With Fouad Ajami Obit, the Times Can’t Please Anybody

Fouad Ajami (Courtesy of Hoover Institution)

Fouad Ajami (Courtesy of Hoover Institution)

Fouad Ajami, a leading Middle Eastern scholar, commentator and advisor, died on Sunday and apparently nobody is happy with his obituary in The New York Times.

The paper of record is drawing criticism from both the left and right, proving that in today’s charged partisan political environment there is something for everyone to take issue with.

Conservative Ira Stoll — who runs Smartertimes.com, a website “dedicated to the proposition that New York’s dominant daily has grown complacent, slow and inaccurate” — wrote an Editor’s note claiming the obituary is “remarkably hostile.”

Mr. Stoll takes issue with The Times’ frequent quoting of the leftist weekly the Nation, including excerpts from both a 2003 profile of Mr. Ajami and a review of one of his books.

“If I wanted to read the Nation’s obituary of Fouad Ajami, I would read the Nation. From the Times I want something more straight-up the middle, less biased toward the left,” Mr. Stoll wrote. “(The obituary) leaves readers with the egregiously false impression that Ajami was some sort of Klansman or Bull Connor type.”

Others on the right echoed his sentiment. John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine and a columnist for the New York Post, tweeted that the obituary was a “scandalous and disgusting piece of drek.”

In a sign that the obit might have been more “straight-up the middle” than the right-leaning critics suggest, the left also found much to dislike in the Times‘ take.

Doug Henwood, a contributing editor at the Nation and editor of Left Business Observer, took to Facebook to criticize the piece.

“Here’s a luscious sentence from Fouad Ajami’s obit: ‘Mr. Ajami strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective.’ Translation: into a perspective flattering to Western imperial ambitions.” he wrote.

The obituary is a reminder that, no matter how unbiased a news outlet strives to be, there are some figures and topics — including anything that touches, studies or has visited the Middle East — that are guaranteed to produce strong reactions.