I Was Wrong About Thomas Friedman, the World’s Wealthiest Pundit

by NORMAN SOLOMON

Last week my column was a parody of how Thomas Friedman writes about the global economy. Since then, I’ve learned that I was in error on a matter that shines some light on the worldview of the syndicated New York Times columnist and best-selling author.

"Let’s face it — at this point I’m a rich guy, and I work for a newspaper run by guys who are even richer than I am," the satirical version of Friedman said in my article. But actually, Friedman is not just "a rich guy."

Days ago I read a long feature story that appeared in the July issue of The Washingtonian magazine. It provides some background on the world of Thomas Friedman — and the personal finances that have long smoothed his path.

Much of Friedman’s emphasis in recent years has revolved around economic relations. He’s been a strong supporter of "globalization": the international trade rules and government policies allowing corporations to function with legal prerogatives that routinely trump labor rights, environmental protection and economic justice.

"Globalization" is largely about relations between the rich and the poor — and often that means the very rich and the very poor.

The lengthy profile of Friedman in The Washingtonian this summer had scant ink to spare for criticisms of Friedman’s outlook — which corporate media outlets frequently hail as brilliant. But the article did include a telling comment about him from the renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz, who said: "Participation in the new world requires resources, computers, education, and access to those is very unequally distributed. He has this high level of optimism that means that anyone can do it if they just have wills."

Stiglitz, a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, added that Friedman has understated the impacts of "some of the forces of inequality." And Stiglitz pointed out that "globalization inherently increases the inequalities in developing countries."

Friedman’s great wealth is a frame for his window on the world. The Washingtonian reports that "his annual income easily reaches seven figures." In the Maryland suburbs near Washington, three years ago, "the Friedmans built a palatial 11,400-square-foot house, now valued at $9.3 million," on a parcel of more than seven acres near Bethesda Country Club and the Beltway.

Throughout his journalistic career, Friedman has been married to Ann Bucksbaum — heiress to a real-estate and shopping-mall fortune now estimated at $2.7 billion. When the couple wed back in 1978, according to The Washingtonian article, Friedman became part of "one of the 100 richest families in the country."

Does Friedman’s astronomical wealth invalidate what he writes? Of course not. But information about the extent of his wealth — while not disclosed to readers of his columns and books — provides context for how he is accustomed to moving through the world. And his outsized economic privileges become especially relevant when we consider that he’s inclined to be glib and even flip as he advocates policies that give very low priority to reducing economic inequality.

Supposedly rigorous about facts and ideas, Friedman has prostituted his intellect. During a CNBC interview with Tim Russert in late July, the acclaimed savant made a notable confession: "We got this free market, and I admit, I was speaking out in Minnesota — my hometown, in fact — and guy stood up in the audience, said, ‘Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you’d oppose?’ I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ I said, ‘You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.’"

Friedman went on: "Why am I so obsessive about that? Because it is a free, open, flexible economy that means you really gotta compete, but that you really can compete and you can really be quick in responding. That, Tim, is the most important asset we have."

Tim Russert didn’t bother to pursue the fact that one of the nation’s leading journalists had just said that he fervently advocated for a major trade agreement without knowing what was in it. "But beyond Russert’s negligence," David Sirota wrote at the time, "what’s truly astonishing is that Tom Friedman, the person who the media most relies on to interpret trade policy, now publicly runs around admitting he actually knows nothing at all about the trade pacts he pushes in his New York Times column."

It’s reasonable to ask whether Friedman — perhaps the richest journalist in the United States — might be less zealously evangelical for "globalization" if he hadn’t been so wealthy for the last quarter of a century. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the corporate forces avidly promoting his analysis of economic options are reaping massive profits from the systems of trade and commerce that he champions.

"Thomas Friedman is arguably the world’s most influential and popular foreign-policy thinker," The Washingtonian reported. If so, he may be a prime example of the unfortunate effects of "globalization."

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.









 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?