In an unusual journalistic hat trick, the byline of Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al-Saud appeared yesterday on the opinion pages of The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
"Your Majesty," began each article, which took the form of an open letter to Jordan's King Hussein.
Publication of the identical pieces by the Saudi ambassador to the United States came as a particular surprise to editors at The Post and the New York Times, which have general policies against purchasing op-ed articles that are also slated for publication in other newspapers.
The simultaneous placement was arranged in part by Frederick G. Dutton, a registered Saudi lobbyist whose Washington law firm was paid $1.3 million by the Saudi government between December 1989 and last June.
Mitchel Levitas, op-ed page editor of the New York Times, called the situation "outrageous." He said that "we assumed ... that it was a single submission. I hope Dutton has the decency to contribute his fee to Kuwaiti relief." Levitas said he knew of no other example at the Times in which a contributor had gotten "two fish on one hook."
"I feel sort of had," said Meg Greenfield, The Washington Post's editorial page editor. "It shouldn't have happened," she said. "... Normally someone as practiced as Dutton would know better." The paper generally inquires whether an article is being submitted elsewhere but did not ask Dutton in this case because the article appeared to be an answer to a previous piece on The Post's op-ed page, Greenfield said.
Bob Berger, op-ed page editor of the Los Angeles Times, said Dutton told him in advance that Prince Bandar would deliver the same remarks on Cable News Network Tuesday. Berger likened the article to running the text of an important speech.
"There was no pretense that this was an article written for the Los Angeles Times," he said. "I absolutely don't feel taken."
Dutton, in a telephone interview from New York, where he was accompanying Prince Bandar to the United Nations, said he had never heard of the newspapers' rule against multiple submissions.
"To be honest with you, I'm shocked it's a problem," Dutton said. "Maybe I'm being naive. You all run parallel news 30 to 40 percent of the time. You're trying to make something out of nothing ...
"Is there an objection because it's an official from an Arab country? I'm appalled. What kind of control are you trying to exercise?"
Dutton said Prince Bandar wrote the piece "on his own" in "an Arab prose style."
Rhetorically addressing King Hussein, who spoke on CNN last weekend, the ambassador wrote: "Wouldn't it be more honorable and truly moving if you had been moved enough by Kuwaiti women and children with tears in their eyes because they lost their country as a result of the aggression of your friend Saddam Hussein?" Each section ended with the line "Facts are stubborn things" -- an apparent echo of President Reagan's refrain from his 1988 Republican convention address. Greenfield says the lines were cut as an unnecessary rhetorical flourish.
Greenfield called the piece "remarkable" because "the Saudis never speak in this shrill, personalized voice."
Prince Bandar gave the article Monday to Washington Post Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee. He passed it on to Greenfield, who approved it Tuesday after returning from out of town. The Post editor who shortened the piece was put in touch with Dutton.
Also Tuesday, Dutton sent the piece to New York Times reporter R.W. Apple Jr. and Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief Jack Nelson, with cover letters asking that it be published the following morning. Both passed it on to their op-ed pages.
Greenfield said she had an extra impetus for running the piece quickly because it pertained to the previous piece, which The Post had published under the byline of King Hussein Sunday.
Critics of the media sometimes question whether such articles, which bear the names of heads of state, diplomats or members of Congress, are in fact written by aides.
"We assume that a lot of political stuff is written by speech writers and signed by people," Greenfield said. "If it is a statement of some political consequence ... we don't say we have to have evidence he wrote it himself."
Levitas of the New York Times called it "common journalistic practice" to publish opinion pieces ghostwritten for prominent people.
Greenfield noted that The Post often waives its multiple-submission rule in cases involving the Los Angeles Times, because the two papers share a news service, as well as for syndicated columnists. "We print George Will the same day 8 million other people print it," she said.
But, she added, "I always think of the New York Times and The Washington Post as being much more in competition."