Monday, July 31, 2006

Underreported Stories Dept: Oil-for-Fraud

Even before the Middle East blew up again, and the words “proportionate” and “civilian” took on their new Orwellian meanings, the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food scandal had been severely underreported. Given recent events, it will likely pass quietly into the impressive annals of UN corruption and incompetence.

But it should not go without mention that a few weeks ago a major figure in the scandal was convicted in a Manhattan court room, try as the New York Times did to downplay it.

The New York Observer had an intriguing piece on the Times passing on covering the Manhattan (i.e. nearby) trial of UN Oil-for-Food bagman Tongsun Park. From a monetary standpoint alone, the scandal dwarfs AdScam.

Our own Western Standard is to be commended for its attention to this story, having done several stories on the scandal (nearly two dozen articles at their website refer to Oil-for-Food), including a lengthy Kevin Libin piece on the involvement of Power Corp. and Maurice Strong, lifelong UN groupie and Kyoto midwife.

Good news, however: in the future, the Times can blame their diminishing news hole for failing to cover fraud and chicanery at the UN, and other inconvenient stories that run counter to their anti-Bush administration viewpoint.

Some excerpts from the Observer story:

The story had everything: secret agents, political intrigue, personal betrayal and cash. Lots and lots of cash.

Yet, for all that, a remarkable trial that ended last week in a Manhattan courtroom—a proceeding that implicated figures in the highest echelons of international politics—was barely mentioned in the major American press. If it weren’t for the journalistic wing of the conservative movement, outlets like the National Review Online and The New York Sun, it might not have been covered at all.

Take the events of last Thursday, for example. After two weeks of testimony, a jury took only a few hours to convict a South Korean national, Tongsun Park, of acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The conspiracy of which he was a part ran for 10 years, ending in late 2002, and helped one of the world’s worst regimes maintain its grip on power.

But The New York Times did not assign a reporter to his trial, its total coverage amounting to a brief wire report on the day following Mr. Park’s conviction. Of the other major national dailies, The Washington Post ran a single news-brief item, the Los Angeles Times not a word.

. . . . .

The episodes described during the trial involve the U.N.’s present as well as its past.

Maurice Strong was current Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special envoy to North Korea until the oil-for-food scandal began to lap around his feet last year.

Fresh details about a check for almost $1 million that Mr. Strong was given by Mr. Park emerged at the trial. The court also heard evidence that Mr. Park covered Mr. Strong’s private office expenses for several years.

Mr. Strong, like Mr. Boutros-Ghali, denies any wrongdoing. But, at the least, it is odd that people at the very highest level of the U.N. enjoyed such a close relationship with Mr. Park.

. . . . .

Mr. Avni, declining to “name names,” also recalled a conversation he said he’d had with a Times reporter some months back:

“I said to him, ‘We are covering the U.N. much more aggressively than you are.’ And he said, ‘Right, but we are covering the Bush administration much more aggressively than you are.’ We find faults where we are looking for faults, and they want to find faults where they are looking for faults.”

Claudia Rosett, a former member of The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board, is now a freelance journalist who has become an authority on the oil-for-food scandal. She blogged the Park trial for National Review Online. She contended that emphasis on the ideological affiliations of the media that have covered the story most effectively is, ultimately, detrimental—because it can too easily divert attention from the scandal itself.

“The criticisms we’ve been hearing about the U.N. would have no traction if they were not grounded in fact,” she said. “The reason this has become a scandal is that the accusations have been proven true.”

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