Cross posted from the blog of the CST
Last Tuesday (9 February) the Daily Telegraph published an article about the role played by Elliott Management hedge fund, and its founder and President Paul Singer, in ongoing negotiations over debt relief for Argentina. The article was changed following a complaint by CST about its use of antisemitic cultural references from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
The article, written by Daily Telegraph assistant editor Jeremy Warner, was critical of Singer for refusing to join other creditors in accepting a deal on debt relief, arguing that “His case for more may be legally watertight, but it is also morally indefensible.”
In its original version, the article opened with this sentence:
“Latter day Shylocks at Elliott Management allowing, Argentina will soon have renewed access to international capital markets.”
Warner returned to this theme near the end of the article, writing:
“Debt restructuring provides a fourth option, yet as both Argentina and Greece have discovered, the trouble with borrowed money is that adjusting its value takes difficult negotiation, frequently obstructed by aggressively litigious hedgies such as Mr Singer demanding their pound of flesh.”
Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of Singer’s financial decisions, CST felt that the Daily Telegraph should not use references to the famously antisemitic caricature of Shylock from the Merchant of Venice to criticise the financial activities of a Jewish public figure.
This is particularly relevant in this case, because last year the then Argentinian President Kirchner was widely criticised, including by Argentinian Jews, for advising Argentinian school children to read the Merchant of Venice in order to understand their country’s debt crisis. Kirchner also alleged a bizarre conspiracy theory involving Singer and various Jewish and American organisations following the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, who was investigating Argentina’s failure to successfully prosecute the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre.
It is not clear whether Jeremy Warner was aware of this background when he bookended his own article with two Shylock references.
CST wrote to the Daily Telegraph to complain about the article. We did so via a letter for publication because the Daily Telegraph does not appear to have a readers’ complaint process similar to that of the Readers’ Editor at the Guardian. Our letter was not published but the two Merchant of Venice references have subsequently been removed from the article.
We are pleased that the references have been removed and we hope that the Daily Telegraph will take more care in future. As we pointed out in our unpublished letter, antisemitism does not need to be conscious or explicit; it can be transmitted through cultural references of which Shakespeare’s villain Shylock is one of the best-known.
We would also encourage all newspapers to develop accessible, transparent complaint processes for readers so that problems of inaccuracy, bias or potential bigotry can be quickly and clearly addressed.