Commentary Magazine


NYTimes Gives Solace to Virtual Lynch Mob

On December 29, Egyptian security forces descended on the offices of Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI), seizing both work and personal computers, and detaining staff members in their respective buildings. The State Department, for its part, said it was “deeply concerned,” and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s military strongman, to reiterate the condemnation.

Both NDI and IRI are funded by congressional grants administered through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as grants from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI does not receive money from the Republican Party, nor does NDI receive money from the Democratic Party. They are not like European political party foundations, in that they do not serve as arms of any political party. Because U.S. taxpayer money supports both organizations, they cooperate closely and do not compete. Sometimes they work exclusively in one country or another while in other places like Egypt where they both make sure they work on separate, complementary projects rather than competing projects. NDI and IRI staff are also impressive. They are far better in general than their State Department counterparts at breaking out of the bubble to get a sense of what is going on at ground level. They certainly deliver more bang for the taxpayer buck than do USAID or the State Department.

The New York Times has, along with other elite newspapers, covered the raids in generally a straight-forward fashion. In an editorial, the New York Times called IRI and NDI, “well known and respected.” How times have changed. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times published a series of hit pieces about IRI. While Democrats play a pro forma role at NDI, and Republicans do likewise at IRI, the New York Times sought to weave reality into a far more sinister, error-ridden conspiracy. Because he wanted to target John McCain, Times reporter Mike McIntire used IRI–an organization he knew very little about—as a foil, raising protests not only in the democracy community, but also overseas–among those whom IRI has long assisted.

That the New York Times would come to IRI’s defense against the Egyptian outrage, yet seek to tar and feather the organization in the context of a U.S. political campaign in which it had no involvement, shows the Gray Lady’s blatant politicization. The New York Times’ 2008 attack was not so different in spirit than Tantawi’s 2011 assault. The only difference was that Tantawi controls his own thugs, while  Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. could only give intellectual solace to a virtual lynch mob.