Trump uses fake quote to wish Iranians happy new year
The well-wishes for what is also known as the Iranian New Year came a few days late, since the holiday falls on the first day of spring. It is observed by people across the Middle East and Central Asia.
Trump's statement mentions Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, which stretched from the Balkans to South Asia at its peak. His statement said:
Cyrus the Great, a leader of the ancient Persian Empire, famously said that "freedom, dignity and wealth together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die."
The leader of the ancient Persian Empire has often been quoted for saying, "freedom, dignity and wealth together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die," according to Mic.
Experts contest the quote, though. They say Cyrus never actually said that.
"The historical Cyrus certainly never said such a motto," Pierre Briant, a senior fellow at New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and author of "From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire," told Mic.
"The saying probably comes from the alleged last words of Xenophon's Cyrus on his death bed" — a reference to the Ancient Greek author Xenophon's record, which was written at least a century after Cyrus lived.
According to the Columbia University site Encyclopædia Iranica, Xenophon's book about Cyrus is a "partly fictional biography." So it's not totally true.
To make matters worse, Xenophon never attributed those words to Cyrus. It comes from Larry Hedrick, a retired U.S. Air Force officer in a 2006 leadership advice book by Hedrick called Xenophon's "Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War."
The book, which was written for business leaders, claims to be based on Xenophon's great work. The publisher lists Hedrick's book as fiction.
Daniel Sheffield, an assistant professor at Princeton's Department of Near Eastern Studies, said in a Facebookpost and in a statement to Mic that Hedrick's book is a "modern historical novel and management guide."
"Despite its title, the book is not a translation of Xenophon's (book) but Hedrick's rather fanciful interpretation of Cyrus as the model corporate mogul."
Sheffield wrote that many generations have gotten contemporary inspiration from Cyrus, but it's alarming that "this administration's questionable ability to discern between fact and fiction seems to affect even their most banal activities."
Hedrick was not pleased that Trump quoted his words.
"The fictional nature of the Cyropaedia has been recognized for centuries," Hedrick told Mic. "I dislike and distrust Trump completely and he was the last person in the world I would have wanted to mention my book," he added.
So how did this quote make it into a White House statement?
Holiday is a media columnist for the New York Observer, which was owned by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, until he transferred it to a family trust after taking a senior role in the White House in 2017.
Holiday is perhaps best known for his book, "Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator." In the book, he explains how he created controversy for brands in order to gain online media attention that would thus help his projects succeed.
Holiday told Mic that Trump is a "national embarrassment," but he defended his article that used Hedrick's book as a source on Cyrus.
"I'm not a classicist, but this is a book edited by a military historian who clearly explains his source material and methods, published by a major publisher," he said.
It could just be a coincidence that a writer for Kushner's former publication ended up drawing attention to a quote that Trump picked up, since the Cyrus quote also appears on Wikiquote and AZQuotes.com.
"The text transmission seems to run as follows: Hedrick -> 2012 Forbes listicle entitled '9 Timeless Leadership Lessons from Cyrus the Great' -> Wikiquote," John Haldon, the director of Princeton's Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, told Mic.
Ultimately, Iranian-American groups were upset with Trump for his statement, but they weren't particularly upset about the fake quote.
"I appreciate that the president would try to quote Cyrus the Great," Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, told Mic.
"It would obviously be better if he had gotten a correct quote. But the fundamental problem we have is not with the statement per se, but the fact that the substance of his policy is damaging to U.S. national interests and it's tearing Iranian-American families apart."
Iran is one of the countries that was included in both the original travel ban and the one that followed.
The White House has not responded to Mic's request for comment on the story.