New York Times Sold Luxury Tours of Iran While U.S. Journalist Languished in Tehran Prison

NEW YORK - JULY 23: A New York Times newsrack is seen July 23, 2008 in New York City. The Times is set to raise the daily newsstand price to $1.50 August 18 after posting an 82 percent decline in second quarter profits. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Well-heeled customers of the New York Times paid more than $7000, not including airfare, to tour the country of Iran and even visit the home of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. This at a time when a Washington Post reporter had been in a brutal Tehran prison for more than two years.

The official tour guides of these trips included by-lined reporters and columnists of the Times, raising ethical questions and questions about the Times’ often favorable coverage of the repressive regime. Lee Smith of The Tablet goes so far as to accuse the Times of buying “the Iran concession.”

The trips are a part of the New York Times’ glitzy “Times Journeys” that typically sends wealthy readers to places like Austria and Great Britain.

James Kirchik, writing in Foreign Policy, said it is “dismaying that the Times would collaborate in a business venture with a government currently imprisoning an American reporter.”

Called “Iran: Tales from Persia,” the 13-day tour included “on the ground experts who will help untangle this nation’s complex timeline. Starting in Tehran, you will journey across the country, through beautiful landscapes, arid mountains and rural villages, learning about the traditions and cultures of a land who influence has been felt for thousands of years.”

The business aspect of the arrangement would almost certainly have to be approved by the Iranian government, with the regime taking a cut of the New York Times action.

Smith accuses the Times of going into this business arrangement “to spare their own people the fate of Jason Rezaian [Washington Post reporters who was just released] while also ensuring that they would have plenty of access to the regime — or the people who speak to Western reporters, namely the moderates.” He calls the arrangement “a bribe.”

Smith calls this a “new journalism model” where the Times makes money not on getting new readers, but on selling travel to authoritarian regimes and gaining journalistic access in the bargain.

“Would the regime have struck a deal with the Times if the paper of record promised to send its toughest, hardest-hitting reporting — the kinds of tough guys like Burns or C.J. Chivers who would rather have their fingernails pulled out one by one by the torturers in Evin prison than pull their punches in print?” he asks.

Rather, the Times uses “name reporters like Roger Cohen, Elaine Sciolino, and John F. Burns,” who “moonlight as tour guides.” Smith excoriates the Times’ man in Tehran Thomas Erdbrink, who has consistently lauded current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Smith says, “selective ignorance seems to be Erdbrink’s journalistic trademark.”

Smith accuses Erdbrink of going “out of his way defend the Iranian president,” such as the time Erdbrink reported that Rouhani went on CNN and condemned the Holocaust though it was pointed out Rouhani never used that word. Erdbrink also reported that Rouhani wished Israelis a Happy Rosh Hashanah though the Times later had to correct that.

It is unclear whether Jews or homosexuals are allowed on the New York Times tours to Iran.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse.


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