The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times, last week issued the following bizarre apology to top leaders of the government of Singapore:
In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald
Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders
of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through
nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010,
article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of
Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to
infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through
merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended.
We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee
Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or
embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.
What the apology doesn't say, but an article published last week by the New York Times does, is that the company that publishes both papers paid $114,000 to the Singapore leaders to settle a libel suit out of court and had the article in question removed from the Web, according to the leaders' attorney. Hmmm.
Of course, it's impossible to unpublish things online these days, and
the paper's strange apology has only attracted more attention to the fact that the
current prime minister of Singapore happens to be the son of its former
prime minister. Reporters Without Borders used the episode to fire off
a harsh letter to Prime Minister Lee highlighting all the various ways
his government inhibits press freedoms, and the apology even raised Henry Blodget's ethical hackles.
The offending paragraph, which ran under the headline "Are political dynasties good or bad?," appears to be this one:
The list of Asian countries with governments headed by the offspring or
spouses of former leaders is striking: Pakistan has Prime Minister Asif Ali
Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, herself the daughter of the executed
former leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bangladesh has Sheikh Hasina, daughter of
the murdered first prime minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In Malaysia,
Prime Minister Najib Razak is the son of the second prime minister, Abdul
Razak. Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong is Lee Kuan Yew's son. In North Korea,
Kim Il-sung's son Kim Jong-il commands party, army and country and waiting
in the wings is his son Kim Jong-un.
Nasty company, but libel? Give me a break. "Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong is Lee Kuan Yew's son" is a factual statement.
So the question is: Why did the Times Company apologize? Why not just tell Singapore to stuff it? How many newspapers and ads does the IHT sell there anyway?
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