Foreign Policy Narratives of The New York Times

The New York Times

The New York Times © Luciano Mortula

September 12, 2016 23:45 EDT

The New York Times has constructed foreign policy narratives that have downplayed the suffering of people abroad, the role of America and multinational corporations, and the highly oppressive practices of US allies.

The New York Times has done some great reporting, much with foreign policy implications in an increasingly linked world. It has exposed the expanding Amazon model of micromanagement and grueling work practices, brought sunlight to cozy think tank-corporate alliances, and exposed government surveillance and the Pentagon Papers.

But as of late, the Times has become part of what Hollywood actor Matt Damon calls our topsy-turvy world. The New York Times offers biased, false foreign policy narratives. Sure, much of the media long ago abandoned their raison d’être, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi describes in “The Summer of the Shill,” hilariously explaining how a friend would go to Russian media for news about America and the American media for news about Russia. The bashing of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton that has obliterated what’s left of our news industry, he asserts, makes the media—that formerly worked to defeat Bernie Sanders’ popular politics—an effective arm of the corporate-friendly Democratic Party.

The coverage of the past few weeks demonstrates this. It amplified the earlier Clinton campaign’s tactics of red baiting to avoid critical foreign policy debates, silencing discussion about party corruption, climate-killing trade, endless war and exploitative power grabs. Hillary Clinton’s strong ties to Russia were no longer fair game and stories unfavorable to her were attacked with neo-McCarthyism. Unsurprisingly, these tactics have been broadly condemned from The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald to The Nation magazine.

The latest came on September 1, on an A1 article that provided little support for its assertion: “WikiLeaks Disclosures Often Benefit Russia, Our Examination Found — whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence” (it has since been renamed). Even if one disagrees with Julian Assange’s tactics, as many do, one must acknowledge that the truths covered by him and Russian media on corporate priorities and election manipulation were often of strong interest to the public, particularly as the US media failed to do its job—and these and more specific points have been raised.

In fact, the article dodges the larger question: Why must Clinton’s emails and foreign and corporate policies be clouded by a red smokescreen? “The end of history” may well be here. But we now see that rather than a natural progression, it requires a quelling debate to advocate for those allied with the free market.

The New York Times’ participation in this process is problematic for three reasons. First, as the newspaper of record, it is read by many who fund the dominant parties—and thus critically shapes the ideology for the tiny ruling elite. Second, on a grassroots level, it aggravates the conditions that made it difficult for supporters of Bernie Sanders to vote for Hillary Clinton, distracting them from battles of ideas (thus ironically undermining Clinton’s support). Lastly, American exceptionalism justifies corporate and military actions that work directly to impoverish global populations and ruin our planet for endless and costly profits. It is ironic that the so-called liberal New York Times would fail to make such connections.

It would be difficult to examine the entire body of recent NYT writing till September 1 that has (or should have had) a foreign policy angle—particularly as my technology access and problems worsened as I tried to write this story (a continuation of those that have occurred since I’ve been writing about the media manipulation and Democratic National Convention bias in the primary, while apparently being targeted by Democratic-leaning corporations or groups).

Yet even a brief review of recent writing is instructive. The newspaper does little to make sense of the violent politics of today—their roots in troublesome American alliances and the corporations that benefit from economic and political violence. Forcible imposition of world leaders and unpopular ideas continue to be used to serve the interests of a tiny corporate and government global elite as insufficient sunlight is shone on this process.

Saudi Arabia

On July 15, 29 pages from a joint congressional inquiry on Saudi Arabian involvement in the 9/11 attacks were published. The document, along with others, seemed to tie Saudi government officials to 15 of the Saudi hijackers.

The New York Times recently weighed in with a front page and full-spread story. Not to illuminate the high cost of the publishing delay that appears key to justifying the regionally and politically destabilizing invasion of Iraq. Not to explore the next steps for the US Senate’s unanimous passage of a bill to make it easier for families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government, which President Barack Obama was expected to veto. Not to describe the history of American arms deals with the Saudis, including the largest ever overall, or the rearming of the nation that is internationally condemned for its indiscriminate bombing of Yemen.

The NYT did not want to highlight Saudi ties to Clinton who once said that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The paper chose not to focus on the Clinton Foundation’s links or her campaign chair’s brother’s provision of public relations as one of many firms doing such work for a nation that leads in beheadings and other human rights abuses. Finally, this did not prompt an overdue discussion on how to wean America off its oil addiction.

Rather, “Saudis and Extremism: Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters” generally lacks critical context. It fails to justify our support for the violent regime. It opens with a weak statement that purportedly shows that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump think similarly. One has to read about 15 paragraphs down to find that the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers were from there—and to learn that the Saudis supplied more suicide bombers to Iraq than any other nation and the second highest number of foreign fighters to the Islamic State (IS). It highlights extremist practices and ideology, and briefly discusses high Saudi funding of universities that dissuade research on Wahhabism, as well as describing the ineffective retraining of religious leaders.

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The financing and training of mujahideen, including textbooks that contribute to extremism and terrorism abroad, are explored—although a US State Department-funded review of Saudi textbooks finished in 2013 was never published.

Not surprisingly the article fails to make the case that the Saudis are effective “firefighters,” to defend their human rights record, to defend our dependence on oil, to defend our arms sales, to defend their war crimes, or to generally defend an ideology of extremism.

But the 5,000-word article, with few conclusions largely unanchored from current politics, perhaps achieves exactly what it set out to accomplish: postponing serious debate on a close alliance.

Puerto Rico

Democracy Now and The New York Times both ran stories on September 1 on the selection of the Puerto Rican control board, an unelected body mirroring undemocratic bodies appointed in many US cities—most memorably Flint, Michigan—to run the territory for at least five years, potentially reducing living standards severely. Democracy Now ran it as one of a handful of key segments for the day, while the Times had it buried deep in its business section.

Democracy Now raised critical issues of democracy and debt, covering protests by hundreds in a gathering of bankers or business executives for a conference in its segment titled, “Protests Erupt in San Juan as Obama Forms Unelected Control Board to Run Puerto Rico.” It also covered the $37 billion in debt that is believed to be illegitimate, including $1.6 billion in issuance fees and another $1.6 billion in capitalized interest in so-called “scoop and toss” deals, as well as high average issuance fees of more than 2% for Puerto Rico versus 1% for other municipalities. (Barclays even charged Puerto Rico 9% for one deal.)

In contrast, The New York Times’ story, “Puerto Rican Affairs Will Be Overseen by Several Experts in Finance and Law,” read like an Obama administration press release, ignoring the protests, excessive fees and questionable debt.


On August 23, the United States implemented a de facto, ill-defined “no fly zone” that the Pentagon spokesman refuses to call so—telling the Syrians (and implicitly Russians) they can’t fly in places where coalition forces and partnered operations are focused on IS. The video exchange with puzzled journalists would have been prime Saturday Night Live material or worthy of a Daily Show. The US official doesn’t actually clarify who coalition forces or potential partners are, where those forces are, whether those forces would need to be engaging with IS at times of targeting, or when this “old” policy took effect.

Of course, a “no fly zone” is a big issue and was indeed the subject of major debate earlier in the Democratic presidential primary: Clinton notably went beyond Obama and Sanders in her support.

The prospect has been considered a frightening one: Should we not consider the world currently in World War III—even as many countries bomb Syria—an interaction prompted by the new/old policy could be a flashpoint for a new world war. President Obama was proactively and hopefully awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet he has bombed seven countries and Hillary Clinton is described as even more militaristic—with her family foundation and State Department record backing up such an interpretation—and she supports a no-fly zone. The New York Times did not seem to give this press conference or term due consideration.

It may be worth noting here, separately, that Obama seems to have endorsed policies that would keep Clinton as president from being accused of rewarding corporate or government donors (although these might be consistent with his world view).

Obama is potentially allowing European Union language in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, which could allow $444 billion in annual fossil fuel subsidies in the case of emergency despite G20 commitments for a phase out. He has also signed a genetically modified organism (GMO) bill shelving Vermont and other states’ democratically-enacted laws; announced right after the Democratic National Convention that he is bombing Libya again (restarting “Hillary’s War”); and introduced pesticides to fight the Zika virus through a short-circuited process that has devastated bee colonies.


On August 11, The New York Times published an article entitled, “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer,” giving it about three-quarters of prime real estate of the cover of the Sunday Review. The teaser read, “Programs funded by the United States are helping to transform Honduras. Who says American power is dead?” An extraordinarily poor choice to justify American intervention.

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The article failed to explain how exactly Honduras got that way: following a coup (a term acknowledged by the US ambassador as shown in a WikiLeaks cable) conducted by the infamous US Army School of the Americas’ trainees and condoned by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which allowed the continuation of much military aid.

Child refugees skyrocketed with tens of environmental and other activists murdered, including “Green Nobel” prize winner Berta Caceres in March 2016. Since then, her daughter Laura has called for a halt to arms sales barring investigations (her recent Democratic National Convention activism would have provided a worthy news peg).

The New York Times has long been criticized for its reporting serving US government interests, ignoring human rights violations and murders, and pressure for accountability. This article was true to form. Heavily condemned by readers and media analysts, it celebrated the marginal contributions of trash cans and school uniforms, seeking to imply a transformation by ignoring the larger picture.


The weak response the Brazilian coup has met in the US, even as the media has championed a female presidential candidate on the merits of her gender, is truly shocking. As has been pointed out by former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff herself, it’s her second coup—the first brought her repression and torture more than 40 years ago. It was an overthrow enabled by a weak economy, devoid of proof of corruption, on grounds not considered impeachable in most countries and ginned up by a biased media.

Many Brazilians regret her impeachment and protested during the 2016 Olympics and afterward. Her right-wing vice president, Michel Temer, has taken over. Rousseff says the coup will affect every democratic organization, highlighted on Democracy Now, which also published as, “In Post-Olympics Brazil, a Political Coup is No Game.”

The New York Times provided a less forceful and clear analysis the day after a long expected outcome, even as its endorsed US presidential candidate is supposedly friendly with new leadership.

University of Chicago

In another lead A1 article, The New York Times published “The University of Chicago Rebels Against Moves to Stifle Speech,” outlining its letter to freshmen that describes the paper’s lack of support for intellectual safe spaces and trigger warnings, and its policy of allowing all invited speakers on campus. (Ironically, neither the campus president nor the author of the letter was available to discuss the letter or what prompted it.)

One of the first questions for a university—in the midst of so-called Chi-Raq zone of violence, presumably with about 1 in 5 women sexually assaulted on many US college campuses—might be: How can universities be blind to the violence inherent in our society? How can they not see the need to warn people of potential re-traumatization? And do they intend to bring to campus all war criminals, or just American ones as many campuses do, as well as criminal bankers?

Even as the article cites the 1932 Communist Party candidate for president’s speech at Chicago, major questions remain related to the school’s reputation for supplying the ideas and leaders behind brutally imposed economic changes accompanied by harsh violence. It’s a topic extremely relevant to discussion today, so let’s review a subject that escaped all examination.

The Chicago model championed by Milton Friedman with extreme deregulation, destruction of labor rights, and punishing privatization and austerity schemes has been forced on populations through extraordinary measures. About 50 years ago, staggeringly successful government-led, inward-looking developmentalism in the Southern Cone of Latin America thrived. Specifically, such policies in Chile brought strong health care and education gains, a growing middle class and rising industrial sectors.

… as of late, the Times has become part of what Hollywood actor Matt Damon calls our topsy-turvy world. The New York Times offers biased, false foreign policy narratives.

But it was the expense of foreign corporate profits. Then, the State Department funded students in “The Chile Project”—expanded across Latin America—which led to 40 to 50 Latin Americans attending the university at times, one-third of the graduate economics department.

The so-called Chicago Boys should not have fared well in Chile, a nation where all three political parties supported nationalizing US-controlled copper mines. But after Salvador Allende’s election, US President Richard Nixon ordered the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to “make the economy scream.” The Chicago Boys—funded over 75% by the CIA—developed detail proposals. Eight of the 10 major authors of the new 80-page economic program, which was called the “The Brick,” were from the University of Chicago. The CIA-funded El Mercurio newspaper printed it.

During a military coup by General Augusto Pinochet, the population was “shocked” by tanks rolling down the streets and fighter jets attacking government buildings. The September 11, 1973, event followed 41 years of peaceful democratic rule. The second capitalist “shock treatment” of the Chicago Boys that followed was facilitated through the third shock: the roundup of tens of thousands and the application of CIA torture techniques.

Further economic weakness allowed Sergio de Castro and other Chicago Boys to make more reforms. By 1980, public spending had been cut in half from Allende-levels, with severe hits to health and education that prompted the usual free-market champion, The Economist, to call it “an orgy of self-mutilation.”

Almost 500 state-owned companies were privatized in the 10 years ending in 1983, with the pain prompting former Chicago Boy Andre Gunder Frank to publish an “Open Letter to Arnold Harberger and Milton Friedman” that said the brutal economic policies could not “be imposed or carried out without the twin elements that underlie them all: military force and political terror.” Eventually, the public school system was taken over by vouchers and charter schools, health care became pay-as-you-go, and social security was privatized.

“Now the Chicago Boys and their plans were back, in a climate distinctly more conducive to their radical vision,” writes Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. “In this new era, no one besides a handful of men in uniform needed to agree with them. Their staunchest political opponents were either in jail, dead or fleeing for cover; the spectacle of fighter jets and caravans of death was keeping everyone else in line.”

In 1976, generals seized power in Argentina. They coordinated with Pinochet and like-minded Brazilians to attack policies and institutions responsible for uplifting the poor. Major government posts went to the Chicago Boys. Price controls were lifted, which sent food prices soaring, strikes were banned and hundreds of state companies were sold, a move applauded by Henry Kissinger. Trade unions were immediately attacked to avoid strikes, and they were discredited by falsely associating them with guerilla movement.

A full 81% of 30,000 people who disappeared were between 16 and 30, as the government attempted to rid the nation of the next generation of political activists. While state violence was lower profile to promote greater international acceptance, there were 300 torture centers. Half the Argentine citizens ended up below the poverty line. The termed “genocide” was used by federal Judge Carlos Rozanski to describe what happened in the state, despite the United Nations Convention on Genocide not including the elimination of a group with certain political beliefs—a position traceable to Joseph Stalin’s earlier insistence and his support by other leaders who wanted freedom to target their political opponents.

Brazil and Uruguay fell too in the 1960s and 1970s with US-backed military governments running the nations with Chicago School economic policies. Several governments collaborated in Operation Condor, which used a Washington computer system to track those they kidnapped and moved across borders for torture, much like “extraordinary rendition” of the CIA. In all, up to 150,000 were tortured or killed in the Southern Cone. War was also declared on the dominant mass culture from Pablo Neruda’s poetry to Simon Bolivar, with efforts often phrased as cleansing or cleanup in echoes of the Third Reich.

Allende’s US ambassador, Orlando Letelier, rejected the idea that there were two different projects, insisting that “terror was the central tool of the free-market transformation.” Similarly, Brazil’s Nunca Mais report stated: “Since the economic policy was extremely unpopular among the most numerous sectors of the population, it had to be implemented by force.” Simone de Beauvior wrote on the topic: “There are no ‘abuses’ or ‘excesses’ here, simply an all-pervasive system.” Klein concludes: “Just as there is no kind, gentle way to occupy people against their determined will, there is no peaceful way to take away from millions of citizens what they need to live with dignity — which is what the Chicago Boys were determined to do.”

These reforms morphed into what was used by the Chicago Boys’ heavies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank—later referred to as the Washington Consensus. Countries with serious economic crises received financial bailouts only if they accepted privatization and free trade measures, even though they were admittedly not related to stability. After commodity shocks or capital outflows resulted in skyrocketing debt, a punishing series of deregulation, privatization and austerity was forced on many countries. Even an IMF internal audit that examined structural adjustment in several Asian countries found the demands were “ill-advised” and “broader than seemed necessary,” as well as “not critical to resolving the crisis.”

Those Who Fight the Status Quo

Of course, whether through disasters or war, radical economic policies have been used elsewhere. In Iraq, a self-described “shock and awe” that terrified civilians was followed by the extreme shock treatment that resulted in de-Baathification across sectors, including medicine, engineering and teaching. Large-scale unemployment also resulted from an enforced reliance on foreign goods for consumption and rebuilding—very different from the Marshall Plan that aimed to create local jobs and a tax base for domestic social services.

Did the crushing of local democratic efforts, the billions lost through no accountability, and the mass privatization of war and the nation represent what Klein calls the “logical conclusion of Chicago School theory”? Was the two-tiered recovery system in New Orleans with the mass privatization of public schools another such case? How about the boxing in of South African economy such that grassroots democratic demands became truly unachievable and untenable? Klein convincingly argues so: That war and disaster are now a boon for corporations, a concept increasingly voiced by corporate executives.

Fortunately, there are those—who receive very little high-profile media ink—that challenge the purpose and priorities of our twinned economic and physical wars. There are those who see repression in trade deals, privatization and so-called “labor flexibility” that are expanding the robbing of dignity from much of humanity, while stripping them of their environment and basics for sustenance.

And so they continue fighting. But they deserve allies in media who don’t just seek to promote the lesser evil, but a world worthy of our humanity and of our potential.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Luciano Mortula

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