July 15, 2004


Claudia Rosett continues her epic solo run at the UN:

Another stack of secret United Nations Oil for Food documents has now reached the press, this batch procured by congressional sources and providing--at long last--a better view of Saddam Hussein's entire U.N.-approved shopping list. This huge roster of Oil for Food relief contracts fills in a few more of the vital details about Saddam's "humanitarian" partnership with the U.N., spelling out the names of all his U.N.-approved relief suppliers and the price of every deal.

This gigantic scandal has received barely any notice in Australia. Whoever among local op-ed folks is the first to gain rights to Rosett’s copy will steal a huge lead on other papers.

Posted by Tim Blair at July 15, 2004 06:35 AM

This gigantic scandal has received barely any notice in Australia.

Same here stateside, like that surprises anyone...

Posted by: Roger Bournival at July 15, 2004 at 08:07 AM

If only Republicans had had their hands in the till, now that would be a scandal!

But since it was only UN bureaucrats and miscellaneous foreigners, no one gives a rats ass.

Posted by: R C Dean at July 15, 2004 at 09:58 AM

Give 'em time... 'Halliburton's gotta be in here somewhere!' said the Demeaucratic kid with his arm shoulder-deep in shit...

Posted by: geezer at July 15, 2004 at 10:31 AM

What, Tim? And spoil the pristine image of a benevolent, multilateral force for good? People, particularly ideological journalists, want to think of blue helmets on green lines, the World Health Organisation, food relief, and dispute resolving grand councils that wisely and fairly negotiate win-win solutions to international crises.

They don't want to think of a dysfunctional committee of tinpot tyrants and one party state despots waggling their collective finger at the West. They don't want to hear about corrupt bureaucracies syphoning aid into their own pockets.

For shame. You're the sort of person that goes around telling kids that Santa's not for real. At least we can depend on Fairfax, the ABC and friends to pull the 'Yes, Virginia' line, and support the muddled headed left in maintaining their illusions.

Posted by: Al Bundy at July 15, 2004 at 11:28 AM

For shame. You're the sort of person that goes around telling kids that Santa's not for real

(weeping and nashing of teeth)


Posted by: cheshirecat at July 15, 2004 at 12:59 PM

Remember how when we won in Iraq, the thought was that we were going to open the records and find all the back door scumbagery by the likes of the Russians, Germans and the French? all the shady deals and bribes, laid out in longhand?

That was wrong.

All of Saddam's goals were accomplished more or less legally, with full approval of the UN, as the US and the UK played by the rules and objected.

Now the humiliation, the evil is complete. WE are getting at the truth, with clear proof, and absolutely no one sees it as a story?

To me, the story is now why the editors of the major western media are having little to do with it.

Posted by: rod at July 15, 2004 at 01:29 PM

ONly the french oil for immigrants scandal has received less coverage.
Still will this cause even less interest than the encyclopedia of UN intervention in the genocide of Southern Sudan ?
A book the size of a postage stamp.

Posted by: davo at July 15, 2004 at 02:29 PM

I can only assume that the reason the major media does not pick up on the culture of corruption, dishonesty and dishonour in the UN is that it does not have the same 'appeal' as pointing out the errors of our governments (UK, USA and Australian).

More to the point, creating sensationalist journalism on Federal (and to a lesser extent State) authorities and individuals is simpler to achieve. Have just an inkling of truth in it. Add a good dose of gossip on top and you'll definitely bring in higher tv ratings and sell more rags far easier than getting stuck into a world body that is indifferent to world expectations.

The UN was once an entity to be respected. Its status in the world being based on the three principles of leadership: authority, responsibility and accountability. All have been willingly eroded by those serving it. Look at the problems it has not resolved such as food-for-oil graft, genocide in the Sudan and terrorist havens in member countries. It is little wonder that there is a total disinterest by the general public in its under-achieving performance.

That journalists at large do not get on the UN's back is just as bad. What it is saying is that they condone those aspects in the UN, that it would never allow in their own country.

Posted by: Lofty at July 15, 2004 at 02:41 PM

So will this finally mean that the US will not deliver its annual donation to the UN?

I will like to see it operate without the USA's sizable donation.

Maybe it could use some oil money?

Posted by: dino at July 15, 2004 at 03:05 PM

Let me see,

Oil for Food.
Sex for Food.
Oxygen for Food. Oops they haven't gotten there yet.
Oh well I'll wait around for a few weeks.

Posted by: Mike H. at July 15, 2004 at 03:10 PM

Lofty, I really think you are there. It's as probably as complete a reckoning as there is.

I'm a reporter at a good sized city paper in the Northeastern US. A few of us were sitting around the news room one day hashing this out. Even a couple of liberals agreed that the story is self-evident.

Our thoughts in no particular order were:
1. It is complex and you will get pulled off your beat for a long fucking time.
2. See 1. Try pitching that to an editor after 2.5-3 years of declining ad revs, newsroom cutbacks and such.
3. The widely held belief--tragically--that it is a fusion story. Part business, part politics, part diplomatic, part national security. It may seem self-evident, but those are all established beats at our paper...and most others too. That's a lot of toes to step on.
4. ALl foreign biz stories are percieved to be tainted by what one of my colleagues profanely called "the lying motherf*cker" angle. According to this, all stories that use as their source Russians or Arab businessmen are relying on people in cultures that do not place a huge premium on transparent or truthful biz conduct.
5. The Enron factor. Enron was dificult to understand because of the labyrinthe corporate structure. The UN, on its best day, is like Enron at the end, with respect to transparency or in having senior people who know what the hell is going on.
6. There is an election going on. ALl bodies to the next campaign stop Please!
7. Sources--tough to get on this. You'd need good capital sources, preferably on the Right, since the Left has a whole lot of capital invested in the UN.

8,9, 10---well, I had to catch a train, but you get the drift.

Posted by: rod at July 15, 2004 at 03:23 PM


If I undestand you correctly, the story is just too complicated because it does not contain references to:
Bushitler, Cheney-Haliburton, American Industrial Exploitaition of Little Investors, Abu Graib Torture, WMD, BushLiedPeopleDied themes.

How any of those narratives are less complex to cover than corruption of UN officials, bribes for oil, and dying/ starving Iraqi chidren?

Don't bother to anwer. I know. You have a train to catch.

Posted by: Katherine at July 15, 2004 at 04:34 PM

rod, if I understand you correctly, the Oil-For-Food scandal is not going to be covered by the media because it isn't simple, is unprofitable, and the established beat reporters will protect their turf before smelling a good story.

As I work for a government agency that deals with problems in a similar fashion (e.g., "unprofitable" = "not a funding source"), I sympathize with you. But you do realize that, when boiled down to a few words, you just described a news agency that really doesn't care beyond their next paycheck? Or, put less cynically, is more interested in how they do their job than in what they put on the street?

That's a sad state of affairs.

Posted by: The Real JeffS at July 15, 2004 at 05:08 PM

Real JeffS, you are clearly more charitable than I am. What gets me is that even now journalist will pretend to be High Priests of Objective News, interpreting for us proles the meaning of Holy Word from the Wire.

In reality, they are all in the business of selling of “what was heard from another news organization” and fitting it to the “narrative”, which was established in advance.

In the age when we have instant online access to transcripts and complete official documents, and when have our own people on the ground – the bloggers- practically in every accessible corner of the world, can anybody give me a reason for voluntarily parting with money to pay for what passes for “news” , when there are many writers publishing honest fiction who are way more talented than your average “reporter”?

Posted by: Katherine at July 15, 2004 at 06:52 PM

It was very interesting and informative to get rod's take on why this story has not received the coverage it deserves. Enron is a good example of what he means.

A big story. Complex. The public lost interest after a while. The man hours, in the media, needed to cover this story were probably many.

The UN story is bigger and more complex so they (the media) assume a lot of resources will be required, for a story the public will lose interest in, that could be devoted to more popular/interesting stories. Understandable given what other stories there are.

While I agree the UN story would be difficult to cover, for the reasons stated above, I think it needs to be covered, should be covered, and could be covered in a way that would be interesting. I would love to see the stories of the UN's corruption placed before the US public during this period before our national elections. Reform of the UN is something I'd like to see become a national debate.

The UN does a lot of harm under the pretense of doing good. It needs to be knocked down. It won't be until more people can be made aware of what it has become. The UN story (stories) can be reported in such a way as to be interesting to the public, and valuable in terms of increased readership/viewership to the organizations that choose to commit the resources.

The Enron story became boring after a while, to me, because of the way some reporters went on and on about the accounting aspects. I realize accounting was a major part of the story, but many accounts I read seemed to be written by an 'accounting geek'. Interesting to other 'accounting geeks', but not very to the average person. There *were* some reporters who were able to take the accounting complexities and incorporate them into their stories in such a way as to be interesting.

One of the sources I loved for examining all that had happened for Enron to occur was PBS' Frontline. Whoever the reporters/writers were for those reports were excellent. They didn't dumb down the story (which I hate). They were able to get at the complexities in a way that made them understandable. Once I saw the Frontline reports (I think more than one), I was hooked on following Enron.

I think that exposing all that's rotten at the UN is a big story just waiting to be written. It can be told in such a way to keep the public's interest. I know that stories about the UN's corruption have been written about before, so it's not true they have been *entirely* ignored. The UN stories have not been given the attention they deserve. Certainly what has been happening at the UN is as news worthy as the 'US Iraqi Prison Scandal' that we still get shoved down our throats every so often.

If I had a talent for writing and worked for a news organization, I'd make it my job to find an interesting way to report on what has been happening at the UN. Anyone that can figure out how to do this will see their readership/viewership increase if it's approached correctly. There's more than enough scandal to keep people interested.

I'd also like to add that I may have an outdated, unrealistic, view of what I expect from the media. But, I expect the media to bring important issues to my attention. I love having a free press. I'm disappointed lately because it seems many newsrooms have become advocacy centers for various ideological points of view and slant the news to reflect that. Exposing the UN for what it is, and doing so in an interesting (and profitable) way, is something the press can, and should, do.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at July 15, 2004 at 09:34 PM

If Upton Sinclair had the same ethics and devotion to work as modern journalists, I'd be eating a maggot sandwich right now.

Posted by: ushie at July 15, 2004 at 10:15 PM

What makes the Oil-For-Food story so complex? Here it is, in a nutshell:

"UN officials let Saddam run a sham humanitarian project. UN officials, some government officials from various countries, and lots of shady businesses got kickbacks and bribes, and Saddam got to smuggle in things he wasn't supposed to."

Posted by: Robert Crawford at July 15, 2004 at 11:53 PM

Katherine, yes, I was being charitable. rod at least was being honest, and I wasn't in the mood to shoot the messenger.

Besides, there's another aspect to this. On one hand, it's insulting and demeaning to the publix. On the other hand, it demonstrates all the problems that you put forth.

What's the aspect? That the media thinks that the public doesn't have the attention span necessary to study this here "complex" story.

Some parts of the public don't have the attention span, but most do.

And the only reason that it is "complex" because the media makes it so. Rod described the story as covering several different beats, and thus it is a territorial issue. But the solution is simple -- screw the beats! Make a new one. Or just classify it as political and go for the juglar. But they won't -- as you noted.

Posted by: The Real JeffS at July 16, 2004 at 12:51 AM

Enron got covered by Big Media quite sufficiently for it to be used by Democrats to bash the evils of (Republican) corporate culture. Nevermind that Enron's shady practices happened mostly during the Clinton administration's watch and were exposed under Bush's. Neither the media nor the public much cared if the reporting was deep and exquisitely detailed. Reading ad nauseum that Enron bad and Ken Lay devil was sufficient, along with dark references to Bush's Houston and Halliburton/ Cheney liberally thrown into the narrative.

The UN Oil for Swiss Bank Accounts scandal is an unbelievably great news story of political and corporate graft on a global scale. But it is not getting covered by anyone but heroic Rosett and the WSJ because it squirrels the Democrats' main trashing point over Iraq in their quest for the White House- that Bush did not yield our foreign policy to the good offices of the UN on the run-up to war.

Who seriously denies that most of the media in the States and overseas would like to see Kerry elected this November? So, why would they front page a story of UN greed, corruption and cover-up when Kerry and his base and 90% of journalists beat up Bush over not swaying and submitting to our international betters on the Security Council? Also, isn't love of bureaucratic internationalism an article of faith among the press corps?

Even though no one I know who gets all of their news from traditional media have even heard of this scandal, the Democrats must be factoring in the fact that this story could inconveniently break more publically. It seems that, recently, they have been muting their calls for UN authority in Iraq and over American policy. Still, haven't a few nuts called for UN supervision of our election? Maybe that's not such a bad idea, if corporate capitalist Republicans could outbribe Heinz-Soros for the winning votes.

Posted by: c at July 16, 2004 at 01:34 AM

Enron vs. Oil-for-food:

Uh, no. Rob is wrong. They are complex stories only if you want to get at the details.

Enron was and still is a HUGE story, and it is simplicity itself: Rich people committed fraud and ripped off poor people.

Oil-for-food is also simple: Rich people took bribes and ripped off poor people. But for some unknown reason, it doesn't become a big story.

Posted by: Ken Summers at July 16, 2004 at 01:41 AM


Maybe not just "rich" people took bribes and ripped off poor people. Aren't some anti-war journo's on the list of suspects? Well, maybe they're rich now.

On a completely unrelated note, it is a lovely surprise that Margo can afford to leave her day job.

Posted by: c at July 16, 2004 at 01:56 AM

Katherine, please read more closely, including my previous post. I want this story to be covered. I think it should be covered. I agree with you. I am listing the reasons--from the inside--why major media is not covering this.

Bitch at me if you need to--cheaper than a shrink or a gym, but it makes you look silly in the end.

real Jeff S: thanks for not shooting the messenger. Im trying to help here.

Ushie--you are right. That is why the next 5-10 years will see more change in the media that the previous 2 centuries combined. In many ways we are not only not relevant, we are in the way.

Chris Josephson--what you said.

Posted by: rod at July 16, 2004 at 03:07 AM

"I think that exposing all that's rotten at the UN is a big story just waiting to be written. It can be told in such a way to keep the public's interest. I know that stories about the UN's corruption have been written about before, so it's not true they have been *entirely* ignored."

Chris Josephson is right. It will take a book to do it properly. And it would be a Pulitzer nomination, too.

Left-wing posters at the Guardian Talk website, when asked why they display so little interest in UN corruption, invariably reply 1) "It's just another way for you FReepers to distract attention from BUSHLIES [sic]", or the ever-so-jaded 2) "Corruption exists everywhere, what else is new?"

Posted by: sorro at July 16, 2004 at 06:21 AM

Rod, you found yourself in my crosshairs because I, like many other people feel that media fail us miserably in reporting important stories, and since we all find ourselves facing very real dangers from a bunch of homicidal religious fanatics, it is difficult to forgive the frivolity MSM narrative.

I appreciate that you are giving us the inside dope and I commend you for desire to report the Oil-for Palaces scandal.

But unfortunately, because of the partisanship and general unseriousness of MSM, you are working from a very deep disadvantage. It will take years for journalistic profession to regain my trust, and I do not see that, as a group, you even trying to do so.

But I apologize that I jumped at you personally.

Posted by: Katherine at July 16, 2004 at 01:27 PM

thanks for being so honest with us. Your response to my post certainly confirmed thoughts on why the UN are getting away with their continual misconduct in plain view for all to see.

you are correct in identifying that the media fail us miserably in reporting important stories. However, what has not been said is that the public is also at fault for not pushing the media (and government) to focus on the UN and other important issues.

I for one, wrote to the Prime Minister of Australia yesterday about the UN's disgraceful stance and suggested that we resign from that body. Sure, I'm just one person and my opinion means nothing in the big picture, but at least I made my view known, not just sat here saying "if only someone would do something." (I'm not having a go at you or anyone else reading this.)

I can only hope that others write to their own authorities. Nothing may come of it, but sometimes, because of very simple things, the ball starts rolling.

The UN must be brought to the table and made accountable for all its actions or lack thereof. Countries should stop providing funds to it until sweeping changes have taken place and significant aspects of the organisation are transparent.

Its lies and deceit, lack of sackings of corrupt individuals, friendliness towards murderous regimes and willingness to turn a blind eye towards unfolding tragedies makes one query what is the organisation's true agenda.

The UN brings to mind words I heard during a debate in our Parliament prior to us sending troops to Iraq. "All evil needs to flourish is for good people to do nothing."

Posted by: Lofty at July 16, 2004 at 02:44 PM