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Outsource Thomas Friedman’s column to India

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At one point, Thomas Friedman pauses briefly but significantly in The World is Flat, his gushing endorsement for how technology is moving all kinds of American jobs to places like India. He chuckles, a little nervously. “Thank goodness I’m a journalist and not an accountant or a radiologist,” he writes. “There will be no outsourcing for me. . .”

But why not?
* Friedman has failed abysmally as a foreign affairs commentator.
* Accomplished columnists in India who are writing eloquently in English right now could replace him by tomorrow morning.

The New York Times is presumably paying Friedman for his knowledge and experience, but he has been wrong too often and for too long. He is supposedly an expert on the Middle East, but his analysis of the American invasion of Iraq and the calamitous, violent decade since then has been chronically misleading and worthless. Before the 2003 U.S. attack, while the genuine experts counseled diplomacy and caution, he told Americans: “My motto is very simple: give war a chance.” A few months after the invasion, he said that it “was unquestionably worth doing.” Some of his most offensive comments have been immortalized on Youtube, during an outburst in which he used a crude sexual metaphor that insulted people in the Middle East as part of an embarrassing rant that ended: “We hit Iraq because we could. And that’s the real truth.”

Let us set aside the immorality of cheerleading for a war in which nearly 4500 Americans and at least 160,000 (and possibly more) Iraqis have already died. Friedman failed to do his job – which was to accurately explain a far-off, foreign reality to his readers so that they could make informed choices. Among those he let down were: the U.S. voting public; business executives who may have been considering whether to invest in the Mideast; and, quite possibly even young people deciding if they should join the American army.

Friedman is fond of emphasizing that globalization is producing a competitive new world, which has no tolerance for inefficiency. If he worked for one of the big corporations that he likes to glorify, his blunders would have gotten him fired before the Iraq war had dragged into even its second year.

Fortunately, The New York Times would not suffer by losing him. There are newspaper columnists in India who could step right in immediately.

Palagummi Sainath, based in Mumbai, is the rural affairs correspondent for the English-language The Hindu. Sainath, who is one of India’s best known and respected reporters, is an elegant man in his late 50s, with a shock of gray hair. He has spent decades traveling through rural India, giving voice to the poor majority who have been left behind by the economic boom (which Friedman celebrates at every opportunity). Sainath spent part of 2012 in the United States, where he also wrote original columns about America. (His work is readily available on The Hindu’s website.) In today’s flat world, all he needs is his computer terminal, and his columns could be in the hands of his New York Times editors in nanoseconds.

Praful Bidwai, of New Delhi. Bidwai is a bearded bear of a man in his 60s, a tenacious, independent thinker. He spent years at the Times of India, but at present he freelances; thanks to the miracle of globalization, some of his work is instantly accessible at He writes about a broad range of subjects, including his regular indictments of India for developing nuclear weapons. By criticizing New Delhi’s atomic arsenal, he has shown the courage that a great newspaper columnist must have by speaking out about a subject on which the majority of India probably disagrees with him.

Arundhati Roy, of New Delhi. Americans who only know Roy through her remarkable novel The God of Small Things will be delighted to learn that she uses her mastery of the English language in outspoken essays on world politics, human rights, and war and peace. Some of her most effective articles denounced the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in the state of Gujarat, during which the state’s chief elected official stood by in complicit silence as mobs of Hindu extremists murdered 2000 people. (That official, Narendra Modi, is a strong candidate for India’s prime minister in this spring’s’s elections. Friedman’s 635-page-long The World is Flat is full of rejoicing about India’s high-tech industry, but he does not mention Modi and the mass killings once.)

This list of potential replacements for Friedman is only a beginning. Harsh Mander concentrates on hunger in India, which persists despite the much trumpeted economic miracle. Shubhranshu Choudhary spent seven years courageously reporting on the Maoist insurgency in east-central India, an uprising triggered partly by mining companies stealing land from the rural poor.

By replacing Friedman with one of these highly-qualified Indian candidates, The New York Times would not only improve its accuracy. The newspaper could also save money, which Friedman would agree is surely part of its responsibility to its shareholders. Back in 2005, he may have unwittingly composed his own pink slip.

“When the world is flat,” he wrote, “your company both can and must take advantage of the best producers at the lowest prices anywhere they can be found.”

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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37 Responses

  1. bilal a on February 11, 2014, 10:41 am

    Perhaps India could trade its aircraft carrier and nukes for investments in sanitation

    India Confronts the Politics of the Toilet

    As currently designed, India’s sewer system is actually a pathogen-dispersal system. It takes a small quantity of contaminated material and uses it to make vast quantities of water unfit for human use. With this system, Narain says, both “our rivers and our children are dying.”

  2. Henry Norr on February 11, 2014, 10:48 am

    Heck, why bother paying Indians? The Times could save even more money for the shareholders, and bolster their high-tech creed at the same time, by just using the automatic “Thomas Friedman Op/Ed Generator” – one click and you’ve got a column.

  3. annie on February 11, 2014, 11:01 am

    excellent article james. but i must say i found this statement stunning:

    at least 160,000 (and possibly more) Iraqis have already died

    possibly? where did you get this figure? i wonder if any iraqi would agree with it. your point still stands of course. it was just very difficult reading that.

    • ckg on February 11, 2014, 12:38 pm

      Guardian: “Iraq Body Count compiles the world’s most comprehensive set of casualty figures for deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003.”
      ( )

      IBC count of Iraqi violent deaths through 2013 is 179,240.

      • puppies on February 11, 2014, 1:10 pm

        @ckg – In accordance with the Nuremberg principles, any damages consequent to an aggression are the aggressor’s responsibility. This includes everything, including the sectarian clashes, common criminality due to poverty, epidemics due to contaminated water, what will you, it’s the whole crockery shop.
        The only scientifically valid estimates remain that by the Johns Hopkins epidemiologic team and some follow-up to it; the scientifically valid reservations would only revise the numbers up. So we are definitely way higher than that. IBC only tallies published reports of combat-associated death.

      • ckg on February 11, 2014, 5:00 pm

        @puppies @Donald — I agree with you both. The actual figure is probably over 500,000.

      • annie on February 12, 2014, 12:54 am

        from their about page:

        IBC’s figures are not ‘estimates’ but a record of actual, documented deaths.
        IBC records solely violent deaths.
        IBC records solely civilian (strictly, ‘non-combatant’) deaths.
        IBC’s figures are constantly updated and revised as new data comes in, and frequent consultation is advised.

        iow, combatants (men between 15 and 60) are not included.

      • Daniel Rich on February 12, 2014, 3:09 am

        Q: IBC count of Iraqi violent deaths through 2013 is 179,240.

        R: That’s 1493 p/m [or 49 p/d].

    • Donald on February 11, 2014, 1:02 pm

      There is no generally accepted figure for the Iraq War dead, so sometimes people use the Iraq Body Count figure as a minimum. Wikipedia has a decent article on the various estimates. The most recent study found about 500,000 excess deaths through 2011, with about 60 percent from violence–

      Casualties of the Iraq War link

      One of the authors of that latest study also worked on the 2006 Johns Hopkins study that is commonly cited (and found about 600,000 deaths through early 2006). The later study found a smaller number but still much higher than Iraq Body Count.

    • Citizen on February 11, 2014, 10:15 pm

      I recently read the US also has 50,000 severely maimed or messed-up-in-the-head veterans from the war in the ME. That’s not chump change either. I can’t even imagine how many Iraqis have been similarly disposed off. Not dead, just miserable and without much help or effective sympathy or empathy.

      • Nevada Ned on February 12, 2014, 9:53 am

        The number of US veterans who have psychological problems as a result of the war(s) could be in the hundreds of thousands.

        After every war, Americans find out that soldiers end up with psychological problems. The only thing that changes is the name of the medical condition:
        After the Civil War, it was “soldier’s heart”.
        After the First Word War, it was “shell shock”.
        After the Second World War, it was “battle fatigue”.
        After the Vietnam War, it was “Post Traumatic Stress Condition”.
        After the First Persian Gulf War, it was “Persian Gulf War Syndrome”.

        Veterans and their advocates are often infuriated by the diagnosis of “stress”, as if a psychological problem is somehow not a real problem, like a crippled limb.

        Psychological problems are very real problems.

  4. seafoid on February 11, 2014, 11:41 am

    Outsource it to a pakistani with an indepth understanding of Urdu poetry. Educate NYT readers .

    • piotr on February 11, 2014, 12:35 pm

      I do not know how it helps commenting on international affairs, but Urdu poetry is appreciated in India too, and not just among Indian Muslim.

      • gamal on February 11, 2014, 11:57 pm

        I Have Learned So Much

        So much from God
        That I can no longer

        A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
        a Buddhist, a Jew.

        The Truth has shared so much of Itself
        With me

        That I can no longer call myself
        A man, a woman, an angel,
        Or even a pure

        Love has
        Befriended Hafiz so completely
        It has turned to ash
        And freed

        Of every concept and image
        my mind has ever known.


        originally Persian perhaps, but well known in the 15th century Urdu translation by Khwaja Shirazi, still topical despite its age.

      • seafoid on February 12, 2014, 2:29 am

        The IDF could do with a jewish Hafez.

  5. pabelmont on February 11, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Of course, the NYT could make a statement holding on to TF and arguing that, actually, the USA should stop outsourcing ANY jobs and thereby bring us back towards full employment (you know what I mean — everybody who wants to work has a job) (certainly not “full employment”) (you gotta be sensitive to all the invisible quote marks, meaning special and unacceptable definitions).

    Imagine if USA retrieved 90% of the annual budget now spent for “defense” and “intelligence” and add in TF’s salary — and spent it building and installing green energy projects wherever there’s wind or sun or tides and building electric transmission lines (rather than oil-pipelines and fracking stuff). We’d be a long way towards addressing climate change and some distance away from the useless and hideous military imperialism that we’ve (that is, the USA’s oligarchy’s) been paying for and sponsoring.

    • Citizen on February 11, 2014, 10:22 pm

      @ pabelmont

      I read recently that the US military spending is nearly the same as that of medicare & medicaid combined. We outspend the next ten biggest spenders combined on our military, and all but two (China & Russia) are staunch US allies. It makes no sense, especially given the dire needs of so many Americans. When Britain ruled the waves it’s formula to continue to keep doing so was to spend more on the Brit Navy than its main two competitors. Quite a difference in formula, eh?

  6. American on February 11, 2014, 12:20 pm

    ‘The New York Times is presumably paying Friedman for his knowledge and experience, but he has been wrong too often and for too long. He is supposedly an expert on the Middle East, but his analysis of the American invasion of Iraq and the calamitous, violent decade since then has been chronically misleading and worthless.”

    I quit any and all reading of Friedman except what appears here long ago.
    And that was when he wrote a glowing column about how wonderful it was that in his flat world even Israel and Egypt were economic partners and Egyptians were ‘celebrating’ this new economic alliance in the streets.

    While every single major newspaper outside of the US was describing the Egyptians in the streets celebrating as riots over the US forcing Egypt to include a certain amount of Isr produced goods in their exports or lose parts of their free trade zone and this replacement of Isr goods for what had been Egyptian produced goods naturally caused lose of some Egyptians jobs in the cotton export industry.

    Deliberate liar or ignorant imbecile? You decide.

  7. puppies on February 11, 2014, 12:51 pm

    The few the proposed Indian journalists that I know about would very probably refuse to submit to the NYT ideologic bias. The NYT, a crawling beastie of Zionist and US Government propaganda, is far from the decent level of journalism demonstrated by the Hindoo not to mention the blinding honesty of an Arundhati Roy.
    No doubt Friedman’s job can be outsourced, but it must go to slaves.
    Given that the Thomas Friedman op/ed generator linked to by Henry Norr is doing a splendid job for a fraction of the price, they should hire the Generator and avoid further debasing human beings.

  8. Henry Norr on February 11, 2014, 1:15 pm

    By the way, people not familiar with Matt Taibbi’s commentaries on Friedman should definitely check them out. The first (2005) and greatest one – which Salon once said “remains the all-time Supreme Gold Standard for eviscerating not only Tom Friedman, but anyone” – seems not to be available anymore at its original site, NYPress, but you can find it at at

    Another classic one from 2009 remains on the NYPress site:
    though unfortunately none of my browsers will display that page’s copy of the fantastic graphs in the original piece.

    Critiques of Friedman are by now a whole literary genre. “The Definitive Collection of Thomas Friedman Takedowns” is at . Another guide is at

    • Kathleen on February 11, 2014, 9:57 pm

      “Some critics have derided Friedman’s idiosyncratic prose style, with its tendency to use mixed metaphors and analogies. Walter Russell Mead described his prose as being “an occasionally flat Midwestern demotic punctuated by gee-whiz exclamations about just how doggone irresistible globalization is – lacks the steely elegance of a Lippmann, the unobtrusive serviceability of a Scotty Reston or the restless fireworks of a Maureen Dowd and is best taken in small doses.”[27] Similarly, journalist Matt Taibbi has said of Friedman’s writing that, “Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying – and when you tried to actually picture the ‘illustrative’ figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.”[28]

      In a column for the New York Press, Alexander Cockburn wrote that “Friedman exhibits on a weekly basis one of the severest cases known to science of Lippmann’s condition,–named for the legendary journalistic hot-air salesman, Walter Lippmann, and alluding to the inherent tendency of all pundits to swell in self-importance to zeppelin-like dimensions.” Cockburn goes on to demonstrate how Friedman’s hubris allowed him to pass off another war correspondent’s experience in Beirut as his own.[29]”

      • just on February 11, 2014, 10:26 pm

        How I miss Mr. Cockburn, RIP.

        Thanks for reminding me why/how I learned to despise the duplicitous tones and caca from Friedman in the first place, Kathleen.

        Thank goodness for Taibbi, Lee, Greenwald, Blumenthal, Cobban, MW, and more.

  9. Kathleen on February 11, 2014, 1:47 pm

    ” He is supposedly an expert on the Middle East, but his analysis of the American invasion of Iraq and the calamitous, violent decade since then has been chronically misleading and worthless. Before the 2003 U.S. attack, while the genuine experts counseled diplomacy and caution, he told Americans: “My motto is very simple: give war a chance.” A few months after the invasion, he said that it “was unquestionably worth doing.” Some of his most offensive comments have been immortalized on Youtube, during an outburst in which he used a crude sexual metaphor that insulted people in the Middle East as part of an embarrassing rant that ended: “We hit Iraq because we could. And that’s the real truth.”

    Friedmann is a racist and elitist “and that’s the real truth”

  10. xanadou on February 11, 2014, 3:02 pm

    Awesome, well written and on point!

    I do have one quibble re the Iraq war: the unconscionably fatal use of DU:
    The number of children born with horrifically cruel disfigurements is rising daily, and will continue for a very long time to come:

    The half-life of uranium used in DU weapons is 4.5 billion years, i.e., longer than the lifespan predicted for our planet:
    To Iraqi (and Afghani) women, becoming pregnant has become a nightmare of unfathomable proportions.

    Friedman is not a journalist, but an undeclared corporate PR hack with no expertise in anything. This person is a particularly nasty, and growing, stain on NYT’s reputation. My vote is to replace him with Ms. Arundhati Roy. Tout de suite, please.

  11. seafoid on February 11, 2014, 3:04 pm

    Friedman is a typical elite oped walla. Sounds convincing but his articles have very little content, no nutrition. Will never address the nature of the system. Great believer in tech, which elites love since distracts from systemic issues. Malcolm Gladwell is similar.

  12. giladg on February 11, 2014, 3:12 pm

    Friedman is loved by the Left in Israel, ridiculed and despised by the Right.
    Believe me, Friedman is not going anywhere. The NYT is going down the toilet and Friedman is going to be there until the final flush. The sad thing is that the world needs a paper, with the perceived standing of the NYT, to be neutral in its reporting and the NYT could still fit the bill. It will need to cut its ties to the Democratic Party before this could happen. We are longing for an unbiased source of reliable information. This is its only hope. Getting it right 50% of the time is not good enough. And these are the stats for Friedman. I would love to see him put out to pasture. And whilst they are at it, they should take his Pulitzer back.

  13. seafoid on February 11, 2014, 3:28 pm

    Friedman did not fail as a middle east commentator. His job was to sell the war in Iraq. He excelled. The NYT is never going to report honestly on the region. America needs the oil and that is it.

    • Citizen on February 11, 2014, 10:41 pm

      @ seafoid
      So realistically, we really only need to cater to Saudi Arabia & those few little oil kingdoms to maintain distribution of oil (which we really don’t need ourselves)? Everybody else over there we should keep at full arm’s length and stay out of their lives?

      • seafoid on February 12, 2014, 2:18 am

        I think the US has a responsibility to help unfuck the region but that could only happen in a post Zionist post Saudi situation. Israel is famine and Saudi is cholera.

  14. pabelmont on February 11, 2014, 3:39 pm

    I believe that during the British Empire, the top-dog Englishmen believed it was good and correct, and that all the enforcement actions, wars, killing, torture, imprisonment, whatever, was also correct because it was — well, you know — necessary to preserve, protect, and expand the Empire. Well, maybe someone believed that drivel about the white-mans-burden, but it was the off-white-men who carried the burden. Ask Gandhi.

    Well, nowadays, in USA, the top-dogs still believe all that but they cannot say it out loud lest the low-dogs (like me) hear it. Therefore they defend the horrible actions without making any sense, because the necessary premises to their propositions cannot be said out loud.

    And so we hear that Israel is America’s greatest ally even though it never helped us in any war effort. and now we (and the others of the 5-anglo-countries who do the NSA-thang) share all our secrets with, yes!, Israel.

    So Israel knows all your cell-phone and credit-card and email stuff, just as Uncle Sam (and the Aussies and Brits and Canadians and NZers do). I hope this fact makes you rest more comfortably at night! I know that I do! Fer sure.

    And so TF MUST sound ridiculous because he cannot state his premises and wishes to sound logical. (He is not alone, but he talks nonsense for NYT — somebody’s got to! the NYT is part of Empire and is trapped in all the nonsense just as if it did Americans (or somebody) some good.

    • Citizen on February 11, 2014, 10:45 pm

      “Therefore they defend the horrible actions without making any sense, because the necessary premises to their propositions cannot be said out loud.”

      Sounds like a decent explanation of Zionist speech and talking points too.

  15. Talkback on February 11, 2014, 4:26 pm

    My motto is very simple: give war a chance.

    Says Mr. Kriegman with a heavy German accent.

  16. xanadou on February 11, 2014, 4:26 pm

    “And so we hear that Israel is America’s greatest ally even though it never helped us in any war effort.”

    Actually, they have. There was at least one unit incorporated into the US army Iraqi contingent. For a short while, there were pictures of them serving in Abu Ghraib prison as part of the torture team.

    In view of israeli army’s daily brutality visited on the Palestinians, including murder of bound and blindfolded prisoners captured on a whim, I would rather these genocidal psychopaths not be associated with the US army. The latter’s own inhumanity is something this country will have to contend with for a verrry long time to come.

    While the US soldiers bragged about their bestiality, Israeli officials worked hard to deny any involvement. However, the massive presence of US troops in Israel, exercising in conjunction with israeli units is, in itself, an indication that there is far-ranging military co-operation, especially following the israeli army’s (thankfully) inept performance in Lebanon.

    Vis a vis their government’s obsession with “recreating” greater israel (that never was), from the Euphrates to the Nile, an army with hands-on experience would be of critical importance. Bombing, strafing and shooting unarmed civilians in their beds, from behind children-as-human-shields, in the middle of night, does NOT count as relevant warmongering experience. (bitter sarcasm fully intended)

    It also explains why a growing number of Israelis do not wish to be associated with the “noble experiment” gone very bad, and who elect to repeat the voluntary exodus of Jews around the 1st century CE.
    Shlomo Sands has an interesting take on this that expands on the topic:

  17. irmep on February 11, 2014, 5:29 pm

    Back in the day when the Jewish Agency was funneling overseas payola to AIPAC founder Isaiah Kenen and the New York Times, in the latter case presumably it was to pump out propaganda to sell Israel to Americans.

    However Friedman is paid, the content of much of his writing indicates that’s his job as well. How the heck would any of those proposed replacements possibly tell Americans that the nuclear triggers Arnon Milchan smuggled from California to Israel were “cholent heaters”. They couldn’t possibly, hence, no outsourcing.

  18. RoHa on February 11, 2014, 11:45 pm

    When I lived in Saudi Arabia, one of our few pleasures was reading the film reviews in The Times of India. Alas, I forget the reviewer’s name, but I admired his splendid talent for sarcasm and ridicule, expressed in crisp, correct, English. Unlike the pseuds and posers of the British newspapers, he did not lard his writing with superfluous, poncy, French phrases. Nor did he employ his talent for sarcasm on those few films not deserving of it.

    As far as I’m concerned, he can take over from any NYT or [insert name of newspaper ] writer any day.

  19. Bandolero on February 12, 2014, 12:02 pm

    Fine article. If one day I’ld see the foreign policy columns of Melkulangara Bhadrakumar printed regularly in the New York Times instead of Mr. Friedman’s, I might consider the New Nork Times as a newspaper and not as an outlet of grotesque propaganda anymore.

    Currently Mr Bhadrakumar’s foreign policy columns can be read at the website Strategic Cultures.

    I recommend them, and while I do not agree with all the things he writes, I find them usually a lot more informative than anything written in most western newspapers.

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