Hawks at the Washington Post | The Nation


Hawks at the Washington Post

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Of course, there are plenty of pacifists, anti-imperialists and peace activists who would love the chance to make a case against the war on the Post's Op-Ed page, but the paper--wary, no doubt, of getting an anti-American broadside--hasn't asked them. It has also excluded a thoughtful school of critics who have favored some past US interventions. A number of them attached their names to a full-page ad (sponsored by Common Cause) that ran in the New York Times in early October. They include Mark Danner, Ronald Dworkin, Morton Halperin, Tony Judt, Aryeh Neier and Orville Schell. While fully acknowledging the repugnance of Saddam Hussein's regime, they raised a series of questions about the imminence of the threat he poses, the possible destabilizing effects of a war in the region, and the prudence of Congress's granting the President such broad powers. Wouldn't it be interesting to hear from this group? One might add such clear-eyed thinkers about international affairs as Timothy Garton Ash, Michael Ignatieff, Walter Russell Mead and Samantha Power. I don't know where they stand on Iraq, but I'm sure they'd be a lot livelier than Alexander Haig or Bob Dole. Yet the Post seems to have shut them out.

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Michael Massing
Michael Massing, a New York writer, is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and Columbia Journalism...

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Also striking is how few non-American voices appear in the paper. At a time when questions about US unilateralism are rampant, the number of Europeans and Arabs who've contributed Op-Eds on Iraq over the past month could fit into a taxicab. Women's voices are equally scarce. Aside from the periodic comments of Mary McGrory and Ellen Goodman, one can go days hearing from nothing but middle-aged white men. All in all, the Post's opinion pages represent a narrow slice of the US political establishment.

For comment on this, I contacted Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor. He's held that job since 1999, when he replaced the late Meg Greenfield. During her two-decade reign, the Post's opinion pages gained a reputation for being liberal on domestic issues and conservative on foreign ones. It was under Greenfield that the Op-Ed page became clogged with the likes of Krauthammer and Kelly. Hiatt, who had reported for the Post from Moscow, Tokyo and the Pentagon, was expected to be a moderating force. And, to some degree, he has been. He has brought in Kinsley to write a weekly column and has added Marjorie Williams, another liberal. (She has been out sick, however.) And McGrory, who had been exiled to the Sunday "Outlook" section, has returned to the Op-Ed page (though this was more her doing than Hiatt's).

Interestingly, Hiatt's own columns--he contributes every other week--are often critical of US foreign policy. On September 9, for instance, he called attention to the Administration's abandonment of Afghanistan--a development that, he said, cast doubt on its ability to build a stable, democratic government in a post-Saddam Iraq. The tone seemed very different from the Post's strenuously pro-invasion editorials. When we spoke, though, Hiatt stood steadfastly behind those editorials. For at least the past five years, he said, the Post has been consistent on Iraq, arguing that "it's a danger for the world if a man like Saddam Hussein can be ordered by the Security Council to give up his weapons, then not do so and have no consequences." Hiatt also rejected any suggestion of bias on the Op-Ed page. While noting that some of the conservative columnists are "very talented polemicists," he said that he goes out of his way "to find folks who can present other arguments." When, for instance, Will and Krauthammer attacked the three Democratic Congressmen who went to Iraq, he said, "We ran a piece by one of them [Mike Thompson] explaining why he'd gone." When I asked about the lack of voices from Europe and elsewhere, Hiatt noted that in August, when the question of German-US relations was in the news, he asked both Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to comment. (They declined.) And when the charges of anti-Semitism in France came to the fore, he said, "We got the French ambassador to write."

But is the French ambassador the person one really wants to read on anti-Semitism in France? And how likely is Schröder or Fischer to have something fresh to say about events in Germany? Government officials like them have many outlets for communicating their views. Wouldn't it be more interesting to hear from an astute German writer or French intellectual? Occasionally, of course, an official will have something newsworthy to say, as when Brent Scowcroft, writing in the Wall Street Journal in August, expressed strong reservations about Bush's Iraq policy. Most of the time, however, the comments from the Shultzes and Bergers and Holbrookes are utterly predictable.

Of course, readers can get other viewpoints elsewhere. The New York Times, for instance, has been as dovish on the war as the Post has been hawkish. Its editorials have consistently questioned Bush's actions, and Nicholas Kristof's dispatches from Baghdad have been so critical of US policy that some readers sent him e-mails urging him to stay there. Yet the Times has run a number of sharp pieces in support of military action, and it is much less willing to let officials drone on. What's more, the Post, as the primary news outlet in the nation's capital, has a special responsibility to offer a full range of voices. In failing to fulfill it, the paper has been guilty of being unfair and--even worse--dull.

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