PETALING JAYA, 21 June 2010: The Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU), which conferred the prime minister’s wife an award in New York in April, has remained mum about whether it was the party which placed a congratulatory advertisement in the New York Times (NYT) for her.
BCIU president Peter J Tichansky did not respond to e-mail queries to confirm that the council paid for the NYT ad that congratulated Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor for receiving the inaugural and little-known International Peace and Harmony Award.
The Nut Graph sent two e-mail enquiries to Tichansky to ask him to confirm who had actually paid for the award. The first e-mail was sent on 2 June after Tichansky wrote to us to express regret that a “well-intended gesture of welcome and congratulations honoring Malaysia’s First Lady” as the award recipient may have become a “political issue”.
The second e-mail to Tichansky was sent on 15 June after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced in Parliament on that day that BCIU was the organisation that placed the ad. Najib’s statement in Parliament was the first time the government publicly denied that it had paid for the ad. Throughout The Nut Graph’s reporting of the issue, the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to our queries despite being given several opportunities to comment over a period of one month.
The NYT had originally told The Nut Graph that the ad, signed off “from family and friends in USA and Malaysia” was placed by “an ad agency on behalf of the Malaysian government.”
Eighteen days later, the NYT said it had made a mistake. But it would not reveal who actually took out the ad nor clarify how executive director for community affairs and media relations, Diane McNulty, could have made such a mistake. Instead, NYT’s director of public relations, Abbe Serphos, repeated that the ad was signed by “Family and friends in the USA and Malaysia”. Only when pressed did she reply: “In our internal systems the ad was reserved as a Government of Malaysia ad, but in fact the ad was not placed by the Government of Malaysia.”
Tichansky has not responded to either e-mail from The Nut Graph. In addition, Tichansky also did not respond to questions about when the award was conceived and by whom, what criteria were used in conceptualising the award, who the other nominees for the award were, and how Rosmah qualified for it.
In his first and only e-mail to us on 2 June, Tichansky had reiterated BCIU’s “respect for [Rosmah’s] humanitarian and charity work”, saying she was a “deserving recipient of BCIU’s award”.
After Najib’s statement in Parliament, Tichansky did not answer why the BCIU would sign off the ad as “family and friends [of Rosmah] in USA and Malaysia” instead of representing itself in the ad. He also did not answer the question as to how the BCIU could represent Rosmah’s family and friends.
The NYT has declined to disclose how much the ad cost. However, according to some estimates, full-page ads taken out in the NYT suggests that the cost of such advertisements ranges from US$180,000 to US$230,000. This amounts to between RM580,000 and RM740,000 for a one-page ad.
The congratulatory ad for Rosmah which appeared on 16 April 2010 was a two-page colour spread that would have cost far more.
It remains unclear why a US-based business council would pay for such an ad.
“Joh”, the receptionist
Apart from the BCIU, another party that is apparently involved in the ad has also remained mum about unanswered questions arising from the ad and the NYT’s retraction.
Henry Thomas Jones of Laurus Group DC, a “small public relations firm”, sent an e-mail on 7 June accusing The Nut Graph of blowing up a “trivial matter” and being unprofessional.
The Nut Graph had written to Jones on 3 June to ask what his involvement in the award and the ad was after he had surprisingly copied us on an e-mail to Tichansky. In that e-mail, sent on 1 June, Jones had responded to Tichansky’s e-mail to us which defended Rosmah as the award recipient. Jones told Tichansky: “This is great. Thank you! Please send, and I’ll forward to Joh.”
The Nut Graph then wrote to Jones, who is known to have worked in a powerful lobbying company and is a seasoned political campaigner, to ask him if Laurus Group, DC was the one that ordered and paid for the ad congratulating Rosmah. We also asked if he was involved in lobbying for Najib’s meeting with President Barack Obama and for Rosmah to be conferred an award.
Additionally, we asked him who “Joh” was, and whether it was a particular individual whose name has been circulating among the New York-based media, and among local business and political circles. Jones did not reply.
However, after our 7 June report on the NYT’s mistake, Jones’s apparent involvement, and the mysterious “Joh”, Jones wrote a scathing e-mail that said:
“‘Joh’ … is my receptionist, Jo. When typing on the iPhone, it is not uncommon for me to misspell words. In this instance, I added an ‘h’. My firm provides occasional PRO BONO services to the Business Council for International Understanding.
“It is unfortunate that such a trivial matter, a misspelling in an internal communication, gives rise for your publication to generate unsubstantiated allegations, and then to publish the same. From an American perspective, I find The Nut Graph‘s standards for publication to be less than professional.”
Despite being asked to clarify in an e-mail we sent on 8 June, Jones did not reveal his receptionist’s full name and contact details. He also did not explain why a receptionist in his firm would need to be copied on a correspondence between him and his client.
He did not specify what about The Nut Graph’s reporting on 7 June constituted “unsubstantiated allegations”.
New York party
Apart from the NYT ad, Rosmah and Najib were also feted on 16 April at the five-star St Regis Hotel in New York where the award ceremony was held.
The star-studded event was emceed by Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx and attended by Hollywood glitterati including Oscar-winning Robert De Niro and Charlize Theron, and Emmy Rossum. Performances by Grammy-award nominee Leona Lewis, and the Harlem Boys Choir were also held. A rendition of We Are the World led by Foxx and sung by De Niro, Theron and others ended the night.
Various blog postings and Tweets on the event talk about how well Foxx warmed the party up. One blogger, who attended the event, wrote that Foxx performed a “flirty” karaoke version of You’ve Got a Friend with Rosmah, and danced with Najib.
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