Friday, February 04, 2005

Damn Lies and the NYT

I enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames when they still wrote for The eXile. They both write for the New York Press now, and either one is still a great read.

For example, here's Taibbi on the spectacle of the New York Times confessing the WMD story was bogus:
"The problem wasn't a small, isolated ethical error, like Judith Miller's Chalabi reporting. The error here was not a mistake of fact. The problem was that a central tenet of our system of news reporting dictates that lies of consensus will never be considered punishable mistakes. In other words, once everyone jumps in the water, a story acquires its own legitimacy.
And now we get papers like the Times wondering aloud why they didn't feel the ground under their feet. Answer: you jumped in the water. And you knew what you were doing."
That was from last week's issue. And here's Ames this week, reviewing a mild, rational critique of the NYT:
"...rather than seeing the Times for the nest of Vichy collabos that it is, [authors of the book] engage the beast with punishing salvoes [sic] of rational argument. [...] The problem with this thesis is that it assumes that the New York Times people are nice guys ... How do you present rational counter-arguments to powerful people who lie intentionally solely in order to remain powerful? You can't."

His proposed solution?
"In 1999, America bombed the main TV tower in Belgrade and killed several Serbian journalists, citing the Geneva Conventions articles that say that any organ propagandizing for genocide is itself a legitimate target in warfare and for prosecution of war crimes. Let the Geneva Conventions be the basis for a similar argument against the New York Times: It is guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Serbia... Don’t ask them to consider international law in their work—apply international law to them instead, based on their records, and apply it roughly. That is the only language these people understand."

Ames and Taibbi both suggest lying deliberately on behalf of power is in the Gray Lady's institutional psychology. After all the lies the paper (along with many others, who've done even worse!) peddled about the Balkans, I'm inclined to agree.

As for the "why" of it all, read Stephen Bender's story about Edward Bernays on LRC today.


MGVKV said...

Hallo Gray Falcon.

I am half Montenergrin (really Serbian) my self, I would like to ask you on your opinion to if you believe there should be a yugoslavia?

I personally (my opinion) liked yugoslavia but would rather have the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes rather than the Yugoslavia that was established as a Socialist state. Tito was good as an authoritarian ruler...I just feel it would be forever established if it were done with a monarchy. A kingdom which forever would have lasted as someone is bound to inherit the lands. I believe that it should have been multi-nationally ruled with a house of commons and federal government to represent the people. The final orders should have been carried out by the King/Queen/Prince/Princess.

I am sorry that you had been through the war. It was most appreciated by the idiots of Yugoslavia that something so disgusting could happen and the terror was unleashed on our lands.

Congrats, as you seem quite successful! I have read and enjoyed many of your articles.

My Best Regards,

The Host-Mgvkv.

Gray Falcon said...

Thanks, Mgvkv, I always appreciate the kind wishes.
My thoughts on Yugoslavia are mixed. I remember it fondly, but so would anyone who had a decent childhood. Many people say Tito was the only one who could make Yugoslavia work, not realizing his "system" rested on two pillars: personal charisma (as Dear Leader and Savior) and
engineered political conflict between the ethnic groups to keep them subordinate to him. Take one of those pillars away (as it happened when he died), and the whole thing simply careens out of control, as we saw happen. Had Tito been a monarch, perhaps he could have passed on at least some aspects of the personality cult on to his heir, and maybe preserved the system. That's always the drawback of dictatorships; they don't have the royal legitimacy, and are therefore a lot less stable.
But did the first Yugoslavia (1918-1941) work out? Everything I've read so far tells me no. Srdja Trifkovic makes an argument that Croats had already defined their identity as separate from Serbian - indeed, as anti-Serbian - in the late XIX century, making Yugoslavia impossible. Austria-Hungary additionally poisoned the well with its ethnic policies in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It would have taken time and careful effort to undo these differences and conflicts, but time is one thing no one in Europe after the Great War really had, and careful effort appears to have been beyond the scope of contemporary politicians. With communists and fascists in the mix, Yugoslavia was doomed.
Would I like to see it restored? Rationally, I'd have to say no. There is no sense throwing good money (and lives) after the bad. But I would like to see its legacy properly inherited by people who invested in it the most.