'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Hinkiness of Bill Keller (Part 1) 

UPDATE: For those completists among you who want a comprehensive deconstruction of the dishonesty of Bill Keller when it comes to his support for the invasion of Iraq, and his subsequent complicity in the support of the New York Times for it and war on terror more generally, consider this excellent article by Greg Mitchell. Not surprisingly, he thinks much more highly of Paul Wolfowitz than he does Julian Assange:

Keller mentions Paul Wolfowitz in passing but fails to note his lengthy profile of the war architect in the Times magazine from Sept. 22, 2002. Sample quote: Paul Wolfowitz, who is interesting and complicated, has been cast since Sept. 11 in the role of zealot... . The shorthand version of Paul Wolfowitz, however, is inadequate in important ways. It completely misses his style, which relies on patient logic and respectful, soft-spoken engagement rather than on fire-breathing conviction. Keller described three important things Wolfowitz brings to the table, including something of a reputation as a man who sees trouble coming before others do, his long anxiety about Iraq being one example. Another striking thing about Wolfowitz: an optimism about America's ability to build a better world.

There's an old adjective that applies to Keller here, bootlicker. Kiss ass is a contemporary synonym.

INITIAL POST: The self-absorbed mendacity of the people at the New York Times who supported the invasion of Iraq after 9/11 is almost beyond belief, or, at least, it would have been beyond belief pre-9/11. Turn out that Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the Times from July 2003 until June 2011, was partially persuaded to advocate for the invasion of Iraq because of the birth of his second daughter:

But my prudent punditry soon felt inadequate. I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism. By the time of Alice’s birth I had already turned my attention to Iraq, a place that had, in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11, but which would be its most contentious consequence. And I was no longer preaching the real-world vigilance of intelligence and law enforcement.

So, let's get this straight, Keller decided to take a public advocacy role for the invasion of a country that presented no threat to the US so that he could feel more secure about the safety of his daughters. The US just had to go and kill a bunch of Arabs in Iraq, and destabilize the society, so that he could sleep less fitfully. Of course, the fact that many of the children of Iraq, 28% according to one medical estimate, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of the invasion and subsequent violence goes unmentioned in his rambling, evasive mea culpa.

For Keller, the lives of his daughters, and those of the children of other people like him, are personal, intimate and justify the embrace of irrational violence, while those of the people of Iraq are merely faceless numbers. In the end, Keller can only bring himself to characterize the invasion as a monumental blunder, while seeking mitigation for his role in of promoting it, because, after all . . Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call . . as he begrudgingly admits his error.

Needless to say, I am angered when I read such self-serving, expedient rationalizations for the embrace of violence in the service of the US empire. I have a four and a half year old son, and, unlike Keller, I have never emotionally responded to global violence, even when experienced within the US, with the urge to advocate for the indiscriminately killing of others. But then, unlike Keller, I don't perceive the people of Iraq, or the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia, for that matter, as quite so otherly as he does. He is, in effect, using his children as rhetorical human shields to defend his depraved response to 9/11. He is so desperate to defend himself that he has put this in print where it will haunt his two daughters, Alice and Molly, for the rest of their lives.

Shockingly, one cannot even describe Keller's response as a desire for retribution, because the people of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. This is a bloodlust beyond vigilantism, a perverse moral failure beyond that examined in a famous film on the subject, The Ox Bow Incident. Here again, Keller exposes his particularly manipulative form of dishonesty when he describes Iraq as a place that had, in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11. Having placed himself under the bright klieg lights of his own personal interrogation, he, like many garden variety fraud artists, can't fully admit their culpability. Like, yeah man, I might have co-signed that check when confronted with irrefutable proof of their signature. If Keller was subjected to a real interrogation by the police, the detectives would conclude that there was something hinky about him. Keller just can't come clean.

As you might expect, Keller attempts to recover the sympathy of his audience by complaining about how people frequently confront Times' reporters and condemn them as propagandists for the war on terror. Again, we are subjected to another one of those evasive, hinky mea culpas ineptly crafted to reestablish credibility while ensuring that no one is responsible:

For years, our early stories hyping Iraq’s menace (and to a lesser extent what people like me wrote on the opinion pages) fed a suspicion, especially on the left, that we were not to be trusted.

John F. Burns, a correspondent who chronicled the tyranny of Hussein while the man was still in power and stayed on to cover the invasion and aftermath, recalls the reflexive hostility he encountered as a Times reporter on trips home. We were all liars, warmongers, lapdogs of Bush and Cheney and so forth, he told me.

Whatever we wrote — no matter what it was, and no matter how well documented — was dismissed as Bush propaganda, added Dexter Filkins, who covered the battlefields and politics of Afghanistan and Iraq for The Times before moving last January to The New Yorker. That was probably going to happen anyway, but the paper’s real failings gave those criticisms more credibility — and longer legs — than they deserved. Remember that the right-wingers (and a lot of the military) hated us at the time, too, since the war had started to go badly from the get-go, and we were reporting that.

Poor Bill, John and Dexter, so maligned from all sides while trying to file honest reports and opinions. Predictably, one searches Keller's article in vain for any reference to Judith Miller and Michael Gordon. Nor does he mention that he held up the publication of an article revealing the scope of warrantless domestic wiretapping by the Bush administration for over a year after the 2004 election, and subsequently refused to respond to inquiries initiated by the Times' Public Editor at the time, Byron Calame, relying upon, as here, the issuance of a written public statement. Calame concluded that the explanation of the delay by those involved was woefully inadequate. All in all, Keller comes across as a careerist with little concern for the consequences of his actions with an exaggerated confidence in his ability to talk himself out of trouble when he can insulate himself from public accountability.

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