New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. announced at his annual meeting on April 15 that it has been a successful financial year. But on the matter of the New York Times’ editorial and news coverage, he was on the defensive, declaring that he would not be “intimidated” by criticism. The defensive comments reflect the growing awareness that the Times, a partisan liberal Democratic newspaper, has crossed over the line under activist executive editor Howell Raines, becoming a propaganda organ for a controversial liberal agenda on domestic and foreign affairs.
But Sulzberger, who was named chairman of the company in September of 1997, seems content to let Raines have his own way with the paper.
The meeting was held in the wake of what the Times itself concedes was the “successful prosecution” of the war in Iraq by President George W. Bush. But it was a war that the Times adamantly opposed and second-guessed repeatedly after it started. By contrast, the Washington Post has been vindicated in its editorial support of the president’s decision to seek regime change in Iraq.
At the Times meeting, AIM Report editor Cliff Kincaid said it might appear to an outside observer of the paper’s editorial and news coverage that the Times regarded the all-male membership of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia as more of a threat than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For months, the Times has used its news columns and editorials to hammer away at Augusta’s rule against female members, and it even urged Tiger Woods to avoid the recent Masters golf tournament there. Ironically, Augusta chairman W.W. “Hootie” Johnson has a liberal record on civil rights for women and minorities, pushed to have the Confederate flag removed from the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, and is himself the father of four daughters. His position, which is not liberal enough to suit Raines, is that Augusta is a private club that should make its own rules, and that outside special interests should not dictate its policy.
The campaign against Augusta, sparked by an obscure feminist named Martha Burk, was so fanatical that columns by two Times staffers dissenting from Times editorial policy on the issue were suppressed until word leaked out and a public outcry forced their eventual publication. Kincaid told Sulzberger this had become a major embarrassment and fiasco for the paper. Sulzberger had no response.
Many observers blame the paper’s obsessive interest in the practices of the Augusta golf club on Raines, a southern liberal from Alabama who served as Times editorial page editor before assuming total control of the editorial and news coverage of the paper in September 2001.
In the case of the paper’s opposition to a U.S. invasion to overthrow the evil anti-American dictator Saddam Hussein, Kincaid asked Times publisher Sulzberger Jr., “Do you regret the Times’ adamant opposition to the liberation of Iraq?”
“I don’t think we had opposition to the liberation of Iraq,” he claimed. “I think our editorial policies were much more nuanced?Our editorials had two purposes. The first was to argue that the Bush administration use diplomacy to build a coalition for the liberation of Iraq. And secondly, to press the United Nations to be more forceful with Saddam Hussein?The heart of our thinking was the desire for an international approach to this problem. This is not new ground for the Times, which has a long and vibrant tradition of supporting international-ism.”
But the claim that the Times supported the liberation of Iraq under certain circumstances does not hold up. In a lengthy February 23 editorial, the Times went into detail about its support for a policy of “deterrence”-not war-against Iraq, and how going to war without the support of “traditional allies” and the United Nations was not worth the risk to world order. In the end, of course, the U.S. went to war without U.N. backing or the support of Germany and France.
The editorial warned that “things could go terribly wrong” and that the war “could be brutal and protracted?” In fact, the victory was swift and stunning, with the capital of Baghdad falling in three weeks.
The paper’s slant extended to hyping the anti-war movement. A February 17 Patrick Tyler story about the “New Power in the Streets” cited the “huge anti-war demonstrations” and the split in the Western alliance as factors that could prevent Bush from waging the war. This article, like many others in the Times, ignored the communist role in the demonstrations. Marxists and leftists were overjoyed with the story, saying that the recognition by the Times was a big boost to their cause.
Kincaid noted that former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger revealed that he had been asked by the Times editorial staff to write an op-ed for the paper opposing the Bush policy on Iraq. Eagleburger not only declined to write such an article, he blew the whistle on what had happened, telling the Fox News program Hannity & Colmes, “I was approached by the New York Times to write an op-ed piece?.I was told what we want is criticism of the administration?.Right out. Flat out. He told me we want criticism of the administration. Needless to say, I did not write the op-ed piece.”
While insisting that the Times provides the news “impartially without fear or favor regardless of party, sect or interest involved,” Sulzberger confirmed that Eagleburger had been approached to write such an op-ed because the paper had run a number of pro-Bush columns.
But actively soliciting an anti-Bush column from Eagleburger, who carries much weight in foreign policy circles, obviously went beyond a typical effort to provide diverse opinions. It was a heavy-handed attempt to generate controversy by undermining the Bush policy of regime change in Iraq.
Insisting that his paper was simply exercising editorial independence, Sulzberger quoted Diane McFarlin, former treasurer of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and publisher of the Sarasota Herald Tribune (a Times property), as saying that journalists have to follow “the path that leads us to fight for access and to information in the face of those who would call us unpatriotic because they confuse acquiescence to government for love of country.”
But no one argued that the Times should abandon criticism of government. The problem was that the paper had unfairly manipulated and slanted its editorial and news coverage against the Bush administration on a matter of international importance. And once the war was underway, the paper tried to create the public impression that we might be getting bogged down in a no-win war.
Insisting that public opinion had already moved in response to such reports, Todd Purdum of the Times wrote on March 27 that there had been “sharp shifts in public perceptions about how well the campaign against Saddam Hussein is going.”
The Times then ran a front-page “analysis” article-dubbed the “quagmire piece” by journalist Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret-on March 30 by R.W. Apple, about a “diplomatic debacle” leading to “gross military misjudgments” during the war itself.
Kelly joked that, ironically, Apple has become a “reliable indicator of U.S. military success,” noting that a previous Apple article about Afghanistan becoming another Vietnam appeared only two weeks before the Taliban collapsed.
In confronting Sulzberger with the evidence from his own paper about how the Times tried to discredit the military campaign, Kincaid noted that the Times ran a March 30 story by David E. Sanger under the headline, “As a Quick Victory Grows Less Likely, Doubts Are Quietly Voiced in Washington.” Kincaid noted that, only three days later, the Times carried an op-ed by retired Marine General Joseph P. Hoar headlined, “Why Aren’t There Enough Troops in Iraq?” Hoar said, “Our leaders are preparing for a long struggle.”
Hoar’s April 2 column also included this explosive statement: “And on the battlefield last week Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of the V Corps, said that the foe he is facing is very different ‘from the one we’d war-gamed against.'”
The Wallace quote (or misquote) has been the subject of much controversy. On March 28, Washington Post reporter Rick Atkinson, in a front-page story, quoted Wallace as saying, “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed against.” A New York Times reporter in the same interview reported the statement as, “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against.”
On April 1, the Times used a version similar to the one that had been in the Post, without the words “a bit.” Two days later, the Times published a correction to restore the original version. Blowing the statement even more out of proportion, the April 1 front-page story by Times reporters Bernard Weinraub and Thom Shanker said Wallace’s remarks were a warning that “the military faced a longer war than many strategists had anticipated.” They cited “a series of complaints from officers on the Iraqi battlefield that the Pentagon has not sent enough troops to wage the war as they want to fight it.”
Inside the paper, a story by Adam Nagourney and David E. Sanger insisted the Bush administration and its allies were scrambling to justify the war plan. It was carried under the headlines, “Bush Defends The Progress Of The War,” and “Privately, Republicans Fret Over Uncertainties.”
The Times cited “a flurry of questions” about whether the military campaign was succeeding.
CBSNews.com commentator Dick Meyer noted that, “Supposedly, Americans hold their critical tongues after the first shot of war is fired. Allegedly, patriots end their arguments at the water’s edge.” But not this time. Citing the Times and other media, he noted that, “The second-guessing of the Pentagon’s war plan has been instantaneous and ferocious.” He added, “This is an astounding amount of friendly fire at an early point in a war where Americans are getting killed.”
Some of this coverage may have been based on anonymous officials who were just wrong in their assessments. But with Raines in charge of editorial and news coverage, it can’t be ruled out that some of it may have been “unfriendly fire” from those who wanted to see the Bush administration fail. The claim in the Hoar column that Wallace had said the enemy was “very” different was so blatantly false that it was obviously designed to make things appear far worse than they actually were.
In comments denounced by Senator Jim Bunning as treasonous, Peter Arnett had also insisted the American war plan was failing in an interview on Iraqi television and that his own reports about civilian casualties in Baghdad were helping the anti-war cause in the U.S.
In fact, however, much of this brouhaha was over the desperate tactics of some Iraqi irregular forces who harassed U.S. supply lines and rear-area forces. They quickly faded away as a serious threat.
Hoar had been making dire predictions for months, winning lavish media attention and the praise of liberals opposed to the war. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee last September 23 that war would result in “high casualties on both sides, as well as in the civilian community.”
Senator Ted Kennedy asked Hoar what that would look like. He replied, “All our advantages of command and control, technology, mobility, all of those things are in part given up and you are working with corporals and sergeants and young men fighting street to street. It looks like the last 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. That’s what we’re up against.”
In an interview with an Australian reporter, Hoar said that “?I hope the US Government is correct, that everybody is going to quit, everybody is going to throw down their arms, everybody’s going to welcome us as liberators but you know the last time the Iraqis danced in the street was on the 11th September, a year and a half ago. I wouldn’t count on it.”
In a September 27, 2002, speech before the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Kennedy quoted Hoar as saying that a war against Iraq “would disrupt the war against al Qaeda.” Kennedy added, “We ignore such wisdom and advice from many of the best of our military at our own peril.”
Senator Carl Levin cited Hoar’s testimony in arguing that the U.S. should get U.N. backing before attacking Iraq.
On April 22, Nicholas Kristof of the Times admitted that he had been a “gloom-and-doom columnist” about the war. He had written, “If we’re going to invade, we need to prepare for a worst-case scenario involving street-to-street fighting.”
Kristof said, “Since I complained vigorously about this war before it started, it’s only fair for me to look back and acknowledge that many of the things that I-along with other doves-worried about didn’t happen?Despite my Cassandra columns, Iraq never carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. or abroad, it didn’t use chemical or biological weapons, and it didn’t launch missiles against Israel in hopes of triggering a broader war. Turkey has not invaded northern Iraq to attack the Kurds.
“So let me start by tipping my hat to administration planners whose work reduced those risks.”
But Kristof was not so quick to acknowledge wrongdoing in his columns on Sami Al-Arian, the former Florida professor indicted as a terrorist leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Dr. Steven Hatfill, the former govern-ment scientist and FBI “person of interest” in the anthrax letters case.
Kincaid asked Sulzberger if he would care to comment on Kristof’s defense of Al-Arian. “No,” he said, as he quickly moved on to another question.
It’s not surprising that Sulzberger wanted to avoid the subject. Kristof had appeared on the O’Reilly Factor Fox New Channel show on March 5, 2002, to repeat charges made in his column that Al-Arian, a Palestinian, had been singled out for criticism and victimized because his views on the Middle East were “out of the mainstream.” When host Bill O’Reilly cited an Al-Arian fund-raising letter for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Kristof dismissed that as a legal “private communication.”
After Al-Arian’s indictment on terrorism charges involving the murder of 100 people, including two Americans, Kristof told Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post that, “I can’t help having some second thoughts.”
While giving Al-Arian the benefit of the doubt, Kristof wrote a series of columns urging the FBI to investigate Dr. Steven Hatfill in connection with the anthrax letters that killed five people. Using information supplied by questionable left-wing sources, Kristof suggested that Hatfill’s anti-communist credentials, work in southern Africa, and colorful background made him a possible suspect in the case. Hatfill affirmed his innocence and said that Kristof never contacted him for his side of the story. Hatfill, who lost two prestigious jobs and is now unemployed because of the FBI investigation and controversy generated by Kristof and others, has threatened to sue the paper.
If the paper had practiced elementary fairness, the controversy and potential lawsuit against the Times might have been avoided altogether.
In addition to Hoar’s faulty analysis, retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, an analyst for CNN, said on March 25 that a quick victory was “not going to happen,” while retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, an analyst for MSNBC, said the U.S. didn’t have enough troops on the ground.
Retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took the line in his testimony on September 23: “I think if it gets to urban warfare, and the likelihood is certainly great that it could, just like the likelihood is that he could use weapons of mass destruction…it could get very messy. The collateral damage could be very great.”
In retrospect, it is apparent that much of the political sniping came from figures associated with the Clinton administration.
McCaffrey was Clinton’s drug czar. Clark, an Arkansas native, was NATO Supreme Allied commander under Clinton and directed his illegal war against Yugoslavia. He may run for president next year as a Democrat and has already created a group, Leadership for America, to increase his visibility nationwide. Shalikashvili was Joint Chiefs chairman under Clinton and later became an adviser to Clinton in the unsuccessful effort to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
By contrast, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney told the Senate last September that a war against Iraq could be over quickly. He said the U.S. could gain effective military control within 72 hours with a blitz attack combining precision air strikes, fast-moving ground troops, covert operations and support from Iraqi rebels. In an October op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he predicted a “campaign that will be over within 30 days and have less casualties than we had in Desert Storm with a smaller attacking force.” He was a military analyst for Fox News during the war.
Over at the Washington Post, Pentagon reporter Thomas E. Ricks flip-flopped, initially lauding the “military’s daring race to Baghdad” and concluding that the campaign plan “was actually being executed pretty much as conceived,” but also emphasizing the administration’s “mistakes” and “misjudgments” during the planning for the war.
Newsweek, a Washingon Post property, said in its April 7 issue that Vice President Cheney had made an “arrogant blunder” by saying that U.S. troop would be greeted in Baghdad as liberators.
On ABC World News tonight on April 4, Pentagon reporter John McWethy warned that it could be “a long war.”
On April 9, Saddam’s statue in Baghdad was toppled and dragged away by a large mob.