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Appetite for Self-Destruction

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Arts and Culture

Naked in the Halls of Empire

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Posted on Feb 23, 2012
Verso Books

A plucky new author has arrived on the scene to take down one of establishment journalism’s most revered figures. Robert Jensen speaks with Belen Fernandez about her new exposé on NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, “The Imperial Messenger,” published by Verso Books.

Why “plucky”? Because Fernandez does not succumb to pressure to dress her critique in language suitable to the powerful—a must for most beginning writers nowadays looking to land a secure, decent-paying job. She writes as she sees it, particularly in refusing to treat Friedman’s warmongering views simply as sincerely held beliefs, or in other words, as merely ideological:

BF: I don’t think it’s possible to reduce this to a clash between political views. As I point out in the book, it is not up to Friedman to decide that the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting collective punishment and targeting of civilians in wartime is illogical. Given his influential position in foreign policy circles, I don’t classify his promotion of the notion that some human beings are inherently inferior and more expendable than others, and that corporate profit supersedes human life in importance, as merely politically misguided. I classify it as criminal, and I consider him to be personally responsible and not just a product of the system in which he flourishes.

—ARK

Robert Jensen at Truthout:

How does a journalist with a track record of bad predictions and a penchant for superficial analysis - a person paid to reflect about the world yet who seems to lack the capacity for critical self-reflection - end up being treated as an oracle?

The answer is simple: Friedman tells the privileged, and those who aspire to privilege, what they want to hear in a way that makes them feel smart; his trumpeting of US affluence and power are sprinkled with pithy-though-empty anecdotes, padded with glib turns of phrases. He’s the perfect oracle for a management-focused, advertising-saturated, dumbed-down, imperial culture that doesn’t want to come to terms with the systemic and structural reasons for its decline. In Friedman’s world, we’re always one clichéd big idea away from the grand plan that will allow us to continue to pretend to be the shining city upon the hill that we have always imagined we were/are/will be again.

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By rend it, February 24, 2012 at 8:11 pm Link to this comment

Im so glad this book has been written, I sat through a graduation colloquies at RPI in 2006 or and TF was without a doubt the most egotistical sack of manure I have ever witnessed in person. He had such and air of self importance and invincibility about him, drunk on the belief that anything he said would never be challenged by a structure powerful enough to bring him down, it was sickening.

Im buying this book and hope it becomes a best seller.

guy is such a smug fuckwad.

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By John Poole, February 24, 2012 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Something awful happens to a person when they live as royalty (his home and
assets). Assholes live in 11K square foot homes.

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By balkas, February 24, 2012 at 4:43 pm Link to this comment

jesus knew and friedman knows good politics when they see one. and it is mostly
politics jesus engaged in and friedman engages in now.
basically, one covers all the bases. or one speaks from all four corners out of one’s
mouth.
so, when you confront such politicians with, But you said this and that; and s/he’d
answer, Yes, but that it is taken our of context or s/he’d say, But i also said this and
that. so it goes with all rigid dogmatists or ideologists, such as mohammed, issaiah,
jesus, stalin, pope, bishop, obama, mufti, priest, et al.
my ideology is about casting the widest and longest look possible at all that happen to
us and not the narrowest one as jesus, mohammed did and nearly all politicians, clerics,
MSM columnists, ‘educators’ et al do
the wider the look the wiser, more just/peaceful/content one is.
that’s the ideology i practise.

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By Tobysgirl, February 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment

I have a lot of respect for you, gerard, but there are so many smart, compassionate people in the world writing and speaking that I cannot waste any time listening to a drooling idiot such as Friedman. As my husband says, “Even the fascists get it right once in a while.”

What fascinates me is that our so-called educated class listens to someone who is cretinous and take him seriously! The guy is so obviously not gifted in any way, yet there he is, pontificating on the world situation. Tell the elite whatever shit they want to hear and live the so-called good life.

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By diamond, February 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

Just remember that no two countries that have a McDonald’s will ever go to war with each other. And this man has several Pulitzer Prizes? Why? How? Who was bought off to bring that about? He has not one shred of credibility left: like Bush, like Cheney, like Blair he bet it all on Iraq - and like them, he lost.

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By Big B, February 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment

The best part about Freidman is that he is often presented in the media as a liberal pundit. What utter bullshit.

Not one more

thanks for the Debs quote. oh lord, how we need another Eugene Debs right about now.

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By Blueokie, February 24, 2012 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

One thing about the 9/9/08 interview is that it was while the duopoly was selling a neo-con, corporatist, supply sider who was anti-worker, and anti-environment, and touting him as an agent of “change and hope”.  In that regard it was in complete character for Friedman and Rose. 

About the same time as the interview I read my last of the hacks columns when he was complaining about a 5-10 minute stretch of no cel service as he rode from the D.C. airport to his northern Virginia mansion in a limo.  He treated that personal inconvenience as a national disgrace.  As if there weren’t any others.

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By gerard, February 24, 2012 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

I’ll defer to my critics on this one and return to my former opinion of both Friedman and of Rose, which opinions were based as much on “gut reactions” as on “facts” about both of them.  (My gut reactions are usually close to accurate.)  It’s evident in the interview I cited that he tells me many things I want to hear about the future (minus the American “superiority” bit). But there still is something vaguely hanging about the atmosphere of the interview that is smug and deferential to American (war) business as usual.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, February 24, 2012 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

Hey there, gerard,

Well, I’ve gone off on Friedman (hopefully not “half-cocked”) several times at TruthDig. Here’s one:
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/on_to_the_next_bubble_fantasy_20111222/#447612

Regarding your point, well, it is precisely the point.  Friedman does frequently make
good points.  He just turns around and makes equally absurd opposing points. He does
what disinformation specialists do across the globe:  He makes statements to win over
people who would not agree with him otherwise and then leads them down the merry path
of war, war, war and neoliberalism to support more war. 

That said, I must confess I read Friedman editorials for years, saw him speak on talk shows,
and agreed with him.  It’s just after imbibing him for a while that you get the hangover
(in my case it was after reading a book called What Liberal Media?)

His biggest contradiction is this:  He’s pro-environment and pro-war.  Those two are
mutually exclusive.  Stopping the destruction of the ecosystem requires stopping the
perpetual war machine, the perpetual war economy.  War, by definition, destroys
people and their environment. 

Friedman, klunky writer that he is, is no dummy.  He must know he is making
contradictory arguments from day to day and rationalizing them with the flimsiest of
sophistry. The question then comes back to why

Why is he pretending to be progressive while actually being a right-wing war hawk? 
The answer is: He is a disinformation specialist attempting to persuade progressives
that it’s okay to support neoliberalism and perpetual war.

If you haven’t read the entire article and interview with Belen Fernandez, I would
urge you to do so.  She makes her points quite well.

All that said, I must say I frequently enjoy your posts, Gerard, and I hope you understand
that my disagreement here is respectful.

All the best.

D.R. Zing

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By balkas, February 24, 2012 at 3:56 am Link to this comment

gerard,
i read your post after i posted my post. but, no thanks, i am not gonna read or
hear what friedman has to say.
i’d read what friedman wrote in his latest book only if he’d read what i or we say.
then we’d go on and further discuss our divergent ideologies but only if we get
equal time and exposure in MSM.
does one think MSM would ever allow that much free speech???

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By balkas, February 24, 2012 at 3:45 am Link to this comment

yes, of course, friedman is ideating, thinking just as i am now. i posit an ideology and he
another.
his ideology would be read by most members of the ONE PERCENT; other members of the one
percent would hear about friedman’s ideology from other members of the one percent.
ours/mine would be read by the 00000000001%.
but even ALL school children will keep on hearing US—oops, friedman’s ideology.
it is this ideology friedman is reiterating.
and the one percent, along with their self- and the onepercent-serving army echelons,
judiciary, fbi/cia agents; most policepeople, ‘educators’, never tire of hearing.
and, it seems to me, that even today friedman’s ideology is accepted by at least 95% of
americans. this percentage might even be higher!
this is an extremity and horrors and terrors that at least 50% of world pop must face everyday.

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By Not One More!, February 23, 2012 at 10:38 pm Link to this comment

Lies work. They work for their intended target. Just because you don’t believe the lie, or see through it, is a good indication that you are not the intended target of the lie.

In spite of some who attempt to paint it in a certain manner, The New York Times has never been a ‘liberal’ news organization. They have never been a progressive source of unfettered information when it is counter to the status quo.

The NYTs is for people who want to kill bin Laden and other ‘terrorists’ without due process, want to invade other countries to get their natural resources while claiming to liberate them, all under the cloak of being ‘okay people’ who don’t really want death and misery, in spite of their relentless quest for wealth will always result in death and misery.

Kind of like confession for killers, it makes you feel better about yourself. After all, a reader of the NY Times wouldn’t support outright murder like Bush and the republicans do.

Thomas Friedman lied, the democratic party leadership lied (and continues to lie) while innocent people are dying.

Lying works. It is why I don’t support the democratic party or supposed liberal media.

PS- “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want, and get it.” - Eugene Debs

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By gerard, February 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment

Before some of us go off half cocked on Friedman, due to prejudices based on superficial contacts in the past, please Google Charoie Rose interview with Thomas Friedman, 9/9/08.  I was amazed to hear some of the most forward-looking criticism of American politicies and missed opportunities that have plagued me for several years—and suggestions for how to inspire massive changes in energy policies, environmental problems and foreign relations. Those who are pre-prepared for Zionistic tendencies, please forget it for the moment and listen. The guy learned a lot in China. Listen, then tell me I’m wrong.

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By BrilliantBill, February 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment

The Friedman character has always reminded me of the Leonard Zelig character in Woody Allen’s movie.

I suspect it’s quite a comfortable life to travel and dine and enjoy entertainments with the rich and powerful, listen to what they say and then slather it raw onto the pages of The New York Times. However easy and comfortable that may be, I don’t know how you live with yourself.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, February 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm Link to this comment

Here’s the most important thing to remember about Thomas Friedman: 

Turd is not a proper noun.
Turd is not a proper noun.
Turd is not a proper noun.

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By berniem, February 23, 2012 at 5:27 pm Link to this comment

Really, there are few in the punditry class that one can say are neither self-serving nor outright propagandists

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