On many issues the New York Times serves as a propaganda organ of the state, latching onto a position that meets an ongoing state interest and then adhering undeviatingly to the party line that ensues. This was true on a stream of Cold War issues, including decades of inflated claims about the Soviet military threat, with the vastly greater U.S. military spending framed as if the U.S. were merely responding to a Soviet challenge; the Times editors also swallowed whole and steadily propagandized the false claim of Soviet involvement in the shooting of Pope John II in 1981. More recently, as is well known and even acknowledged by the Times editors, the paper played an important role in disseminating disinformation on Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD), helping to set the stage for the U.S. invasion-occupation of Iraq.
For years now, the New York Times has been riding a similar propaganda bandwagon on the wars and dismantlement of the former Yugoslavia: but in contrast to its performance over Iraq’s non-existent WMDs, once the Times climbed aboard this bandwagon, in the early 1990s, it never climbed back down again. Like the rest of the establishment media in this country and elsewhere, the dominant frame to which the Times subscribed was helpful to longstanding elite interest in a NATO bloc expansion into Central and
This basic narrative was drafted early in the wars, and was instilled through constant repetition as well as through the selection of stories, portrayal of characters, and the development of themes; alternative accounts were not only ignored, but their authors were frequently the targets of aggressive defamation campaigns. David Binder, the Times‘s fine reporter on the former Yugoslavia for many years, had been largely removed from this assignment by the end of 1993, quite obviously because he did not toe this party line but had continued to file reports that overstepped it, writing more complex analyses that did not focus simply on Serb villainy.
By contrast, John F. Burns, whom the Times assigned to the former Yugoslavia at the start of 1992, was famous for his close relationship with Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, and even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 based on his detailed reporting of the confessions of Bosnian Serb, Borislav Herak, then in the custody of Bosnian Muslim forces. While Herak’s allegations about his "odyssey of brutality" (Burns) were extremely dubious from the start, and betrayed every sign of the syndrome of false memory under extreme duress, Herak’s claims were very sexy, and, more important, they conformed to the already-established narrative of vicious, sadistic, genocidal Serbs driving the breakup of Yugoslavia. At his trial before a Sarajevo court in March 1993, Herak offered emotional testimony about "his part in, or his knowledge of, the deaths of at least 220 Muslims, including 12 women" (Burns). Eventually, however, a retraction by Herak along with other telling evidence demonstrated that Burns’s star witness had provided false testimony based on threats by his Bosnian Muslim captors. But Burns suffered no ill-consequences: his Pulitzer was not withdrawn, nor did Burns surrender it. Instead, he remains a New York Times stalwart, and has filed hundreds of reports from
Enter Marlise Simons
After 1993, Burns’s place as the Times‘s most frequently published byline on the Balkans was filled by a number of reporters. One was Marlise Simons, who, beginning in 1996, with the start of trials before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), reported regularly on the workings of the Tribunal, later becoming the Times‘s principal reporter on the Milosevic trial, and she still carries on that beat. Simons’ record in dealing with Balkans issues has been one of undeviating accommodation to the establishment narrative, with an essentially perfect record of failing to ask critical questions or to report developments that do not conform to it. In a separate analysis of 120 Marlise Simons-bylined articles on the ICTY that the New York Times published through December 31, 2003, we showed that Simons’ bias was both systematic and comprehensive. From how Simons framed a story (always adhering to that of the Western establishment), to her sourcing (excluding all serious critics of the ICTY), to her word usage and tone (see the table below), all the way to selectivity in her choice of evidence (she uses the "preferential method"): we found it "hard to believe that the Soviet media at the time of the Moscow show trials in 1936 could have done a better job on behalf of the Soviet prosecutor than Simons has done for the ICTY’s prosecutors."
We reproduce here a Table on Simons’s word-usage from our earlier work, a dramatic and almost comic illustration of this Times reporter’s bias.
MARLISE SIMONS’ WORD USAGE
Slobodan Milosevic Prosecutors Louise Arbour and Carla
Infamous Forceful (Arbour)
Sniped Resolute (Arbour)
Scoffed New assertiveness (Arbour)
Smirk on his face Very capable (Arbour)
Speechmaking No-nonsense style (Arbour)
Badgers the simple conscripts Tough crime fighter (Del Ponte)
Carping Unswerving prosecutor (Del Ponte)
Blustery defense Natural fighter (Del Ponte)
Loud and aggressive Unrelenting hunter (Del Ponte)
Notorious Finding the truth (Del Ponte)
Defiant Keeping tight control (May)
Reverted to sarcasm Patiently repeated questions (May)
Contemptuous Sober, polite and tough (May)
Outbursts Expert on evidence (May)
Face often distorted with anger Among the best suited (May)
This differential word usage cannot be explained on the grounds that the ICTY’s former Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, but not Milosevic, was "resolute" and "forceful," and that Richard May, the former Presiding Judge at the trial, was only "sober, polite and tough," whereas Milosevic was "contemptuous" and "carping." John Laughland writes that May was "stubborn and aggressive" and "behaved rudely towards Milosevic throughout the trial," while "exceedingly indulgent to the prosecutor." The noted Toronto lawyer Edward L. Greenspan, commenting on the opening days of the Milosevic trial, was immediately impressed with the fact that May "clearly reviles Milosevic" and "doesn’t even feign impartiality, or indeed, interest." But Simons would never call this attitude, so obvious to Laughland and Greenspan, "contemptuous." Numerous trial observers have noted how May continuously interfered with Milosevic’s cross-examinations in a manner that could reasonably be called "carping" and far worse. But not Simons: she reserves such words strictly for the bad man. During the Prosecution testimony by former NATO General Wesley Clark, May interrupted Milosevic’s cross-examination at least 60 times, but didn’t bother Clark once, even as Clark spent many minutes discoursing on matters that had no bearing on the trial charges. Simons never mentioned this, nor did she note that during his period as witness Clark was allowed to telephone Bill Clinton to get from him a faxed statement, contrary to previously firm courtroom procedures as enforced by May.
During the course of her reporting on the Milosevic trial, Simons often referred to Milosevic’s and the Serbs’ quest for a "Greater Serbia" as a central charge of the prosecution. But during the defense phase of the Milosevic trial, when the Serbian Radical Party leader and fellow ICTY indictee Vojislav Seselj was called to the witness stand, an exchange took place on the fourth and final day of his testimony in which prosecutor Geoffrey Nice acknowledged that Milosevic himself never advocated a "Greater Serbia," and didn’t even believe in the concept, as Seselj did. What Milosevic really wanted, Nice explained, was "first of all that the former
Simons and the Times on the International Criminal Court Decision
More recently, Marlise Simons has written two articles on the judgment by another tribunal, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Case Concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (better known as Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, or simply Bosnia v. Serbia). Both of these articles, as well as a Times editorial covering the same ground, which Simons may have authored or co-authored, will be the focus of the balance of this article.
First initiated in 1993 by the Muslim government of
The New York Times and Marlise Simons headlined her initial article "Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide," adding the subhead "
But this framing of the decision is dishonest for many reasons. One is that this case was about
The ICJ’s exoneration of
The Times‘s editorial states that the ICJ "established the official complicity of the former Serbian government." This is an egregious misrepresentation: in fact, the ICJ’s Judgment even uses the word complicity in stating the opposite from what the Times claims: namely, "that
Simons quotes the ICJ on "deep-seated hatred," but neither here nor in the earlier sample of her 120-bylined articles that we studied does she discuss the roots of this hatred: most notably Naser Oric’s frequent rampages against local Serbs from his armed camp in Srebrenica, from which Oric made videos of beheaded Serbs that he proudly showed to Western correspondents, reported elsewhere, but never by the New York Times. In her article here Simons mentions that during the 1992-1995 wars in B