The NYT’s super-tacky hit-job against Singham, Prashad, CodePink

Last Saturday, The New York Times devoted more than two pages of its first section (in print) to a lengthy hit-piece, with the headline shown above. The article was also published in full online. The editors/management had assigned no fewer than nine reporters (and two “researchers”) to preparing this piece, the main argument of which can be encapsulated as follows:

  • A 69-year-old leftist who’s a U.S. citizen named N. Roy Singham made a fortune by selling the software company he had built and then donated “at least $275 million” of that money to various left-leaning, anti-war, and anti-imperialist organizations, some of which he appeared to have helped found for this purpose.
  • Singham himself “sits in Shanghai, where one outlet in his network is co-producing a YouTube show financed in part by the city’s propaganda department. Two others are working with a Chinese university to “spread China’s voice to the world.” And last month, Mr. Singham joined a Communist Party workshop about promoting the party internationally”…
  • Hence (as this extremely smeary article alleges both directly and by insinuation) the work of all the organizations in the United States and elsewhere that have received funding from Singham are merely “pushing Chinese talking points.”

The two organizations that I have the honor to head, the non-profit Just World Educational and the publishing company Just World Books, have both conducted significant projects in collaboration with organizations named in the article as having received some of Singham’s donations, and with visionary leaders from those organizations. These valued allies of ours include the People’s Forum, a great event space in NYC; the Code Pink antiwar organization and its ever creative and energetic co-founder Medea Benjamin; and Vijay Prashad, the whip-smart head of the (anti-imperialist and anti-war) Tricontinental Institute. Hence, I read the NYT article with great interest and, as I proceeded, an ever-mounting sense of concern.

The NYT was, let us not forget, one of the main platforms that back in late 2002 and early 2003 published extremely inaccurate and misleading “reporting” on Iraq that helped to persuade wide swathes of the U.S. political elite that the U.S. military needed to invade Iraq. Its “reporting” and editorial pages have had an increasingly anti-Chinese cast to them in the past four to five years. Why did its editors and managers decide to devote so much expensive talent into producing the August 5 hit-piece?

I have a couple of theories about this. But before I get to those, let me just quickly give some examples of these journos’ methodology.

Their piece is full of unsubstantiated innuendo. For example, describing “information packets” handed out to African activists at a training session at the (Singham network-run) Nkrumah School in South Africa, the piece says,

The packets praised Chinese loans, calling them “an opportunity for African states to construct genuine, and sovereign, development projects.” No mention was made of China’s role in a recent debt crisis in Zambia.

In the print version of the story, there was no link there. So the NYT “journos” involved and their editors must lazily have assumed that all their readers would already know all about “China’s role in a recent debt crisis in Zambia.” I also read the piece online, which did have that link. So I followed it. It went to an NYT piece from last December about the debt crisis that several African “emerging markets” had been experiencing and said, inter alia, that in the preceding two years:

only Zambia, Chad and Ethiopia have sought debt relief. It has been a grinding process, involving creditor committees, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, all of which must negotiate and agree upon how to restructure loans that the countries owe. After two years, Zambia is finally on the verge of restructuring its debts to China’s state banks, and Chad reached an agreement last month…

I have followed some of these debt issues for quite a long while and my very clear impression is that the US-dominated World Bank and IMF have been considerably tougher on all the debtor nations from the Global South than have been the Chinese lenders. So what was the NYT’s hit-piece on about?

Oh yes, the journos did succeed in getting two named “defectors” from the Nkrumah School network to go on the record with their criticisms of Chinese influence on the school’s work. But so what?

The article is also full of quite unattributed innuendo. Like this graf:

None of Mr. Singham’s nonprofits have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as is required of groups that seek to influence public opinion on behalf of foreign powers. That usually applies to groups taking money or orders from foreign governments. Legal experts said Mr. Singham’s network was an unusual case.

Un-named “legal experts”? An “unusual case”? Is that the best they can do? (It is all , nonetheless, potentially very damaging innuendo.)

Contrast that with the much more detailed NYT reporting just one day later, on the case of Clarence Thomas’s acquisition of a very expensive RV some years ago, with the cost paid by his wealthy friend Anthony Welters:

In an email to The Times, Mr. Welters wrote: “Here is what I can share. Twenty-five years ago, I loaned a friend money, as I have other friends and family. We’ve all been on one side or the other of that equation. He used it to buy a recreational vehicle, which is a passion of his.” Roughly nine years later, “the loan was satisfied,” Mr. Welters added. He subsequently sent The Times a photograph of the original title bearing his signature and a handwritten “lien release” date of Nov. 22, 2008.

[Two more grafs of details… ]

“‘Satisfied’ doesn’t necessarily mean someone paid the loan back,” said Michael Hamersley, a tax lawyer and expert who has testified before Congress. “‘Satisfied’ could also mean the lender formally forgave the debt, or otherwise just stopped pursuing repayment.”

Here we have a named (and credentialed) tax lawyer giving his opinion, on the record, in a direct quote… Very different from the way they present, and source, the suggestion that Mr. Singham’s donations may in some way have fallen foul of the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act. (I guess the NYT’s own lawyers must be more scared of potential pushback/litigation from Clarence Thomas and his friends than they are of Roy Singham and his friends?)

Singham’s spouse of six years is, as the August 5 NYT piece prominently mentions, Jodie Evans, who was Medea Benjamin’s partner as a co-founder of Code Pink, 20 years ago and still helps co-direct the organization. The NYT article reports that, “Since 2017, about a quarter of Code Pink’s donations — more than $1.4 million — have come from two groups linked to Mr. Singham, nonprofit records show.” It also claimed that Ms. Evans “describes the Uyghurs as terrorists and defends their mass detention [by China.]” In the Code Pink video that they link to there, Ms. Evans did not explicitly describe all Uyghurs as terrorists, though she did refer to the fact that some ethnic-Uyghur terrorist groups have been active in Yemen and Syria—as has been well documented over the years—and said that from those locations they had gone back to undertake acts of terrorism inside China.

Indeed, the ethnic-Uyghur “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” has been officially listed (and sanctioned) by the United Nations since 2008 as a terrorist organization, and by the United States, ditto, since 2002...

Code Pink itself, by the way, has never issued any declarations of organizational support for Beijing’s policies towards the country’s Uyghur minority.

Anyway, I promised above that I’d share my own theories about why the NYT ran this apparently very damaging, but actually pretty sloppily produced hit-piece on Mr. Singham and the network of antiwar and anti-imperialist organizations that he has supported. A first theory is, unsurprisingly, that this article was part and parcel of the NYT’s continuing attempt to demonize not just China but also any voices within the United States that criticize the dangerous escalation of tensions with China that is currently so evident within many sections of the U.S. political elite, from both the major parties. (Code Pink, Tricontinental, anyone who associates with them, etc…)

Another theory I have is that the NYT’s editors were already well on their way toward publishing the big investigative piece they did on Justice Clarence Thomas and his numerous, extremely sleazy financial dealings. So maybe they rushed to pull together the anti-Singham hit piece in a hurry, as a way of performing an act of “balance”?

Of course, at the political level, a project to “balance” the pretty strong investigative coverage they have been doing of Clarence Thomas might have been to launch an equally detailed investigation into Hunter Biden’s many shady dealings? But no… It seems they decided that it was easier (and more convenient, from the perspective of their own political inclinations) to beat up on Roy Singham, Jodie Evans, and their allies.

Just one last note here. One valuable service the NYT story did provide was to provide a link to a tweet that Vijay Prashad published in December 2021; and from that thread there I followed a link an article Vijay had published about the inspiration he had drawn, back in the 1980s, from Roy Singham’s (Sri Lankan) father, Archibald Singham. Very inrteresting to read that!