Edward S. Herman
Warren “Far Left” in the New York Times
Did you know that for the New York Times there is no “far right” component of the Democratic Party, but there is a “far left”? I admit being pretty amazed to see the front page article headline “Warren Is Now The Hot Ticket On the Far Left” (Sept. 20, 2013), with a repetition of “Far Left” in the heading on the continuation page. But when the paper discusses the rightwing “blue dog” Democrats, or the rightwing Joseph Lieberman, there is no “far right “ or even “right;” the blue dogs are of the “moderate-to-conservative wing” of the Party and “centrists” (“45 Centrist Democrats Protest Secrecy of Health Care Talks,” May 2, 2009) and Lieberman is a “centrist” (“Lieberman, the Centrist in the Middle of the Pack,” Oct. 13, 2003). What makes this so revealing of the editorial bias of the paper is the fact that Warren is no radical at all, but espouses traditional liberal and populist views, focusing heavily on supporting consumer protection laws, legal and regulatory constraints on predatory lending, and protection and even expansion of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These positions are supported by a majority of the voting population as polls have repeatedly shown, so Warren is arguably a “centrist,” and with this word usage the Times editors show themselves representing a minority and elite position and constituency.
The New York Times on NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
This is also apparent in their positions on trade and the permanent war system. The editors strongly favored the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and lashed out editorially at organized labor for fighting against that legislation (as did the Washington Post), while offering no editorial criticism of business’s support or even Mexico’s multi-million dollar pro-NAFTA propaganda campaign in this country. At that time polls showed substantial majorities hostile to NAFTA and very large majorities of Democrats against it, while President “I-feel-for-you, but the Big Boys come first” Bill Clinton fought hard for its passage. And now once again the editors support an advanced NAFTA with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that they claim “provides a much-needed lift to the global economy by easing the flow of goods across borders” (ed., “Trade Talks Produce a Deal,” Dec. 13, 2013). But as with NAFTA, the TPP is mainly about investor rights, not easing trade barriers, and this will once again stimulate out-sourcing, the loss of U.S. jobs and a weakened bargaining power of labor. This important kind of impact flies in the face of Obama’s claimed interest in improving the distribution of income and helping the middle class. But the Times cannot point this out as their anti-populist
principles that can make Warren “far left” make them, like Obama, hypocrites and hostile to populist policies in a policy showdown.
The Times also obfuscates the issues here by claiming that TPP is going to be an environmental bonanza. They assert that ”one of the most laudable American goals” in negotiating TPP has been “to strengthen environmental protections around the world’ (ed., “Trade and the Environment,” Jan.19, 2014). It is remarkable therefore that there has been a widely criticized lack of transparency as the TPP has been developed. Are the principals fearful that the public will be hostile to protecting the environment? Will the hundreds of corporate representatives at the organizing sessions be pleased with strong environmental protections? In fact, it took WikiLeaks to make publicly available a late-draft chapter on environmental policy, along with an analysis by economist Jane Kelsey which claims that despite its “aspirational language” the chapter has few definitions of key terms and has no mechanism for providing penalties. Yves Smith describes it as a “Toothless Public Relations Exercise.” In the construction of NAFTA in 1993 the agreement was without any labor or environmental protections until public outcries compelled add-ons supposedly protecting both. But the add-ons were loaded with procedural obstacles not applicable to the enforcement of the newly minted investor rights, and labor and environmental enforcement was essentially non-existent. But back then also the Times was impressed: “No previous trade agreement tackles as many pollution issues as NAFTA does” (ed., “NAFTA and the Environment,” Sept. 27, 1993). So there is no slackening in Times apologetics for pro-corporate and anti-populist policy changes.
Bill Keller on the Importance of a Do-Something Policy
Another common element of anti-populist policies is support of militarism and the war system. This has been evident in recent decades in mainstream media coverage of the gigantic arms budget and each of the many wars which this country has pursued. Most dramatic and revealing was media treatment of the invasion-occupation of Iraq from 2003 onward. This was the ultimate “war of choice” built on a set of lies that shouldn’t have fooled a feeble-minded editor or journalist. And it probably didn’t fool most of them–they were prepared to seem gullible in order to advance a policy and war of aggression that they approved. Thus both the NYT and Washington Post followed the war-party line in the face of blatant lies, and serious illegalities, as did the TV networks. But with the war and occupation proving no cake-walk and soberingly costly the editors of those two leading papers quasi-apologized in the aftermath for their gullibility and misreporting. But they both jumped without hesitation and with equal gullibility into preparing their audience for a war with Iran, enjoying the war on Libya, and currently encouraging war with Syria.
The top NYT editor during the Iraq war, Executive Editor Bill Keller, was an open war proponent, who supported reporter Judith Miller and kept her in advanced war-propaganda and disinformation service at the paper till this became politically unfeasible. Despite his failing in this critical subject area, he stayed on as top editor till June 2011. Regrettably, Keller did not leave at that point but remained as a columnist to provide Times readers with a continuing stream of war propaganda. He and Thomas Friedman make a fine permanent-war-supporting tandem.
Bill Keller’s spirit is well captured in his op-ed “Our New Isolationism” (Sept. 9, 2013), which is worth looking at for its exposure of the chauvinistic and imperialistic premises, and unimpressive intellectual level, displayed by this high-ranking Times leader. The title itself is revealing. Keller is bothered by the U.S. foot-dragging on Syria, with Americans “loath to take sides, even against a merciless dictator, even to the extent of sending weapons.” In fact, we have not only given aid to the Syrian rebels, we have assuredly supported the Saudi pouring of weapons into that country. Furthermore, Keller fails to note that the American people may be confused by the fact that our leaders have supported a huge stream of “merciless dictators,” and fairly often have found them merciless (“another Hitler”) only when their altered geopolitical service role demanded a change.
Keller says that “The voices opposed to getting involved range from the pacifist left to the populist right.” He fails to mention “the anti-imperialist left, center and right,” who may not be pacifist in all cases, but often oppose the kinds of forward policy and literal aggression that Keller has regularly supported. He quotes Representative Alan Grayson saying “We are not the world’s policeman, nor its judge and jury,” which Keller says is “reciting isolationist excuses for doing nothing.” No, it isn’t, but it does suggest that this country’s leaders don’t have the right to intervene with force across borders at their sole discretion. This is partly a matter of law: the UN Charter forbids aggression by individual countries and declares it to be the “supreme international crime.” Richard Falk and Howard Friel have pointed out in their book The Record of the Paper that none of the 70 editorials in the Times during the run-up to the Iraq War (9-11-01 through 3-21-03) ever mentioned the “UN Charter” or “international law,” reflecting the Keller position on policeman’s rights and his chauvinistic-imperialist premise that the United States is exempt from international law.
Keller says that some isolationists suggest that “our foreign policy is being manipulated by outside forces,” mentioning specifically Israel. He of course dismisses this without serious argument. But he never mentions the possibility that internal power forces like the members of the military-industrial-complex might push the country into over-aggressive policies; that dominating power might make the country war-prone. He writes on the assumption that uncontaminated U.S. interests abroad, or U.S. “responsibility,” justify more interventionist policy.
Keller does mention that an “activist” foreign policy may be discredited by something like “the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration.” Keller may assume that readers will have forgotten his support of a program he now hypocritically tells them was based on “blind missionary arrogance.” But he does not worry about more such mistakes. We still have interests abroad and “an important role to play in the world, and…you have to put some spine in your diplomacy.” In other words, with our power we can take risks in diplomacy, as in Vietnam and Iraq. The big problem for this war-monger is “How does the president sell foreign involvement [sic] to a gun-shy public?”
When an intellectual light-weight and morally compromised individual like Bill Keller can run the leading “liberal” newspaper in this country for much of the last decade, we can see why the war system thrives and the civil society in this immensely rich country is in a continuing crisis.
Appendix: Keller Versus Paul Craig Roberts on the Russian versus U.S./NATO Threat
Bill Keller worked for years as a Times correspondent in Moscow, but when he writes now on Russia, ideology and war-party membership controls his analysis and over-rides any benefits that might accrue from Moscow experience. The contrast with Paul Craig Roberts is striking. Roberts, a former high official in the Reagan administration has become a critic of U.S. economic and foreign policy and has thrown off the ideological blinders that shape Keller’s work.
Looking first at Keller, writing on “Russia vs. Europe” (Dec. 16, 2013), he says that “The world needs Nelson Mandela. Instead it gets Vladimir Putin.” But the U.S. government didn’t think the world needed Mandela when it helped the Apartheid government capture and imprison him for 27 years; it only accepted him and transformed him from “terrorist” to a model statesman after he made an accommodation to neoliberal rules, leaving most of his base still in dire straits. So Keller’s warmth toward Mandela is a bit suspect, and probably reflects the fact that Mandela and his party made their peace with the neoliberal regime, at the expense of their underlying mass constituency.
Keller attacks Putin relentlessly, and here we have a pattern the reverse of that involving Mandela. Putin was well treated in the Times when first entering office following Yeltsin, surely because he did not challenge the new oligarchic capitalist structures and weak democracy Yeltsin had introduced, with Western support. But as the United States and EU powers continued to treat Russia as a security threat, expanding NATO all around Russian borders, Putin behaved increasingly as a nationalist, opposing these Western moves as well as the US-EU attacks on Russian allies (notably Syria, after having done nothing in the NATO wars on Libya. Iraq and Serbia) We can read the Times changes by this index: when Yeltsin won re-election in 1996 by means of a badly flawed election, the Times called this a “Triumph of Democracy.” The recent Putin victories, though surely not more electorally problematic than that of 1996, have featured protesters, election flaws, and a sagging “democracy.”.
So in accord with this political shift and party line Keller now gives Putin and Russia a good thrashing. Internal repression, “bullying neighboring Ukraine,” trying to “draw the line against Europe…attempting to turn back 25 years of history,” a “cynical, calculating master of realpolitik,” etc. He contrasts Putin with Gorbachev, who spoke of a “common European home,” and believed that mutual respect and trade should replace confrontation and deterrence. Putin is, instead, “a common European home wrecker” who is trying to “restore the empire,” as Keller quotes a Ukrainian. Stephen Cohen notes the Times’s editorial application of a “venerable Cold War double standard: ‘Europe’s use of trade leverage …is constructive and reasonable,’ but when Putin uses similar carrots—financial loans, discounted energy supplies, access to markets—to persuade Ukraine to join instead his fledgling Eurasian Customs Union, those are ‘attempts to bludgeon.’” (from a Letter to the New York Times, rejected by the editors but published in The Nation, Dec. 2, 2013).
Naturally Keller doesn’t mention the U.S. promise to Gorbachev to not expand NATO further toward the Russian border, or the broad expansion of NATO after the ending of the Warsaw Pact, or the placement of missiles in states bordering on Russia, allegedly to protect somebody from Iranian missiles! Is this replacing “confrontation and deterrence” with peace and goodwill, or are they, and the partly Western-stoked turmoil in the Ukraine, manifestations of a global policy of imperial aggrandizement? (See Seamus Milne, “In Ukraine, fascists, oligarchs and western expansion are at the heart of the crisis,” The Guardian, Jan. 29, 2014). How many countries has Russia invaded since 1991? How many has the United States attacked? How many do each occupy and drop bombs on today?
The contrast with Paul Craig Roberts is dramatic. Quoting Roberts (“Washington Drives the World Toward War,” Global Research, Jan. 26, 2014):
The fatal war for humanity is the war with Russia and China toward which Washington is driving the US and Washington’s NATO and Asian puppet states. There are a number of factors contributing to Washington’s drive toward the final war, but the overarching one is the doctrine of American exceptionalism…. Washington has been working against Russia for 22 years, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In violation of the Reagan [actually, Bush 1]-Gorbachev agreement, Washington expanded NATO into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states and established military bases on Russia’s borders. Washington is also seeking to extend NATO into former constituent parts of Russia itself such as Georgia and Ukraine.
The only reason for Washington to establish military and missile bases on Russia’s frontiers is to negate Russia’s ability to resist Washington’s hegemony. Russia has made no threatening gestures toward its neighbors, and with the sole exception of Russia’s response to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia, has been extremely passive in the face of US provocations.
This is now changing. Faced with the George W. Bush regime’s alteration of US war doctrine, which elevated nuclear weapons from a defensive, retaliatory use to pre-emptive first strike, together with the construction on Russia’s borders of US anti-ballistic missile bases and Washington’s weaponization of new technologies, has made it clear to the Russian government that Washington is setting up Russia for a decapitating first strike.
In his presidential address to the Russian National Assembly (both chambers of parliament) on December 12, Vladimir Putin addressed the offensive military threat that Washington poses to Russia. Putin said that Washington calls its anti-ballistic missile system defensive, but “in fact it is a significant part of the strategic offensive potential” and designed to tip the balance of power in Washington’s favor. Having acknowledged the threat, Putin replied to the threat: “Let no one have illusions that he can achieve military superiority over Russia. We will never allow it.”
Paul Craig Roberts has not only risen above party politics and a nationalist bias, he seems more in accord with the reality principle than Bill Keller. Keller hardly disguises his assumption of American exceptionalism, righteousness, and right to intervene with force anywhere, And in explaining why we are good and Putin is villainous he clearly loses touch with reality. Sadly he is a leading American journalist.