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Stingy With the Facts

The ConWeb repeats a lie about a United Nations official's comments on tsunami aid in order to bash the U.N. yet again.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/6/2005

It's sad when the conservative media just out-and-out lies to its readers. Yet it does that with surprising frequency -- for instance, WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah's lies about Teresa Heinz Kerry and NewsMax founder Christopher Ruddy's lies about the Clintons.

This time, conservatives ganged up to lie about a United Nations official, saying that he called the United States "stingy" in its early response to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.

Wrong. Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said no such thing. According to a transcript of a Dec. 27 news conference, what Egeland was talking about was, generally, what he considered low levels of foreign aid money from wealthy nations and, specifically, the fear that these countries would spend all of the new year's foreign aid allocations on tsunami relief, leaving little money for the other emergencies that typically happen:

We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me why are we so stingy, really, when we are -- and even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become. And if actually the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of their gross national income, I think that is stingy, really. I don't think that is very generous.

The word "United States" appears nowhere near "stingy." Yet somehow Egeland's remarks were grossly distorted into a claim that the U.S. was being "stingy." Actually, we know exactly how: A Dec. 28 Washington Times article by conservative tool Bill Sammon. And even if you somehow accept that Sammon's fabrication was in fact the truth, Egeland may have a point given the fact that the $15 million in aid the Bush administration originally pledged is less than half of the $40 million being spent on President Bush's inauguration.

But you couldn't count on the ConWeb to pick up on such a nuance (at least, when a Republican is the offending party; then we are treated to parsing spectacles like WND's Farah insisting that Alan Keyes didn't call Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter a "selfish hedonist"). Instead, it immediately parroted it as yet another way to bash the United Nations:

  • A Dec. 29 story began by stating that President Bush "commented that the United Nations official who said America is being 'stingy' in its response was "misguided and ill-informed." Nowhere does the story, by Randy Hall, offer Egeland's original comments in context, but it does report on Egeland's later statement that "I have been misinterpreted." Hall also uncritically repeats Bush's statement that the U.S. "pledged an initial $35 million in relief assistance," which isn't true, either.
  • A Dec. 29 commentary by Rich Galen at uses the lie about Egeland to launch an anti-U.N. rant: "The United States was deemed 'stingy' in its immediate promise of $15 million in aid to the post-tsunami relief effort in Southeast Asia by United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jan Egeland. I have two words for the U-G for HA & ER Egeland: Get out. In fact, I have the same two words for the whole United Nations: Get out." Galen adds: "Speaking of being stingy, does the name "quisling" mean anything to Mr. Egeland? To be a 'quisling' is to be a collaborator with the enemy," then suggests that "not one stingy penny of U.S. money should be sent to the United Nations until Mr. Egeland is fired. Period. Let the French make up the difference."
  • A Dec. 29 NewsMax article beat up on Egeland for "sniping about 'stingy' donors aiding the tsunami victims," then went on to call the U.N. "a parasitic organization that doesn't create any wealth, just confiscates it from others and squanders much of it." Finally, the article suggests that "Egeland, Kofi Annan and their fellow taxpayer-supported drones could forgo their lavish benefits and salaries and give the proceeds to the poor."
  • A Dec. 30 NewsMax story by Stewart Stogel stated that Egeland "called the U.S. aid 'stingy.'" Stogel adds that "Egeland insisted that reporters 'misinterpreted' his comments," but, like CNS' Hall, fails to provide Egeland's original comments in context so his readers could judge for themselves.
  • A Jan. 5 NewsMax story refers to "Jan 'Americans are Stingy' Engeland," prompting worries about not only NewsMax's dedication to truth but its dedication to basic copy-editing.
  • In a Dec. 30 WorldNetDaily column, Hal Lindsey insisted that "Egeland called us 'stingy' and suggested if our taxes were higher, we would have more money to send. He criticized 'Western nations' (that would be the United States) for 'believ[ing] that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less.'"
  • Even Pat Buchanan joined the lying in his Jan. 3 column (which appears at WorldNetDaily) by claiming: "On hearing that America's initial offer of aid to the victims of the South Asia disaster was a paltry $15 million, Ian Egeland, the U.N. coordinator for international relief, spat out, 'It is beyond me why we are so stingy,'" Buchanan added: "He is a dispensable parasite who insults the nation responsible for his exalted lifestyle." And Buchanan gets Egeland's first name wrong to boot.

A lot of harsh words bandied about here over something that isn't even true.

Yet amazingly, when confronted with his lie on the Jan. 2 edition of "Fox News Sunday" (well, perhaps "confronted" is too strong a word here -- we are talking about a conservative appearing on "Fox News Sunday," after all, and it appears that Sammon was merely responding to Egeland's appearance earlier in the program), Sammon continued to insist that Egeland was really talking about the U.S. As Media Matters for America noted, one convoluted clue Sammon cites as evidence is that Egeland's reference to countries that allocate "0.1 or 0.2 percent" of their gross national product to foreign aid could only be referring to the U.S. But Italy and Austria are among the other countries that allocate a similar amount. Sammon seems to be trying awfully hard to beat this square peg into the round hole of truth.

But the ConWeb loves to beat up on the U.N. A Dec. 29 column by WND's Farah probably best sums up this attitude, blasting the U.N. as "an incompetent, morally corrupt, unaccountable agency" and claiming that "the United Nations needs to be destroyed, dismantled, obliterated from the memory of the people of the Earth."

When you have that kind of jihadistic attitude, the truth is simply just another mere formality to be "destroyed, dismantled, obliterated."

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