15 January 2007

Less than a week in office as new U.N. Secretary General, the New York Times pounced on Ban Ki-Moon with a blunt editorial. The Grey Lady used the right issue of capital punishment to pass a definite judgment on the newcomer to the U.N. culture.

We may end up criticizing Mr. Ban more fiercely than the Times. But our view is that we should first give him a break. The U.N. is already in bad shape for many reasons, including some which were the doings of the outgoing Secretary General. Food-For-Oil, cases of sexual harassment by senior officials, violations of staff rules, blatant self-promotion at the expense of the Organization, staff complaints leading to the lowest morale ever -- all that and more were almost overlooked by the Times until they reached the level of glaring headlines. Even then, they gave Kofi Annan more than the benefit of the doubt; the views of his administration were carried in full while shifting the focus elsewhere. Although that attitude was perceived by many -- including some accredited correspondents -- as helping to cover up for Mr. Annan, we felt that the mainstream daily was exercising caution and restraint in avoiding further damage to the U.N. image. The links between Mr. Annan's team and a number of Times employees are common knowledge. Discreet help while drafting U.N.-related editorials was not unusual; indeed, allowing for input by the Secretary General or anyone speaking on his behalf is more than welcome. A complimentary book by a Times reporter who was given unprecedented access to a U.N. Secretary General is often described as one symptom of that relationship.

Rushing to judgment within five days seemed a bit premature; if not heavy-handed. It gave the impression that someone was waiting for the first opportunity to show the difference. It sounded unfair. All we are saying is give Ben Ki-Moon a chance. For a while, at least. After six months, who knows? We may be ahead of the Times.