Today The New York Times published a piece by Max Fisher that addresses the question many have raised about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance– “How One Journalist’s Death Provoked a Backlash That Thousands Dead in Yemen Did Not.” It is fascinating. It is like Christmas came early for anyone interested in New York Times propaganda.
Here are some of Fisher’s points:
It’s not that we can’t care about a million deaths, psychologists believe. Rather, we fear being overwhelmed and switch off our own emotions in pre-emptive self-defense.
For years, Saudi leaders may have unknowingly benefited from this effect.
How is any individual American, even one in government, to process thousands of cholera cases provoked by Saudi-led measures in Yemen — particularly when the United States assisted those measures?…
Understanding those events on an intellectual level is difficult enough. But understanding them on an emotional level may simply be beyond us.
The murder of Mr. Khashoggi is different. It is relatable, particularly to the men and women running American foreign policy…
[W]hile few considered the war in Yemen to be laudable, some, particularly those hawkish on Iran, considered it at least understandable.
As a result, debate on the alliance tended to polarize.
But there is less to debate about the murder of a journalist….
The United States and Saudi Arabia had been brought together by a series of common enemies: Iran and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Iraq in the 1990s, jihadist groups in the 2000s. An entire generation of Middle East specialists came up knowing and working with Saudi colleagues.
So the New York Times is making it all about the inability of well-intentioned Westerners including themselves to wrap their heads around large numbers of dead children. Except they had no difficulty doing this with Syria when Assad and Putin were bombing Syrian cities.
People lied about Yemen because they didn’t want to admit the US and its allies do the same things that Russia and its allies do. US officials like John Kirby lied because otherwise they would be admitting US guilt in war crimes.
The most interesting question is why the New York Times felt it necessary to publish this piece at all. After all, it is mostly fringe people who are talking about this.
There are various possible answers and I suspect they are all true.
First, outsiders actually manage to exert enough pressure to have influence. Maybe the Onion really did embarrass the Times with its story about the press applauding Trump’s new “tough stance” on Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi:
“[W]e appeal to the leaders of Saudi Arabia to restrict their extrajudicial murders to Yemeni people who don’t have any public platform,” said President Trump, adding that the White House would not sit idly by as the Saudis caused the deaths of innocent people unless they were Yemeni children in a school bus or a group of Yemeni people attending a wedding.
Second, the Times might actually feel guilt. There is probably dissension in the ranks. Among columnists, Nicholas Kristof tries to be morally consistent (he doesn’t always fully succeed with Gaza, but tries more than most), Thomas Friedman is a cringe-making joke and Stephens is a cold blooded hypocrite. The New York Times leadership probably feels especially stupid, pulling out of a conference in Saudia Arabia over Khashoggi when it was fine to go despite Yemen.
Third, and more importantly, the New York Times always plays this role, trying to portray the Western elite as fundamentally civilized, but with endearing human foibles that occasionally lead them astray. Like not knowing what to make of the fact they were complicit in genocide. It is the job of the New York Times to do this. There are some “scandals” that fit within their parameters — did a particular politician break the law by colluding with Russia to win an election? But some are too big: Is it normal for Westerners to collude in crimes against humanity? And this horse manure will work with people who want to believe it. In particular, many of their readers will swallow it whole.