Sunday, November 28, 2004
"But the New York Times is a liberal paper, isn't it?" Howard Friel is a co-author of a book criticizing the nation's "paper of record" for being too pro-war, and this is what conservative talk show hosts ask him.
Friel's book, The Record of the Paper , co-authored with Richard Falk, comes after a number of books of media criticism that purport to determine which way the winds of media bias are blowing: books like Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? and Bernard Goldberg's Bias. But instead of trying to place the New York Times on some sort of objectivity scale, Friel and Falk examine the editorial policy of the Times on U.S. use of military force in conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq and put forward a working theory on why the Times editorializes as it does.
In an interview with the [Valley] Advocate, Friel, who lives in Northampton, [Massachusetts,] said that looking for bias is a faulty standard. Instead, he believes that the Times, sensitive to criticisms from the left and the right, attempts to position itself politically in a way that makes the widest distribution of people happy....
In the book, Friel and Falk examine closely the arguments on the editorial page of the Times, "liberal hawk" columnists writing in the Times Magazine, and the news reporting -- in particular the work of reporter Judith Miller -- leading up to the invasion of Iraq and through a year of occupation. What they find is that the Times almost systematically left out the question of international law in its editorial pages and its news reporting, and failed to live up to its own standard -- set in the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 -- as a government watchdog. After holding the paper's Iraq coverage up to the light, Friel and Falk go back 50 years to look at the Times coverage of Vietnam and other conflicts to see the same pattern emerging....
In the book, Friel and Falk focus on international law, in particular the United Nations Charter and its prohibition of the use of force by states. Friel maintains that this rule of international law is often misunderstood and misrepresented. The framers of the United Nations -- the U.S. chief among them -- wanted to outlaw wars of aggression and prevent future world wars. So it set a high standard for the legal use of force -- "For example, to stop a Hitler," Friel said. But there is an exception to the rule. If a country is attacked, it can defend itself without resorting to the U.N. "So, in other words, by complying with the prohibition to force, you're not engaging or signing onto a suicide pact, because you still retain the right to defend yourself, if that's necessary," Friel said.
It's this right to self-defense that hawks seek to exploit, Friel said, by trying to show that an aggressive war is, as they say, defensive. At the same time, hawks attack the constraints of international law, saying they hamper the ability of countries to defend themselves. "They're just misrepresenting international law in order to overcome it, so they can in fact, initiate war unilaterally in violation of the charter," Friel said.