“All the News That”s Fit to Print” this pompous assertion appears every day at the top of the front page of the most overrated newspaper in the world. Reading The New York Times regularly (or, perhaps, The Wall Street Journal) is part of what it is to be an informed member of America”s elite class to be one of the people whose sentiments shape the form and boundaries of debate on every U.S. policy matter.
But The Times, the “paper of record,” the paper that sets the entire tone of American journalism, is more about preserving popular complacency and U.S. hegemony than doing the job we rightly expect it to be doing, that is, reporting the news. Every day, the Times applies a double standard when it covers news about American policy and news about “enemies” of the United States.
Let”s examine yesterday”s Times. Appearing on the front page, accompanied by a photo of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami addressing a massive crowd, is a story headlined “Millions in Iran Rally Against U.S.” by Neil MacFarquhar. In his article, Macfarquhar discusses about how Iranians came out in droves on Monday to protest the United States, and specifically George W. Bush”s inclusion of Iran in his “axis of evil.”
Early in the story, before it breaks, we”re treated to the following: “”Our policy is a policy of dtente,” Mr. Khatami told the throng clogging all avenues of Freedom Square in Tehran. “We intend to have ties and peaceful relations with all nations in the world,” except Israel.”
Now initially, this might seem fine. Iran has long provided aid to organizations that are working actively to destroy the Israeli state totally or at least as it now operates. So it isn”t necessarily much of a stretch to infer that when Iran”s president says his country wants “peaceful relations with all nations of the world,” he doesn”t mean Israel as well.
Still, there are serious problems with the way MacFarquhar wrote his story. First, the “except Israel” part is tacked onto the end of Khatami”s quote so that if someone reads the sentence quickly (as people tend to do when they”re reading stories in newspapers) he or she might think that Khatami actually said “we intend to have ties and peaceful relations with all nations in the world except Israel.” This is a serious difference, especially when there are war hawks in Washington who want to build up support for a massive military effort against all of the countries in the “axis of evil.”
This clearly wasn”t an isolated case of bad editing at the Times even if Khatami had explicitly clarified himself later is his speech, stating that Israel is an exception to “all nations of the world,” the way in which the Times reports that statement is disingenuous and misleading to readers. The Times could have informed its readers just as well by saying something to the effect of “Mr. Khatami later stated that Iran would not seek a peaceful relationship with Israel.”
The second problem here is that the American newspaper of record is engaged in putting words into the mouths of world leaders in ways that clearly misrepresent what they actually said.
Now take a look at the article by James Dao headlined “U.S. Defends Missile Strike, Saying Attack Was Justified,” buried on page A12. The lead says: “Senior military officials today defended a missile attack by a Central Intelligence Agency drone over eastern Afghanistan last week, calling the strike “appropriate” and sharply questioning assertions by Afghans that the missile killed as many as three peasants who were merely scrounging for scrap metal.”
Here we observe a much different treatment of American government officials than we see on page A1 where the Times is putting words into the Iranian president”s mouth. This again doesn”t second-guess “Senior military officials”” motives, much less stick words into their mouths. Rather, it questions the credibility of the “Afghans” by stating that said military officials “sharply question(ed)” the Afghans” “assertions.” When we say that someone makes an “assertion” it usually implies that there”s less-than-adequate reason for them to be saying whatever they”re saying (see how I use the word in the first sentence of this column).
These are not carefully-picked examples such discrepancies appear every day in the Times and thus permeate all major American newspapers and television news outlets.
A common retort to these observations might be “who cares?” American officials certainly have more credibility than Iranian officials ” I would refer these doubters to what the United States has done in the past.
How much should we trust a government that continues to thwart efforts to establish an international criminal court for fear that some of its own officials (or ex-officials) will be charged like Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. Or blocks a United Nations probe into Bill Clinton”s cruise missile attack against a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, causing untold numbers of Africans to die. Or helped install a brutal military dictatorship in Chile over the democratically elected Salvadore Allende, on Sept. 11 1973. Or gave the green light (and weapons) to Indonesian dictator Suharto to terrorize and slaughter thousands of civilians in East Timor Obviously the list goes on, but you get the point.
American officials do not need, much less deserve, the special treatment they receive every day “from the paper of record” but the American people need better reporting.
Nick Woomer can be reached at email@example.com.