I wish we had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD as soon as I became executive editor. At the time, we thought we had compelling reasons for kicking the issue down the road. The paper had just been through a major trauma, the Jayson Blair episode, and needed to regain its equilibrium. It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors. I feared the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction. So it was a year before we got around to really dealing with the controversy. At that point, we published a long editors' note acknowledging the prewar journalistic lapses, and -- to my mind, at least as important - - we intensified aggressive reporting aimed at exposing the way bad or manipulated intelligence had fed the drive to war.
-- Bill Keller, memo
to NY Times staff, 10/21/2005
The minute New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller’s “internal memo” became public, most astute observers understood that Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. had decided to throw Judith Miller to the sharks. Within a few short weeks, the Tokyo Rose of Times Square had fallen from being adulated as the reincarnation of Edward R Murrow to being unceremoniously dumped from the pay roll. The new story line is that Miller had deceived both Keller and Sulzberger
Keller’s memo was addressed to his colleagues from a hiding place in East Asia -- where he was seeking shelter from the aftermath of Hurricane Judy. As for Sulzberger -- he simply vanished from the public’s radar screen.
By his own admission, Keller took a whole year to get around do “dealing with the WMD controversy.” He claims he was too busy cleaning up after Jayson Blair. This led him to fear that “the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction.” Let me suggest that Keller consider a visit to Walter Reed Hospital. There, he can take a long hard look at exactly how crippling the WMD hoax has been to thousands of Iraq veterans who went to war on the strength of manipulated intelligence.
Keller still has the nerve to defend the war propaganda mill that was operated right under his nose with Sulzberger’s approval. He takes credit for publishing “a long editor's note acknowledging the prewar journalistic lapses.” That infamous editorial failed to mention Judith Miller by name and blamed the WMD hoax on Iraqi exiles. It also implicitly defended the neocon architects of the WMD misinformation campaign by claiming that they too were duped by hucksters like Ahmed Chalabi -- a monster they had created and funded for a decade.
Adding insult to injury, Keller now wants us to believe that Sulzberger spent millions of dollars to postpone the Plame investigations because of the “new menace” -- blanket waivers. Even at this late date, he wants to posture as a crusader for the free flow of information. After dumping Miller, he now insists on appropriating her alibi. The “Blanket Waiver” defense is like the Milky Way defense. Next thing you know, Keller will claim he was a victim of embedded Kit Kat wafers. Call it “The Wafer defense.”
The New York Times is not just the nation’s paper of record. It’s a policy making institute and a major power player. It’s an ideological think tank with a huge printing press and an arsenal of high profile editorial writers like Thomas Friedman of the American Likud Party and William Safire -- a ghost writer for Ariel Sharon. A reporter with Judith Miller’s credentials could not hope to find a more hospitable environment than the one offered by the “grey lady.”
Miller was far from being a rogue operative. Miss “Run A Muck” was awarded her license to “muck” from Sulzberger, the publisher. When Miller was given a subpoena to testify before the Grand Jury, Sulzberger spared no cost to prevent her from making an appearance. Ultimately, it was his ass on the line and he was willing to spend millions to cover up his willing collaboration in the neocon conspiracy to market the invasion of Iraq. And it was his personal choice of colors that converted his media empire into a publisher of yellow journalism.
One of the most disturbing elements of this sorry chapter in the history of American journalism is that Sulzberger is virtually immune from impeachment. His best defense is that he broke no law. As the master of a hereditary political fiefdom he feels a sense of entitlement to contaminate the nation with war fever.
At this point, there should be little argument that Sulzberger voluntarily participated in an elaborate joint operation with the neocon brigades to make a case for invading Iraq. That raises a number of questions. What was his personal motivation? Did it have something to do with his personal ideology? Is he a neocon?
Did the New York Times, as a commercial enterprise, stand to benefit from its cozy relationships with the Bush White House? Special access and exchanged favors obviously led to scoops which generate bottom-line dividends. Was Sulzberger just another war profiteer?
Once the war turned out to be a “long hard slog” instead of a cakewalk, Sulzberger had every incentive to cover up for the fabricated intelligence that he helped disseminate. Did that oblige him to provide rosy coverage of how things were developing in Iraq? Did he muzzle anti-war dissidents on his staff? Was his paper consciously involved in smearing those who challenged pre-war intelligence and the conduct of the war? Did he actively participate in playing down war crimes? Does that reduce him to a participant in those crimes?
When the muck hit the fan, Sulzberger went out of his way to shield Judith Miller from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. It can hardly have come as a surprise that Miller’s testimony ended up implicating the paper of record as a full participant in the neocon WMD scam. It was Sulzberger himself who decided to expend millions of dollars to corporate funds to prevent Miller from appearing before the grand jury. Was he defending Miller or himself? Shouldn’t he have hired lawyers at his own personal expense? Did he misuse shareholder assets to protect his own reputation and retain control of the paper? What is the exact difference between his raiding of the NYT treasury and Conrad Black getting caught with his hands in the Cookie Jar?
Was the public self-flagellation during the Jayson Blair affair just a sideshow to distract readers from the WMD propaganda scandal? Sulzberger’s paper generated hundreds of articles and editorials and invited the public to enjoy a spectacle in which a young and lazy reporter was humiliated for writing fiction and passing it off as news. Was the whole sorry spectacle a desperate effort to reclaim credibility after misleading the public into war? Even Maureen Dowd, a Times columnist, is now asking if Miller’s “stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project.”
Judith Miller was no aberration. Before the war, Thomas Friedman opined that he had no problem of going to war for oil so long as energy conservation policies were developed after the invasion. This former energy analyst also predicted that the invasion would bring down oil prices. William Safire publicly boasted about ghostwriting editorials for Ariel Sharon. Deborah Sontag of the Jerusalem Bureau copied her dispatches from IDF press releases. I bring these matters up to prove that Sulzberger and his minions subscribed to a neocon foreign policy agenda. Did Sulzberger hire out Miller to the neocon warmongers at the Office of Special Plans and the White House Iraq Group? Why is it that the paper of record has yet to publish a single article on the Office of Special Plans, the Pentagon outfit that was tasked with manufacturing intelligence?
Sulzberger is a man who avoids the public glare. Ask your neighbors and co-workers to identify the publisher of the New York Times. Ask them what they think he looks like? Is he old? Is he bald? Is he wise? Can he -- by any stretch of the imagination -- be considered an intellectual? Is he personally qualified to be a journalist? How exactly did he become publisher of the “paper of record” and the “first draft of history?” Is the New York Times a “crippling distraction” that prevents Americans from getting a credible account of current affairs? Does this institution hinder or enhance the free flow of information? Is it permanently embedded with the government? Should Sulzberger be on the menu? Is a Sulzberger best served with tomatoes or an egg on the face? Can you super-size a Sulzberger? Is that good for your health?
At this point, the American media consumer has two choices: to economically cripple the New York Times with a boycott or to put more salt on the Sulzberger to neutralize its foul taste.
Recent Related Articles
Escorting Judy to the Gallows by Mike Whitney
Other Articles by Ahmed Amr
Bloody Stain on the Press