U.N. “Stingy” Comment Did Not Specify U.S.

UN EgelandHere’s an interesting wrinkle in the controversy surrounding the U.N. comment: apparently the Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Norwegian Jan Egeland did not actually direct the quote at the U.S., but instead at affluent U.N. member nations in general. The Gadflyer has the story and the much needed context in WSJ, Washington Times capitalize on tsunami tragedy:

Here’s the jist of the Times story:

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland suggested that the United States and other Western nations were being “stingy” with relief funds, saying there would be more available if taxes were raised.

“It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really,” the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. “Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become.”

Note how ‘stingy’ is in quotes in the first graph and ‘the United States and other Western nations’ is not. That’s because Egeland referred to ‘wealthy states’ and ‘donor states,’ but at no time did he single out the United States. In fact, when a reporter asked Egeland to name the countries he believed to be “stingy,” he pointedly declined to do so (you can stream the 48-minute press conference with RealPlayer and see for yourself).

Now, while I’m no fan of the U.N. and I think the comment was in poor taste to begin with (the U.N. should think about its own oil-for-food-coated glass windows before throwing humanitarian rocks), Bill Sammon of the Washington Times needs to issue a mea culpa for stretching a quote to fit partisan agenda. It’s duplicitious to run a headline — U.N. official slams U.S. as ‘stingy’ over aid — as fact when the truth is so divergent.

UPDATE: A former U.N. official piped up and said of the planned U.S. aid coalition (US, Japan, India and Australia): “I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up [emphasis added].” Now, realizing this is a former U.N. official is integral in parsing the comment, but I think it’s obvious that these countries are wary of letting the U.N. anywhere near aid money, and rightfully so. I also think it’s pointless to blow this into a big issue, which of course it doubtlessly will be now that the “stingy” quote is deflating.

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