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Chris Hedges Unmasks American Empire in "Unspeakable"

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Rosenthal had the instincts of a good reporter. The problem was that, like many who rise within institutions, he cared more about his career than his integrity. He oversaw the publishing of the Pentagon Papers. We have to give him that. The publisher, Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger, who -- to highlight how the close-knit fraternity of the elites function -- went to my Connecticut prep school, was very reluctant. The idols of power, in the end, always atrophy your soul. Editors and the reporters, at least the ones determined to advance within the institution under Rosenthal's eleven-year tenure as the paper's executive editor, slavishly catered to his neocon ideology and numerous prejudices, including his blind support of Israel and virulent homophobia, which is why the paper ignored the AIDS epidemic. By the time Rosenthal retired and started writing a column, he was hysterical.

I'll tell you what did mean something to me. When Homer Bigart [the Times' widely respected correspondent who covered World War II as well as the wars in Korea and Vietnam] died around that time, Sidney Schanberg delivered one of the eulogies. He said we don't have to worry, there are still reporters like Homer out there, and named me. Now that meant a lot to me. I didn't care about meeting Abe Rosenthal. Bigart was a hero. He was a reporter's reporter. He cared about the truth. He took tremendous risks to report it. He also loathed the paper's hierarchy. He was once at his desk in the Times newsroom taking notes for a story about a riot that were being dictated to him by a reporter, John Kifner, from a pay phone. The riot was getting hot. Kifner finally told Bigart, 'Jeez, Homer, I'm going to have to cut off because there's like a hundred people that are going to push this phone booth over on me." "At least you're dealing with sane people," Bigart answered.

So by the end of the Gulf War, you're in pretty good standing in the Times newsroom.

Well, yes and no. Because remember, there were a lot of reporters who didn't like me now. The New York Times is primarily populated by careerists. They do journalism on the side. The careerists always get you in the end.

These are the people who belong to the Council on Foreign Relations and will end up at the State Department or the Kennedy School at Harvard or on Wall Street?

Exactly. They are courtiers. They serve the elites. The elites reward them for their service with television appearances, lucrative book contracts, foundation grants, awards, journalism professorships and highly paid lecture fees. Many "prestigious" careers in journalism are built this way. These reporters spend their working lives as stenographers for the powerful. They are also your mortal enemy. They know you know them for what they are. Your reporting exposes them as mouthpieces for the elites. I had a few friends at the Times. I made the paper look good, so the hierarchy liked it, but I certainly had a lot of reporters who didn't like me.

Still, you keep getting assignments overseas?

I was sent to Cairo as the Middle East bureau chief.

How old are you by then?

Early thirties...pretty young.

So if you wanted to play the New York Times game, you could've kept rising within that hierarchy?

Reporters like me do not advance at institutions like the Times.


As a war correspondent, I was paid to defy authority and often authority that was trying to kill me. War correspondents almost never reintegrate into newsrooms. We don't bow easily before authority. At places like the Times you do not advance if you do not pay homage to the powerful and engage in the subtle games for patronage and influence. You have to be willing to incorporate the ideological parameters of the paper into your reporting.

I spent my time in Central America with a backpack sleeping in mud and wattle huts. When I went to Israel, I was mostly in Gaza. I didn't run off to see the Israeli foreign minister. When I covered the Gulf War, I rarely interviewed someone above the rank of lance corporal and slept in the desert. When I was in Bosnia, I traveled in my jeep from village to village or was in Sarajevo under the shelling and sniper fire. Interviewing those in authority was something I had to do as a Times correspondent, but I did it as little as possible. I never saw amplifying the lies of the powerful as an important or interesting part of my journalism.

So you didn't play the game that most Middle East correspondents play. And playing the game was supporting the Israeli perspective if you were with the New York Times?

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of (more...)

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