Back in 1997, an American journalist named Joseph Kahn could be found in Hong Kong covering Britain’s handover of its former colony to the People’s Republic of China.
Kahn’s account of the post-imperial pomp and circumstance, published in the Wall Street Journal, was a curiously partisan piece of journalism.
On one hand, Kahn managed to be weirdly sympathetic to the communist dictatorship taking over this hitherto-vibrant democracy, at times parroting lines that might have been pinched from its propaganda manual.
‘An ascendant China regained sovereignty over this skyscraper-stacked business colossus with flag-festooned ceremonies amid fireworks, cannon salutes and torrential downpours,’ began his dispatch, before noting that ‘China’s rising status in the world was made clear at the ceremonies’.
On the other hand, Kahn’s article seemed curiously hostile to the departing Brits, or at least to the manner in which America’s oldest ally chose to say goodbye.
‘A heavy downpour drenched guests, just as a military band struck up the first chords of God Save The Queen, and Prince Charles’s speech was drowned out,’ it read. ‘A light rain kept up until Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia slipped out of Hong Kong’s harbour . . . shortly after midnight.’
New York Times Executive Editor Joseph Kahn photographed by Chris Buck, in which the newspaperman posed with a mug bearing a Chinese symbol
The New York Times kicked off its coverage — little more than two hours after the monarch’s death had been announced — with a lengthy comment piece. We should not ‘romanticise her era,’ the piece claimed
This reporting was not entirely accurate: the ‘downpour’ evident in surviving footage had actually started long before the National Anthem was played, while the now-King’s speech appears to have been perfectly audible to the crowds who gathered to watch him.
But those minor issues don’t seem to have prevented the article’s ambitious — if rather Anglophobic — young author from subsequently climbing the greasy pole of his profession.
Today, Joseph Kahn is executive editor of the New York Times, America’s most famous newspaper. And in the 25 years that have passed since the handover of Hong Kong, he remains mustard keen on pouring scorn in the general direction of Britain, and its Royal Family.
How else can we explain the insensitive and at times grotesque manner in which the ‘Old Grey Lady’ — a nickname Kahn’s Left-leaning paper owes to its dreary layout and headlines — has chosen to mark the death of the Queen?
The New York Times kicked off its coverage — little more than two hours after the monarch’s death had been announced — with a lengthy comment piece by Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff, urging readers to ‘mourn the Queen, not her empire’.
We should not ‘romanticise her era,’ the piece claimed, because the Queen allegedly ‘helped obscure a bloody history of de-colonisation whose proportions and legacies have yet to be adequately acknowledged’.
Her Majesty was also guilty of having ‘had a personal relationship with Winston Churchill’ [a man Jasanoff accused of ‘retrograde imperialism’], as well as being ‘a white face on all the coins, notes and stamps circulating in a rapidly diversifying nation’.
In other words, according to this expert in grievance studies, Britain’s monarch was somehow racist. Despite the fact that she (among other things) helped to found the Commonwealth, advocated for a tougher line on apartheid South Africa and happily presided over an era in which Britain became the most multicultural nation in Europe.
When Liz Truss became Prime Minister, an obscure academic from Birkbeck, University of London wrote an article illustrated with an oddly-lit black and white photo of Truss looking like a cross between Darth Vader and Cruella de Vil
Particularly vile, given the article’s timing, was a passage in which Jasanoff chose to describe the assassination of the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten by the IRA as ‘karmic’ (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘good or bad luck, especially as a result of one’s own actions’).
The attack in question, when a bomb was detonated on the family’s fishing boat in 1979, also resulted in the death of Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, along with a 15-year-old deckhand, Paul Maxwell. Lady Doreen Brabourne, 83, the mother-in-law of Mountbatten’s eldest daughter, died the next day.
Quite why any right-thinking person would consider that ‘karmic’ is anyone’s guess. But as Norman Tebbit, whose late wife was paralysed by the IRA a few years later, said this week: ‘The New York Times is now well-known for being a very anti-British newspaper. This is not a surprise but feels particularly egregious in the wake of the Queen’s death. It’s the sort of scum that rises to the top of dirty water.’
Jasanoff wasn’t the only writer given space on the hallowed comment pages of the New York Times to attack the monarchy via the predictable prism of race.
A couple of days later, it was the turn of novelist Hari Kunzru. The ‘white queen’, he wrote, ‘spent a lifetime smiling and waving at cheering native people around the world, a sort of living ghost of a system of rapacious and bloodthirsty extraction’.
He added: ‘Like many other people around the world whose families fought the British Empire, I reject its mythology of benevolence and enlightenment, and find the royal demand for deference repugnant.’
Mr Kunzru is, of course, entitled to his view. But the strikingly multi-ethnic crowds queuing to pay their respects to Her Majesty as she lies in state this weekend suggest that, outside the Left-wing intelligentsia, not everyone holds such sour, if fashionable, opinions.
Following this increasingly unhinged anti-royal commentary, a number of people claiming to be subscribers have taken to social media in recent days to say they will cancel their subscriptions to the paper. Having poured scorn on the late Queen, Kahn’s New York Times then decided the time was right to go on the offensive against Britain’s new King. On Tuesday, it published an article about Charles’s finances that called the monarch ‘disconnected’ for enjoying tax privileges while the British public is ‘reliant on food banks’.
Mr Kahn’s surreal hostility to the UK is widely believed to be motivated by commercial pressures
According to the authors — one of whom, Euan Ward, gleefully tweeted a video of a handful of Scottish protesters booing God Save The King in Scotland last week — the King has ‘spent half a century turning his royal estate into a billion-dollar portfolio and one of the most lucrative money-makers in the royal family business’.
It added: ‘His lifestyle of palaces and polo has long fuelled accusations that he is out of touch with ordinary people. And he has at times been the unwitting symbol of that disconnect.’
The shock news that a British monarch is quite rich was nothing, however, next to the next New York Times ‘scoop’, published some 24 hours later. It revealed, if that is the correct word, that the forthcoming State Funeral will be paid for by . . . the British State.
‘Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, which will involve elaborate processions, vigils and rituals, will be paid for by British taxpayers as they deal with soaring energy prices and high inflation,’ the paper breathlessly reported. ‘The British government has not yet said how much it will cost.’
Why this was presented as a scandal is unclear. The annual cost of the royals to taxpayers — £102.4 million — is, as it happens, less than a quarter of the amount that Americans pay for their President to be transported around the world in Air Force One. And a tenth of the £1.2 billion they pay for ‘operations’ at the White House, the residence of their country’s head of state.
Importantly, the article also made a very basic factual error in its bid to drum up outrage, by claiming that inflation in the UK currently exceeds ten per cent. In fact, the real figure is 9.8 per cent, while the Consumer Prices Index is up 8.6 per cent. Last night, the paper issued a humiliating apology for the sloppy mistake.
The shambles was nothing if not true to form. For one might argue that the New York Times has become expert in making factually (and morally) questionable generalisations about Britain.
At the Hong Kong handover in 1997, Kahn managed to be weirdly sympathetic to the communist dictatorship taking over this hitherto-vibrant democracy
Indeed, recent years have seen America’s alleged newspaper of record go to extraordinary lengths to portray our country as some sort of poverty-stricken backwater in terminal decline, forever looking back via rose-tinted glasses at the days of imperial greatness.
When Liz Truss became Prime Minister, an obscure academic from Birkbeck, University of London, named Kojo Koram was given a prime spot on its comment pages to suggest that ‘Britain’s New Prime Minister is still in thrall to the Empire’.
Illustrated with an oddly-lit black and white photo of Truss looking like a cross between Darth Vader and Cruella de Vil, it argued that she’s somehow the natural heir to Enoch Powell on the grounds that both admired Margaret Thatcher.
‘The British Empire may have ended 60 years ago, but the country’s next Prime Minister is still in thrall to its legacy,’ claimed Koram. ‘Under Ms Truss, the broken mentality of Empire rules. And it is everyday Britons who will pay the price.’ It must be a different Liz Truss who has appointed the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in British history.
Around the same time, the New York Times used its website to publish a supposedly funny video by ‘Jonathan Pie’, a reporter played by a Left-wing broadcaster called Tom Walker. Mr Walker had, some days earlier, used Twitter to proclaim that the new Prime Minister was ‘a c*** of the higher order’.
His film argued that Truss is ‘inheriting a nation falling apart at the seams,’ claiming among other things ‘you can’t get in or out of the country because of airline staff shortages and queues at border control’.
That will be news to the millions of Britons who successfully managed overseas summer holidays. Or as Nile Gardiner, director of Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, put it: ‘It’s the kind of video [the] Kremlin would put out about Britain. It’s a deeply unpleasant propaganda video and bears no relation to reality . . . that paints a completely false picture of the United Kingdom.’
The New York Times has received more criticism over its reporting of the Queen’s funeral, including a new report noting – with apparent surprise – that it would be paid for by taxpayers
The New York Times revealed, if that is the correct word, that the forthcoming State Funeral will be paid for by . . . the British State. It is unclear why this was presented as a scandal
Mr Walker is something of an expert on Kremlin propaganda: he used to perform as Jonathan Pie on its pet TV channel, Russia Today — now banned in Britain.
August saw the front page of the New York Times international edition carry a piece by Richard Seymour, who argued that Brexit was cutting Britain ‘down to size’, adding that we were ‘economically stagnant, socially fragmented and politically adrift’.
Mr Seymour was described as ‘an editor at Salvage magazine and author of several books about politics and cultures’. What readers weren’t told is that Salvage happens to be a Marxist publication with a hammer and sickle on its masthead.
Perhaps inevitably, its most hysterical reporting has centred on Brexit. When the UK finally left the EU in 2020, a writer named Roger Cohen outlandishly claimed that covering the referendum and its aftermath had been more traumatic than being a war correspondent. He added that Britain leaving the EU signalled ‘the end of hope, a moral collapse’ and predicted that the country would become ‘more insular, more alone, no longer a protagonist in the great miracle of the post-war years’.
Try telling that to the government of Ukraine, which for good reason counts our nation as its most important European ally of the past two years.
A few months earlier, New York Times readers were told that Britons had chosen to ‘stock up on supplies, preparing for Brexit’ and were ‘buying up [sic] pet food, candles and lavatory paper to survive post-Brexit meltdown’.
Maya Jasanoff, a Harvard professor specialising in the history of the British Empire, wrote for the NY Times last week that it was wrong to ‘romanticize’ the Queen’s rule
Its reporter interviewed a couple who had started growing crops in their Cornwall garden and feared that Brexit would be as bad as World War II rationing and 1970s power cuts combined. Earlier, in 2019, it recruited a little-known novelist to write a piece titled ‘Britain is drowning itself in nostalgia’. The author claimed the country was ‘poisoned’ with ‘colonial arrogance’ and ‘dreamy jingoism’. And around the same time, an Irish woman living in London was given space to explain why: ‘I Didn’t Hate the English — Until Now.’
‘If you put any other nationality in that headline, there would be an outcry,’ said the Henry Jackson Society, in response to this frankly xenophobic headline.
There are times when the newspaper’s coverage is so absurd as to verge on the comical. Five years ago, a New York Times travel writer complained that London’s restaurant cuisine revolved until very recently around boiled mutton and porridge. He also spoke of having eaten in ‘Mayfield’ when he meant Mayfair.
And in 2018 a writer used a brief trip to the town of Prescot in Lancashire to argue that Britain was an austerity-ridden wasteland, only for residents of the town to promptly highlight a string of basic inaccuracies in his article, including false claims it no longer had a police station, library or museum (it boasted all three).
In a surreal response, the author conceded that his facts may be wrong, but claimed that didn’t matter because his ‘perception’ of the ‘village’ [sic] was correct.
Comic as this may be, there is a serious side to the anti-British agenda of the New York Times. It continues to be read by America’s elite — and, despite its increasingly wonky reputation for accuracy, it carries some heft overseas.
Famously, the New York Times’s President and CEO from 2012-20 and former BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, once dubbed Brexit an ‘ugly shambles’ and even compared the tactics of the Vote Leave campaign to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Joseph Kahn knows all this only too well. For his title’s surreal hostility to the UK is widely believed to be motivated by commercial pressures.
The title boasts around eight million paying subscribers to its website, but wants to add around two million more outside the U.S. in the coming years. According to insiders, one way to do this is to sweep up readers in countries such as China, where there are around 1.4 billion potential readers and attacks on Western powers (and the principles of monarchy or even democracy) are well received.
Mr Kahn is, of course, something of an expert on this front. As his 1997 dispatch makes clear, he was for years a China correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. More recently, after taking the editorship of the New York Times, he chose to take part in a shoot organised by the ‘offbeat’ photographer Chris Buck, in which the newspaperman posed with a mug bearing a Chinese symbol on it.
This symbolism was, at the time, somewhat overshadowed by mockery directed at Kahn’s bizarre decision to remove his shoes and sit on his office carpet for the portrait photo, grimacing in a manner some compared to a middle-aged divorcee’s first online dating photograph.
Today, under his stewardship, the New York Times publishes a Chinese language edition, as well as a luxury goods magazine.
A second way to drum up subscribers is to target new readers in countries such as the UK. And this is where articles portraying Britain as a dystopian hellhole come in handy. According to insiders, the firm’s tracking data suggests Left-wing articles lambasting Britain are proving effective in persuading a niche audience of wealthy, Remain-supporting metropolitan Brits to sign up and subscribe.
In other words, bashing the Queen can be commercially lucrative. And so this once renowned newspaper of record’s vendetta seems set to continue.