New York Times to Sell Access to Top Iranian Oil Official

The Washington Post has a journalist in an Iranian prison named Jason Rezaian.  Iran’s treatment of the free press is a violation of human rights designed to terrify opponents into submission.  Rather than maintaining solidarity with its fellow American journalists, however, the New York Times has elected to profit by selling access to a top Iranian official charged with issuing oil contracts.  Ira Stoll reports:

A Times staff member, Brenda Erdmann Hagerty, sent an email Friday soliciting sponsorships and selling tickets to the conference, which is set for October 6 and 7 at London. The email, a copy of which was obtained by and which is reproduced below, pronounces the Times “Oil and Money” conference “delighted to announce that H.E. Seyed Mehdi Hosseini, chairman of the Oil Contract Restructuring Committee at the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, will be attending in person.”

Admission to the conference and to a “Petroleum Executive of the Year” dinner honoring ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson costs $4,091 including tax at current exchange rates, though the Times is offering some promotional codes beginning with “INYT,” for International New York Times. The conference venue is the InterContinental Park Lane London, which conference organizers tout as “the epitome of modern elegance.”

On a per-day basis, the $4,091 price for the two-day London event is even pricier than the $6,995 that the Times has been charging for a 13-day tour of Iran guided by a Times journalist.

This report appears to be true.  The “Oil and Money” conference has a website that currently confirms the information contained in the email that Stoll reported.  The following screen shot was taken at 11:15 AM, 21 September 2015.


Likewise, the Oil and Money conference — and this website — are mentioned and linked to at the International New York Times’ conference web page.  The Oil and Money conference is supposed to address “many issues and topics at the forefront of the industry’s mind” given the “sharp drop in oil prices since November 2014.”  These include “the financing of mega-dollar upstream projects,” as well as concerns about “global demand and supply of oil.”  This is the 36th such conference, scheduled to be held at a hotel located on the site of a former royal residence. The hotel in question bills its meeting services for “insiders,” as befits the exclusive location and high prices of the services.

In addition to the concerns about the Times‘ supporting and profiting from a regime that holds American journalists in prison as a direct assault on journalistic freedom, Ira Stoll raises additional journalistic ethics questions about this decision.

[T]he Washington Post’s plan to sell access to “salons” at its publisher’s home was denounced by that paper’s ombudsman as “an ethical lapse of monumental proportions.” Journalistic ethics watchdogs have yet to weigh in on the propriety of the Times plan to sell access to an Iranian oil official so soon after it has been editorializing in favor of President Obama’s effort to bring Iran sanctions relief. Critics of Iran or of the oil industry, which has been targeted for divestment by campus climate-change activists, also have yet to weigh in.

The one conference session that focuses on geopolitics includes as a panelist Alastair Crooke, whose conference bio touts that he has “has 20 years of experience working with Islamist movements, particularly Hamas and Hezbollah as well as other Islamist movements in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.” A 2009 profile of Mr. Crooke in Mother Jones spoke of “the weirdness of Crooke’s embrace of even the looniest doctrines of the Iranian ruling clique.”

The New York Times also employs an ombudsman, or “public editor,” whose job includes addressing concerns about the paper’s journalistic ethics.  The current public editor is Margret Sullivan, the fifth to hold the position.  As of yet, she has not taken a position on this decision.