Accuracy in Media

Is The Nation magazine being completely honest about its U.N. correspondent working for the U.N.? On its website, next to an Ian Williams column attacking John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., there is a little box that provides information “about Ian Williams, UN Correspondent.”

It says that, “In addition to his work as UN correspondent for The Nation, Ian Williams has frequently entered the lists on its behalf on a wide variety of radio and TV outlets, including Hardball, The O’Reilly Factor, Scarborough Country, UN TV and many more.” The listing of UN TV is new. Williams-and many other journalists-have appeared on the U.N. television program World Chronicle. But Williams is not the only journalist to have appeared on UN TV who had admitted getting paid.

However, that bio box in the upper right hand corner does NOT disclose the extent of his affiliation with the U.N. You have to click on the “more” link, which takes you to more information. Here you do discover that Williams “has conducted media training sessions for UN agencies and written reports for the United Nations Development Programme on various development issues.”

His old disclosure used to say, “Ian Williams, The Nation’s UN correspondent, is the author of The UN for Beginners and has been writing about the UN and international politics since 1989. His Deserter: George Bush, Soldier of Fortune is due out in August from Nation Books.” There was nothing about his work for the U.N.

The Nation has taken a step in the right direction. But it’s still too difficult to find this information about Williams’ conflict of interest. And the amount of money he has received is nowhere to be found., which also runs articles by Williams, doesn’t even go that far. It ran a March 26 piece by Williams on U.N. boss Kofi Annan’s “bold” new plan for U.N. reform. In its “About the writer” section, it said that “Ian Williams is the U.N. correspondent for the Nation and author of ‘The UN for Beginners.’ His last book was ‘Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans and His Own Past,’ and his next, due in August 2005, is ‘Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776.'” Nothing was said here about Williams getting money from the U.N.

Williams doesn’t note that Annan unveiled another U.N. reform plan back in 1997. Looking back at it, one can almost laugh out loud. The U.N. said this plan would move the U.N. “firmly along the pathway to major and fundamental reform designed to achieve greater unity of purpose, coherence of effort and flexibility in response.” This plan would create “a new leadership and management structure which will strengthen the capacity of the Secretary-General to provide the leadership and ensure the accountability that the Organization requires.” Since then, of course, we’ve had the oil-for-food scandal and U.N. sex abuse scandals.

It seems that every time the U.N. gets into trouble it unveils another reform plan. We haven’t seen Williams’ new book, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776, and we don’t know if he is a drinker or not. But we can understand why covering the U.N. would drive some people to drink. One advance review of the Williams book says that it “triumphantly restores rum’s rightful place in history.” Perhaps rum will have more of a positive impact on world history than the U.N. Of course, that’s not saying much.

Look for the U.N. to throw a book party for Williams when his book on rum is officially released. We’re sure they’ll have a lot of fun together. Maybe they’ll use the occasion to come up with another U.N. reform plan.

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