What the New York Times Talks About When It Talks About Drones

by JUSTIN DOOLITTLE

The New York Times, the most respected newspaper in the world, evidently remains unpersuaded of the illegality of American drone strikes, and continues to take a bizarre, tortured approach to discussing the matter in its news articles. That launching drone strikes in a foreign country whose government does not consent to said strikes is a violation of that country’s sovereignty is hardly in dispute. As Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism who led an investigation into U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan said in March, the drones “involve the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” If attacking a country’s residents with missiles fired from flying robots against that country’s will does not constitute a breach of sovereignty, then nothing does.

Yes, “anonymous U.S. officials” continue to insist that the Pakistani government secretly supports these strikes. This might be prima facie plausible, but considering that the current leader of Pakistan has repeatedly and explicitly expressed his opposition, and that Pakistan’s government “made it clear” to Emmerson’s U.N. team that, in fact, it does not consent to these strikes, one can hardly throw in with “anonymous U.S. officials” who have no evidence to support their case. (Obama’s May 23 speech on the topic, surprisingly enough, did nothing to persuade Pakistan of the many benefits and advantages of the drone campaign against its people.)

The latest wave of death unleashed by the U.S. drone war in Pakistan occurred on Saturday night. Two men – “militants,” no doubt – were killed when a strike was launched in the northwest tribal region of the country at around 11:30 PM. The men were riding on a motorcycle when they were struck and killed. (Who among us hasn’t been out for a nice Saturday night ride when a flying robot appears overhead and starts targeting you with missiles?)

The Times report on the strike tells us that drones are “immensely unpopular in Pakistan and are portrayed as a violation of [Pakistan’s] sovereignty.”

Portrayed.

These strikes on a foreign country are not, apparently, a straightforward violation of sovereignty. They are only “portrayed” as such by unspecified sources. This has become the standard for how the Times discusses the issue of sovereignty vis-a-vis the U.S. drone war. The wording, for some reason, changes ever so slightly every time, but never does there appear a simple, honest assertion of the illegality of the drone war. In the paper’s report on a July 2 strike that killed sixteen people, we are told that the strikes “are hugely unpopular in Pakistan and are seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.” In a report on a March 21 strike that killed four people, the strikes are “deeply resented in the country and are seen as a breach of Pakistani sovereignty.”

So, according to the paper of record, drone strikes are immensely/hugely/deeply (what’s next? massively?) unpopular in Pakistan, and are seen/portrayed as a violation/breach of the country’s sovereignty. There is apparently a form sentence that Times reporters must copy and paste into every piece about drones.

We might consider how the New York Times would discuss drones and sovereignty if the roles of aggressor and victim were played by different states. Suppose, for example, that the Iranian government were engaged in a drone campaign against the United States, one that that raged for several years and ended the lives of hundreds of American men, women, and children. “Anonymous Iranian officials” were whispering to the Times that, in fact, the U.S. government privately consents to these strikes, even though U.S. leaders were on record vehemently denouncing the drone campaign and demanding its immediate cessation. Please consider what a New York Times report on an Iranian drone strike that killed sixteen Americans would look like.

No one could possibly say with a straight face that, under such circumstances, the paper would continue to hedge on the illegality of the strikes, saying only that they “are portrayed in the United States as a violation of its sovereignty.” This highly convenient, cautious tone would be dismissed, and the Iranians would be doubtless portrayed as lawless thugs. Because to the New York Times, and to virtually all other establishment media outlets in this country, global norms and the constraints of international law only apply to other countries, not to the U.S.

It’s nationalism disguised as journalism.

Justin Doolittle writes a political blog called Crimethink. He has an M.A. in public policy from Stony Brook University and a B.A. in political science from Coastal Carolina University.

 

Justin Doolittle is a freelance writer based in Long Island, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @JD1871.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
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?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman