The Editor Who Kissed Ass

Joel Bleifuss

On January 30, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller published a self-serving essay in The New York Times Magazine on his dealings with Julian Assange, the beleaguered WikiLeaks founder whom he portrays as a person with dubious hygiene and an unsound mind. In The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” Keller uses the gloss of insider gossip as a cover to rewrite the Times’ editorial history. In his takedown of Assange, Keller admits” that the Times sometimes get things wrong.” He writes, We can be overly credulous (as in the pre-war reporting about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction).” Let’s put this credulity in perspective. 

It is both vile and repugnant for New York Times Editor Bill Keller to cast aspersions on the motivations of Assange, whose organization has made public government documents revealing U.S. atrocities in Iraq.

On Feb. 8, 2003, 40 days before the United States invaded Iraq, Keller, then a Times columnist, wrote an op-ed in which he voiced support for going to war in Iraq. According to Keller, Bush’s war should be supported because everyone who is anyone has toed the line: The president will take us to war with support of quite a few members of the East Coast liberal media cabal. The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club includes op-ed regulars at this newspaper and The Washington Post, the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek.”

These members of our punditocracy shared one thing in common – all had gorged on front-page Times exposés by Judith Miller, who was a witting conduit for Bush administration disinformation. Consider the following headlines from Threats and Responses,” the front-page Times’ series that Miller co-authored in September 2002.

The Iraqis: U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-bomb Parts.”

Baghdad’s Arsenal: White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons.”

Inspections: Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible.”

Faced with this certainty of Saddam Hussein armed with nuclear and biological weapons, small wonder the liberal establishment enlisted.

A year later, writing in Editor and Publisher, William E. Jackson, Jr., using unnamed sources at the Times, detailed the scheme: “[Miller] cultivates senior officials using the importance of the Times. The officials give her a story, she reports it uncritically … Miller’s happy, her editors are happy, her sources are happy. … This system was summed up for me by a Timesman as: a neat little eco-system of corrupt journalism.’ “

In light of all that, it is both vile and repugnant for New York Times Editor Bill Keller to cast aspersions on the motivations of Assange, whose organization has made public government video and documents revealing U.S. atrocities in Iraq.

Keller, one of the most powerful figures in American journalism, has no choice but to obscure and obfuscate the mainstream media’s sorry role in these long years of war – his legacy depends on it. 

We must deny him this revision of the record. If not for history, for the many thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,000 American soldiers who lost their lives in Bush-Miller-Keller-et al–‘s war.

Since that war began, scores of U.S. service persons have sought sanctuary in Canada because they, unlike Keller and his cohort of liberal hawks, knew the Iraq War to be an immoral enterprise. They are now facing deportation from Canada and imprisonment in the United States. In our March 2011 issue, In These Times is proud to tell their story.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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