, yeah, there was this one guy...." Thanks for your thoughts.