On Tuesday, the New York Times ran two editorials that staked out sound positions – on the need for the American Bar Association to resist right-wing pressures in evaluating judicial nominees and on the value of holding tyrants accountable. But in both cases, the Times demonstrated blind spots about parallels to itself and the U.S. media.
For instance, the Times likes President Barack Obama’s decision to restore the ABA to its traditional role of assessing the fitness of nominees to the federal bench after years of George W. Bush dismissing the ABA for its “liberal bias” and opting for ideological judgments from the right-wing Federalist Society.
However, the Times notes that the ABA – in a futile effort to get itself back into the good graces of the Republican administration – began to give unwarranted high marks to right-wing nominees as a way to shake its “liberal” label.
“The group regularly gave ‘well qualified’ and ‘qualified’ ratings to some of President George W. Bush’s most deeply flawed nominees,” the editorial said. “Conservatives will undoubtedly keep trying to intimidate the ABA. The group’s screeners should evaluate the Obama nominees based on their qualifications, judicial temperament and views of the law – without imposing any ideological litmus test.”
Yet what the Times described about the ABA’s pandering to the Right is exactly what the New York Times and other mainstream news organizations have done for almost three decades.
Tired of the Right’s accusations about “liberal media,” the Times and other news outlets bent to the Right to “prove” they weren't liberal, which translated into being much tougher on Bill Clinton’s administration and on Al Gore’s presidential candidacy than on Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes.
As with the ABA’s readiness to give high marks to unqualified right-wing judges, the Times and other outlets violated their standards for fairness by applying an easier standard on Republicans than on Democrats – and like the ABA never succeeded in appeasing the Right anyway.
In other words, the Times might have included the self-critical observation that it followed the same futile course as the ABA, trading its reputation for honesty and objectivity for a hoped-for seat at the Republican table.
In the next editorial, the Times hailed the people of Peru for holding ex-President Alberto Fujimori accountable for unleashing a death squad that killed 25 people, including an 8-year-old boy. The Times noted that a court “found that it was Mr. Fujimori who failed to distinguish between authoritarian excess and the rule of law. ...
“That’s why this trial is so important. International tribunals, like those dealing with Rwanda, Yugoslavia or Sierra Leone, are an essential last resort in the battle with tyranny. They are unlikely to have the cleansing or educational power of a country’s own judicial system affirming the primacy of law.
“However popular Mr. Fujimori may once have been in Peru, by the end of his trial, public-opinion polls found that a large majority of Peruvians agreed that he was guilty as charged.”
If you were waiting for next obvious paragraph – that the American people should take the Peruvian example to heart and hold ex-President Bush accountable for his far bloodier crimes – you would be disappointed.
It’s one thing to pat the Peruvians on the head or recognize the value of a world court judging crimes in weak countries like Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone. It is something altogether different to expect that an American leader should be dragged before the bar of justice.
Everything the Times said about Fujimori could apply to Bush in spades, both in regards to his blatantly illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 – an aggressive war that left a great many 8-year-old boys and girls (as well as children of all ages) dead or horribly maimed – and to his torture of prisoners captured in his “war on terror.”
Indeed, there is really no serious rebuttal to the evidence that Bush and many of his senior aides are war criminals. All that protects them is a lack of political courage on the part of the Obama administration and a lack of integrity on the part of the major U.S. news media.
Instead of facing the obvious facts, American politicians and editorial writers have chosen to put on blinders that allow them to lecture other countries about the rule of law while ignoring it themselves. In this collective cowardice, the U.S. Establishment also may be selling the American people short.
One could write, for instance, that “however popular Mr. Bush may once have been in the United States, by the end of a trial on his many crimes, public-opinion polls might well find that a large majority of Americans would agree that he was guilty as charged – and that no one, not even a President of the United States, is above the law.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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This story was published on April 16, 2009.