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Always Remember, the NY Times Pushed, Hard, for War in Iraq

2015 March 26
by Ian Welsh

The New York Times is beloved by many liberals, but I despise them. Part of my reason is their role in making the Iraq war happen. I was following it in real time and I remember how they pushed administration lies; the headlines of their articles on Iraq were almost always alarmist  and the lead paragraphs were as well. Often enough, the truth would be buried in the equivalent of paragraph twelve.

For those not in the business, here’s the rule: Most people only read the headlines and you lose half of those actually reading past the headline incrementally per paragraph. Maybe the Times numbers are slightly better than that (probably because their headlines are truly atrocious and uninformative), but the rule is broadly true and few people are able to write long-form without losing their readers.

The Times is essentially reactionary. A look at their columnists and who they have chosen to be new columnists makes the point: Ross Douthat, the reactionary Catholic?  David Brooks, master of the inane right wing observation?

I was reminded of this in the last few days by two articles listed at the very top of their daily newsletters:

Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword

…Such rulings have prompted comparisons to the Islamic State, which regularly beheads its foes and also claims to apply Shariah law.

But Mr. Yehiya was saved because of checks in the Saudi system on the use of harsh punishments.


Rebukes From White House Risk Buoying Netanyahu

… Israeli analysts are now suggesting that Mr. Obama and his aides might be overplaying their hand, inviting a backlash of sympathy for Mr. Netanyahu, and that they may not have clearly defined what they expected to gain diplomatically by continuing to pressure the Israeli leader.

Certain countries are apologized for because they are US allies.  Remember the orgy of praise for the “cautious reformer” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia when he died? 

Reading this sort of hagiography of evil men and nations is like taking a swig of sour milk: It induces a gag reflex.

A lot of people think the Times is in some way left wing because they have a lot of excellent long form arts and culture coverage, but they are also the newspaper which knew the US, under Bush II, was spying on its own citizens in a widespread way and buried the story because it might influence the election.

Journalists without any preference for right or left wing, might think that information about what the government is actually doing should influence the election.  They might even think it was their job to reveal such information.  Not the editors at the Times, however.

I suppose I’m slightly unfair to single out the Times; almost all American media is right wing and supine before power. But the NYT is the most important newspaper in the world–a newspaper with reach, power, and influence. A paper with clout enough to make other choices.

Instead it chooses to kneel before power, to be a courtier to power. In so doing, the Times implies to other journalists that their policies reflect actual journalism.

Enjoy the Times long form cultural pieces, by all means.  But remember that they are past masters of propaganda, willing to spew out half-truths that conceal fundamental truths, such as the fact that ISIS is the spawn of Saudi Arabia and operates under a very similar a justice system. They’re also willing to spew outright lies like the idea that King Abdullah is some sort of reformer.

The Times makes the world a more dangerous place by lying. It’s just that simple. Every time journalists lie to millions about the actual state of the world, they degrade those people’s ability to make good decisions about the world, especially good political decisions about voting.  Democracy, which puts power in ordinary people’s hands, requires an informed populace, which requires a media that does not knowingly distort facts or conceal unfortunate truths.

The American media, lead by the New York Times, has failed in that task, grossly, for decades.  The blood of millions stains their hands and when the blame is apportioned for America’s decline, they shall have plenty for which to answer.

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37 Responses
  1. alyosha permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I so appreciate commentary like this. No one is saying stuff like this, and saying it so well. As someone who grew up in the US heartland, the NYT always represented a level of sophistication, a beacon on a hill, well beyond the milieu I came from. To clearly see that it’s really just another kind of propaganda, geared for a more sophisticated audience is eye opening.

  2. March 26, 2015

    Who said, “All news is propaganda, all propaganda is lies?” I don’t read the NY Times anymore, but still like the pictures in the Style section, Arts and Leisure and Travel.

  3. Doc permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Nothing aggravates me more than to see clips of the annual correspondents dinner in DC.
    Our political overlords yucking it up with all the media stars.

    If there was ever a better show of the disconnect between DC and the rest of America, I don’t know what it would be.

  4. EmilianoZ permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Yep, journalists are prime candidates for the 9th circle. Even financiers (greed, fraud) should only reach the 8th.

    I stopped trusting the mainstream media after 2008. I only go there if there’s a link from Naked Capitalism (usually with commentary from Yves Smith).

  5. Cvp permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I stopped trusting the mainstream media after 2008.

    2003 should’ve been the final straw for everyone.

  6. March 26, 2015

    Watch “Baseball” and count the number of people who made a mess of their reputation, both liberal and conservative. George F Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Okrent. even someone as great as Cuomo the elder.

  7. March 26, 2015

    It was a different era.

  8. Cliff permalink
    March 26, 2015

    The NYT lost my respect in 2002 with their editorial board crowing over what turned out to be an unsuccessful coup against the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. It was at about this same time that they began beating the war drums against Iraq.

    I still subscribe to the NYT because, well, it’s still an important newspaper. But one has to read it like the Pravda of old.

    Also, Ian, you might be interested to know that I can see your edits to your essays (that is, your changes as you go from draft to post) in my RSS reader, NetNewsWire. This is an OS X application. Yours is not the only blog in my reader that is behaving this way. FYI. I can send you a screen shot if you’re interested.

  9. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Let me suggest it’s not a question of “Left” or “Right,” but rather that most of the major and many of the minor news outlets – print and electronic – are simply supporters of The State in its varied forms, and simply disagree from time to time on what exactly they want Big Government to do to those they oppose.

    But other than that quibble, lots of OHY here. 😀

  10. Albert de permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I stopped reading the NY Times in 1961, when an event that I personally was at (a student demonstration at Oyster Bay related to educational philosophy – the new dean wanted to eliminate the universally required liberal arts courses) was reported on in a completely distorted way.

    On the other hand, if you look at the Congressional Record detailing US massacres of Filopinos about 110 years ago, dwarfing Abu Ghraib, or Abe Lincoln’s denunciation of the Mexican-American War, those who think that everything was hunky dory before JFK’s assaination are being naïve.

  11. Ian Welsh permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Cliff: ugh. Does it effectively give you multiple versions?

  12. S Brennan permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Agree Ian…and as if to make the point:

    Bomb, Bomb Iran

    By JOHN R. BOLTON MARCH 26, 2015

  13. March 26, 2015

    Yeah. The post-9-11 media was really an eye-opener. But it opened a lot of people up to the internet as a way to communicate, and it became clear to me at that point that there were a lot of people out there who were scrupulously honest. The ancient edicts against telling lies are so belittled, but it’s one of the bedrocks of having a working society. It’s a pretty good rule. (X)

  14. V. Arnold permalink
    March 26, 2015

    March 26, 2015
    I stopped trusting the mainstream media after 2008.
    2003 should’ve been the final straw for everyone.
    Agree, I packed up and left 6 weeks after March 19, 2003.
    It was infinitely clear where things were going.

  15. V. Arnold permalink
    March 26, 2015

    @ Ian

    With few exceptions; the world is awash in idiots. Dangerous sycophants following without discernment those who lead with lies, lies and more lies.
    Again, with few exceptions, most media are a dangerous lot, replacing facts and reporting with fairy tales and entertainment.

  16. Oaktown Girl permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I never paid much attention to the NY Times *until* the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. I don’t know what NPR was saying at the time (I had long since given up on National Petroleum Radio), but Pacifica Radio was ALL OVER the lies and drum beating for war going on at the NY Times. Besides the all the usual right wing columnists (most pretending *not* to be right wing) there was one “reporter” (Cheney stenographer) in particular who was considered to be the most damaging because apparently she carried a lot of “credibility” as a journalist (I forget her name, someone here knows it I’m sure).

    The left-leaning print media and media watch dogs such as FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) also did an excellent job calling out all the lies and media drum beating for war, particularly by the NY Times. They helped keep me sane.

  17. spot permalink
    March 26, 2015

    The interesting/ugly thing here is this. The New York Times, like any other institution is a construct, and at bottom the abstract construct is actually made up of people at the real level. That is the authority and moral strength or failure of any institution.

    Each and every one of these individual people at The New York Times,
    make their choice, and then they live with it. They collect their paychecks,
    and pay their rents. They put their kids in day care with the money, they pay the bills with the money, they go on vacation with the money, and they make plans and they dream with the money.

    Each and every very single day.

    The idea of the possibility civilization, is a beautiful and artistically elaborate lie in the face of stink reality. Like the Times itself, in a way.

    In that way, the old gray lady really is a perfect, precise, and frankly honest chronicle of our lives as a bunch of frauds and well meaning idiots.

    There have been many moments when it seemed like we could outrun reality in some genius bootstrap maneuver and aspire to something better. Those moments are vanishingly rare now- our legs are giving out, and we find ourselves increasingly backed into the corner of ourselves- with no small help here from our toys.

    And The Times will mechanically cover the world suicide day by day, in its way. Selling confidence to the end I bet. Why would anyone be paying for its spiel otherwise?

  18. sufferin' succotash permalink
    March 27, 2015

    A two-word explanation for why I restrict my NYT reading to Krugman’s blog: Judith. Miller.

  19. Jackiebass permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Very well put. As a progressive I never thought the NY Times was liberal. In my opinion I think the claim that the media in the US is liberal isn’t supported by the evidence. The news no matter what the form isn’t real news. Most of the time the news simply repeats what they are told. It’s not designed to be factual but to get people to read or watch it. I quit watching or reading corporate media years ago. It became entertainment rather than reporting the news. Money and the quest for more has corrupted almost everything . Even the supreme court has become corrupted by money. The common good has been thrown in the trash bag.

  20. Cliff permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Ian, about that NetNewsWire thing: it doesn’t show multiple versions per se; rather, it show words and phrases that were deleted while composing the text. They only show up in the reader when the item is first posted; once I click through and then go back to the reader, the phenomenon disappears. I’ll take a screen shot and save it for you the next time I see it.

  21. sanctimonious purist permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Just so. Don’t forget National Privatized Radiopuke (NPR).

  22. DMC permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Indeed. Had the same experience with the Washington Post. Its scary when you realize that there’s 2 or three even more reactionary papers in DC than the Post.

  23. James Simmons permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Wall Street=Hlilary Clinton=NYT. Iy is all about $.

  24. Cyclist permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Anyone who thinks the NYT doesn’t have a long history of toadying up to the powers that be needs to check out the late John Hess’ book [I]My Times: A Memoir of Dissent[/I]. He was an investigative reporter who worked at the Times from 1954-78, and provides a very readable account of why we need to be quite skeptical about what we read in our most influential newspaper.

  25. Cvp permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Most of the time the news simply repeats what they are told. It’s not designed to be factual but to get people to read or watch it.

    Doesn’t account for things like sitting on the Bush wiretap story for a year.

  26. dannyc permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Tuesday September 8, 2002, a day that will live in infamy.

  27. dannyc permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Not only did the NYT push hard for the war, it’s guilty of battlefield desertion in covering its aftermath, with its endless disastrous consequences. Where are we now, 12 years later? Where will we be 12 years from now?

  28. The Tragically Flip permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Well today’s news has “credibility death spiral” written all over it. Linking the “Paper of Record” up to Facebook along side Buzzfeed?

  29. Cvp permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Yeah. The post-9-11 media was really an eye-opener. But it opened a lot of people up to the internet as a way to communicate, and it became clear to me at that point that there were a lot of people out there who were scrupulously honest.

    Did it now?

  30. March 27, 2015

    I’m with you 100% on this! Judith miller & Michael Gordon ended any respect I had for the NY Times in 2002. Its true slogan should be, “All the ‘news’ that fits the Empire.”

  31. March 28, 2015

    People who think the NY Times is “liberal”, don’t read it.

  32. hidflect permalink
    March 29, 2015

    Is everybody too afraid to say it? When Israel’s interests are involved the NYT lurches rightward-ho. That would explain a lot of the cognitive dissonance with incidents expressed above.

  33. fell cadwallader permalink
    March 29, 2015

    I enjoy your insights Ian.
    Yet as you scribe the perspective;

    “Every time journalists lie to millions about the actual state of the world, they degrade those people’s ability to make good decisions about the world, especially good political decisions about voting. Democracy, which puts power in ordinary people’s hands, requires an informed populace, which requires a media that does not knowingly distort facts or conceal unfortunate truths.”

    …you become part of the problem. Talk, talk, talk…
    Again, I enjoy your philosophical musings – but from a practical perspective, how often is staring at the headlight of an oncoming train helpful without usable tools?

    The action starts with tools that individuals, locales, communities can use to interact with their civic institutions – accountable, sustainable local journalism. Interactions that teach people how to coalesce and act together for constructive change. Oncewe master how to walk, then and only then can we run.

    The NYT (and similar) is the equivalent of cultural pornography. It engorges passion – and not much else.

    Yes it may take generations. Yes it may be too late, but clearly the “they” you point to as future recipients includes all of the commentary class.

  34. mike permalink
    March 29, 2015

    so he won’t have to do it, I’ll point out to the above commenter that those who have read him for years know that he’s not all talk and has prescribed action frequently. it helps when you’ve been around here long enough to talk about it.

  35. fell cadwallader permalink
    March 31, 2015

    Thanks Mike.
    Have read him for years too.
    Comfortable in my comments.
    Indeed they are no more than comments.
    Surely my admonition applies to me equally as I imagine for Ian or any other commentator.

  36. Oaktown Girl permalink
    April 1, 2015

    Commenter “sufferin’ succotash” nailed it (I knew somebody would!): Judith (freakin’) Miller was the name I was looking for. Thanks, ss. Now I will go back to trying to scrub it out of my brain again.

  37. different clue permalink
    April 2, 2015

    Some decades ago ( I forget how many), some oil companies wanted to drill for oil on the Georges Bank off Maine. It was publicly controversial . . . threatening a sustainable fishing resource as it did. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page was against it on the grounds of favoring one politically wired-up private interest against every other private interest which was not so wired up. The NyTimes supported it on the grounds that “we need the oil” and a few dead fish would not matter.

    It became clear to me then that the Wall Street Journal may have been the voice of ideological CAPitalism, but the NyTimes was the voice of privileged inner-circle plutocracy.

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