It’s Curtains...for NY Times Objectivity: ‘Nikki Haley’s...Curtains? $52,000.’ UPDATED

September 14th, 2018 12:46 PM

UPDATE: 2018-09-14 14:56:00

The New York Times added an editors note on Friday after getting considerable criticism about the misleading nature of the story on the expensive curtains. 

Editors’ Note: September 14, 2018

An earlier version of this article and headline created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question. While Nikki R. Haley is the current ambassador to the United Nations, the decision on leasing the ambassador’s residence and purchasing the curtains was made during the Obama administration, according to current and former officials. The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used. The article and headline have now been edited to reflect those concerns, and the picture has been removed.


New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris latest hit on a conservative foreign policy figure appears to have backfired in spectacular fashion, even among his journalistic colleagues. Harris's report in Friday’s edition supposedly caught United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley for wild spending on her official residence, “Envoy’s View of City is Priceless. The Curtains? $52,000.”

The online headline: “Nikki Haley’s View of New York Is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701.” The text box: “A purchase was made at a time when the State Dept. was slashing its budget.” Or maybe not. The decision to purchase the curtains for the official residence, as well as the move to a new residence in the first place, was made in 2016, during the Barack Obama administration -- an admission Harris buried in paragraph six. The "budget slashing" occurred in 2017:

The State Department spent $52,701 last year buying customized and mechanized curtains for the picture windows in Nikki R. Haley’s official residence as ambassador to the United Nations, just as the department was undergoing deep budget cuts and had frozen hiring.

The residence, in a new building on First Avenue, has spectacular views, and Ms. Haley is the first ambassador to live in it. For decades, her predecessors lived in the Waldorf Astoria hotel. But after the hotel was purchased by a Chinese insurance company with a murky ownership structure, the State Department decided in 2016 to find a new home for its top New York diplomat because of security concerns.

The government leased the apartment, just blocks from the delegation’s offices, with an option to buy, according to Patrick Kennedy, the top management official at the State Department during the Obama administration. The full-floor penthouse, with handsome hardwood floors covering large open spaces stretching nearly 6,000 square feet, was listed at $58,000 a month.

But Harris buried a detail that appeared to make the whole “Haley’s curtains” hit look like fake news:

A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.

Harris tried to tar Haley with an unrelated purchase controversy, and brought an Obama official in to pile on the phony story:

Ms. Haley’s curtains are more expensive than the $31,000 dining room set purchased for the office of Ben Carson, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That purchase became so controversial that President Trump considered firing Mr. Carson, though the spending rules covering agency chiefs are different from those for ambassadors.

While Ms. Haley’s curtains were being ordered and installed, Rex W. Tillerson, the administration’s first secretary of state, had frozen hiring, pushed out many of the department’s most senior diplomats and proposed cutting the department’s budget by 31 percent....

“How can you, on the one hand, tell diplomats that basic needs cannot be met and, on the other hand, spend more than $50,000 on a customized curtain system for the ambassador to the U.N.?” asked Brett Bruen, a White House official in the Obama administration.

On Twitter, Times reporter Edward Wong swallowed Harris’s hostile line whole: “State Dept., suffering from budget cuts, paid $52,000 for curtains in Nikki Haley’s Manhattan apartment....The rent is $58,000 per month. Taxpayer funded.”

Seriously? As if no other envoy residence (which is an official government residence also used for official events) was taxpayer funded? In fact, the new digs may even be cheaper than the previous rent at the Waldorf-Astoria.

The response to reporter Harris on his Twitter is so far unanimously withering, and even fellow journalists from liberal outlets are extremely skeptical.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper called it a “false meme.”Aaron Blake at The Washington Post raised his eyebrows, calling attention to Haley’s spokesman pointing out that the purchase plans were made in 2016, during the Obama administration: “This seems like a pretty important paragraph that we should get to the bottom of before calling them ‘Nikki Haley’s $52,000 curtains.’”

Journalist Yashar Ali also criticized this hackjob: “Misleading headline. Few are reading past the first couple grafs. And now most of Twitter thinks @nikkihaley is like Pruitt or Price when she’s not. How irresponsible. Read the whole story. Also the rent is less expensive than previous admins”

This is not the first time Harris has posted a fact-challenged hit piece on an opponent of the left’s foreign policy: A previous victim was Mark Dubowitz, chief executive for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which opposed Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Harris’s May 2018 story was the subject of multiple corrections.