Sometimes the New York Times and the Washington Post behave like two vintage ocean-liners competing to see which will edge out the other in a competition to become the flagship for American neoconservatism. Think of a cross-Atlantic race between the Titanic and the Lusitania.
The Times was pouring on the coal in Friday's editions, pushing the Obama administration and NATO to finish off the war in Libya. The Times editors seemed most concerned at the prospect of negotiations to resolve the conflict without a clear-cut military victory over Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
"There has been recent talk by all sides about a possible political deal between the rebels and the government," the Times fretted . "We are eager to see an end to the fighting. But Washington and NATO must stand firmly with the rebels and reject any solution that does not involve the swift ouster of Colonel Qaddafi and real freedom for Libyans."
To achieve that desired outcome, the Times called for continued NATO airstrikes against Gaddafi's forces and snuck in an editorial wink at the repeated bombing attacks on his "compound" in Tripoli. Those raids look to be transparent assassination attempts -- despite NATO's denials -- but have so far missed him while killing one of his sons and three of his grandchildren.
On Friday, Gaddafi responded to the NATO strikes with a warning that his backers might retaliate with their own attacks inside Europe. But the tough-guy editorial writers at the Times editorial-writers were looking forward to Gaddafi's demise and a rebel victory.
"Washington and its partners should also help the rebels start building the political and civil institutions they will need to keep a post-Qaddafi Libya from descending into chaos," the Times wrote. In other words, the Times envisions a long-term NATO presence in a "liberated" Libya.
What becomes clear from a regular reading of the Times and the Post is that the neocons have never given up their grandiose scheme for violently remaking the Middle East in such a way that the energy-rich region will bend more to Western control and be less threatening to Israel.
One might have thought that the twin catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq -- costing the American people more than 6,000 war dead and probably well over $1 trillion -- might have taught the neocons a lesson in the dangers of imperial hubris. But it's always off to another war, preceded by another cartoon portrayal of some foreign "tyrant" who must be eliminated.
There is the old saying that "the first casualty of war is truth." But what happens in perpetual war? It would seem that you get a world like Orwell's 1984, where history undergoes endless shape-shifting, some facts forgotten and the historical narrative reconstructed to meet current propaganda needs.
In the United States, at the forefront of this troubling trend have been the New York Times and the Washington Post, two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers. Especially on issues related to the Middle East, these papers often have dropped any pretense of journalistic objectivity or professionalism.
Any extreme allegation directed against a Muslim ruler of an "unfriendly" state is not only tolerated by the Post and the Times but seemingly welcomed.
For instance, in 1990, after falling out of Washington's good graces with his invasion of Kuwait, Iraq's ruler Saddam Hussein was blamed for ripping babies from incubators and other evil acts; by 2002-03, he had become the diabolical madman who planned to share WMD with al-Qaeda and thus inflict mass casualties on the U.S. homeland.
At such war-or-peace moments -- when the American people urgently needed accurate information -- the editors at the Times and the Post instead were clambering over each other to get on the pro-war bandwagon. Challenges to the propaganda claims came almost exclusively from outside the major national U.S. news outlets and thus received scant timely attention.
Rather than show skepticism, the Times and the Post acted more like conveyor belts for the propaganda.
For instance, during the 2002 run-up to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, the Times fronted a bogus story about Hussein obtaining aluminum tubes for secret nuclear centrifuges. Not to be outdone the Post devoted nearly its entire editorial section to ringing endorsements of Secretary of State Colin Powell's dishonest 2003 speech at the United Nations justifying the Iraq invasion.