NYT Apologizes for Singapore Truth
The following Correction ran in the March 24 NYT under the headline “Apology.”
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.
Granting that a promise is a promise and that journalists sometimes have to make hard choices in gaining access to autocrats, this is a truly bizarre thing for which to apologize. Is there any question whatsoever that Singapore, despite having had elections for decades, is authoritarian by Western standards? Or that nepotism and other forms of personal loyalty plays a stronger role in Singapore than in true representative democracies? Or that Lee Kuan Yew played and continues to play an outsized role in Singapore and People’s Action Party politics?
I get apologizing for breaking a pledge, even if it’s 16 years old and shouldn’t have been given in the first place. But issuing a correction for telling the truth?
UPDATE: A friend employed by a major media company emails a very plausible explanation:
The reason the New York Times issued that correction is that if you print something about the Lee family, they will sue you in Singapore courts, which they control, and then they will win, and then they will seize any assets you happen to have in Singapore. For the New York Times, this is an issue.If you have ever wondered about the strange kid-gloves treatment the rather noxious family gets in the international media, that’s why.
via Matt Yglesias