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Martin Peretz to Bush

The New Republic, the 89 year-old “liberal” journal of politics and the arts, has shifted its editorial stance recently by publishing stories that supports a war with Iraq and criticizes the Democratic party for its weakness, according to a story in Wednesday’s New York Observer.

Moreover, the weekly magazine will unveil a new redesign with the publication of Friday’s issue. But putting the magazine through a makeover is a cheap way to conceal from its subscribers Editor-in-Chief and co-owner Martin Peretz’s personal stance on Iraq. In a recent press release, The New Republic says its coverage as of late represents “several daring political stances” on issues such as the U.S. going to war with Iraq without the support of the United Nations.

This is misleading. The only thing that’s daring about the “new” New Republic is how Peretz is fooling readers of the magazine into believing that The New Republic’s editorial stance does not represent the personal politics of its editors. Many of The New Republic’s readers are unaware that Peretz, along with several other journalists and right-wing lawmakers, lobbied President Bush nine days after the September 11 terrorist attacks to start a war with Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, claiming that Iraq may be linked to the attacks, an allegation that the Bush Administration has made many times without a shred of evidence to back it up.

“We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth,” the letter says. “It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism. The United States must therefore provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. American military force should be used to provide a “safe zone” in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. And American forces must be prepared to back up our commitment to the Iraqi opposition by all necessary means,” says the letter.

What’s most troubling about the letter to Bush is that it was written by The Project for the New American Century, a right-wing think tank that has been instrumental in advising Bush what America’s foreign policy should look like. It’s founder and chairman is William Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and its former members have included Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Kristol also signed the letter to Bush. It can be viewed at http://www.newamericancentury.org/Bushletter.htm

Peretz has been the top editor at The New Republic since 1974 and was co-founder with CNBC pundit and former hedge fund guru James Kramer of The Street.com. Peretz was former Vice President Al Gore’s professor at Harvard and helped Gore on his initial run for Congress and the Senate and was also instrumental in Gore’s run for the presidency.

Peretz said in an interview that “there are other editors around here” and that his personal views on Iraq are not represented in the pages of The New Republic. He said the magazine’s views on foreign policy have been consistent for 25 years.

“We were for the last Gulf War and for aid to the Contras,” Peretz said. Comparing The New Republic to its close competitor The Nation, Peretz said, “Whatever The Nation was for we were against. Whatever The Nation was against we were for. The only thing we share was we were rather soft on Stalin in the late 1930s.”

Still, when journalists become personally involved in the issues they cover there is no way readers can be sure they are getting their news delivered accurately. Being an opinion-oriented publication doesn’t excuse that. Look at how New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman and Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Peggy Noonan were attacked by the media when they wrote critically about the financial machinations of Enron Corporation and how it was later revealed that both were paid speechwriters and consultants for the company. Krugman wasn’t even writing for The New York Times or any other publication when Enron hired him and he was still taken to task. Business journalists, as a general rule, aren’t allowed to own stock in company’s they write about because their coverage could be deemed bias. The ‘s reporters are the exception, but the online publication still requires its reporters to disclose to readers whether they own stock in the companies they write about. Peretz should be held to the same principles. If he were to simply disclose to The New Republic’s subscribers that he offered the President some advice about his views on how the Administration should deal with Iraq at least his subscribers could decide whether The New Republic is still worth reading.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar of the University of Southern California’s school of Policy, Planning and Development and an expert on the media, said she doesn’t believe journalists should get involved in activism, but if they do it should be disclosed to the reader.

” I know journalists who walked in abortion rights marches, but that’s not something I would do,” Jeffe said. “It’s an individual decision. A reporter or editor may believe they can still be objective despite it. I would expect a journalist who does that should write a letter to his or her readers and let readers judge. It’s a more honest way to handle it”.

I subscribe to The New Republic. While researching a story I wrote this week about how Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz wrote a letter to President Clinton in 1998 urging Clinton to start a war with Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, I came across another the letter that Peretz and others wrote to Bush after 9-11. I felt cheated and betrayed. I was lead to believe that the magazine I read every week was providing me with its point of view, not Peretz’s. I haven’t decided yet whether to cancel my subscription.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

 

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JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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