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March 30, 2016 2:39 pm

Why a New York Times Journalist Is Stunningly Sweet on Iran in the Paper’s Food Section

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The Amir Chakhmaq Complex in Yazd, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Amir Chakhmaq Complex in Yazd, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia.

Some of the most egregious treatment of Israel and Jews in the New York Times comes not in the foreign news section or even on the editorial page, but in more traditionally innocuous “soft” sections, such as arts (a point we’ve made before).

The latest example comes in the Times food section, which carries a dispatch from Yazd, Iran. It begins:

This desert provincial capital in central Iran is known for its honesty, generosity, high clay walls, fine woven silk textiles, a pre-Islamic Zoroastrian fire temple and soaring wind towers that naturally cool rooms below.

And sweets.

Touting Yazd’s “honesty,” “Generosity” and “sweets,” the article studiously neglects any mention of the other, more sinister things the city is known for. These include: a uranium mine and a steel factory reportedly linked to Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, the one whose purpose is to annihilate Israel; and there is a government so bloodthirsty that human rights reports indicate six prisoners were executed there in the course of a single month. (Those fortunate enough to avoid execution languish in Yazd’s prison, where, according to another human rights report, nine political prisoners undertook a six-day hunger strike.)

A release by Human Rights Watch spoke of Iranian government officials using the Yazd prison to beat, insult, pressure and persecute innocent members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority.

Why would the Times possibly want to whitewash Iran’s record of hostility to global norms of peace and human rights?

Generally, I try to avoid speculating about motives. But anyone tempted to do so can take a clue from the reference by the article’s author, Elaine Sciolino, to “a group of American tourists with whom I was traveling.”

Hmm. Why would a Times journalist be traveling around with a group of tourists? Because the Times is attempting to rescue its stagnant news and advertising business partly by turning into a travel agency that, for $6,995, sells adventurous — or gullible — readers the privilege of touring Iran with Ms. Sciolino in tow.

If Iran is portrayed, accurately, as a brutal, hostile, terror-supporting, Holocaust-denying dictatorship, American tourists with thousands of dollars to spend on a vacation may decide to go somewhere else.

But if Iran is portrayed, inaccurately, by a Times journalist-tour guide as an Epicurean utopia, known for its honesty, generosity and “sweets” — the subject of the food section article — it will be good for the travel business.

I don’t begrudge the Times trying to improve its shareholder returns by starting a luxury travel business. But as someone who pays to receive the newspaper, I’d much prefer that the promotional material for the tours be confined to clearly marked advertisements, rather than spilling over into the news columns — even those in the food section.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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