Yesterday, a scarecrow made of mashed potatoes named Jamie Kirchick wrote an op-ed for the New York Times bemoaning how “transgender trumps treachery” for those who praise Chelsea Manning. Kirchick lamented the attention that Manning’s lipstick color choices and fashion sense receive, despite her having “jeopardized continuing missions and disrupted American diplomacy” by leaking hundreds of thousands of military documents to Wikileaks.
It was hard not to note that the op-ed appeared in a paper that reported extensively on the contents of the Wikileaks trove, in its War Logs series. Among those reports, one from October 2010 titled “Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos in Iraq” detailed the “many abuses, including civilian deaths” perpetrated by military contractors like Blackwater USA, and described how the documents had revealed a “lack of accountability” for contractors:
The archive, which describes many episodes never made public in such detail, shows the multitude of shortcomings with this new system: how a failure to coordinate among contractors, coalition forces and Iraqi troops, as well as a failure to enforce rules of engagement that bind the military, endangered civilians as well as the contractors themselves. The military was often outright hostile to contractors, for being amateurish, overpaid and, often, trigger-happy.
How embarrassing, to run an op-ed that decries the leaking of the very documents that the paper’s reporters relied on for such useful and worthy journalism!
Not even 24 hours later, the Times has outdone itself. Today it published an op-ed by Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, the most notorious of private military contractors—so notorious it was forced to changed its name, twice.
Just to remind you, Blackwater is the private military contractor, whose employees:
wantonly opened fire in a busy Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, killing 17 civilians [The New York Times, April 14 2015]
, a massacre that was:
among the most abominable abuses committed by Americans during the Iraq [The New York Times, April 14 2015]
joined two other high-profile atrocities, the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal and the massacre of civilians by Marines in Haditha, in destroying the credibility of the long American occupation in the eyes of Iraqis [The New York Times, April 14 2015]
helped cement Blackwater’s image as a company that operated with impunity because of its lucrative contracts with the American government. [The New York Times, October 22 2014]
The paper has reported testimony from survivors of the incident:
Ali Khalaf, a traffic police officer, stood in busy Nisour Square on Tuesday, waving the cars by, and pointed.
“It was there,” he said, “where people were dying and bleeding without reason. Blackwater vehicles were there, and its soldiers were shooting at people without pity.”
He added, “It was as if I was watching a horror movie.” [The New York Times, April 14 2015]
And the repercussions those victims live with:
Mr. Salman got back to his car and continued on with his day, a Blackwater bullet still lodged in his arm, another next to his heart. [The New York Times, October 23, 2014]
More recently, the paper has reported on Prince’s post-Blackwater efforts, including, less than two months ago, his “proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan,” developed “at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law.”
So today the New York Times chose to use some of the most influential and prestigious real estate in the American media landscape to let Prince make his bid to run the continuing intervention in Afghanistan. It is less an op-ed than a pitch deck directed straight at the President of the United States (who, it is well known, is obsessed with the paper), promising that Prince’s new firm, Frontier Services Group, would:
vigorously compete to implement a plan that saves American lives, costs less than 20 percent of current spending and saves American taxpayers more than $40 billion a year. Just as no one criticizes Elon Musk because his company SpaceX helps supply American astronauts, no one should criticize a private company — mine or anyone else’s — for helping us end this ugly multigenerational war.
Among all the voices clamoring to be heard in America, with all the possible arguments on all the pressing issues of the moment, the New York Times chose to let an irredeemable war profiteer pitch his plan for More And Better War—a pitch aimed directly into the increasingly febrile mind of the president.
Astoundingly, the paper paid Prince for this, and not the other way around. The newspaper industry is in need of new revenue sources, after all, and it could simplify things to start simply selling op-eds to the highest corporate bidders. Dispense with the authors and those tricky disclosures, and just give the bylines to the companies themselves. Corporations are people, right? Let’s see what Exxon Mobil has to say about climate change, or Coca Cola about childhood obesity. Maybe they should let Google write an op-ed about why privacy is overrated, or the GEO Group pen a stirring defense of mass incarceration.
If you work for the opinion section of the New York Times, and you got into this line of work hoping that what you did would, even in some small sense, serve the public good, and you have the means to do so, resign. Run screaming from the building. Go and work on a farm. Live in the woods. Repent and be saved. There is no glory in what you do.