The New York Times' Dynamic Duo

by Matthew Riemer

Dissident Voice
January 25, 2003



Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman comprise a dynamic duo at America's favorite newspaper capable of the most amazing lies, half-truths, and historical dishonesty heard this side of the Arabian Peninsula. Their condescending mix of blue-collar common sense and off the cuff, guy-you'd-meet-at-the-local-bar editorials continually tow the state line of America and capitalism "good," everything else "bad."


Their work is also consistent in its complete lack of any kind of serious analysis contextualized within historical fact. Far from being the scholarly centrists their publisher fancies them to be, they are instead right-wing ideologues of the first order.

They, too, share the idea that one's international travels predispose one to be well informed about global ills and armed with solutions -- democracy, capitalism -- and always go out of their way to point out their worldliness.


In his latest column ("Sealing the well"), Friedman opens with, "I attended Friday's noon prayers at Cairo's Al Azhar, the most important mosque in Islam." And later he observes, "But when you sit in a room at the U.S. ambassador's house with 30 bright young Egyptian entrepreneurs, mostly U.S.-educated, and this issue [Arab anger towards America] is practically all they want to talk about -- or you meet with American Studies students at Cairo University and they tell you that many students in their class refused to play a simulation game of the U.S. Congress for fear of being tainted -- you feel that there has to be something authentic in their anger about this open wound."


So Friedman is fortunate enough to get to visit Cairo whenever he wants and hang out at the U.S. ambassador's house and express amazement at how a lot of Arabs hate America. And does visiting "the most important mosque in Islam" make him an authority on Islam?


Recently, ("'The Greatest of Great Men'") Kristof said, "As one of the few Americans who have traveled around both North Korea and Iraq, I believe the problem is far deeper than just a muddle of our priorities."


Are Kristof and Friedman actually romantics who cling to this rather outdated, adolescent notion that travel, and travel alone, will afford them some kind of Kerouacian enlightenment?


Shall I begin all future articles on Chechnya by stating that, "I'm one of the few Americans who's traveled to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Yalta, and Helsinki"?


We should judge one's words and logic not by their credentials and number of foreign countries they've visited but by, quite radically, their words and logic.


In the aforementioned article, Friedman tops off his compelling analysis with a stirring epiphany.


While admitting that "The [Bush] administration's refusal to apply any creative imagination to defusing this conflict [Israel/Palestine], and even belittling it while calling Ariel Sharon 'a man of peace,' has embittered the Arab public," he concludes by saying, "I am convinced that much of the anger over U.S. policy is really a cry for help from people who know what they have to do -- to democratize, liberalize their economies -- and who know that they will be lost for another 50 years if they don't."




Arab anger towards American foreign policy is a "cry for help"?


Might he mean something like, "Help us, America, instead of hurting us"?


Or is he actually ignoring or ignorant of the numerous travesties carried out by British and U.S. policy since WWI: the extensive partitioning of the region into artificial nation-states which defied religious, ethnic, and geographical differences established over centuries; the CIA overthrow of the Mosadiq government in Iran only to install a successful dictator for a quarter century; the utter and despicable bankruptcy of U.S. policy towards Palestine highlighted by absolute rejectionism at every turn; inhumane sanctions maintained by the U.S. for the past 12 years which have transformed the Iraqi people from one of the most prosperous Arab societies into the most destitute?


One can only stare in amazement at the words of Thomas Friedman and wonder what the man truly thinks. Here is an individual who has been a political commentator for years and traveled all over the Middle East and this is all he can come up with? You'd at least think he could apologize for empire in a more creative way, say, by throwing in some names and references that only one in a few hundred readers would know to sound fancy.


Kristof, though generally less battered than Friedman, is typically no better. This is the infamous writer who penned "How bombing saves Afghan lives" back in the fall of 2001. What was most disheartening was that in no way had he meant the title in any sense but literally. And today he carries on in the same tradition.


In his column of December 27, 2002, "A Toast to Moral Clarity," he wonders aloud about the fact that "terrorism" is a relative term, but that we still must arrive at the conclusion that there are really "terrorists" out there. So who's a "terrorist" then?


Kristof says, "But ultimately terror's potential for becoming the methodology of every desperate organization makes it doubly important that we do all we can to delegitimize it -- which is why I ultimately come down strongly in favor of President Bush's campaign for moral clarity."


Kristof never defines "moral clarity," so we don't really know what he's talking about. Furthermore, we can only speculate what George W. Bush perceives it to be, though Kristof comes down strongly in favor of it.


He adds: "Ideally, any private group should know that if it kills civilians, it will become a pariah and discredit its own cause. The next Savimbi, Begin or Arafat should know that violence against civilians will not propel him into a presidential mansion, but into infamy."


Like Friedman, one must wonder if Kristof has any concept of history beyond his own narrow interpretations and definitions. Is his inclusion of the word "private" meant to mean that "public" groups (national armed forces) can kill civilians without becoming discredited? Is he aware how much war inherently involves civilians on all levels? He also oddly enough includes Arafat in his list of "terrorists," but not Ariel Sharon.


He even says, "Perhaps it is hopelessly na´ve to seek to make terrorism a universal taboo; perhaps a nuanced moral clarity is a contradiction in terms. Yet there is a precedent: After World War I, leading countries delegitimized the use of poison gas."


Again, we must wonder about what Kristof neglects to mention: the fact that depleted uranium (DU) was used in munitions extensively by the U.S. in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Once more, what about the sanctions levied against the people of Iraq. Are not these as insidious as a little poisonous gas?


Kristof has drawn a very clear line in the sand by his fairly conspicuous omissions. Neither the U.S. nor Israel engages in "terrorism," but the Palestinians do. Private groups who kill civilians are "terrorists," but governments who ostensibly conduct widespread chemical warfare using radioactive material of horrifying potential are guided by "moral clarity."


While really not taken seriously by analysts and historians, Kristof and Friedman are still dangerous because of the number of people they reach with the New York Times as their medium. Because of this, it is occasionally worth paying attention to what they say and how they say it to better understand how the American public is being bludgeoned to death by such drivel.


Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. He is a columnist and editor with Yellow, where this article first appeared. Matthew lives in the United States, and encourages your comments: