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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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  • fred

    The NYT has proven itself a vehicle for the most vicious regimes in the world. It boot lickes the Dictators it is viciously antagonistic to Israel & the Jews. In Hitler Germany it would rank high in line with “Der Sturmer ” the editor would be the image of Julius Streicher. To the New York Times if you have no news you can manufacture this & publish. There are gulibles in the reading world.

  • Helen Gardner

    Thank you for writing this article. I am a Baha’i living in Haliburton, Ontario, Canada and know well the suffering and imprisonment of the Baha’is in Iran. Your voice will help us. Thank you again.

  • Robert Davis

    The fundamental reason why the west is bowing to moslems is because they are perceived as strong. Inversely Israel and jews are perceived as weak. It’s impossible to make a list of the consequences. Israel will be considered strong and pressures will stop when Israel claims sovereinty over its provinces and expels arabs not taking in consideration the “terrific consequences” lefters want to force upon our imagination so as to keep Israel Under submission.

  • Meron Medzini

    How petty and small minded can you be. When and if you will have arguments with the New York Times on more serious issues,and there are many valid complaints against that paper, who will take you seriously?

    • Denis MacEoin

      Meron, just how petty and small-minded can it be to draw attention to the truth about open of the world’s most repressive regimes? It’s not about the sweets, it’s about the hangings (Iran is per capita the leading country in the world for executions, mostly for political and religious reasons); the perseutions of people like the Baha’is (I have in my library a Persian-language book entitled Tarikh-e shuhada-ye Yazd, which I bought in Yazd many years ago, and which tells the story of murders of members of the Baha’i religion), including hangings of innocent people, the demolition of all their holy sites, and the destruction of their cemeteries; the plan to destroy the state of Israel; the killings and imprisonments of so many pro-democracy activists; the aim to build nuclear weapons; the extensive Iranian support for terror organizations in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen; and much, much more. If you think things like that are petty and calling attention to them ‘small-minded’, I can only pity you.

  • stevenl

    Antisemitism is like a chameleon!

  • Mickey Oberman

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

    Obviously a rhetorical question…….. I hope.
    Especially since its origin is the anti Semitic NYT.

  • Jeremy miller

    As a committed, observant and advocate for Israel (not always it’s elected leaders) I say: ‘give me a break!’

    This a food piece.

  • Shahriar Sedghi

    Ira Stoll critique is an example of ignorance and self righteousnes. Yazd is a beautiful city and reportedly the oldest continoius living city in the world. I have visited and the article is spot on being in the “soft section “.
    Why would a description of an ancient beautiful city and its peacefulness be somehow interpreted as anti Semitic ? Or should Stoll be equally concerned about Israels’ own human rights violations when visitors are astounded by the beauty of Jerusalem ?
    Perhaps he himself should visit Yazd. It will be an eye opener for his narrow tunnel vision.

    • Denis MacEoin

      Shahriar, I have spent time in Yazd. It is not at all a ‘beautiful city’ but a rather forlorn desert town, and it is not by any means the oldest inhabited place on earth. This article simply draws attention to the problem of waxing lyrical about a location in one of the world’s most brutal regimes. And your comparison with Israel is quite offensive. Israel has committed very few human rights offences, in fact it is the only country in the Middle East that is a functioning liberal democracy with full rights for all citizens (including Arab Israelis), for women, for gays, for all religious communities etc. Iran, a country I have lived in and whose people I love, whose language I speak and read and write, whose culture I adore, is nevertheless ruled by a regime that reaches the depths of depravity. Drawing attention away form that in order to sing the praises of Yazd is, I think, culpable.

  • Bob Irvine

    An extremely unprofessional piece of discourse reflecting nothing but a persons blind hatred against another ppl. I dont know the author but i can swaer he is either a jew with links to Israel or a hawkish neocon. No wonderhis last name sounds and reads like troll.

    • Denis MacEoin

      The article does not express blind hatred towards the Iranian people. I have known Iran for over 50 years, have lived there, have a PhD in Persian Studies, speak the language, and love the culture and the people; but, like the article writer, I despise the brutal regime that now rules the country. You clearly dislike Jews who have links to Israel (how shocking and surprising!). I am a non-Jew who loves Israel. But when I condemn the Islamic Regime, the cruelty, the blind persecution of religious minorities, the executions, the hatred of countries like Israel and the US, the oppression of women, and more, I do so, not out of hatred for the Iranian people, but out of love for them and pity for the things they have suffered since the revolution. If you don’t think things like that matter or should be brushed under the carpet, I question your moral blindness.

  • Habib razavi

    Ira you sound bitter. Please visit Yazd yourself. Also please extract your biased view against Iranian culture. People and culture of Iran and the government of Iran and its policies are quite divergent. Don’t paint all with the same brush. I think even for an obvious pro Israel American Jew you would be pleasantly surprised if you visited Iran for yourself.