Let’s say you are New York Times reporters, and you want to rig an article to help push the U.S. even deeper into the terrible civil war in Syria. As mainstream journalists, you are prohibited from writing an editorial, or an Op-Ed piece.
No problem, as Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti have just shown. You can get away with writing a slanted opinion piece disguised as a news story, and the Times will put it on Page 1, as the lead article.
The giveaway that the article is hopelessly biased is right in the third paragraph. Landler and Mazzetti note that President Obama’s Syria policy is unchanging, a fact “that frustrates many analysts because they believe that a shift in policy will only come when Mr. Obama leaves office.”
Note the weasel words: “many analysts.” We will learn nowhere in this article that “other analysts” argue persuasively that Obama’s hesitation to add even more fuel to the flames in Syria is the right thing to do.
Next, the Times rigs the actual “analysts.” Their first specimen, Frederic C. Hof, is a retired U.S. army officer who has long promoted American escalation in Syria. They then turn to Andrew J. Tabler, who just recently co-authored a Times Op-ed piece (with Dennis Ross, the pro-Israel former State Department official) that was titled “The Case for (Finally) Bombing Assad.”
Landler and Mazzetti could not find a single expert with an opposing point of view, even though someone like Marc Lynch, the distinguished professor at George Washington University, should not be hard to track down.
The biased Times duo do note in passing that Secretary of State Kerry has been in talks with the Russian foreign minister, trying to reach a cease-fire in Syria, but they barely hide their lack of respect for his efforts to reduce the awful violence.
The Times article did not even take President Obama seriously enough to let him give his side of the story. Landler was actually traveling with Obama in China, but even if he couldn’t get a question in on the presidential plane he might at least have quoted the president’s valuable insight earlier this year in The Atlantic:
There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.
The otherwise slanted and useless Times article does have one valuable and alarming piece of information. Landler and Mazzetti ignore our actual president, but they do report what Hillary Clinton said about Syria at a private fund-raiser with millionaires “in the Hamptons.”
. . . Mrs. Clinton delivered, unprompted, a lengthy policy prescription for what to do in Syria, including a gentle critique of the Obama administration for not pursuing her original proposal of a no-fly zone. . .
If Mrs. Clinton ever holds a press conference, someone from the Times might ask her why, when the U.S. is already mired in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, she wants to escalate in Syria.