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June 27, 2016 2:02 am

Scandal: The New York Times’ Favorite Source on Iran Was Getting Paid by Boeing

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Thomas Pickering. Photo: Alchetron.

Thomas Pickering. Photo: Alchetron.

The disclosure that Thomas Pickering, a former State Department official who advocated the Iran nuclear deal, was also a paid consultant to Boeing creates a scandal for the New York Times.

The Times mentioned Ambassador Pickering in at least 29 pieces in the past decade, according to an Algemeiner analysis of the Times archives. Exactly zero of the 29 instances made any disclosure at all of Mr. Pickering’s paid work for Boeing, which stands to reap tens of billions in additional revenue made possible by the sanctions relief Iran got in the nuclear deal.

The paid work for the American aircraft manufacturer by the former diplomat came to light in a dispatch last week by Betsy Woodruff that was published by the Daily Beast, which said:

Pickering confirmed via email—from his Boeing corporate email address—that he was on staff at the company from 2001 to 2006 and has been a paid consultant for them ever since.

“I was a Boeing employee from 1/2001 to 6/2006,” he emailed. “I was a direct consultant to Boeing from 7/2006 until 12/2015 when‎ contract for consulting was moved to Hills for my work.”

“Hills” refers to Hills & Company International Consultants, where Pickering is a principal. In a previous email, Pickering referred to his “contract arrangement with Boeing” in the present tense.

Boeing last week confirmed that Iran Air, the Islamic Republic’s national carrier, plans to buy 80 of its planes for $17.6 billion and lease another 30. Without the Iran deal that Mr. Pickering helped to get passed, the transaction would certainly have been prohibited by American economic sanctions on Iran.

The Daily Beast report did not say how much money Mr. Pickering had been paid for his work for Boeing. That would be a fine area for additional reporting.

One Times news article described Mr. Pickering as “a retired American ambassador to the United Nations now involved with the Iran Project, a group that seeks to improve relations between Iran and the United States.” Another described him as “a former ambassador and under secretary of state who has been a strong advocate of negotiations with Iran.” The Times called Mr. Pickering an Iran expert. It called him “one of the nation’s most experienced career diplomats.” In at least 14 different news articles, some of the newspaper’s veteran diplomatic and national security reporters — David Sanger, Mark Landler, Somini Sengupta — called Mr. Pickering for quotations and context and opinions over and over again, without ever even once disclosing to Times readers that he was getting paid by a company that was poised to sell tens of billions of dollars worth of aircraft to Iran if a sanctions-lifting deal went through.

The Times op-ed and editorial section’s record relating to Mr. Pickering is just as embarrassingly bad. Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote at least three columns at least partly about Mr. Pickering without ever once disclosing the Boeing work. Mr. Pickering himself wrote an op-ed for the Times, an op-ed for the Times’ International Herald Tribune, and a letter to the editor of the Times. Not a single one of those three pieces disclosed the Boeing work; the op-ed’s thumbnail biography told readers of the Times merely that “Thomas R. Pickering, an under secretary of state for political affairs in the Clinton administration, served as United States ambassador to Russia, Israel, Jordan and the United Nations.”

Times op-ed columnists and editorial writers described Mr. Pickering as “persuasive,” “respected,” “thoughtful” and “well-connected.” He may well be all four of those things. But you’d think that somewhere in the at least two editorials, nine op-ed pieces and three blog items published about Mr. Pickering, the newspaper might have wanted to fill its readers in about his Boeing ties.

I’m not saying that Mr. Pickering’s opinion was purchased. He might have been in favor of a deal with Iran even if he had not been on Boeing’s payroll. Maybe Boeing sought him out and paid him because of his pre-existing views that he arrived at independently. But given Boeing’s huge financial stake in the outcome of the Iran deal, and given the high scrutiny that the Times applies to even the appearance of potential conflicts when it comes to financial interests and other public policy issues, this is a large lapse.

Imagine if, say, this were a former federal climate science official opining in the pages of the Times about global warming legislation without disclosing that he was a paid consultant to a coal company. Or imagine if this were a former federal cancer official opining in the columns of the Times about smoking regulations without disclosing that he was a paid consultant to a cigarette company.

The whole matter would make a fine topic for the Times public editor. But Times readers have had no service from a public editor since the last item posted at the public editor’s blog on April 15, leaving a hiatus of more than two months during which the office charged with investigating matters of journalistic integrity at the Times has been vacant, or at least silent.

A public editor might ask whether Times editors or reporters bothered to ask Mr. Pickering if he had any paid consulting work for clients interested in business with Iran. What did Mr. Pickering tell the Times if the paper did ask? If the Times didn’t ask, why did it fail? Is the usual journalistic skepticism suspended when a source or contributing opinion writer is pushing a deal that would give billions to a terrorist enemy of Israel? The whole situation is an embarrassment to the Times. But to be embarrassed requires a sense of shame, which, alas, it isn’t clear that the Times has on these topics.

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

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Luis

    1. The article is very fair–too fair, actually–to Pickering.

    2. But, Mr Stoll, you could have also mentioned that Pickering was one of the pathetic fools on the so-called “Accountability Review Board” which was commissioned to study the Clinton/Benghazi fiasco which left at least four noble Americans dead, and which did not bother to interview Clinton–truly, TRULY a pathetic, a hypocritical performance.

  • So no one but me thinks that by padding his own pocket, Mr.
    Pickering actions bordered on treason?

  • MO

    Such a fine example of exactly what President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his 1961 Farewell Address to the Nation — the military industrial complex. Now much expanded to the military industrial political news complex.

  • Yale

    The article begs two questions:

    1. Has Pickering had to register as an agent of a foreign power when lobbying on behalf of Iran, even though paid by Boeing, and if not, why?

    2. For the NYT, and this is really juicy: “What did they know, and when did they know it?” just like with Watergate.

  • Binyomin Cohen

    It is typical of bus2 now to rule out ethics and truth for cash and power. The gover5 does this every single day of the people John Adam’s George Washington are turning in their Graves in embarrassment.. I am deeply troubled by our countries decline in proper government and in ethical and moral compunction by the lack thereof.
    They would do well to simply resign, had they the decency.
    But they don’t.
    Binyomin Cohen

  • Bernie Dishler

    The scrutiny that the Times uses to insure that a Letter to the Editor is written by individuals, not represented by a group, makes me wonder that they didn’t ask the right questions of Pickering. Where is the Public editor when we need one?

  • Eric Ehrmann

    Good revelations. More amplification of this type of relationship helps frame the reality. Consider that Hermann Goering was in the pay of a major Swedish defense firm before he became OkD der Luftwaffe and RM and said “I $ay who is a Jew.”

    Disappointing because Pickering while ambassador in Moscow had such a “Mr. Clean” and “fair broker” reputation. Prior he served as Counsel General to Brazil’s “city state” Sao Paulo where Boeing has a lot going on. Former US Amb to Brazil, Donna Hrinak, has served as a Boeing consultant too.

    Not much NYT coverage about Boeing’s growing presence in the “defense software” business. Remember, the “consultants” and PR folk also get paid to keep names and issues out of the news.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for all your articles, which I read carefully, on the careless abuse of journalism by the NYT. I hope through your work, your credibility and voice, the NYT will reflect and try to rebuild the trust of reporting the news. The news that the NYT prints has a long reach, and they need to be accountable for the harm they inflict on whole communities.
    Thank you again,

  • Ani

    Surprise, surprise, surprise. I expect any day now the NYT will make this admission on page one. Sure they will…..

  • Thomas Pickering is as biased as they come. He is the White House point man on Iran. He sits on the National Iranian American Council’s (NIAC) advisory board. NIAC, contrary to claims, does not represent Iranian-American ex-patriots but the Iranian Mullahs. NIAC is also the human face of a coalition that includes trade and oil corporations who want better relations with Iran, those who hate Israel and those who are anti-war. Pickering also helped found the AIC (American Islamic Council) and headed the US track II negotiations for a time, working quietly behind the scenes. Hills & Company is a consulting firm and lobby specializing in trade, diplomacy and international politics.

  • Pickering has been ‘pickering’ the pockets of Americans for years and years. Is he a Muslim like Obama? Probably!!

  • Susan Heller-Somerville

    Somehow, this egregious omission at The NY Times – of Amb. Pickering’s being a consultant at Boeing and his assistance in brokering the deal between Iran and Boeing – reminds me of AT&T’s collusion with Germany’s Nazi regime during WW II.
    I wonder how many other huge corporations have also benefitted from the Iran Deal!

    • John Silver

      Airbus has already closed the deal with Iran for 118 airplanes.

  • Ron

    NYT credibility is on the line , will their ethics committee have something to say about this failure of professional integrity ?

    • Luis


  • John Silver

    I think the author could have also added that former Ambassador Pickering was also connected to Hillary Clinton’s scandal about his encouraging the Palestinians to riot against the Israelis. See more at: Clinton received plan to secretly galvanize Palestinian protests

  • “… if the paper did ask? If the Times didn’t ask, why did it fail?”
    Please, let all these critics of Mr. Pickering, The NY Times, etc., kindly keep their lips sealed. Mr. Pickering is enjoying his profits…he’s an older man and a respected governmental official & The NY Times is called: ‘The Old Gray Lady.’ Two, among very many, honored individuals and institutions representing this great country.
    Have you no mercy? Are you perfect? ‘Let those that have not sinned, throw the first stone.’
    Simple, everyone is going: ‘Boing, Boing’ Jumping to the Gelt.
    All this is simply another great indication that America (& the world!) need ‘The 7 Noahide Laws’ to become, fair, equitable & civilized. Where are our real leaders?