FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The “Liberal” Media and American Foreign Policy

A recent article by Robert Naiman (Al Jazeera, Jan. 9) examines the New York Times’ current coverage of Iran’s nuclear program. In it he exposes a disappointing but unsurprising mishandling of the facts. References to the paper’s shameful prewar reportage on Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s regime are appropriate. But if the Times is indeed liberal, why the repeated adoption and promotion of misleading, hawkish assumptions?

The New York Times could probably be fairly described as liberal. The term has lost much relevance and meaning in recent years, along with its counterpart designation “conservative.” But if we apply the label generally to mean mildly progressive and roughly approximating the political center, one could reasonably assert that the Times falls within range of the liberal framework. (I would argue it’s right-of-center, but will remain general for present purposes.) The paper’s editorial positions on domestic issues and social policy are safely categorized as such. When it comes to gun control, abortion, gay rights, immigration and so on, the paper is in the vicinity of the center (it is important to bear in mind that liberalism is a centrist philosophy, not a leftist one). Moreover, key members of the paper’s staff – former executive editor Bill Keller, former public editor Daniel Okrent – have openly admitted as much.

Naturally, the New York Times’ orientation reflects, for the most part, the opinions and attitudes of those who work for the paper and those who read it. According to the Times’ media kit, their readership tends to be educated, has a median age of 49, and a median household income of $99,654; of the paper’s 4.78 million readers, 12 percent are “C-suite/top management.” The nation’s third largest daily newspaper, the Times offers a window into the professional and intellectual culture(s) in the United States. In other words, and taken broadly, the paper reflects the view of the class running the country – at the managerial level – as well as playing a considerable role in influencing opinion. When rightwing commentators dismiss the Times as catering to the East Coast liberal Establishment, in a way, they are not totally out of bounds. The professional-managerial-academic culture tends to be liberal in its positions on domestic social policy. But then there are matters of state.

The New York Times’ coverage during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq (i.e., weapons of mass destruction) was largely in-step with the Bush II administration. At the time, similarly woeful coverage could also be heard on National Public Radio, another news outlet safely described as liberal. In both cases, the two proportionally increased their support for the White House and State Department rhetoric concerning post-9/11 policy. Even when the United States is not about to invade and occupy a country, coverage of official Washington’s core interests is generally gracious. Discussing same-sex marriage, or in-depth features on race, poverty, or the environment are well and good – and, it should be noted, politically inexpensive – but the principal doctrines of US state power are usually treated gently, with criticism taking place within acceptable limitations: talk of tactical matters, mistakes, misjudgments, and lack of planning instead of fundamental issues like international law, human rights, misuse and mistreatment of the military, economic burden, and further inspiration of terrorist reprisal.

Simply put, this change in behavior represents the liberal parameters of American political discourse: basically progressive on domestic issues; basically compliant on matters of statecraft and foreign policy. This too, again taken broadly, reflects the thinking of the class reading the New York Times. Given the connections between government, the corporate sector, and academia – and the frequent migration between the three – it is somewhat predictable that there be a measure of uniformity in the thinking throughout. Upbringing, schooling, social groups, competition for positions: members of the professional class grow up being taught the assumptions that point to and/or serve class interests, or that at least allow one to blend in. Going along and getting along are essential to advancement.

The population, on the other hand, is less constrained in its thinking and represents the true political center. Its majoritarian views are comparably liberal in the domestic-social realm: between 60 and 75 percent on most policy issues, not including gun control and the legalization of non-medicinal marijuana. And the public’s progressiveness continues into the domain of foreign affairs.

So an otherwise liberal newspaper handling foreign-policy issues in a manner not dissimilar to those news organizations owned and operated by authoritarian states, is sadly to be expected. But it needn’t be tolerated. If we are to better understand issues like the Middle East, we need better information. Among the Times’ class of readers exists a pride in belonging to an enlightened, progressive social stratum – a personal observation made over now many years. This is not to suggest they are bad people; they’ve just never been told anything else. Much like the subject of Iran, the ingrained orthodoxies prevail. However, to truly progress beyond the demarcations of acceptable liberal discourse, the barrier between the domestic and foreign spheres needs to be dismantled. In this endeavor, the public has the lead. In this endeavor, the population is the vanguard.

GREGORY HARMS is an independent scholar focusing on American foreign relations and the Middle East. He is the author of The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction (2nd ed., Pluto Press, 2008), and  Straight Power Concepts in the Middle East: US Foreign Policy, Israel, and World History (Pluto Press, 2010) and the 2012 forthcoming It’s Not about Religion (Perceval Press).


 

 


More articles by:
July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail