Cross-posted from Consortium News
The New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan acknowledges that the newspaper's coverage of Iraq before President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion "was flawed, driven by outside agendas and lacking in needed skepticism." But she says lessons were learned.
"Many Op-Ed columns and Times editorials promoted the idea of a war that turned out to be both unfounded and disastrous," Sullivan wrote on June 29, adding that, in retrospect, the coverage "was the cause of much soul-searching for The Times" and that those lessons now are at the forefront of the Times' handling of the new crisis in Iraq.
The more pertinent question is whether the Times' coverage of other crises, particularly in Syria and Ukraine, has suffered from the same lack of journalistic integrity that beset the Times' handling of the run-up to the Iraq invasion. On that score, an objective observer would have to say that little has changed.
With very few exceptions, the Times has served as a cheerleader for the neocons on the crises in Syria and Ukraine as much as it did in 2002-03 on Iraq. The Times has made little effort to hide its sympathy for the hawks.
For instance, the Times has worked to build support for a U.S. bombing campaign against the government of Syria (as well as more U.S. weapons for the "moderate" rebels) and the newspaper has beaten the drums for a heightened confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.
Besides a preponderance of neocon and otherwise hawkish opinion pieces regarding those two crises -- while publishing virtually nothing from a more dovish perspective -- the Times' "news" columns have read like propaganda sheets for the U.S. State Department. It's as if the Times had joined one of the department's "public diplomacy/information warfare" campaigns.
Just as the Times deceived readers with a bogus story in 2002 about Iraq buying "aluminum tubes" for nuclear centrifuges, the Times published a similarly false story in 2013 using a "vector analysis" to pin the blame for a sarin gas attack on the Syrian government. The story later collapsed.
This year, while whipping up anti-Russian hysteria over the Ukrainian civil war, the Times fell for State Department disinformation that peddled photos purporting to show Russian special forces "clearly" inside Russia and then in Ukraine (except it turned out that the inside-Russia photo was actually snapped in Ukraine, destroying the story's premise).
On the Syrian civil war, the Times' coverage -- like that of virtually the entire U.S. mainstream media -- has put white hats on the rebels and black hats on the government. The major complaint has been that Obama hasn't given more weapons and more training to the "moderate" rebels so they could overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad.
So, it may have come as a shock to many Times readers last September when the leading Syrian rebel groups renounced the "moderate" exiles who had been featured by the West as the face of the rebellion. Instead, the fighters inside Syria embraced an Islamic extremist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda and declared that their intent was to transform Syria into a Taliban-style state. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Syrian Rebels Embrace al-Qaeda."]
Despite the clear dominance by Sunni jihadists within the rebel movement, the steady drumbeat of MSM writing is still that Obama must step up aid to the "moderate" rebels, an incessant demand that Obama recently bended to with his proposal for a half-billion dollars in military support for these elusive "moderates."
Pushing for a New Cold War
Regarding this year's Ukraine crisis, you would similarly be hard-pressed to find any opinion articles challenging the State Department's line on last February's coup d'etat that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych.
The conventional wisdom -- conveyed by the Times and other MSM outlets -- has been to blame the crisis nearly entirely on Russian President Vladimir Putin, though he clearly was reacting to events instigated by the West, not provoking the crisis himself.
Again, the Times and the rest of the MSM glued white hats on the Kiev coup-makers and black hats on Yanukovych, Putin and the eastern Ukrainians who have resisted the coup. Arguably, there has been even less even-handedness regarding this year's Ukraine crisis than there was in writing about Iraq in 2003.
Whether in the Times' opinion sections or the "news" pages, the pivotal role of western Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias has been shoved down the memory hole. Whited out has been how these brown shirts spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup and killed ethnic Russians in Odessa and elsewhere. On the rare occasions when the neo-Nazis are mentioned, their existence is immediately dismissed as "Russian propaganda." [See Consortiumnews.com's "Ukraine, Through the US Looking Glass."]