The Stunning Illogic of the New York Times


So New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and former Times executive editor Bill Keller are both saying that the massive NSA spying program on all Americans’ communications is a needed thing because if they don’t do it, then maybe there could be another major terrorist strike on the US, and democracy would be erased in the US.

What’s wrong with this argument?

Precisely that it is news organizations like the New York Times that make that kind of twisted calculus work.

When 9-11 happened, the New York Times was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the ensuing undermining of civil liberties, was an integral part of the conspiracy to convince Americans that there was a grave threat to the US posed by Al Qaeda, that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda and that he was developing nuclear, chemical and germ weapons that could be targeted against the US, and that we needed the Constitution-gutting PATRIOT Act, as well as invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, to protect us from this supposedly existential threat.

It could well be correct that if there were another major mass-casualty terrorist attack, even a fraction of the size of the one on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, on some iconic target in the US, democracy would go down the tubes here, but the reason that could happen is because news organizations like the Times, judging by past history, would be braying for it to happen.

If the corporate news media would do their assigned “Fourth Estate” Constitutional job of questioning authority — for example demanding to know why the FBI lied brazenly to the 9-11 commission about (for instance, the fact that it actually had found and has in its possession the four black boxes from the two planes that hit the World Trade Center towers), if the news media asked questions about why the Tsarnaev brothers are being tagged as the lone-wolf bombers of the Boston Marathon, when the two backpacks they were wearing look nothing like the exploded backpack in the FBI’s evidentiary photos, and also do not look in the surveillance photos like they have any significant weight in them — certainly not the weight of a fully-loaded 6-liter steel pressure cooker, if the media demanded answers now about the administration’s alleged evidence claiming to prove that the Syrian government is using Sarin gas, and about a report in the British Daily Mail that a British military contracting firm’s email appears to show it was asked to provide poison gas to the Syrian rebels to stage a “Washington-approved” false flag poison gas attack to justify US military intervention in Syria — if the US media were to do these things instead of just parrot the fear-mongering garbage spread by the Obama administration and by the war-mongers of both parties in Congress, we wouldn’t have the problem of our democracy being on the chopping block.

If the media, the next time there is an apparent terrorist attack, instead of shifting instantly into fear-mongering mode as they did following the Boston bombing, took a cool, calm view of things, asking probing questions and writing calming editorials assuring the public that our democratic society is strong enough, and our police investigators smart and well equipped enough to go after the perpetrators, without assaulting our rights, we wouldn’t have to fear losing our freedom.

Mainstream journalists need to start asking that age-old question when there is a terrorist incident: Who wins from this? That’s where good reporting has to start.

Certainly terrorists don’t really win from an attack unless the country goes into a frenzied tail-spin, shutting down transportation, closing businesses, adding new and costly burdens to travel and communications, etc. The people don’t win, since instead of being made safer, they become more fearful. Who wins? The politicians and the ruling elite, who get to clamp down on public protest, on public information, and on the media itself. So too, of course, do the businesses that supply the tools of the national security state and the military.

Friedman and Keller give journalism a bad name. They are part of the problem. Their words should be dismissed as part of the self-serving propaganda of the national security state, of which the New York Times has long been a crucial and integral part.


Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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