Aryn Baker, Time Magazine's Afghanistan Reporter, Failed To Disclose Conflict Of Interest: NY Observer [UPDATE]
Over at the New York Observer, John Gorenfeld reports that Aryn Baker, the reporter who provided Time magazine with its attention-grabbing July 29 cover story on the war in Afghanistan had a significant, and previously undisclosed, conflict of interest:
The piece lacked a crucial personal disclosure on Baker's part: Her husband, Tamim Samee, an Afghan-American IT entrepreneur, is a board member of an Afghan government minister's $100 million project advocating foreign investment in Afghanistan, and has run two companies, Digistan and Ora-Tech, that have solicited and won development contracts with the assistance of the international military, including private sector infrastructure projects favored by U.S.-backed leader Hamid Karzai.
In other words, the Time reporter who wrote a story bolstering the case for war appears to have benefited materially from the NATO invasion. Reached by The Observer, a Time spokesperson revealed that the magazine has just reassigned Baker to a new country as part of a normal rotation, though he declined to say where.
Naturally, Time has denied any problem here, insisting to Gorenfeld that "Aryn Baker's husband has no connection to the U.S. military, has never solicited business from them and has no financial stake in the U.S. presence in Afghanistan whatsoever." The problem, though, is that Samee doesn't see things that way:
But two years before his wedding to the Time bureau chief, Samee told Radio Free Europe in 2006 that Digistan -- apparently the local arm of an international IT operation, run from a villa in Kabul -- was discovering for itself that the "opportunities are definitely here" in the telecom field, thanks to "quite a bit of involvement from ISAF [NATO's International Security Assistance Force, commanded until recently by Stanley Gen. McChrystal] and coalition forces." The same year, he told Entrepreneur: "You won't find another place that offers so many opportunities" and the AP that profits "have been higher than I expected." Three years later, Digistan was advertising for sales staff skilled in "Government and Military Procurement," reflecting the company's connection to the cloudy world of NATO-enabled civilian wartime contracts.
Perhaps the most fatuous part of Time's denial is the insistence that Baker's piece was nothing more than a "straightforward reported piece" that was "neither in support of, nor in opposition to, the U.S. war effort." One need only cradle that issue of the magazine in one's arms to know that this isn't true and that the story was never intended to be read in that manner. As a reminder, the cover depicted a woman, maimed by the Taliban, with accompanying text that stated declaratively, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." The implications were fairly obvious, even if Baker's article entirely glosses over her own reported findings: that the woman depicted was maimed in 2009 -- eight years after the United States arrived in Afghanistan.
Gorenfeld unpacks at length on the matter, and reveals a wide web of connections between Baker, Samee, and various business interests related to the war in Afghanistan.
UPDATE: Time Magazine tells the Huffington Post that "the Observer got this story wrong" and that Gorenfeld's "allegations are false." They go on to complain that Gorenfeld misrepresented their statement on the matter, and have sent along that statement, in it's entirety:
These assertions are completely untrue; Aryn Baker's husband has no connection to the U.S. military, has never solicited business from them and has no financial stake in the U.S. presence in Afghanistan whatsoever. TIME fully stands by our recent cover story, and as is made clear in the editor's letter--and from the reading of the actual piece--the story is neither in support of, nor in opposition to, the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan; it is a straightforward reported piece about the women of that country.
I'm not sure what critical part of this was omitted in Gorenfeld's piece. Here's how he presented it:
While Baker, traveling in Italy, did not respond to Observer.com's request for comment, Time defended its cover story as "neither in support of, nor in opposition to, the U.S. war effort" but rather a "straightforward reported piece." Time added that "Aryn Baker's husband has no connection to the U.S. military, has never solicited business from them and has no financial stake in the U.S. presence in Afghanistan whatsoever."
The statement offers no specific refutation of the concerns raised by Gorenfeld. For what it's worth, I continue to contend that the notion that this was "a straightforward reported piece" to be plainly ridiculous, for the reasons I cite above.
With Its Horrifying Cover Story, Time Gave the War a Boost. Did Its Reporter Profit? [New York Observer]
Time Magazine Mistakes Failure of Afghan War for Purpose of Afghan War [Tom Scocca]