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The Journalist Who Exposed the U.N.

She has been described as a rose among thorns, a dogged reporter, a one-woman news service, meticulous, gracious and an extraordinary example to aspiring reporters. This is the reputation developed by Claudia Rosett, who has performed a great public service by exposing massive corruption at the United Nations. On the night of June 1, Rosett’s friends, associates and admirers gathered at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan to see her accept the Eric Breindel Prize for her coverage of the United Nations oil-for-food scandal.

The $10,000 Breindel prize is given in honor of “the columnist, editorialist or reporter whose work best reflects the spirit of the writings by Eric Breindel: Love of country and its democratic institutions as well as the act of bearing witness to the evils of totalitarianism.” A journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Rosett is a contributor to National Review, The New York Sun, and the Wall Street Journal. Breindel, who served as editorial-page editor of the New York Post and worked on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was co-author with Herbert Romerstein of The Venona Secrets, a book about Soviet espionage.

Rosett recalled that in February 1998, a month before Breindel died, he wrote an article about Kofi Annan’s confidence in doing business with Saddam Hussein. Breindel wrote that “the final chapter has yet to be written.” Rosett wound up taking the torch from Breindel and as the Sun noted, “He could not have had a more worthy successor.” Many question whether the U.N. scandal would ever have been exposed were it not for Rosett’s perseverance.

Also playing a critical role were media outlets which gave Rosett’s scoops a wider forum. Among those were Fox News, Commentary, National Review Online, The Weekly Standard, The New York Sun, as well as Hugh Hewitt’s and John Batchelor’s radio shows. Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review also points out the pivotal role played by Roger Simon’s blog. 

Rosett had to display determination and perseverance in going after corruption in what for many reporters is an unassailable bastion of goodwill: the United Nations. The U.N. seems to occupy the place of the land of Oz in the minds of many deferential reporters: a place that keeps the dream of peace alive, a Disneyworld for adults where nothing ever goes awry. Not all reporters are merely deferential: some are on the UN payroll, as previously reported by Accuracy in Media. Others may be politically na?ve and don’t recall how Jeanne Kirkpatrick found the U.N. in thrall to the Soviet Union, with even so-called “non-aligned” nations serving as predictable allies for Soviet positions. Still others identify with anti-American forces obtaining decision-making roles in the world body.

In one classic column, Rosett took Kofi Annan to task in September 2004 over his remarks that the war in Iraq was “illegal.” This was furtive hypocrisy. After all, Annan presided over the continuing “acute malnutrition” of young Iraqi children even as the United Nations profited handsomely from the corrupt oil-for-food program. Rosett reminded readers first that Annan’s Secretariat collected more than $1.4 billion in commissions on Saddam’s oil sales, ostensibly for use in supervising the integrity of Saddam’s $65 billion in oil sales and $46 billion in relief purchases. Then she honed in on a Pentagon pricing study that detailed 759 big-ticket Oil-for-Food contracts which were for food still waiting to be delivered when Hussein’s regime fell. Of the food contracts studied, Rosett wrote, almost 90 percent were overpriced by an average of about 22 percent?over twice the rate of Saddam’s standard kickback. In this sample reported by Rosett, totaling $2.1 billion in U.N.-approved grocery shipping by Saddam, the potential take was $390 million. It was the over-pricing of baby food specifically, though, that Rosett wielded as a lever to move her growing audience of readers closer to the unvarnished truth. Rosett gave an example of an even higher over-pricing rate for baby formula: 26 percent which on one Vietnamese contract came out to $5 million.

Rosett’s translation: “In late 2002, while Mr. Annan was lobbying against U.S.-led removal of Saddam, he was running a U.N. program in which money meant for baby formula, among other goods, was very likely flowing into the pockets of Saddam and his sons and cronies.”

In a scathing critique of United Nations complicity and apathy, Rosett referenced a November 2002 statement to the Security Council by Benon Sevan, director of Oil-for-Food. Sevan said that staff in Iraq had made over one million “observation visits” to ensure the integrity of the program. (The visits were paid for by oil-for-food money.) In that same statement, Rosett reported that Sevan said that “acute malnutrition” was still rampant among young children in Iraq, despite the program. “But the solution prescribed by Mr. Annan was not to spot and stop the kickbacks,” Rosett wrote, “Rather?Mr. Annan’s solution again and again was to urge more oil sales by Saddam. Which meant, most likely, more resources earmarked to feed babies but diverted to the Baghdad regime (and, by extension, more commissions for the U.N.).”

Fox News went on to produce a documentary, “United Nations Blood Money,” which looked at the ways the oil-for-food scheme had been “fleeced by Saddam Hussein, possibly influenced U.N. Security Council decisions to refuse to wage war against Saddam and might have funneled money to current Iraqi insurgents and perhaps to Al Qaeda.”  The documentary sparked outrage from the United Nations, but Fox stood by the accuracy and fairness of its reporting.

In Commentary magazine, Rosett summed up the ugly scandal: “Annan’s studied bewilderment is itself an indictment not only of his person but of the system he heads.” She said that “We are left to contemplate a U.N. system that has engendered a secretary-general either so dishonest that he should be dismissed or so incompetent that he is truly dangerous and should be dismissed.”

We need more reporters like Rosett who are unafraid to investigate and report on corruption in the United Nations; reporters who are not for sale and who refuse to play the role of flatterer to the world body.