Like many journalistic outlets in the financially stressful digital age, The New York Times constantly looks for ways to monetize its brand in hopes of generating new and profitable revenue streams.
But an offering by “Times Journeys”—a “luxurious” 13-day tour through the Islamic Republic of Iran, led by veteran Times reporter Elaine Sciolino, for which participants will be charged $6,995 a head—has prompted the Gray Lady to blush in embarrassment.
Today, after an inquiry from The Daily Beast about the travel promotion—which touts “beautiful landscapes,” “vibrant bazaars,” and “luxurious hotels,” but makes no mention of Iran’s human rights abuses, nuclear ambitions, or its U.S. government designation as a state supporter of terrorism—the Times fell on its sword and admitted that it messed up.
“In the case of this trip to Iran, the Journey’s focus is on the long and rich history of the region including relics and archaeological sites,” a New York Times Co. spokeswoman emailed The Daily Beast. “Despite that, the context of contemporary Iran is relevant and it was a mistake not to mention current events in some way in the marketing materials. We are working on correcting the error.”
In a piece posted Sunday night, Stoll wrote that “anyone considering plunking down nearly $7,000 for the pleasure of accompanying a Times journalist on a ‘relaxing evening and dinner’ after antique shopping in Iran may want to consider, first, browsing the State Department’s latest human rights report on Iran.
It reports that under Iranian law, ‘a woman who appears in public without an appropriate headscarf (hijab) may be sentenced to lashings and fined.’ It also says that ‘The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which may be punishable by death or flogging.’”
Indeed, in early August, Iran’s authoritarian mullahs ordered the death by hanging of two so-called “sodomites”—part of a wave of state-sponsored executions, including 400 in the first half of 2014 alone.
Stoll noted that while travel by American citizens to Iran is perfectly legal, the State Department warns: “Some elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States. As a result, U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran…The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran.”
The Times Journeys promotion, by contrast, invites paying customers to enjoy “an interesting fusion of old meeting new; conservative elders uphold the traditions of the illustrious Persian past while the young and fashionable adopt a new trendy joie de vivre.”
There’s also the promise of enjoying guided tours of a carpet museum, “some time haggling over spices, textiles, antiques and copper handicrafts” at a bazaar, and a “five-star hotel boasting stunning Persian soft furnishings.”
The Times Co. spokeswoman noted that the Times Journeys tour operation, which in March announced an expansion to 21 different trips, “is an initiative of the business side and the newsroom is only involved as it relates to approval and appropriateness of journalist participation.”