NEW MEDIA HEIGHTS FOR A REMARKABLE PUNDIT

By Norman Solomon

"Thomas Friedman has achieved another media triumph with the
debut of 'Tom's Journal' on the 'NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.'"  

"Friedman has been a zealous advocate of 'bombing Iraq over
and over and over again' (in the words of a January 1998 column)."

"Sometimes, Friedman fixates on four words in particular. 'My
motto is very simple: Give war a chance,' he told Diane Sawyer
four months ago on 'Good Morning America.'"

"Friedman-style bravado goes over big with editors and
network producers who share his disinterest in counting the human
costs.  Many journalists seem eager to fawn over their
stratospheric colleague. 'Nobody understands the world the way he
does,' NBC's Tim Russert claims." 

"If he were as passionate about challenging global
corporatization as promoting it -- or as fervent about stopping
wars as starting them -- it's hard to imagine that a regular
feature like 'Tom's Journal' would be airing on the "NewsHour.'"

    Thomas Friedman has achieved another media triumph with the
debut of "Tom's Journal" on the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." The
feature will be a "one-on-one debriefing of Friedman by Lehrer or
one of the program's senior correspondents," says a news release
from the influential PBS program. Friedman will appear perhaps a
dozen times per year -- whenever he comes back from a major trip
abroad.

     Specializing in foreign affairs, Friedman reaches millions
of readers with his syndicated New York Times column. And he's
often on television -- especially these days. "In the post-9/11
environment, the talk shows can't get enough of Friedman," a
Washington Post profile noted. He appears as a guest on "Meet the
Press," "Face the Nation," "Washington Week in Review" and plenty
of other TV venues. He even went over big on David Letterman's
show.

     A passage from Friedman's 1999 book "The Lexus and the Olive
Tree" sums up his overarching global perspective: "The hidden
hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.
McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the
designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that
keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to
flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine
Corps."

     If he were as passionate about challenging global
corporatization as promoting it -- or as fervent about stopping
wars as starting them -- it's hard to imagine that a regular
feature like "Tom's Journal" would be airing on the "NewsHour."

     Friedman has been a zealous advocate of "bombing Iraq, over
and over and over again" (in the words of a January 1998 column).
Three years ago, when he offered a pithy list of prescriptions
for Washington's policymakers, it included: "Blow up a different
power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights
will go off or who's in charge."

     In an introduction to the book "Iraq Under Siege," editor
Anthony Arnove points out: "Every power station that is targeted
means more food and medicine that will not be refrigerated,
hospitals that will lack electricity, water that will be
contaminated, and people who will die."

     But Friedman-style bravado goes over big with editors and
network producers who share his disinterest in counting the human
costs. Many journalists seem eager to fawn over their
stratospheric colleague. "Nobody understands the world the way he
does," NBC's Tim Russert claims.

     Sometimes, Friedman fixates on four words in particular. "My
motto is very simple: Give war a chance," he told Diane Sawyer
four months ago on "Good Morning America." It was the same motto
that he'd used two and a half years earlier in a Fox News
interview. Different war; different enemy; different network;
same solution.

     In the spring of 1999, as bombardment of Yugoslavia went on,
Friedman recycled "Give war a chance" from one column to another.
"Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia
around," he wrote in early April. "Let's see what 12 weeks of
less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance."

     Another column included this gleeful approach for
threatening civilians in Yugoslavia with protracted terror:
"Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your
country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950.
You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."

     Last November, his column was in a similar groove. "Let's
all take a deep breath and repeat after me: Give war a chance.
This is Afghanistan we're talking about. Check the map. It's far
away."

     Friedman seems to be crazy about wisps of craziness in high
Washington places. He has a penchant for touting insanity as a
helpful ingredient of U.S. foreign policy; some kind of passion
for indications of derangement among those who call the military
shots.

     During an Oct. 13 appearance on CNBC, he said: "I was a
critic of (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld before, but there's
one thing ... that I do like about Rumsfeld. He's just a little
bit crazy, OK? He's just a little bit crazy, and in this kind of
war, they always count on being able to out-crazy us, and I'm
glad we got some guy on our bench that our quarterback -- who's
just a little bit crazy, not totally, but you never know what
that guy's going to do, and I say that's my guy."

     And Friedman doesn't just talk that way. He also writes that
way. "There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't
like," a Friedman column declared in mid-February, "but their
willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some
of our enemies, is one thing they have right."

     Is Thomas Friedman clever? Perhaps. But not nearly as
profound as a few words from W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is
done / Do evil in return."

 

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (I'd recommend a visit to the site), a nationwide consortium of public-policy researchers. He has written op-ed pieces for Boston Globe, Washington Post, Newsday, New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Baltimore Sun, and is a far more successful writer than Alex Sandell will ever be.  His column, normally titled, "Media Beat," is nationally syndicated in a wide variety of newspapers.  If you'd like to see his weekly "Media Beat" column published on the opinion page of your local daily newspaper(s), please contact the opinion-page editor at the paper(s) and suggest that the paper give his column a try. Please mention to editors that his weekly column is available to newspapers from Creators Syndicate. Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." 

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