Before it was corrected, an opinion column in the New York Times accusing the new center-right New Democracy Greek government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of being “really right-wing” and authoritarian didn’t mention that the piece was written by a former press aide of ousted Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
Calling himself a Greek journalist, Matthaios Tsimitakis – who was also the head of the online campaign of Tsipras for the European Commission – sliced and diced New Democracy and Mitsotakis in a disguised rampage drawing the ire of critics for being a blindside hit.
The National Herald former publisher Antonis H. Diamataris, now the Deputy Foreign Minister for Greeks Abroad, Mitsotakis’ point man with the Diaspora, wrote to the Times about his dismay – and embarrassment over what he called “shameless propaganda.”
“For the New York Times to be so reckless as to print a totally baseless piece just one month into Prime Minister’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ tenure is worrisome. Opinion pages should not be used for disguised political agendas. Yes, as you correctly point out in your ad campaign, “The truth matters.” All of it,” he wrote.
Kathimerini journalist Yannis Palaiologos, who helped unmask Tsimitakis in a column about the Times’ gaffe, wrote that, ‘Opinions – even grossly one-sided ones – are fine, so long as we know who is really writing them,” which didn’t happen until the Times added an editor’s note that said Tsimitakis was “a Greek journalist and a communications specialist who worked in the press office for the previous prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras.”
In the piece, Tsimitakis wrote that while Mitsotakis’ ousting of Tsipras and SYRIZA in July 7 snap elections “was widely greeted with a sigh of relief,” because the Leftists were defeated and it seemed “the adults were back in charge,” that it wasn’t true.
“New Democracy, far from being a moderate, liberal force, seems to be a right-wing party with pronounced authoritarian tendencies. And Mr. Mitsotakis, who promised to unite the country, is following divisive and polarizing policies. The return of order is proving to be the return of the hard right,” he said.
He didn’t mention that, by definition, SYRIZA refers to itself as the Radical Left nor that Tsipras’ 4 ½ years in power were marked by reneging on anti-austerity promises, burying workers, pensioners and the poor with more crushing measures, surrendering to the country’s European creditors, breaking his promise to “crush the oligarchy,” and put a 75 percent tax on the rich and failing to round up tax cheats as he had vowed.
While SYRIZA’s reign was in turn mocked and ridiculed as a political amateur hour of incompetence, railing at enemies, allowing anarchists to run amok, supporting furloughs for terrorist killers and blocking critical foreign investment.
TASTE OF IRONY
Instead, wrote Tsimitakis, “Mr. Mitsotakis’s first month in charge provided plenty of examples of the new prime minister’s antidemocratic instincts,” citing what he claimed were the Premier’s dissolving of three crucial regulatory agencies.
Tsimitakis also said, without noting the irony, that New Democracy was taking control of the state broadcaster ERT that critics said Tsipras had turned into a SYRIZA propaganda station after failing to control the number of licenses for private TV stations.
“This is not just a different approach to administrative efficiency. It looks like a purposeful concentration of power in the prime minister’s office,” he wrote, mimicking what Tsipras critics said he had exactly tried to do as well.
While Tsipras reneged on austerity and then tried to re-establish Leftist credentials by letting anarchists rule streets in Athens and contradicted himself repeatedly, Tsimitakis said that for Mitsotakis, “hypocrisy is meat and drink.”
To back that up, he said Mitsotakis had opposed Tsipras’ deal giving away the name of the ancient Greek province Macedonia to a newly-renamed North Macedonia but had not accepted it – not true, as the Premier said he will still push for changes protecting the name of Macedonian agricultural products and could block North Macedonia’s European Union accession talks without concessions.
THE FRAUD CASE
Tsimitakis said while Mitsotakis – son of a former Premier – condemns nepotism that he had appointed a nephew as Chief of Staff and that another is the Mayor of Athens – who was elected, not appointed.
“Both he and his wife, a businesswoman whose name appears in the Paradise Papers, a huge inventory of tax evaders, have been implicated in scandals,” wrote the Tsipras former aide, without mentioning a disciplinary investigation of judges overseeing a criminal case in which Tsipras’ brother was acquitted of attempted fraud charges for presenting a false social security certificate in order to bid on a tender for a 1.1-million euro ($1.25 million) public works project in 2012 and was cleared in 2018 not of the charges but because the statute of limitations had expired after SYRIZA changed the law to protect him.
Tsimitakis droned on, citing what he called New Democracy policies revoking the rights of asylum seekers – that SYRIZA failed to protect, and cancelling Tsipras’ delayed plan to separate Church and State – the former Premier being an atheist.
Tsipras’ former aide – not mentioning how he could be called a journalist while working for a politician at the same time – said Mitsotakis’ government has an Orwellian look, has an anti-Semitic minister and appointed a former chief of police who had been fired by Tsipras over the deadly July 23, 2018 wildfires: he didn’t mention Tsipras’ government accused of hiding the death toll and bungling the response to the fires.
Then there were complaints Mitsotakis wants to end college asylum – a law reinstated by SYRIZA to let anarchists and criminals take over the college grounds, and he said Mitsotakis’ unblocking of major developments stymied by SYRIZA won’t work although investors are already eager to get going again.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
After all that, the Times’ makeup explanation at the end was to state as well that, “A previous version of this article failed to identify fully the author’s work history,” without explaining why not before.
Adding to the embarassment, the Times also was sent letters of complaint from the Chief Executive of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, and the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, Endy Zemenides.
They objected to Tsimitakis’ accusation that the new New Democracy administration “far from being a moderate, liberal force, seems to be a right-wing party with pronounced authoritarian tendencies,” responding that “Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the right-of-center Greek prime minister in office for four weeks after decisively winning a national election, deserves the opportunity to govern before being judged.”
They also disregarded the Tsipras’ aide claims of nepotism as “disingenuous,” reminding that Mitsotakis’ nephew, Kostas Bakoyannis, was elected Mayor of Athens a month before the general elections brought the Conservatives to power.
Tsimitakis’ criticism of Agriculture Minister Makis Voridis as having aligned himself with anti-Semiteic forces was unfair they said, stressing that Voridis has twice apologized to the Jewish community for past comments regarding the Holocaust.
“At a time when inward-looking populism is making inroads in Europe and beyond, a pro-European and pro-American leader was elected in Greece. He should be judged based on actual performance, not politicized prognostication,” they also wrote.