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N.Y. Times' double standard
New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof launched the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame saga in a bitingly ironic May 2003 op-ed piece. Using Wilson’s trumperies about his mission to Niger as evidence, Kristof insinuated that the Bush administration engaged in “a campaign of wholesale deceit” on the issue of WMDs to provoke the country into war.
As shall be seen, however, Kristof and his colleagues at the Times maintain a highly flexible standard on the subject of war-provoking deceit, one that depends entirely on who is doing the deceiving, real or alleged.
In the way of background, Kristof has made something of a reputation for himself as a crusader—if I can still use this word without offending—against genocide, at least genocide against non-Iraqis. For instance, he has written any number of columns chastising the Bush administration for its failure to intervene in Sudan’s Darfur region, where the Arabic Muslims are killing their black fellow citizens. In one article, he laments that America had never intervened to prevent “genocide”—his word—“until Kosovo.”
Most Americans had not head of Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia wracked by Islamic rebellion, until President Clinton’s State of the Union speech on January 19, 1999, and many may have missed the reference even then. The President did not broach the subject until two-thirds of the way into a long-winded speech and dedicated a total of 43 words to the subject. In the State of the Union speech preceding the Iraq War, by contrast, George W. Bush dedicated 1400 words to the impending confrontation.
The war between Yugoslavia and the United States and its NATO allies began a little more than two months after that speech, on March 24, 1999 to be precise, and lasted until June 10 of that year. Over the course of those 10 weeks, “NATO aircraft”—most of them American—flew more than 38,000 combat missions. Unlike President Bush, President Clinton did not even bother to seek congressional or UN approval before committing U.S. forces.
Although NATO had deemed the situation an "international humanitarian emergency," the American public was understandably confused as to why we had gone to war. Yugolslavia, after all, had no WMDs, no terrorist arm, no history of violence against the United States, and had invaded no other country. Some Americans were downright hostile to Clinton’s plans.
“Now, it is time for all of us to stop Clinton and his disgusting, hypocritical fellow democrats (sic) who support him in this war,” wrote one of them. “It is amazing to watch all these ‘liberal’ congress members line up behind the President.” So wrote filmmaker Michael Moore in April 1999, a few years before embracing the war’s architect, General Wesley Clark, as his preferred candidate in the 2004 Democratic primary.
To gain domestic support for this emergency action the Clinton administration began a drumbeat about mass graves, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. David Scheffer, a State Department ambassador at large, was the first to claim publicly a six-figure death count, specifically “upwards of about 100,000 [Islamic] men that we cannot account for" in Kosovo. A month later, after the war had begun, the State Department upped the total to 500,000 Kosovo Albanians missing and feared dead.
On CBS Face the Nation Secretary of Defense William Cohen repeated the 100,000 figure and claimed that the war was “was a fight for justice over genocide.” The President compared the work of the Serbs in Kosovo to the German “genocide” of the Jews during the Holocaust and assured America that “tens of thousands of people” had been murdered.
The New York Times helped Clinton amplify his message. No fewer than 375 articles would contain the combination “Kosovo” and “genocide,” most of those making a direct equation. As late as five weeks after the war’s end, the Times John Kifner was reporting that "at least 10,000 people were slaughtered by Serbian forces during their three-month campaign to drive the Albanians from Kosovo." Kifner went on to tell of "war crimes investigators, NATO peacekeeping troops, and aid agencies struggling to keep up with fresh reports each day of newly discovered bodies and graves."
The now disgraced Times’ reporter Judith Miller also contributed numerous articles in the Times’ coverage of Kosovo. In the Kosovo campaign, as in Iraq, Miller’s reporting shows no apparent political bias nor any obvious attempt to editorialize with the information at hand. Like most reporters, she relies on her sources and tends to qualify the limits of her information.
Although the President and his administration likely believed what they were saying, as did the Times’ reporters—and thus not “lying”--Michael Moore got much closer to the truth in his assessment of what was actually taking place in Kosovo than did the President:
We know Clinton is lying to us. We know there is no "Holocaust" taking place. What IS happening is that two groups of people are carrying on their centuries-old mission to annihilate each other. The Kosovo Liberation Army announced their intentions to rid Kosovo of all Serbs (the Albanians are the majority in Kosovo, the Serbs, a minority). That's all a nutcase like Milosevic needed to justify his campaign to rid Kosovo of all Albanians.
In the war’s wake, international teams of investigators and pathologists proved Moore correct. There were no mass graves. There was no genocide. The ethnic Albanian dead numbered in the hundreds, not in the hundreds of thousands.
Spanish forensic surgeon Emilio Pérez Pujol, would tell the British Sunday Times that the talk of genocide was “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one—not one—mass grave.” The International Criminal Tribunal ended up charging Yugoslavian president Slobodan Miloševic not with genocide but with “crimes against humanity” in the death of the 600 identifiable ethnic Albanians killed in the savage in-fighting, a comparable body count to a year’s worth of LA gang wars.
"W.M.D. -- I got it totally wrong,” a contrite Judith Miller would write in her notes years later in reference to Iraq. “The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong."
Miller was not “totally wrong.” What we now know of Saddam’s WMD program—and we err by presuming to know too much—suggests the limitations of intelligence gathering in a tightly controlled, totalitarian country.
If Miller is contrite about her failures in Iraq, no one at the Times has ever apologized for their collective failure in Kosovo. Nor have the rest of the media ginned up a “ Clinton lied” campaign to explain the preposterous gap between what was promised and what was delivered.
Indeed, as observed earlier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nicholas Kristof continues to talk about “genocide” in Kosovo as though it really happened.
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