Reed Irvine - Editor
|August B, 1985|
THE SANDINISTA DEBT TO THE TIMES
"We did not call for United States intervention to overthrow Somoza when he was in power," said Sydney Gruson, vice chairman of The New York Times on June 20, 1984. The statement was ad- dressed to Reed Irvine and Murray Baron, the chair- man and president, respectively, of Accuracy in Media at a meeting in the office of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the chairman and president of The New York Times.
On July 2, 1985, when the AIM leaders again met with Messrs. Sulzberger and Gruson, they submitted a seven-page memo documenting the editorial support The New York Times had given to the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, in 1978-79, when he was under attack by the Sandinistas. The memo also detailed the soft attitude taken by The Times toward the Sandinistas once they had seized power. At the 1984 meeting, Mr. Gruson had said: "We do not support the Sandinista government in any editorial that I have read."
In an editorial on April 24, 1983, The Times pointed out that there is "almost no such thing as nonintervention" by the United States in Central America. It said: "Whether the Yankee colossus opposes or accepts revolutionary regimes, or smiles or frowns on a Somoza tyranny, its influence is formidable." With that in mind, here are some quotes from Times editorials during the period the Somoza government was under attack in 1978-79.
October 5, 1978: "The tyrant we know in Nicaragua, by contrast, seems worse than any possible successor .... The OAS (Organization of American States), though reluctant to interfere in a member's domestic affairs, is unofficially asking the general to retire while he can .... But the victor in battle is not likely to yield power without further pressure. If North Americans show themselves unafraid of his Red scare stories, we may yet help to bring better times to Nicaragua. They can hardly become worse."
November 21, 1978: "With so many others poised to intervene, the one thing the United States cannot maintain much longer is the pretense of its own nonintervention. Having already chosen to promote a transition toward democracy, it is being forced to decide whether this is any longer possible so long as the general remains in power. Clearly the answer is no. General Somoza has made war against his own civilian population and alienated all the forces whose cooperation would be needed in a democratic society .... There is nothing left for a frustrated mediator except to make clear to him that he will be completely isolated if he seeks to retain power by force alone.
"Israel, which has sent Gen. Somoza arms since the U.S. supply was cut off, should be urged to suspend the flow. El Salvador and Honduras, either of which might be tempted to send troops to support him, should be strongly discouraged from doing so .... It is too late to fret about intervention as such, the only question is whether it will be practiced well and in time."
As the Carter administration followed the above advice and the victory of the communist-led Sandinistas loomed, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance grew concerned about Nicaragua falling to the communists. He proposed sending in an inter-American peace-keeping force to prevent this. The New York Times opposed this, saying on June 26, 1979: "Ending the carnage in Nicaragua and creating a broadly based democratic government should continue to be the aims of U.S. policy. Military intervention in the present circumstances would be neither a promising nor desirable way of achieving these aims."
The next day, Alan Riding, the correspondent covering Nicaragua for The Times, wrote that Nicaraguans were puzzled by Washington's efforts to undermine the authority of the Sandinistas by charging that Cuba was behind them. Riding said: "Because most top Sandinist leaders were trained in Cuba, there is anxiety in some U.S. circles that a Sandinist victory could lead Havana to enjoy excessive influence over any future Managua government. But all evidence available in public here suggests that the Castro regime has preferred to see such countries as Venezuela and Panama aiding the rebels. President Fidel Castro has been quoted as saying, 'The best help I can give the Sandinistas is not to help them.'"
That very day, The Chicago Tribune's lead front- page story was about a leaked CIA memo showing that Fidel Castro was giving arms, financial help, training and advice to the Sandinistas. The Times ignored that story for a week, finally mentioning it on July 4. However, the editorial writers apparently missed it altogether. On July 11, they repeated Castro's disinformation, spread via Alan Riding, that he felt that the best help he could give the Sandinistas was to do nothing for them.
Although The Times had wanted to see Somoza top- pled because he was not sufficiently democratic, it now warned against insisting that "any successor to President Somoza's regime must now meet Washing- ton's test of moderate democracy." (July 11, 1979) Recognizing that the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua would result in trouble for its neighbors, El Salvador and Honduras, The Times advised that this was nothing to be concerned about. On July 23, 1979, it said: "As surviving tyrannies come under challenge, it would be folly to confuse the winds of change with a Castroite hurricane."
Once Castro's agents had won their victory, The Times remained firmly optimistic despite the anti- American rhetoric of the new regime and the influx of Cuban advisers. On August 15, 1979, it said: "The main test of the Sandinist regime will be its tolerance of political opposition .... But pluralism also implies freedom for the revolutionary left, including freedom to denounce 'Yankee imperialism.' Nicaragua's revolutionary ferment has already attracted Cuban Communist visitors as well as European socialists and Latin American Christian Democrats. The most visible Sandinist spokesman is the Interior Minister, Thomas Borge, an avowed Marxist. But he is turning to Washington for military aid, and explicitly denies that he will appeal to Cuba or Russia if the United States says no. His Marxism apparently falls short of zealotry, and his colleagues, in any case, include a Catholic priest as foreign minister (Miguel D'Escoto) and an American- trained chief of economic planning." The Times editorial writers seemed to think that neither a Catholic priest nor anyone "American-trained" could be Marxist.
Although the new regime carried out 400 summary executions and imprisoned 7,200 political prisoners, according to the Human Rights Report of the State Department, The New York Times told its readers that the Sandinists "clearly anticipate a society where Nicaraguans will be free to express dissenting points of view." (Aug. 27, 1979) Urging support for both economic and military aid, it said: "So far, the revolutionary regime has shown its good faith by restoring liberties and pursuing a pluralist path." (Sept. 16, 1979)
In the spring of 1980, the two non-communists who had been included in the 5-person ruling junta for window-dressing both resigned, having belatedly realized that they were being used by the communists who were running the country. These two were Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, the former editor of La Prensa whose murder in 1978 had given a strong impetus to the revolt against Somoza, and Alfonso Robelo, a wealthy businessman. Robelo is now in exile, sup- porting the anti-Sandinista freedom fighters. The Times was more upset by the negative congressional reaction to these resignations than by the resignations themselves. It said that those opposing additional aid to Nicaragua because of these resignations were overlooking the fact that the junta had agreed to let the private sector fill the vacancies. (May 5, 1980)
While on June 18, 1980, The Times was still seeing "a genuine commitment to pluralism" in Nicaragua, its confidence had visibly waned four months later. It was shocked by the murder of a leading businessman, Jorge Salazar, president of the Coffee Growers Association, who it described as "an important free market spokesman." Plaintively The Times editorialists asked: "Why are the Sandinists becoming more repressive? What has happened to their promise of a pluralistic society? .... Political meetings have been restricted. Critical newspapers have been censored. Former political prisoners have been re- arrested. And rumors are rife in the private sector organizations that top officers of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rice Growers' Association and the largest private coffee growers' cooperative have been taken into custody.... Unless the Sandinists intend ultimately to establish a Cuban-style one, party dictatorship, they have no reason for so harassing and intimidating the private sector opposition. Americans should urgently ask them to ex- plain why they are doing so." (Oct. 21, 1980)
The Times didn't get any satisfactory answers to those questions, and by the time the second anniversary of the Sandinista victory rolled around, the editorials were grumbling about the harassment of La Prensa, the opposition newspaper, the tightening of state control over the economy and the military buildup of an army of 40,000 and a militia of 200,000. The Soviets, The Times noted, were supplying weapons, including tanks. (Aug. 1, 1981)
Two years too late, The Times discovered that "the Sandinists feel themselves rebels in the Castro tradition." The editorialists who told us in July 1979 that it would be folly to confuse the "winds of change with a Castroite hurricane" now revealed that these revolutionaries "in the Castro tradition" (read: communists) "identify strongly with the guerrillas battling an American-supported junta in El Salvador." But hope springs eternal. They said the Sandinists "also seem eager to learn from Cuba's mistakes, particularly its costly economic and military dependence on the Soviet Union." Their hopeful conclusion: "Nicaragua is still not 'lost.'" (Aug. 14, 1981)
Eleven days later the Sandinista defense minister, Humberto Ortega, gave a speech in which he said, "Marxism-Leninism is the doctrine that guides our revolution." He said that it was necessary to draw up lists of potential counter, revolutionaries, and he said those who "consciously or unconsciously support the plan of imperialism" would be the first to be hanged. In October, COSEP, the Nicaraguan private enterprise council, sent a letter to Daniel Ortega, then the coordinator of the ruling junta and now Nicaragua's president, bitterly criticizing the failure of the government to honor its promises of pluralism and tolerance for private enterprise. "We are at the gates of destruction of Nicaragua," the letter warned, saying that the economy was in ruins.
Four leaders of COSEP, all prominent business- men, were promptly arrested, and three of them were sentenced to seven months in prison for violating laws which ban virtually all criticism of the government. The New York Times reported the arrests only in a news brief, but on November 4, The Wall Street Journal focused attention on them with a tough editorial. This got to The Times editorial writers. On November 25, they said: "Nicaragua's two-year old revolution is going very wrong. By jailing political opponents and silencing press criticism, the Sandinist leaders make nonsense of their democratic promises. Their economy is chaotic and the people's needs are enormous. Yet the junta sinks millions into provocative hardware, including Soviet tanks. These betrayals deserve censure."
The Times's recovery from its intoxification with the Nicaraguan revolution was brief. On January 9, 1982, its editorialists were again sounding a hopeful note. "It may indeed be the aim of the ruling Sandinists to turn Nicaragua into a totalitarian state," they wrote, "but their domination is not yet absolute." It suggested resuming American aid if they would show their good faith by doing a few things like freeing the jailed business leaders. "Washington strongly favors generous Western help for the mixed economy of Zimbabwe, led by an avowedly Marxist prime minister. Why should Nicaragua be viewed so differently?" The Times asked.
By February 19, the editorialists were drinking deeply from the bottle of revolutionary booze. "Why not energetically try to befriend Nicaragua?" they asked. "That it is a leftist, revolutionary country should not automatically disqualify it for American help." Truman and Eisenhower had aided Tito's Yugoslavia, they recalled, and Ronald Reagan was giving aid to Mugabe in Zimbabwe and had offered military supplies to Communist China. These seemingly omniscient spokesmen for the nation's most influential newspaper now seemed to be puzzled by the enmity toward Nicaragua's junta.
True, they allowed, there were "authoritarian impulses -the repeated threats of censorship and the persecution of opposition leaders." There was the military buildup and the smuggling of weapons to the guerrillas in El Salvador. There was the mistreatment of the Miskito Indians, who, according to The Times, had suffered from the efforts of the Sandinist revolutionaries "to integrate them into the dominant culture by teaching them Spanish and Marxism and giving them pills against diseases spread by non-Indians." Now The Times said the Nicaraguans deserved a "hearing when they justify the buildup by citing American bellicosity," and it implied that we shouldn't get too upset about the treatment of the Indians, since "the killing of Indians has become commonplace." Even the release of aerial photos a few weeks later showing the destruction of the Indian villages didn't upset the editorialists.
They found these photos, together with others showing the construction of large military airfields in Nicaragua, a "cause for concern, but not alarm." (March 11, 1982) Three days later The Times advised us not to jump to the conclusion that there was any link between Cuba and Nicaragua and the trouble in El Salvador. It said: "There will long be affinity among guerrillas, just as there is affinity among democrats .... And, yes, Cuba is the patron of most guerrilla movements in this hemisphere. But affinities and even ideological solidarity do not prove alien creation or manipulation of insurgencies." (March 14, 1982)
With thousands of Nicaraguans in active revolt and the Reagan administration supporting them, The Times expressed its horror that the United States should do anything to intervene. "The way to con- found the Sandinists," it proclaimed in a March 30, 1983 editorial, "is to work for regional disarmament, respect for human rights and genuine elections everywhere in Central America." The editorialists who were so enthusiastic about our government's intervention to topple Somoza now said: "What it should not be doing is overthrowing containable leftist regimes or fighting for lost reactionary causes, launching invasions and war games in the service of blind doctrine." (July 24, 1983)
A week later, The Times said that it affronted "the American sense of fair play for a big country to pro- mote the lawless subversion of a tiny neighbor." It criticized President Reagan for demanding that the Sandinistas keep the promises they made to the OAS, their pledges to respect the rights and freedom of the Nicaraguan people. "This is a most tardy devotion to democracy in Central America," said The Times. "It is also strange coming from an administration that readily makes its peace with congenial right-wing dictators in this hemisphere and elsewhere." Forgetting that The Times itself had hailed the Sandinistas in the early months of their rule for "restoring liberties and pursuing a pluralist path" and had censured them a year later for backsliding, the editorialists on July 31, 1983, suggested that Ronald Reagan was being unrealistic in asking "revolutionaries in fatigues to conduct themselves like proper Republicans and Democrats."
At the July 2 meeting in Mr. Sulzberger's office, Murray Baron said the AIM memo showed "that when it comes to the overthrow of a right-wing dictator," The Times wants "to encourage the success of the overthrow. But when it comes to a left-wing incumbent" The Times is opposed. Mr. Sulzberger commented: "I just don't think that's true .... Let me read it. That's certainly not the way we feel."
Mr. Sulzberger turned the task of reacting to the AIM memo over to his vice chairman, Sydney Gruson, who later discussed it with Reed Irvine by phone. Mr. Gruson said he thought the memo spoke for itself. He saw nothing in the editorials to feel sorry about or to apologize for. He said that in asserting that The Times had never called for intervention to overthrow Somoza, he was thinking of military intervention. He obviously could not deny that The Times had been a strong advocate of our using our power to topple the Somoza government, including intervening with Israel and other countries to halt the supply of weapons.
Irvine pointed out that there was no point in the United States intervening militarily to bring down Somoza, since the Cubans were taking care of that by training, arming, financing and advising the Sandinistas. He observed that when the Carter administration belatedly realized that the successor government in Nicaragua was going to be communist-controlled un- less something was done to prevent it, The Times had opposed any intervention to block this. The Times was clearly in sympathy with the Sandinistas and was naively hopeful that they would turn out to be democrats. Mr. Gruson acknowledged that this was what they hoped.
Irvine noted that it had taken The Times a long time to recognize that this hope was not going to be realized. It took two years for The Times to learn what was obvious to many from the beginning--that the Sandinista leaders were "revolutionaries in the Castro-tradition," i.e., communists. Even then, The Times was not willing to give up on them. "Nicaragua is still not 'lost,'" it told its readers on August 1, 1981. When it became obvious even to the editorial writers of The Times that there was no realistic chance that the Castroite rulers of Nicaragua would opt for a free democracy, The Times showed no enthusiasm for efforts to topple them.
Irvine said that many Nicaraguans now feel that Nicaragua's present government is far worse than that of Somoza. The economy is in a shambles, civil liberties are at a nadir, but The Times was not asking that anything be done to change the regime.
Mr. Gruson countered that there were a number of right-wing regimes in the world whose ouster was not actively being pressed by The Times. He named Chile, Honduras and Guatemala. He also denied that The Times was in favor of toppling the government of South Africa. Asked how they stood on one-man, one-vote in South Africa, Mr. Gruson replied, "I sup- pose that we're always for one-man, one-vote."
Isn't it obvious that one-man, one-vote would mean the end of the present South African government? Irvine asked. Mr. Gruson dodged the question, saying that he didn't know just what The Times had said about one-man, one-vote, but they had not called for ending the present government in South Africa. He said what he personally wanted to see in South Africa was better education, better housing, and better treatment for the black population, including ending the segregation. Would he stop short of giving them the vote? "No," said Sydney Gruson. "I believe in people having the vote." However, he didn't think it had to be done today so they could topple the government tomorrow. He favored a gradual transition.
By contrast, Mr. Gruson said that despite their disappointment in the policies of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, he didn't feel that it was up to The Times to advise the U.S. government on specific steps to be taken to bring about a change. "That's not our role," he said. He readily acknowledged that The Times disagreed with the Reagan administration's support of those who are trying to overthrow the Sandinistas. Irvine said they ought to have some alternative proposals. What were they? Mr. Gruson said: "I don't think that newspapers are another form of government. We're just another estate, not another form of government."
As Murray Baron said on July 2, when it comes to the overthrow of a right-wing dictator, The Times is for it, but when it comes to a left-wing dictatorship, The Times is opposed to any such radical action.
The asymmetry of the foreign policy of The Times is matched by the asymmetry among its regular columns. Reston, Wicker, Anthony Lewis, Flora Lewis, Russell Baker and William Safire are syndicated throughout the country. Safire is the only conservative in the group. Irvine suggested that Mr. Sulzberger right this imbalance by taking the revolutionary step of running Accuracy in Media's weekly column. "Impossible," said Mr. Sulzberger. All columnists must be Times employees. But under Mr. Sulzberger more radical changes than that have been made. The wrong-headed editorials of The Times on Nicaragua demonstrate that The Times could use more emphasis on the "op" in its "op-ed" page.
Write to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Chairman, New York Times, New York, N.Y. 10036, telling him what you think about the need for better balance.
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THE TV NETWORKS HAVE BEEN DRENCHING THE COUNTRY WITH GUILT OVER THE A-BOMBING OF Hiroshima and Nagasaki 40 years ago. I am writing these notes on the morning of August 7, and what I saw on the tube last night persuaded me to drop my plans to write mainly about the New York Times-Accuracy in Media summit meeting last month. I feel that I must comment on this TV guilt trip, which is beginning to nauseate me.
THE DROPPING OF THE ATOMIC BOMBS HAS PARTICULAR SIGNIFICANCE FOR ME AND MY FAMILY, because 40 years ago I was an intelligence officer in the 2nd Marine Division on Saipan working on the plans for our invasion of Japan that was to begin on November 1. My wife-to-be was a resident of Nagasaki, and she, like all the other Japanese, was also preparing for that invasion, training with bamboo spears to resist our attack. Her island, Kyushu, was our target. I had been through the battle for Saipan and had seen the heavy casualties on both sides. I had been particularly impressed by the Japanese soldiers' determination to die rather than surrender. I remember pulling one out from under a pile of dead bodies. He had survived the suicide attempt, but he begged me to kill him. (I spoke Japanese). It was at Saipan that even the Japanese civilians committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs on the northern tip of the island rather than surrender. I had been on a troop ship in the invasion of Okinawa and had seen the transport behind us hit by a kamikaze plane.
WE KNEW THAT THE INVASION OF KYUSHU WAS NOT GOING TO BE ANY PICNIC. THE EXPECTATION was that it would be a lot tougher than Saipan and Okinawa, where the casualties on both sides had been very heavy. To put it mildly, those of us who were perhaps about to die were relieved when the dropping of those two atomic bombs ended the war and made it possible for us to land in Japan unopposed. We landed in Nagasaki on September 24, six weeks after the bomb had fallen. The scientists had preceded us and had reported that there was no radioactivity left and that it was safe to land. Unlike Hiroshima, which had been pretty well flattened, much of Nagasaki had not been destroyed. That was because of the hilly terrain which had shielded much of the city from the blast.
HERE IS THE FRONT PAGE OF THE NAGASAKI SHIMBUN of August 10, 1945, the day after the bombing. The lead story told of a Soviet air attack against Japanese forces in Manchuria. The story circled in the middle of the page carries this headline: "New Type Bomb on Nagasaki, Very Slight Damage Seen." The story was only two lines long. On the reverse side, another story devoted 8 lines to the bombing. This, of course, is one of the great examples of inaccurate reporting. 23,753 people had been killed and 43,020 injured, according to the report of Gen. MacArthur's headquarters in 1950. In Hiroshima, 78,150 were reported killed and 51,108 injured or missing. Those are heavy tolls for only two bombs, but with all the focus on these two cities, it has been forgotten that more people had died as a result of our fire-bombing of Japan's three major urban areas in April-June, 1945. Those bombings had resulted in 118,000 deaths.
THE FIRE-BOMBING CAMPAIGN IN THE SPRING OF 1945 HAD DESTROYED 56% OF THE TOKYO- Kawasaki-Yokohama area, 57% of Osaka-Kobe, and 52% of Nagoya. The city of Hamamatsu had been 72% destroyed. It was estimated that 5.5 million people, 42 percent of the population in the three largest urban areas, had lost their homes. The people were desperately short of food.
THE ATOMIC BOMBS WREAKED TERRIBLE HAVOC ON HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI, TO BE SURE, BUT I think if I had my choice I would rather die in a flash, what the survivors in Nagasaki called "pikadon," than in those terrible firestorms that swept Tokyo. The survivors of the Nagasaki bombing feel a little hurt that Hiroshima gets so much more attention than they do. The survivors of the firebombings have even more reason to complain that their ordeal has been forgotten.
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT IS SO MISLEADING ABOUT THE CONCENTRATION OF OUR MEDIA ON the victims of the atomic bombings is the impression that practically no one survived and that the few who did have lived miserable lives ever since. My wife was a survivor, as were her mother and brother and sister. They were by no means exceptional. Note that the population of Nagasaki was 270,000 at the time the bomb fell, which meant that over 200,000 of the inhabitants were neither killed nor injured. The population of Hiroshima was 343,000, and over 200,000 of them were not killed or injured. The gloomy predictions that the survivors would be decimated by diseases caused by radiation have been proven highly exaggerated. The latest data indicate that among the survivors leukemia has been 50 percent higher than normal, but other cancers have exceeded the normal expectation by only 3 percent. I am happy to say that my wife and her brother and sister are all in good health and have lived normal lives. There are, of course, cases of people who have suffered disfigurement and lasting ailments, but to present these as the norm is to deceive. Oh yes, and the expected damage to succeeding generations has not materialized either. My own son and all my nieces and nephews on my wife's side are perfectly normal. They are not the exception. The bombs did not produce any significant increase in birth defects.
THIS, OF COURSE, IS NOT WHAT OUR TELEVISION NETWORKS HAVE BEEN TELLING US IN THEIR eagerness to make us all feel guilty about those bombs. I watched on ABC last night a segment about the "hibakusha," the victims of the bomb who are living in America. The complaint was that the U.S. government is not doing anything to pay the medical bills of these people or give them special care. The impression was given that they are all invalids. I have seen the same thing about veterans who were stationed in Nagasaki, as I was, in the fall of 1945. There is a group that claims that they had their health seriously impaired by radiation as a result of having spent a little time in the city weeks after the bombing. There are always those who are eager to blame ill health, which is not a rare phenomenon, on something that might enable them to get someone else, especially the government, to pay their bills.
ABC AND ITS ANCHORMAN, PETER JENNINGS, WHO WENT TO HIROSHIMA TO COVER THE 40TH anniversary of the bombing were guilty of a lot of maudlin, misleading reporting. On the other hand, ABC's "Nightline," did an interesting program about the invasion of Japan, trying to portray what it would have been like. It emphasized that it would have resulted in a heavy loss of life on both the Japanese and American sides. While they showed Norman Cousins arguing that our forces would only have suffered 60,000 deaths (this "humanitarian" didn't discuss the number of Japanese who would have died), ABC clearly wasn't buying that figure, which surfaced at a press conference staged by the far-left magazine, CounterSpy.
NO ONE KNOWS WHETHER JAPAN WOULD HAVE SURRENDERED BEFORE NOVEMBER 1, 1945 WITHOUT the bombing of Hiroshima. But I do know that what we in the invasion force faced and what the Japanese faced was destruction and death far greater than the suffering of the A-bomb victims. The war was brought to a mercifully quick end. Skip the guilt, please.