What Lay Behind the Bizarre NY Times 'Apology' to Singapore?

The semi-correction references a 1994 "agreement"

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Like any newspaper, the New York Times often issues corrections. But on March 24 it instead issued an "apology." The bizarre non-correction is raising eyebrows across the blogosphere. Here's the apology and, below it, the flummoxed reactions:

In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.
  • Why Media Soft on Singapore  Outside the Beltway's James Joyner passes along this from a friend "employed by a major media company": "The reason the New York Times issued that correction is that if you print something about the Lee family, they will sue you in Singapore courts, which they control, and then they will win, and then they will seize any assets you happen to have in Singapore. For the New York Times, this is an issue. If you have ever wondered about the strange kid-gloves treatment the rather noxious family gets in the international media, that’s why."
  • Part of Singapore Libel Case  The Huffington Post's Alex Kennedy reports the $114,000 libel case behind the correction, which required Times editors and writers to pay massive sums to Singaporean officials. "The leaders of the authoritarian city-state have sued journalists and political opponents several times over the years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, the Economist and Dow Jones & Co." Kennedy frames the libel case as the Singapore government's way of censoring the press.
  • Life in Singapore  Matthew Yglesias sighs, "The price of doing business in Singapore is that you need to compromise your coverage in some respects. [...] it's hard out there for a newspaper of record."
  • Subtly Mocks Singapore  Conservative blogger V.J. Morton suggests the correction was cleverly written so conform to Singapore's demands while making clear to Western readers just how absurd the whole thing is. "maybe it a CYA for the writer, but written in a way designed to elicit WTFs from Westerners -- everybody wins"
  • No Nepotism Here  Liberal blogger Duncan "Atrios" Black quips of Punch Sulzberger, the 84-year-old former New York Times chief who inherited the newspaper, "pinch sulzberger was a merit hire. i apologize for suggesting otherwise." He adds of Singapore's famously open business laws, "singapore is a glibertarian paradise."
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