Sunday, February 21, 2010

NY Times Book Reviews reveal the limits of elitist thinking

Too often, people think the NY Times is "liberal." That is sadly not the case, however. If anything, the history of the Times reveals it reflects elite opinion, which makes it more culturally liberal than about half the nation, but far more often, a handmaiden to imperial, empire-building adventures of the US government, and domestically, takes positions that are anti-labor and pro-corporate elite. This formulation better explains why the Times continues to support trade deals that beggar US workers and peasants in other nations, supported the Iraq War II, and on back for at least 100 years.

The Times was a big booster of Mussolini in the 1920s and 1930s. It sided far more with the Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 (its editors was internally contemptuous of Herb Matthews' reporting from Spain, but Matthews had credibility as a journalist to them ironically because he was so pro-Mussolini in the Italian war against Ethiopia in 1935). The NY Times' hostility to Nixon has misled some into thinking it is liberal, but the Times' real hostility has been to middle class politicians who had a personna that remained "middle class." Hence, the Times' strong distaste for Truman and Clinton (and pushing the scandals that engulfed Clinton from the get go), and its love of Reagan and now Obama, who transcend their middle class sensibilities. Yes, the Times' editors are people who are attracted to personalities no different than the homemaker who watches Oprah...meaning, no different from the rest of us.

This background helps us understand two reviews of books in the Times, one from this morning's Sunday review and one from a few days ago.

First, there is NYT editor Richard Berke's review of the new book on the Clinton impeachment/scandal by Ken Gormley. Berke says the impeachment and scandal represented an excess on all sides, as if the facts identified in the defense of Clinton was as immoral as the other side's persecution of Clinton. Berke even missed the significance of the quote from Henry Hyde (R-IL) who explains the real reason for the impeachment near the end of Berke's review:

Shortly before his death in 2007, Henry Hyde, the Illinois congressman who led the impeachment, defended the Republicans’ actions as honorable and added, “I take consolation in comments that George W. Bush would not have been elected if we had not impeached President Clinton.”

Berke does not dispute Hyde's statement that the impeachment of Clinton was "honorable," and missed Hyde's admission of a rank, partisan political motivation for Clinton's impeachment. Would we call it honorable for a Congressional Democrat to proudly say the reason he voted for Nixon's impeachment was because he wanted to elect a Democrat to the White House in 1976? Even after reprinting that quote, Berke says he just doesn't understand why Starr and the Republicans pushed the impeachment proceedings.

As noted above, the Times was itself a booster of the initial Whitewater scandal, which led the first special prosecutor, and later a tory law firm's investigation, to exonerate the Clintons, which only then led to the highly partisan Republican, Kenneth Starr, becoming the new special prosecutor. Berke also admits the following:

...Unlike some other commentators, Gormley allows for the possibility that even the most rabid-seeming players might have acted out of honorable considerations. Starr, for one, comes across not as a zealous partisan but as the wrong choice to prosecute the case. Despite his impressive résumé — he had been a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then solicitor general under George H. W. Bush — he had never run a major criminal investigation. His missteps handed both sides in the case ample cause to distrust him. Yes, he gave running room to a clique of lawyers driven by a deep antipathy toward Bill Clinton. But he also initially opposed subpoenaing the president, invoking the duty “to be respectful of the presidency.”

Does Berke really believe Starr was naive about what his highly partisan underling lawyers were doing? It is to laugh. Even Berke's single example of Starr's supposed caution is about Starr "initially" opposing the subpoena of the president. That is extremely weak in light of what others have documented as an overzealous and, again, partisan attack by Starr's office on Clinton. What was utterly amazing was that the mostly Republican attackers appeared more motivated by partisan rage against the Clintons because the Clintons were Democrats. It was even difficult to chalk up the impeachment to some ideological or public policy dispute. Lying under oath about an extramarital affair--after the investigation of a business deal gone sour found no violation of law? It's not like Clinton was being impeached for lying about the basis for a war, or authorizing torture, or secretly bombing a neutral nation like Nixon did--or Nixon's White House hiring guys outside of all Fourth Amendment proscriptions (and outside the FBI and CIA) to break into the offices of political opponents.

And notice what's missing from the review: No mention of Jeff Gerth and the role of the NY Times in framing the scandal. Nada. All the news that's fit to print indeed.

The Times also revealed its own elitism in a book review from a few days ago. On February 15, 2010, the Times' Michiko Kukatani had fun reviewing a book that supposedly debunks "conspiracy" theories so prevalent in human affairs, mostly focusing on the more famous American conspiracies of the past 100 years. What Kukatami fails to understand is that the real problem with the conspiracists is that they assume perfect knowledge and competence on the part of the people they accuse. Contrary to the elitist Kukatani, FDR had a damn good idea the Japanese were going to attack at the American military presence in the Philippines before the end of 1941. However, FDR did not realize the Japanese military had the capability to attack simultaneously in Pearl Harbor--and the US code breakers who could have told them the Japanese were going to attack at Pearl Harbor simply did not analyze the codes in time. Contrary to Kukatami, Bush and Co. did have knowledge that an attack from bin Laden was imminent (remember the August 2001 NIE that Condi Rice handed off to Bush, who barely read the document while vacationing at his ranch in Texas?). They just did not know where. John Ashcroft knew enough to not fly in an airplane starting in July 2001, but the US government--unlike European governments--refused to start hardening security at airports during the summer of that fateful year.

The motivations of our political leaders are more often correctly discerned by conspiracy theorists than we want to admit. For example, we have to admit FDR wanted war with Japan and Germany, but he was mostly very open about it. Bush & Co., before 9/11/2001, were very open in their disdain for military operations against Al Queda and more focused on nation state leaders such as Saddam, who was financing Palestinian terrorists, for example. And Bush and Rove were very motivated to use the 9/11 attack to push through policies they could not have pushed through otherwise.

It is typical for an elitist like Kukatami to fail to acknowledge the strong evidence that JFK's assassination was most likely a Mob hit. I doubt she's read Dan Moldea or ever bothered to have a conversation with the lead counsel from the 1978 Congressional investigation into JFK's murder, G. Robert Blakey. In 2008, Harvard University Press published "The Road to Dallas" by David Kaiser, a professor of history at the Naval War College. Kaiser summarizes and analyzes the very persuasive evidence that JFK's murder was a mob hit, and that the mob was reacting to Bobby Kennedy's increasingly successful pursuit of the mob--and how the mob felt double crossed since it was working against Castro with the Kennedy administration at the same time. I met one of Harvard U. Press officials at the 2008 Book Expo who told me the Kennedy family was very upset for publishing this book, but the evidence shocked the staff--and they were proud to publish it. Funny, the book did not get reviewed in the NY Times, despite "starred reviews" in both the Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly (as noted in the Amazon link). However, when Vincent Bugliosi embarrassed himself with a 1,600 page book of invective posing as argument in saying Oswald was a lone nut, the Times rushed to publish a favorable review (See my post on the subject; though my post does cite an Alan Brinkley review in the Times of another Kennedy book that mentioned the Mob angle to JFK's murder).

As I noted in the aforementioned post, the legal definition of a conspiracy is simply two or more people engaged in an illegal act. It does not have to be a secret, though it helps when planning the illegal act, of course! Conspiracies, therefore, happen every day. It is again the grand conspiracy that often fails to remain secret because people talk--and talk a lot. And the truth is far more mundane than some grand plot. For example, Bush & Co. were simply negligent in ignoring warnings, which is far different than planning the attack of 9/11/2001, or even wanting it to happen. The same with FDR and the destruction of a significant number of US naval vessels at Pearl Harbor. FDR did not want to attack Japan first and, at worst, assumed Japan was going to attack in the Philippines only.

The frustration I have at people like Kukatami and Aaronovitch is that they are essentially ignorant of history, elitist in their disdain for "regular" people, and take the positions they take because they are "players"--meaning people who have an acute understanding of how to get ahead and stay ahead in polite, elite levels of society. Kukatami will never read David Kaiser's book because she knows it is bad for her to be saying in polite society what I have written here. She knows that being correct about the mendacity of the Bush administration about the pretext for going to war in Iraq is already a dangerous thing to discuss at swank cocktail parties in NY, DC and Boston. It's okay to say Bill Clinton was "classless." It's not okay to say trade treaties codify the very trends that undermine wages for American workers and destroy our industrial capacity. That brands you as a radical and not "serious."

Yes, there are some conspiracies that are beyond the pale, whether it is the Masonic oriented conspiracies, or the conspiracy that somehow Obama's mother gave birth to Obama in a hospital in Kenya in 1961, and despite not being very enamored about America at the time, quickly and secretly flew across two oceans to Hawaii (!) to make sure his birth was recorded in America. But the way in which people such as Kukatami and Aaronovitch discuss the topic reveals far more about their own limits and hubris than anything else.



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