Friday, October 18, 2002

It is not particularly shocking (pace some bloggers) that the New York Times would publish an opinion piece by Mohammed Aldouri, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations. After all, the op-ed page is meant to provide a forum for a variety of viewpoints, including, especially, those not normally given voice in the rest of the newspaper. Nor is it surprising that Ambassador Aldouri would complain that "[f]or more than 11 years, the people of Iraq have suffered under United Nations economic sanctions, which have been kept in place largely by American influence," and that "no American political figure has been seriously interested in discussing these matters with our government."

But consider for a moment how the Times reacted this past May, when Canadian political science professor Anne Bayefsky submitted an opinion piece on the UN's human rights activities. According to Prof. Bayefsky, the piece was accepted only on the condition "that [its] dynamic be significantly altered", and that numerous passages be deleted. After "six new drafts, four additional drafts with smaller changes and corrections, seven drafts from the editors and 6 hours of editing by telephone", the op-ed was finally published; excised were passages in the original that noted the membership of "some of the most notorious human rights violators in the world today: China, Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria" in the UN Human Rights Commission, and the failure of that organization to take action regarding human rights violations in China, Syria or Iran.

Now, we don't know how ruthlessly Ambassador Aldouri's writing was edited prior to publication, and it is in any event entirely the Times' prerogative to control the contents of its newspaper as it pleases. However, we are also entitled to judge the Times based on its choices, and we should note that the Gray Lady is happy to publish criticism of American influence at the UN--but not of Cuban, Saudi or Syrian influence there; and of the failure of American officials to embrace the Iraqi government--but not of the failure of UN officials to embrace victims of Chinese or Syrian repression. Such decisions are simply incompatible with a spirit of diversity of opinion, and are extremely difficult to explain without positing a deliberate effort on the Times' part to protect and indulge several of the most brutal, murderous dictatorships on the face of the earth.

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