By Ira Stoll
The New York Times, under pressure, has suspended its moneymaking “Times Journeys” journalist-guided vacation tours of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The 106-page printed catalog of 2019 departures hit mailboxes of Times subscribers this week. It includes trips to Antarctica, China, Japan, and the Galapagos Islands. But terror-sponsoring, Israel-hating Tehran, which has been a destination for the Times since the “Times Journeys” launched in 2014, has been unceremoniously dropped from the list.
A Times spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a question about why the trips had been stopped. The US Treasury also didn’t immediately respond on the record to a question about whether the Trump administration’s newly-tightened sanctions on Iran had required the Times to stop offering the journeys.
A booking representative for the Times Journeys explained that the Times Iran tour had been put “on the shelf for the next year or two,” the result of “just a change in the kind of direction that we wanted to go with the travel program.”
The New York Times has been searching for new revenues in recent years to replace its declining print newspaper advertising business. Adventure and educational travel marketed to Times readers and in some cases accompanied by Times journalists is one business that the Times has tried to build. The newspaper even offered a $135,000 around-the-world tour by chartered jet that included meetings with the Times publisher and an op-ed columnist along with a stop in Iran.
The Times website lists a single remaining departure for the “Tales From Persia” tour, for November 10-22, 2018, with a cost of, “From $7,895.”
After Saudi Arabia apparently killed a Washington Post columnist, the Times announced it was suspending its journalist-led Times Journeys departures to Saudi Arabia. That, in turn, led to mounting pressure also to cancel the Iran trips, as The Algemeiner reportedlast month. The executive director of the Washington Institute For Near East Policy, Robert Satloff, asked, “Question for @nytimes: …by what rationale are you suspending tourism to #SaudiArabia but proudly advertising money-making ‘Journey’ tours to #Iran, world’s leading sponsor of terrorism?” Satloff’s question was retweeted or liked about 3,000 times.
When the Times trips to Iran were first launched, The Algemeiner reported that the Times advised Jewish or gay participants in the journeys to conceal their identity, and that Israelis would be barred from participating.
Since then, the Times Iran tours have been invoked regularly by Algemeiner columns critical of Times Iran coverage, such as the Times editorial mourning the “untimely” death of an Iranian terrorist kingpin, a Times news article showering compliments on the Iranian foreign minister, and slanted Times coverage of protests against the Iranian regime.
The Times might have responded to my inquiry with a straightforward statement such as, “After the Saudi Arabia situation, the new publisher took a fresh look at Times Journeys, and decided the million or so dollars a year in revenue and hundred thousand or so dollars a year in profit that the Iran trips generated weren’t worth the reputational cost they inflicted of creating the appearance of profit-motivated bias in Times news and editorial coverage of Iran.” Or, “After 11 Jews were killed by an antisemite at a Pittsburgh synagogue, making money by running luxury tours to the world’s leading state sponsor of Jew-killing terrorist attacks was not something we could, in good conscience, keep doing.” Or, “This was a demand-driven, strictly business decision. Every one of our readers who wanted to do this trip has already done it, and no one else wanted to go, at least at the exorbitant prices we were charging.”
But those statements would require a level of transparency or candor that the Times craves in other institutions but usually prefers not to exhibit when it comes to its own affairs.
Ira Stoll is a former managing editor of The Forward and former North American editor of The Jerusalem Post.