In the event her new producing gig at HDNet TV doesn’t work out, we’ve found another potential job for Mary Mapes, the disgraced ex-CBS news staffer who was the driving force behind the “docu-gate” scandal.

From what we can tell, the “official” Iranian news agency (FARS) could use a little editorial help. Journalistic accuracy and objectivity are apparently not required, and the bashing of America (and President Bush) are highly encouraged. True, Ms. Mapes would have to relocated to Tehran–and make some major wardrobe adjustments–but I’m sure FARS would welcome someone of her stature. Heck, they might even offer a job to Dan Rather, if he could learn to say “courage” in Farsi.

Finding accuracy in a FARS news report is about as difficult as locating a viable Democratic plan for national security. But FARS is hardly deterred; they’re more than willing to print (or post) almost anything, in support of Iran’s glorious theocracy. Apparently, their greatest weakness is a tendency to publish almost any sort of picture to illustrate their “news coverage.” Consider this recent headline, and the accompanying photo:

“Iranian F14s Carry Hawk Missiles Successfully”

Now, take a look at an image of those missiles (sorry for using a link; Blogger’s photo upload feature isn’t working at the moment). It doesn’t take a military expert to realize that the FARS picture is actually a shot of a Russian space launch vehicle, a bit too large to be carried by an F-14 (or any other fighter). But that inconvenient fact doesn’t bother the editors at FARS; they seem to have the best “transcription” service this side of The New York Times, faithfully publishing anything their political bosses wish to see in print.

A little sidenote about this HAWK experiment. An I-HAWK is actually a medium range, surface-to-air missile. Iran bought a large number of I-HAWKS from the U.S. during the days of the Shah, the same era when they purchased the F-14. Thirty years later, the F-14s are on their last legs; only a handful are flyable, and their long-range AIM-54 PHOENIX air-to-air missiles reached the end of their service life about a decade ago. So, what can Iran do to restore a semblance of the F-14’s long-range missile capability? Try hanging a pair of I-HAWKs on the jet. Turns out that the missile will work with the Tomcat’s AWG-9 radar system, and (in an air-to-air mode) the HAWK might be capable of hitting targets 30 miles away (by comparison, the AIM-54 had a maximum range of 100 NM).

But there are some significant problems with this little science project, too. First of all, the HAWK is so large that you can only mount two on the jet, staggered on the belly of the Tomcat. Then, there’s the HAWK’s nasty habit of igniting as soon as you press the trigger button (necessary for getting large surface-to-air missile into the air). Firing from a rugged ground launcher, that’s no problem, but from an aircraft, that’s a disaster waiting to happen. In fact, I’m told that Iran tried this experiment a few years ago and gave up because the HAWK’s motor fired as soon as the F-14 crew pressed the “pickle” button. The missile’s large exhaust plume caught the jet on fire, causing it to crash. For the HAWK t have any hope of success in an air-to-air role, the Iranians would have to install some sort of ejection system (to push the missile away from the aircraft), and a delay mechanism, to prevent the rocket motor from firing too soon.

Bottom line: attempting to hang an I-HAWK on an F-14 as an air-to-air missile is a sign of desparation, not a show of military strength. The real question is how many additional F-14s Iran will destroy in this latest version of their experiment.

But back to FARS. Take a look at another story, touting the “complicated dogfight tactics” used in recent Air Force wargames. Notice anything odd about the accompanying photo? Well, for starters, the planes in the picture are U.S. Air Force F-22s; and, since the Iranian news agency makes no effort to identify them as “enemy” aircraft, the casual reader is left with the impression that Tehran’s fighter aircraft are state-of-the art. Memo to FARS: next time you run a picture of a U.S. fighter, you might want to use “Photoshop” and eliminate those annoying little give-aways, like the USAF star on the wing.

Want more? Here’s a FARS report on Iran’s efforts to develop and test a 2,000-pound, laser-guided bomb. However, the “test aircraft” in the photo is actually a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, dropping what appears to be Paveway series LGB. The “LN” on the tail identifies the jet as part of the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. Needless to say, Iran doesn’t have any Strike Eagles–let alone any with USAF markings–and they don’t have any advanced LGBs.

But even the crack photo team at FARS managed to top that one. In a recent story on the start of air service to Lahore, the aircraft depicted was a NATO AWACS, its large radardome clearly visible in the photograph.

It’s easy to laugh at these “mistakes,” but there’s a method behind FARS’ journalistic madness. Coverage of recent “military developments” is aimed at creating an image of a resurgent, powerful, Iran, equipped with the latest in military weaponry. The editors at FARS are quite aware that most of its readers have little knowledge of military weaponry, and are inclined to accept its “coverage” as the gospel truth. The same holds true for western press organizations. I haven’t seen Reuters or the AP use one of Iran’s re-cycled U.S. military photos (yet), but there has been plenty of coverage of recent Iranian exercises, dutifully reporting the testing of “new” Iranian” missiles and torpedoes. Never mind that at least one of the recent missile tests has never been confirmed, and that high speed torpedo is marginally effective against maneuvering targets, or vessels with counter-measures systems. When it comes to Iranian military power, the western media is also a transcription service, only to a lesser degree.

I think Ms. Mapes would be a welcome addition to the FARS staff. One wonders why Al Jazerra didn’t sign her up for their fledgling English-language service.