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Pet Sins January 2000

A Letter to Fortune Magazine in response to the article 'The Brunei Follies'

The following letter was sent to Forune Magazine by a non-Bruneian Asian reader who took issue with the disrespectful and stereotypical attitudes shown by the writer:

Dear Editor,

This is in reference to the article "The Brunei Follies" published in the February 1 1999 issue of Fortune Magazine. Richard Behar wrote this article on the Brunei royal family's financial scandal. The first half of the article is "The Fairy Tale is over for the Kingdom of Brunei".

The writer interviewed a member of a prince's staff and described him as "opening his mouth to reveal rows of crooked teeth." The Crown Prince was written down as "visibly dim-witted". The sultan's large nephew is said to have "waddled". Behar describes one of the Sultan's brothers as "long on prayer and short on fun" as well as "hair-shirted". I think the writer could have done an adequate job of informing the reader of Brunei's financial scandals without employing personal judgments and irrelevant caricatures. If he is writing about corruption in the royal family, "crooked teeth" and visible dim-wittedness and waddling have nothing to do with the point of the article. Unless his point is to ridicule and caricature these people in print.

Behar also writes "there is enough mud to slide the entire kingdom back into the jungle." I find this reference to "jungle" in relation to the Southeast Asian kingdom stereotypical and insulting. The word "back" indicates a reversal of progress, and this is combined with the Western stereotype of the primitive jungle. What is that supposed to mean?

The second half of the article "Spy vs. Spy" is about an European-American scam artist who posed as an investigator of the Brunei financial scandal, pretending to have inside information when he didn't. Behar reveals a long list of the man's past cons and an equally long list of angry people he swindled. The writer, however, does not employ unflattering descriptions of the man's physical attributes or personality traits. Behar also refrains from adding his own personal assessment of the man, preferring to describe incidents and quote interviewees.

The relative objectivity and professionalism of this half of the article is a stark contrast to the scornful opinionated style he does not hesitate to use on the Bruneians. By all appearances, Behar treats a white crook with more respect than he does a brown crook.

This article demolished my respect for Fortune magazine as a channel of objective reporting. I do not intend to subscribe to a magazine which allows its writers to apply uneven standards of reporting to white people and people of color.

[name deleted]

1999