Over the weekend, the New York Times took some heat for seeming to defend the authoritarian regime in Iran while it gunned down protesters in the streets of Tehran.
More disturbing than the Times toeing the line for an authoritarian theocracy is the fact that the venerable paper of record is making bucket-loads of cash selling exclusive, high-end tours to Iran through their “Journeys” program. The Times promotes these things like they’re selling cabins on a luxury sea cruise:
Persia. Iran. For 2,500 years, this powerful country has entranced, mystified and beguiled the world. Discover the ancient secrets and modern complexities of this influential land on a 13-day itinerary, visiting some of the world’s oldest archaeological sites and the family home of the religious leader who engineered Iran’s transition to an Islamic republic. Welcome to the once-forbidden land of Iran.
The tours cost a cool $8,000 (without add-ons and upgrades) and reportedly brings the Old Gray Lady about $1.5 million annually.
In a closed society like Iran, one has to assume that the extensive tours conducted by the Times is made possible only through the benevolence of the regime in Tehran. If it’s true that the Times makes over a million dollars a year on their Persia trips (the number could be much higher) it clearly behooves the paper to keep good relations with their benefactors. If the Times angers the government, say goodbye to those tours.
Several years ago, James Kirchick at Foreign Policy reported on these tours and the obvious hypocrisy of a major newspaper (some would say the major newspaper in America) making money touring a country that regularly imrisons journalists:
“Tales from Persia” is one of dozens of high-priced excursions put on by “Times Journeys,” a luxury tourism outfit operated by “the business side of the New York Times Company,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told me. Most of these expeditions are to run-of-the-mill tourist destinations like Austria or Venice; a few cover more adventuresome locales such as the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. All are, in the words of the paper, “inspired by Times content and joined by either a New York Times journalist or Times-selected expert.”
The Times-operated trips to Iran (which began earlier this year) differ in important ways from those taking place in Andalusia, or aboard the Queen Mary ocean liner. First, such voyages to Iran would be impossible absent approval from high-level figures in the host country’s government, who have a political and financial interest in their taking place. Luxury tours of this sort bring much-needed revenue to the country. And since they are operated by America’s newspaper of record, they also provide a stamp of legitimacy to a regime most Americans rightly loathe.
Lee Smith at Tablet Magazine highlighted the lucrative relationship in 2016 and connected the dots between the Times revenue stream from the tours and the friendly coverage they provided Tehran:
But in the new journalism model being pioneered by the Times, authoritarian regimes are a good thing. You can’t make much money selling access to a free society—anyone can go to, say, Israel, and kick around there for a few days or weeks. But Iran? Only the Times knows Iran. The Times has bought the Iran concession, which—and this is the best part of the deal—it pays for in newsprint, which may be nearly worthless to advertisers, but turned out to be worth $100 billion to the Iranian regime.
Would the regime have struck a deal with the Times if the paper of record promised to send its toughest, hardest-hitting reporters—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? Right now the Times’ man in Iran is the Dutch-born correspondent Thomas Erdbrink, who it seems fair to say has a somewhat milder appetite for discomfort.
As the Times rakes in the bucks selling their expensive tours to oh-so-progressive rich Democrats living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, they’ve effectively turned over the editorial page to a string of apologists for the Tehran regime. After celebrating Obama propagandist Ben Rhodes for creating an “echo chamber” of friendly reporters propped up to support the Iran nuclear deal, they now promote the lead voice in that same echo chamber to lecture President Trump on his reaction to the current situation in Iran:
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in seeing the sites on the Iran tour, you’ll be happy to know it’s conducted by the Times’ very own experts who will dazzle you with lectures throughout the 13-day odyssey.
My favorite lecture, as promoted on the tour website, is delivered by Fred Brock and is titled: “Muddled Media: Why does the press so often miss stories and developments that it should have seen coming?”