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New York Times curiously apologises over Singapore comments 29, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Forgive me for quoting at length here, but things have been put rather well already and this area of the world is outwith my expertise (such as it is).

A few days ago the New York Times ran the following 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.

This is a curious thing. Firstly, that a reporter would be help to account for some kind of undertaking made 16 years ago. Secondly, that the NYT really cared that much to print such an apology. Third, that, as Outside the Beltway put it:

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?

Joyner, the author of the above comment, then clarifies via a quick email from a friend:

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.
And Joyner concludes that
It makes sense, actually.  And as Steven Taylor notes in the comments below and CJ Morton speculates via Twitter, it’s quite possible that NYT wrote the correction in the way they did precisely to elicit the reaction they did from readers paying attention.  That is, they simultaneously met their obligation to the Singapore autocrats and thumbed their noses at them.
An interesting little story.