Again, the blogs picked up on it first, with Pajamas Media and the American Thinker spotting an article out of Israel about the surreal ad placed by UN-sanctioned Iran in the International Herald Tribune, April 25, inviting bids to build “Two Large Scale Nuclear Reactors in Iran.”
The ad reads like something out of a Graham Greene novel, including phone numbers, an email address for a “Mr. Esmaeili,” and details of an Austrian bank account to which interested bidders are invited to transfer a 15,000 Euro fee to obtain bidding specifications for the reactors. Wondering if it was a spoof, I called the phone number, and was directed — I’m not making this up — to the office of Iran’s ambassador to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, no less, in Vienna. There, an aide was unable to provide much detail, but did confirm that yes, indeed, the ad was the real McCoy. Here’s my column about it in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer.
And here’s the saga of finding out from the IHT (owned by The New York Times) where, exactly, the ad had run. On Wedneday, I phoned the International Herald Tribune head office in Paris, where a spokesman said he had no knowledge of the ad, and directed me to the IHT’s London office. There, a press officer told me he was unaware of the IHT running any such ad. He suggested it might have been carried by the English-Language edition of an Israeli-newspaper, Ha’aretz which is distributed together with the IHT out of Tel Aviv. So, I phoned Ha’aretz, and spoke with a helpful night editor, who said the ad had come with the rest of the IHT content transmitted from Paris, and had not originated with Ha’aretz.
So, I sent an email back to the IHT press officer in London, who on Thursday, contrary to the IHT statements of the previous day, confirmed to me that not only had the ad run in the IHT in Israel, but it had run in all IHT editions worldwide, which reach more than 240,000 readers in more than 180 countries. Another press officer then provided a statement in which the IHT defended its decision to run the ad on grounds that “We believe that advertising should be as free and open as the dictates of honesty and decency allow,” and “In our view, advertising is an essential ingredient in the broad concept of a free press.” Today’s Jerusalem Post has more on this view.
Further note: To double-check on exactly when and where the ad had run, I rang a friend in Paris, who happened to have a back copy for April 25, dug it up, and found the ad in the Marketplace section, on page 14. Which left me with the following vision, to borrow a line from my column, linked above:
In the street cafes of Paris and New York, people open their newspapers and over their morning coffee browse past this astounding solicitation – one of the signposts along a road leading toward horrors that could dwarf Sept. 11.