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Books / eXile Classic / December 14, 2010

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This article was first published in the New York Press on February 8, 2005.

Thank God for the Iraqi insurgency. If it weren’t for the resistance tying us down, we would have already moved against far more serious foes like Iran or North Korea, foes we clearly can’t handle. Given the bang-up job the incompetents running our country have done in Iraq, you can bet that America versus Iran/North Korea would end with something like Bush commanding a rump American state from deep inside a Colorado bunker, cursing the American people for having let him down, as the Jihadi/People’s Army coalition troops encircle Denver…

This conclusion dawned on me while reading The Record of the Paper, a frustratingly rational, careful yet necessary critique of the New York Times‘ criminal coverage of—and collusion in—the march to war in Iraq.

record of the paper


Admittedly, I didn’t expect much from this book. It seems that everyone with a DSL line and a livejournal page is a New York Times critic these days. After reading the dry, legalistic introduction to Record, I was even inclined to feel defensive on behalf of the Times. Like, “Why’ncha guys pick on someone your own size—you know, like a really small academic periodical!”

The authors of The Record of the Paper, Howard Friel and Richard Falk, are a pair of grim wonks straight out of the East Coast Left. As left-rationalists, they take America’s official propaganda about our rational, Enlightenment-based culture very seriously. Consequently, they believe that the New York Times a) has a constitutional and civic responsibility to serve as a watchdog against the government; b) directly influences policy decisions, as its editorial page pretends to do; and c) is run by responsible civic-minded professionals who are sensitive to rational debate and will respond to criticism of the sort leveled at them in The Record of the Paper.

So rather than seeing the Times for the nest of Vichy collabos that it is, Friel and Falk engage the beast with punishing salvoes of rational argument. Their thesis is that by ignoring international law, the Times has failed in its civic duty to inform its readers of the government’s mistakes, and therefore allowed every awful, blood-soaked blunder from Vietnam through Iraq II. The cause-and-effect aspect of this thesis is, in its own harmless way, almost as loopy as the material they cover. If the Times had given more consideration to international law, they say, then the wars in Vietnam and Iraq might have been prevented.

The problem with this thesis is that it assumes that the New York Times people are nice guys. But what if they’re just a bunch of fucking liars, and they know they’re lying? How do you present rational counter-arguments to powerful people who lie intentionally solely in order to remain powerful?

You can’t. And that is why Friel and Frank come off as intellectual Mr. Magoos in three-pointed hats, living in a world of rational bliss, totally unconnected to the real, awful world where the brutes and the maniacs murder, lie and plunder at will, cheered on by a population that demands more lies and more slaughter.

Americans these days don’t respond to rational argument. Now that I think about it, I don’t think they ever have. They respond to the brute who picks up the biggest stick and beats it hardest on the ground, which is why the Right has had so much success over the past 20 years. The Right is merely playing catch-up with the base nature of Middle America, populated by the descendents of the same mob feared by Alexander Hamilton.

After My Lai broke, even after Americans knew exactly what had happened, an overwhelming majority supported the leader of the unit that carried out the massacre, Lt. William Calley, practically forcing Nixon to intervene and soften his sentence. Indeed, if Americans had their way, we’d probably still be bombing Vietnam today. It took the Vietnamese whipping our asses to bring some sense into the nation—not rational argument.

That’s why the Iraqi insurgents are saving us from ourselves. My own sense is that the Times, like so many other media, trumped up the war in Iraq not so much because they believed in it, but because they knew that their brutish, bloodthirsty consumers—the American newspaper-reading public—wanted war, any war.

Do Friel and Falk know this? Did they write the book to expose and shame the Times, or just to remind those of us who remember those jackbooted Times articles that we didn’t imagine what we read, that we’re the sane ones, not they.

Which brings me to the body of the book, the “evidence” section, which makes for blood-pressure-rising reading. Michael Ignatieff: That’s a name I won’t soon forget. An entire chapter is dedicated to this human hagfish. Ignatieff, the director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, was not only one of the most vocal pro-Lebensraum propagandists in the lead-up to the war in Iraq—in January 2003, he published a Times Magazine piece called “The American Empire: Get Used To It”—but also, and most hilariously, the following May he published a piece arguing for reasonable levels of torture. I say hilarious because his piece on torture was published on May 2, four days after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. It was too late for the Times to stop publication.

But then a funny thing happened. As in, nothing happened. Ignatieff suffered no consequences whatsoever. In fact, eight weeks later, he published an article in the Times Magazine denouncing the Bush administration for allowing torture, crying out in moral outrage that their actions at Abu Ghraib “left you wondering if they had ever heard of the Nuremberg tribunal.” Just two months after writing, “Sticking too firmly to the rule of law simply allows terrorists too much leeway to exploit our freedom… A lesser-evil approach permits preventive detention, where subject to judicial review; coercive interrogation, where subject to executive control; pre-emptive strikes and assassination, where these serve publicly defensible strategic goals.” He got away with it, as Friel and Falk point out—which leaves me wondering again, what makes you think that merely arguing well will stop this madness?

The body of incriminating evidence against the Times—all Friel and Falk had to do was cite that newspaper’s articles and editorials over the past five years—is so damning that you wonder how it is that the organization hasn’t been targeted by the International Tribunal in the Hague for war crimes.

A chapter called “Liberal Hawks” cites numerous examples of shameless pro-war arguments repeated all over the Times in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. In fact, “liberal hawks” is not an appropriate description for the goons who peddled war—”Squeamish Fascists” would be more like it, given Ignatieff’s and his entire newspaper’s grotesque abandonment of their hard pro-war line once the first IED’s started going off in Iraq.

judy miller

As far as I can tell, America today is dominated by two “opposing” factions: the Incompetent Fascists of the Bush Right, and the Squeamish Fascists of the center-Right, the sort promoted in the Times. Which is why relying on mere rational argument is a cop-out—much as the Times’ own credo of “objectivity” and centrism is a kind of cop-out on genuine journalism. If the lesson of Vietnam taught us one thing, it’s that the Squeamish Fascists are in many ways more culpable than the Incompetent ones. When the Squeamish Fascists support war—as they did in Nam, Serbia and Iraq—the slaughter machine revs up. When the Squeamish Fascists squeam, as they’re doing now, the long, slow, tortuous road to withdrawal and self-examination begins. Without the Squeamers, the Incompetent Fascists have a much more difficult time putting their plans into action.

At the end of the book, the authors present a “constructive” argument for how the Times could improve its coverage, urging them to give full consideration to international law. Again, this line of reasoning may go over well with the high school civics teacher, but it has no basis in American reality. Rather than being constructive, I would suggest we get far more destructive.

First, let’s call the Times for what it is. Friel and Falk won’t say it, but they sure imply that the Times is guilty of war crimes. In 1999, America bombed the main TV tower in Belgrade and killed several Serbian journalists, citing the Geneva Conventions articles that say that any organ propagandizing for genocide is itself a legitimate target in warfare and for prosecution of war crimes. Let the Geneva Conventions be the basis for a similar argument against the New York Times: It is guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Serbia. It deserves to be punished accordingly, as the U.S. would punish any war criminal anywhere.

As for the Michael Ignatieffs, Judith Millers and David Brooks and all the other Vichy collabos, rather than nerfing them with well-presented arguments, they should be hunted down, have their heads shaven, and paraded down Broadway with wire signs around their necks reading “War Whore,” on their way to being sealed inside the walls of the ESPN center. Don’t ask them to consider international law in their work—apply international law to them instead, based on their records, and apply it roughly. That is the only language these people understand.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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23 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. c-man  |  December 14th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    ‘Liberal Hawk’? Does such a category really exist? Or is it just an euphemism for ‘Ultra nationalist Jew’?

  • 2. Just An Australian  |  December 14th, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Please Mr Ames, send the postal address of your place of employment to the FBI, along with this article, and request consistent treatment for all media 😉

  • 3. tam  |  December 14th, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    It’s worth bearing in mind that Michael Ignatieff’s family have been cravenly sucking up to imperial powers for generations. His grandfather and great grandfathers were both advisors to Russian tsars…

  • 4. Eddie  |  December 15th, 2010 at 1:35 am

    If the options to choose from are the incompetents and squeemish then America will go with the incompetents. And they would be right to do so. There subconscious arguments would be: Don’t give us all these sunshine stories that you obviously do not believe in yourself. You are just covering your own asses. Give it to us straight and clean.

    So we get it that we first have to steal the Arabs oil. But then what do we do?

  • 5. Esn  |  December 15th, 2010 at 3:16 am

    Funny how Michael Ignatieff became the leader of one of Canada’s two major political parties after all that… (by backroom dealing, after he couldn’t get a majority of the party’s voting delegates to back him)

  • 6. Lavrentij "Anarchy99" Lemko  |  December 15th, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Violence is only allowed to flow DOWN the hierarchy. That is called “legitimate” violence. By monopolizing violence, the hierarchy legitimates itself. The Iraqis and Serbs and US serfs are LOWER on the food chain, the hierarchy. They do not deserve TRUTH but only PROPAGANDA and, if need be, VIOLENCE, should they become wayward.

  • 7. 3jy6tgfe  |  December 15th, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Healthcare lobbyist writes book about how he got newspapers to go along with his BS.

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Wendell_Potter

    How a government agency illegally paid off a journalist.

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Armstrong_Williams

    NPR?
    http://www.greaterthings.com/News/Martial_Law/Turner_psyops.htm

  • 8. Edison Marbury  |  December 15th, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Bless you, Mark. If only there were actually a world state that could take the Times to task. The idea of those homely gnomes before a wall of terrifyingly dark-skinned people clamoring for their blood is close enough to Paradise.

  • 9. darthfader  |  December 15th, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Speaking of journalism, one thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that the following line from the Qadhafi cable:

    “From the moment Qadhafi’s staff began to prepare for his travel to
    the United States, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of
    his 40-year rule, various proclivities and phobias began to reveal themselves in every logistical detail.”

    . . . suggests that there is at least one time that Qadhafi has visited the United States that is not public knowledge.

    I think a lot of people might have strong opinions about that.

  • 10. rapier  |  December 15th, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Who would have thought that in 5 years we’d have turned things around in Iraq and that the Taliban would have done the same in Afghanistan?

    Glory road.

  • 11. Allen  |  December 15th, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I’ve seen Michael Ignatieff speak in person about Afghanistan; he’s not kidding about his neo-con leanings. He’s dead serious, no matter what “conservatives” think or liberals hope.

    The first question was about Iggy’s pro-torture article. MI reacted like he wished it was still legal to strangle peasants to death with one’s bare hands …

    Did I mention he’s a pretentious twat?

  • 12. Destro  |  December 15th, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Don’t forget to hang from the neck until he is dead, war criminal Thomas L. Friedman, who as Foreign Affairs Editorialist of The New York Times, wrote on April 23, 1999 “…Let’s at least have a real war…It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted…the stakes have to be clear: Every week you [Serbs] ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too…Give war a chance….”

    That is a clear advocacy of killing civilians by the NY Times as clear as anything any Hutu said about killing Tutsi or Nazis said about killing Poles who resisted in Warsaw.

  • 13. 3jy6tgfe  |  December 16th, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Operation Mockingbird
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird

  • 14. annoyingnerd  |  December 16th, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    “DSL line?” Mr. Ames, you have fallen victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is “automatic teller machine machine,” but only slightly less well-known is “digital subscriber line line.”

  • 15. darthfader  |  December 17th, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Hey, since my comment has been hanging around in moderation, i checked and the cable on wikileaks.se has been further redacted to eliminate the “his 40-year rule” statement, which in fact makes my supposition almost certainly true.

    So, you know, this is a news story you could break using older mirrors of the document, if you wanted. Qadhafi’s Secret Trip to America.
    Just sayin’. You do whatever feels right.

  • 16. darthfader  |  December 17th, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    The original comment’s content – the comment that’s still hanging around in moderation:

    Speaking of journalism, one thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that the following line from the Qadhafi cable:

    “From the moment Qadhafi’s staff began to prepare for his travel to
    the United States, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of
    his 40-year rule, various proclivities and phobias began to reveal themselves in every logistical detail.”

    . . . suggests that there is at least one time that Qadhafi has visited the United States that is not public knowledge.

    I think a lot of people might have strong opinions about that.

    [and to follow up, that’s one version of the cable, and the Wikileaks.se version has the “of his 40 year rule,” clause redacted as well. So, the only interpretation that makes sense to me is that “of his 40-year rule,” was in the original cable before redaction, and constructed like that, it looks like the number of times Qadhafi travelled to the United States is classified.]

  • 17. darthfader  |  December 17th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    And my best guess as what fits neatly into that redaction?

    “From the moment Qadhafi’s staff began to prepare for his travel to the United States, [the first public visit] of his 40-year rule, various proclivities and phobias began to reveal themselves in every logistical detail.”

    That’s my guess, or something very like it, revealing that Qadhafi was here before and it was successfully kept secret.

  • 18. exploitedtimes  |  December 19th, 2010 at 6:54 am

    Powerful stuff, my first time reading it, perfectly apropos today. NYT behaves and is in reality, above the law as Ames shows here. Much like all US foreign policy, war crimes are bad when the opponent performs them, but righteous when the US performs them. That’s gotta piss off a lot of other countries and create a lot of enemies, as hypocrites are known to do. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know this stuff and I could still pretend we’re the good guys policing the world. Damn it! Thanks, good piece.

  • 19. GARY  |  December 19th, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    new york times was good newspaper?when was that?

  • 20. Yousif  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    rip Richard Holbrooke

  • 21. aleke  |  December 26th, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Just in case anyone here had the wrong idea, liberals have always been for imperialism and violence. Their squeamish nature is their disgusting, incompetent double. They are perverse, degenerate cretins, knee-deep in decadence. For a history of the warmongering liberal, The Liberal Defence of Murder is a great index: http://www.amazon.com/Liberal-Defence-Murder-Richard-Seymour/dp/1844672409

    It’s important to note the British Empire (thinking of Late Victorian Holocausts here http://www.amazon.com/Late-Victorian-Holocausts-Famines-Making/dp/1859843824 or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Victorian_Holocausts ) was the one who pioneered this Liberal Genocidal Formula. And now America has perfected it. Even the American conservatives, with whom the American people of course subscribe in their (relative) poverty, when attacking the decadent arch-liberals, betray their own Liberal position. It is little wonder that the ‘Liberal Democratic’ parties all over the world are centre-right or far-right, and serve as the best friends of American oligarchs.

    Mark, you are hitting on the right notes, it won’t take you long to realize Fascism is the final stage of Liberalism. And both of course are our mortal enemies, if we are serious about culling the degenerates from our strong, proud human race. It is the question of if we are to become Ubermensch, beyond-human, or mire in degeneracy until our disgusting, pathetic end. Nobility and strength, or disease and weakness. Death to Liberalism!

  • 22. Jimmy  |  March 6th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    There was nothing incompetent about Cheney.

  • 23. Jimmy  |  March 6th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Bush was one thing, but the person who was really in charge, Dick Cheney, was extremely formidable and competent. That is for sure. So was Stalin.


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