Drivel and Squawk, Angelina Jolie, the NYT and Cynthia McKinney

by Alexander Cockburn

“At this very moment there are 100,000 fools of our species who wear hats, slaying 100,000 fellow creatures who wear turbans, or being massacred by them.”

Voltaire, Micromagus, 1752.

Angelina Jolie and the New York Times

My plan is to take a few kicks at the New York Times starting with a front-page headline in last Sunday’s national edition which imparted the starting news that “IRS Loophole Allows Wealthy To Avoid Taxes”, over a report by David Cay Johnston. You don’t say! Some NYT editor must have concluded that this headline was too vulgarly subversive. By the final edition the head had been cautiously modified to “Death Still Certain, But Taxes May Be Subject to a Loophole.”

But first a word or two about Angelina Jolie. I told her right from the start that Billy Bob Thornton, her spouse of two years, was a dirtbag who would play her false, and a dirtbag is what he turns out to be.

Some months ago we discussed here on this site Angelina and Billy Bob’s amour fou and the couple’s passionate hacking at each with knives. We cited Billy Bob as saying, “I was looking at her sleep, and I had to restrain myself from literally squeezing her to death.” Apparently he detained himself from this terminal expression of love by hastening downstairs in their fine mansion and seducing the maid.

According to the British tabloid, The Star, a pal (and don’t you just love those gabby “pals”) of Jolie’s claims Jolie confronted Thornton–with whom she recently adopted Cambodian baby orphan Maddox–and told him, “You aren’t a fit husband for me or father for our child.” According to the newspaper, Angelina first discovered her husband’s infidelity when one of their maids claimed the Monster’s Ball star had made her pregnant. The pal adds helpfully, “She was devastated. Billy Bob’s a horn dog. He would screw anything that moves–and does. Angie knew how he was from the start, but had no idea of the extent of his problem. She agreed to kinky bedroom games, but it was never enough. Angie warned him their marriage was over unless he sought help and he swore on everything holy that he’d get treatment. But then we hear he’s screwed the therapist. She sends him off to therapy in a last ditch effort to save their union, and he seduces the therapist.”

So into the trashcan go the vials of blood along with the implement with which they mutilated themselves, the better to express their passion. Angelina, I say this. You’re well shot of him.

Back to the Times. I finally got around to reading Ken Auletta’s New Yorker profile of the NYT’s executive editor, Howell Raines. All 17,000 tedious words of it, printed in a June New Yorker, not one phrase of which escaped the amiable blandness which is Auletta’s trademark. How sad to think that the New Yorker, which once featured Liebling and Woollcott, is now content with Auletta’s humdrum flatteries of the Fourth Estate.

Outside the Sulzberger empire, who really cares about Raines? Not me, though I do remember him for all those silly editorial sermons about Bill Clinton’s sex life. The pertinent question is whether the Times is a good newspaper, and the answer there is, all too often it isn’t. Part of the reason the prose of Paul Krugman and Frank Rich seems so lively is that they shine amid darkness.

The news pages are clogged with prose that is either pedestrian or arch, the latter being the besetting vice of journalists trying to turn in quality writing. And even the editorial pages are dimmer than they were when Gail Collins was writing during Election 2000. Collins was a delight and then they moved her back onto the editorial board and now she’s writing much less. My own suspicion is that someone figured out that Collins was showing up Maureen Dowd as the commentator equivalent of Bud Lite, and shielded Dowd from further embarrassment by shutting down Collins, via editorial promotion, a familiar stratagem.

The Times spent so many years through the Nineties printing stupid stories about the triumph of neo-liberalism and of the free market that even if its foreign and economic correspondents had suspicions that all might be well, they prudently suppressed their doubts. So the Times missed what was actually happening in the former Soviet Union, or in Argentina, Brazil and the other kleptocracies of Latin America.

The only reason more isn’t made of the imbecility of the New York Times’s editorial pages is that the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages are so violently demented that almost any other editorial voice sounds sane by comparison. But by and large our opinion writing classes are even more willfully ignorant than they were twenty years ago. Take the New York Times’ initial reaction to the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

The NYT on Venezuela

If there was ever a coup urgently and publicly demanded by Washington, this was surely it. Chavez was up there on the Wanted List, just under Saddam. When the attempt on Chavez finally came in mid-April, the New York Times swiftly editorialized that that Chavez’s “resignation” meant that “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.” Eschewing the word “coup”, the Times explained
that Chavez “stepped down after the military intervened and
handed power to a respected business leader.”

The editorial called Chavez “a ruinous demagogue”, and proclaimed that “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a
strong democratic mandate”, subsequently undercutting the majesty of this statement by immediately having to concede that Chavez himself actually had a democratic mandate, having been “elected president in 1998”.

Three days later, Chavez was back in power and the Times
ran a second editorial trying to drag its editorial foot out of its mouth.

“In his three years in office, Mr. Chavez has been such a
divisive and demagogic leader that his forced departure last
week drew applause at home and in Washington. That reaction, which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer.” Which of course is exactly what the Times had initially done, without raising any unpleasant questions as to what role the CIA had in the attempted coup.

The NYT on Israel

The Middle East? The tilt to Israel is noticeable to a powerful extent with straight news coverage, even more obvious with analysis, and blatant with editorial and op-ed coverage.

As Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst and CounterPunch contributor, who’s written a couple of fine books on the Palestinian questions, puts it to me, “One gets the impression that few if any Times correspondents understand what drives the intifada or accept that there is any legitimacy to Palestinian resistance to the occupation.” Soon we’ll run here Kathleen’s considered assessment of the NYT’s performance in this area.

The Times demonstrated its partisan approach most noticeably in July 2001 in its commentary on a major one-year-later retrospective on the Camp David summit published by Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag. Christison points out that “In a striking-and, one must assume, deliberate-effort to maintain its own blame-Arafat position on Camp David, a Times editorial on the Sontag story undermined Sontag by contradicting her principal conclusion.” Having done extensive interviews with Israeli, Palestinian, and American participants in the summit and in-depth analysis of what went wrong, Sontag concluded that Arafat was by no means solely to blame for the summit’s collapse and that all three parties were responsible, more or less equally, for mistakes made over the entire seven years of the peace process.

A “potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold” in Israel and the United States, Sontag wrote. “It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down, and then ‘pushed the button’ and chose the path of violence.” But officials to whom she spoke had concluded that the dynamic was actually far more complex than this, that Arafat did not bear sole or even a disproportionate share of the responsibility. In fact, Sontag concluded, Barak did not offer Arafat the moon at Camp David but rather proposed a solution that might have been generous and even politically courageous in Israeli terms, but that would not have given the Palestinians what they regarded as a viable state.

Rather than accept Sontag’s considered assessment of where responsibility lay, a Times editorial two days later took care to praise Barak and blaming Arafat. Barak had come to Camp David, the editorial proclaimed, “with a daring offer, a peace plan that essentially vaulted over the interim steps outlined under the Oslo accords.Mr. Barak gambled that Mr. Arafat would accept his approach.” But, the editorial went on, Arafat was not up to the task and stirred up “the violent uprising” that erupted two months later.

Of course the worst offender has been Thomas Friedman, who in repeated columns over two years heaped blame on Arafat and the Palestinians and, as Christison has pointed out, seriously distorted what Israel offered at Camp David repeating the fiction that Barak offered “95% of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, with all the settlements gone,” never mentioning that the resulting so-called “state” would have been broken up into several non-contiguous parts).

The NYT and the Pulitzer Industry

This year Friedman, the Bullfrog of the Bubble, was given his third Pulitzer, possibly the most ludicrous decision in the long and infamous lifespan of the Pulitzer industry.

Why did the Pulitzer board, over-ruling the various juries on at least two instances, decide to heap seven prizes on the Times last April? I thought Les Payne, (himself victim of the Pulitzer board when it overruled a jury’s decision to honor him for foreign reporting) put it well in Newsday: “The tilt toward the Times, I suspect, issues, at bottom, from the all-too-American notion of rallying around the flagpole. the Pulitzer board might give the nod to a “second-tier” paper during peacetime Once the balloon goes up, however, it’s back to the the flagpole, and the closest thing the newspaper industry has to a flagpole is The New York Times. The move to The Times is so much easier, given its visibility and clout and number of sheep-dipped Timesmen the paper has spread over the industry and in academia.”

So the function of those seven awards was to tell the world, See, we really do have a good newspaper . It must be good if it wins seven Pulitzer prizes. Trouble is, just like I said at the start, the Times is no good at all, if you want to find out what’s going on.

First Earl Hilliard, Now Cynthia McKinney

Remember Cynthia Tucker? She’s the black editorial in-house pundit at the Atlantic Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I’ve seen her on panel shows on CNN, churning out the verbal equivalent of over-boiled spinach. But lately Tucker has been stirred to unexpected vehemence. Against whom? Why, against Rep Cynthia McKinney of course, who has courageously dared to prod Congress into considering the inconvenient aspects of 9/11, as they pertain to culpable oversight by the Administration, implication of the Royal Family (Bush division) with Arab billionaires and so forth.

McKinney now faces a Democratic primary challenge from former judge Denise Majette, just as another member of the Black Congressional Caucus did. I refer to Earl Hilliard, the first black elected to Congress in Alabama since Reconstruction. For daring to call for some sense of balance in US policy in the Middle East, some attention to what Palestinians are saying, Hilliard was overwhelmed by a Arthur Davis, a middle-of-the-road lawyer to whom American-Jewish organizations shoveled a ton of money.

McKinney, who wins her elections by huge majorities, now faces the same treatment. This time some black leaders are better prepared to stand up and denounce the efforts of well-financed pro-Israel pressure groups to terrorize all critics of Israel’s appalling conduct. Tucker shows that when it comes to the crunch, she is snugged down in the Man’s pocket. Her paper has been unrelenting in its attempts to discredit McKinney. “[She] has shown herself to be a fringe lunatic, well outside the congressional mainstream,” Cynthia Tucker wrote in one typical commentary, cited by Frances Beal, in an column in the San Francisco Bayview.

Outrageously, Tucker asserts McKinney is “incapable of aiding any cause” and has the final pious effrontery to declare that “The plight of the Palestinians and their desire for an independent homeland is a serious cause deserving of thoughtful, mainstream advocates. Hilliard wasn’t one and neither is McKinney.”

We await Ms Tucker’s thoughtful proposals for a Palestinian homeland, or perhaps even a “serious” consideration of their plight.

Hilliard on Class Warfare and “New Blacks”

Pondering what we might call “Tuckerism” (our phrase not his) Hilliard recently remarked in an interview in The Black Commentator, “There is class warfare in the Black community. In Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, in the areas of Birmingham where what we call the New Blacks live, those that work for corporate Alabama, those that live in subdivisions that are predominantly Black, Davis won just like he did in the white areas. These are things we have to look at. We need scholars to come in and interpret these things.

“We don’t even understand what is happening to us because we let other people, other scholars, interpret our presence. We have people who work in corporate environments who are afraid to associate with their natural brothers and sisters, because of what church they attend, what school they attend, and the neighborhood they live in. We have kids who won’t introduce their mothers or their brothers and sisters to their coworkers, because they know their mothers, their brothers or their sisters may crack a verb, or don’t have the educational level that they enjoy.”

The Black Commentator asks Hilliard, “You refer to a ‘natural progression’ in Black politics that has been interrupted?”

Hilliard replies: “That’s because it was natural–Blacks building on what the previous generation had added to the foundation. And everything that the succeeding generation did reflected back to the dreams and aspirations of the elders. There was an intervention, which has created an unnatural progression. In our society it has been, basically, other groups–and, mainly, Jews. So when you look at the natural progression from Martin Luther King, you would think that you would get to [Kweisi] Mfume, but we’ve been sidestepped. We’ve had a Clarence Thomas. We have a Colin Powell. We have Cynthia Tucker [Editorial Board, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]. We have all these other people whose ideals and views don’t sit on the foundation. It’s not building for the masses, or building for the race. It’s building for self.

“So, when you have these people who have gone to predominantly white elementary and high schools, and have graduated from predominantly eastern universities, they have not had the experience with the Black community that the elders had. They are black in skin tone but, philosophically, they are not. So, whites understand them better than we do. They don’t go to Howard, or Morehouse, or Alabama State to get people to run against the Mayor of Newark, or Andy Young, or Craig Washington. They go and get those from the eastern schools who have a white-oriented philosophy. Or, who have been educated to compete on an individual level. So that, when the tally is in, they think: I did it. I made it through Harvard and Yale and Princeton on my own. I’ll make it in life on my own. I don’t need the tribe, I don’t need the group, I don’t the race. So you have a Condoleezza Rice: I made it because I’m smart, and because of myself. I didn’t need affirmative action, I don’t believe in it. If I can make it, everybody else can make it.”

“Somehow, we’ve got to clear the field, and get back to the natural progression. The field is very muddy now. Many African Americans are saying, Well, the civil rights era is over. You can make it on your own even if you’re Black, if you do what you’re supposed to do.”


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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