These are sad days for lifelong readers of The New York Times. America's once-proud newspaper of record is sliding, inexorably it seems, into mediocrity. The quality of writing is in decline, the reporting is dubious and the editing is sloppy. The Grey Lady is getting seedy. In other words, the Times' decades-long assault on America's traditions and standards has been an unqualified success, and the paper is living proof.
Take Wednesday's edition. Two book reviews caught my attention online, one entitled "Those Who Ignore History Are Doomed to Hear About It" concerning the Iraq war and the other headlined "2 Authors Outraged at U.S. Response to Global AIDS." Neither should have appeared in a newspaper of quality. That they appeared in the Times only shows what a partisan rag the paper has become.
The Iraq piece was supposedly a review of "Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East" written by Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. Having the Edward Said professor from Columbia critique the Iraqi war is like having Joseph Goebbels critique D-Day, though Goebbels would have less sanctimonious.
The review's author, Ivo H. Daalder, lays his cards on the table from the opening paragraph: "Rashid Khalidi is an angry man. He is angry at the Bush administration for ignoring experts on the history and politics of the Middle East. He is angry at the neoconservatives who fill the gap with their ignorance and ‘blind zealotry'. He is angry at the decision to invade Iraq, and the grave consequences that resulted."
You can't get fairer and more balanced than that. Not when somebody's that angry. Not when they're fighting blind zealotry.
The "important question," as we all know, is why the Iraq war "turned out" so poorly (Daalder writes as if Iraq were in the past). Daalder graciously provides the options: "Was it because of the incompetence on the part of the administration: its failure to secure sufficient international support and legitimacy before going to war, to plan for the postwar reconstruction and nation-building effort, to deploy enough troops so security could be maintained? Or was the policy doomed from the start, the inevitable consequences of an ill-conceived endeavor?" If you picked "all of the above" you know your politics.
The US was "courting disaster," Daalder opines, by "ignoring experts who knew and understood the history of the Middle East," such as the Edward Said hate-America-first crowd at Columbia. The Middle East is "rich with history" and "full of resentment" concerning foreign occupation, says Daalder, yet "none of the major players who made the decisions to go to war knew anything about this history." Daalder knows this apparently because no one from the White House called him personally to ask about it. How could they know such things? Can they even read?
Thankfully, Khalidi has written his book to "fill the knowledge gap." America, you see, is stepping "into the boots of the old Western colonial powers," who earlier "snuffed out" the "pioneering early constitutional and democratic experiments" in the region. That has everybody in the Middle East hopping mad. In fact, they've been so mad for 100 years that they've been unable to do any more pioneering whatsoever. If not for the West, the Middle East today would be the very epitome of freedom and democracy. How can they not hate each and every one of us? His "thesis is a strong one," Daalder concludes.
Then a few paragraphs later, apparently realizing his bias needed some balancing, Daalder backtracks. Perhaps there were "plenty of indigenous causes of the region's problems" after all, and blaming the West "often serves a convenient excuse for failing to meet the needs of the people." What's more, those "pioneering" democratic experiments were "deeply flawed." They consisted of "elites" who "manipulated power to their own ends." Okay, so what were the comments earlier in the review about? Did an editor even read this crap?
This approach is common in the Times today. Trash Bush, America or the West mercilessly and then insert a more reasoned alternative. That's known as being objective. State your opinion, then cover your ass. What liberal bias? Didn't you read the whole thing?
Daalder concludes his non-review with a bizarre admission: "Change is this part of the world is therefore unlikely to come from within. It will need encouragement from without." Which is just what he spent an article explaining couldn't be done. He gives no examples of what kind of encouragement he is talking about, though one suspects it is simply anything not devised by Bush and his neocons. Daalder is identified as a "senior fellow" at the Brookings Institute. God save us from the junior fellows.
The AIDS review and the books it reviewed are essentially one long diatribe against America for failing to stop the worldwide AIDS epidemic. Why that was our responsibility to stop is never explained. It just was. What global tragedy isn't our responsibility in the minds of liberals? We the "wider public" all share in the "complicit silence" toward this "monumental crime," to quote the reviewer.
When the disease emerged, Ronald Reagan and his conservative cronies imposed "a vituperative, ill-informed brand of moralism on policy," according to one book's author. The Times reviewer, Sheri Fink, writes that the author "presents many of the more maddening and inexcusable reasons for the languishing American response to global AIDS in the 1990's, including Congressional antagonism to foreign aid spending, ‘passive racism', and disarray among United Nations health officials, who failed to offer plausible global figures on H.I.V. prevalence until 1998." (Note that a liberal never passes an opportunity to play the race card.)
But then she adds this: Domestic AIDS activists were also silent, as were African-American leaders and the heads of the very countries being ravaged by the disease. Furthermore, she writes, the book's author "fails to suggest what types of health programs could have been used to fight global AIDS before effective treatments existed."
Let's see if I've got this straight: Everyone connected directly with AIDS was silent, no one knew the true extent of the looming crisis because figures weren't available, the leaders of the infected countries said nothing, and there were no effective treatments in existence. And it's Reagan's fault. What kind of writer is this?
Fink blasts Bush for, among other things, the administration's insistence on placing American controls over how our billions are being spent. That's inexcusable to Fink. We should just hand over the money. She takes a weird swipe at Bush's AIDS plan for focusing on just Africa and the Caribbean, which leaves out "populous India, Russia and China." Apparently we're responsible for saving everybody. Can't anybody take responsibility for themselves? Why is the sexual promiscuity of Africans, Chinese, Russians and everyone else my responsibility? We Americans are glad to help out, but why keep attacking us like we're selfish criminals? (Fink strangely neglects to mention that the US is spending more on AIDS assistance this year than all other countries combined.)
This review should be read in conjunction with Wednesday's atrocious front-page article on AIDS, written by staffer Deborah Sontag, who begins by labeling the Bush administration "arrogant and neocolonial." It's downhill from there. She says the Bush plan is under scrutiny "because it is so big, so unabashedly Washington-dominated and tinged by the administration's political ideology." The entire article, shallow and amateurish, is an assault on Bush. She even gets in a bit of totally gratuitous cheerleading for John Kerry. This isn't journalism, it's propaganda, tripe, and no one at the Times knows the difference anymore.
And they're not likely to wise up any time soon. Given the ownership--the family gene pool ran dry--and hiring practices--which favor social determinants over talent and intelligence--no one is going to pull the Times out of its tailspin. No one there can even recognize the tailspin. To them it looks like progress. That's how blind zealots see things.