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The Woeful Washington Post
Originally published in ConsortiumNews.com yesterday, 2 March 2010
The Washington Post’s editors never tire of basking in the faded glory of Watergate, a scandal that occurred nearly four decades ago. Some outsiders also still call the Post “liberal.” But the reality is quite different as the Post routinely takes neocon stances and has become a scandal onto itself.
Though there are still a few liberal voices, like Eugene Robinson, the Post’s opinion sections are dominated by neoconservatives and right-wingers who pile up mountains of misinformation that then shapes the potent conventional wisdom of the nation’s capital.
The fact that there is no viable counter-pressure to what the Post does in Washington, where two other dailies are even more right-wing, goes a long way toward explaining why the Obama administration has found the struggle for any meaningful change such an uphill climb.
Take, for instance, the Tuesday op-ed page. You have two articles, attacking Democrats on health-care reform, one by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and the other by Post editorial writer Charles Lane. If you look down a little further, there’s a column by Richard Cohen, labeling as a racist pretty much anyone who is alarmed at Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
Israel “is not motivated by racism,” Cohen declares. “That’s more than can be said for many of its critics.”
Cohen is especially outraged by anyone who would compare the plight of Palestinians in and around Israel to South African blacks under “apartheid.” Yet, while the parallel is far from perfect, many friendly critics of Israel have grown increasingly alarmed at Zionist extremists seizing Palestinian lands on the basis of Biblical mandates in which God supposedly grants all the territory to the Israelites.
Even thoughtful Israelis are beginning to grapple with this moral and political dilemma. For instance, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has argued that serious efforts must be made now for a two-state solution because otherwise the Zionist vision of a Greater Israel could lead to either a single state with a Palestinian majority or special rules to limit Palestinian civil rights.
“If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic,” Barak said at a recent security conference. “If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a bi-national state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state.”
Yet, on the Washington Post’s op-ed page, this serious question of Israel’s slide toward either an endless military occupation of Palestinian lands or an apartheid-style government can only be demonized.
Racists and Anti-Semites
To the Post’s Cohen, whose column ignored Barak’s apartheid comment, you are a racist if you suggest that some form of apartheid looms in Israel’s future if it refuses to allow a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and insists on the Zionist vision of a Greater Israel ordained by God.
Cohen scolds Henry Siegman, who wrote an op-ed for the Financial Times and mentioned the word apartheid several times in an article. Noting that Siegman was a former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Cohen conceded that “anti-Semitism is not the issue here.”
Cohen then added, however, “anti-Semitism is not so easily dismissed with others.”
In other words, any non-Jew who dares echo the words of Defense Minister Barak stands pre-judged as a racist anti-Semite. [For more on Cohen, see Consortiumnews.com's "Is WP's Cohen the Dumbest Columnist?"]
As ugly – and anti-intellectual – as Cohen’s article was, it fits neatly within the attitudes of the Post’s editorialists and contributors who also spew out disinformation and one-sided arguments on a wide variety of other topics.
Take, for instance, Hatch’s op-ed. Granted one gives politicians a bit more leeway in making their arguments, but the Post has imposed strict standards on other writers whose views significantly differ from those of the neocon editors, i.e. they rarely get published.
But Hatch was allowed to rail against the idea of the Democrats passing health-care reform via a majority-rule provision called “reconciliation.” Hatch calls the tactic an assault on the Constitution, which he claims “intends the opposite process,” although he offers no citation to support that opinion.
Indeed, the Constitution spells out the handful of situations in which super-majorities are needed, such as ratifying treaties and passing amendments. Under the Constitution, other legislation requires only a majority vote.
The Constitution makes no mention of filibusters, and there is no indication that the Founders ever envisioned one political party organizing itself as a minority determined to thwart the will of the majority on all manner of legislative proposals, big and little, as the Republicans are doing now.
Hatch then goes on to offer a selective and misleading history of reconciliation to buttress his argument that using it to modify health reform legislation was outside its original intent. Hatch does correctly state that reconciliation was originally designed to pressure Congress to make the tough votes on taxes and spending that would balance the federal budget.
I was the Associated Press congressional reporter covering the budget in 1980 when the procedure was first used. The idea then was to rein in a deficit of around $40 billion, which was considered large at the time. Reconciliation was later applied to other policy initiatives as long as they didn't widen the deficit.
Hatch writes: “Reconciliation was designed to balance the federal budget. Both parties have used the process, but only when the bills in question stuck close to dealing with the budget.” He then notes a few policy exceptions, but he adds they had strong bipartisan support.
But what Hatch leaves out of his history – and what the Post editors did not insist that he put in – was the greatest abuse of reconciliation: when President George W. Bush turned the process on its head in 2001 and 2003 to pass about $2 trillion in tax cuts weighted heavily to the rich.
Instead of using reconciliation to pay down the government’s debt, Bush and the congressional Republicans used it to create massive federal deficits. [For a detailed history of reconciliation and its uses, see the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ Jan. 27 report.]
By leaving out this significant fact, Hatch misled the Post’s readers, presumably with the approval of the Post’s editors.
Similarly, Charles Lane’s Post-Partisan column faults a supposed “flaw” in the logic of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who argued that health-care reform would help create jobs in both the health-care industry and the larger private-sector economy.
Though Lane acknowledges some merit to Pelosi’s arguments – including the potential savings for large U.S. companies that are now saddled with rising insurance costs for employees – he ultimately challenges Pelosi’s reasoning on the grounds that President Barack Obama’s proposed delay in implementing a tax on “Cadillac plans” would undercut any savings.
Lane calls that tax “the strongest cost-containment provision in the Senate bill” and says Obama flinched on its starting date – moved back to 2018 – “largely to appease organized labor and its allies in the House Democratic caucus – led by Speaker Pelosi.”
Typical of the Post’s neocon leanings, Lane’s gotcha column ignored other much greater cost-containment proposals, such as a possible move to a full-scale “single-payer system” or the inclusion of a robust “public option” that would generate competition to private insurers that are now jacking up rates on big companies and small.
However, as the Post sets the acceptable parameters of Washington’s public debate, certain realities are excluded while myths and misleading arguments are ushered in. This pattern is a true threat to American democracy.
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.
This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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This story was published on March 3, 2010.