The New York Times Hires William Kristol.


Just in time for election year, the New York Times announced on December 29 that it had hired William Kristol as an op-ed page columnist, with the first column scheduled to appear on January 7, 2008. The Times’ editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, responding to early critics of the move, said that the Times “is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual—and somehow that’s a bad thing. How intolerant is that?”[1] Since Kristol already has his own magazine (Weekly Standard) and a regular seat among the talking heads on TV (Fox News), it’s hard to identify any public interest served by “giving voice” to him in the Times, and thus rehabilitate a serial advocate of lawless global conduct by the United States.         

Again responding to critics, Rosenthal noted that he fails to understand “this weird fear of opposing views.”[2] This defense also makes little sense, since it implies that Kristol’s views depart fundamentally from others represented in the Times. But they don’t. Take the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Like Kristol, the Times’ editorial page supported it. At the time, Gail Collins (now a Times’ op-ed page columnist) was editorial page editor, and Rosenthal was deputy editor. Thus, Collins and Rosenthal presumably supported the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.  


In addition, William Safire, still a Times’ op-ed columnist by March 2003, eagerly supported the Iraq invasion. So did David Brooks, who replaced Safire a few months later. Thomas Friedman, also a Times’ op-ed columnist, was enthusiastic about invading Iraq. So, apparently, was Roger Cohen, a Times’ op-ed columnist today, who recently wrote that it’s still a good idea for the United States to invade other countries. Nicholas Kristof in 2003 described the Iraq invasion as “genuinely high-minded” policy. Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor now, supported the Iraq invasion then as an op-ed page columnist.


Veteran Times reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon also appeared to support an invasion by functioning as Bush administration mouthpieces in the months leading to March 2003. Michael Ignatieff, Harvard human rights professor at the time, piously supported the Iraq invasion in several lengthy pieces in the New York Times Magazine.


Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich didn’t support the Iraq invasion, and, in several important commentaries, criticized invasion-related policy. But somehow they never exactly opposed an invasion.


This means that a majority of commentators at the Times, like Kristol, supported a U.S. invasion of Iraq, which, obvious at the time, would violate the cardinal rule of international law—the UN Charter’s prohibition against the threat and use of force. Under international law, such an invasion constitutes “the supreme international crime,” a “war of aggression,” and a “crime against peace.” These are the most serious crimes possible under international law, and the ramifications are plain to see in Iraq, the United States, and worldwide.   


Given this context, if Andrew Rosenthal were in fact motivated by hiring an unrepresented point of view at the Times, he could have hired someone who opposed the invasion of Iraq—before the invasion was launched—on grounds that it violated the UN Charter and other major sources of international law. At least two officially retired but still-active professors come to mind—Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk. But since it’s the Times that has a “fear of opposing views”—including an apparent fear of the UN Charter—Rosenthal hired Kristol instead, probably to offset the editorial page’s now more aggressive criticism of the Bush administration.     


So what is the difference between the Times and William Kristol, who still supports the Iraq invasion? The difference is that the Times “was for it before it was against it.”[3] That’s not much of a difference, given that, once you’re for it, and it happens, it’s too late to be against it.

Howard Friel is coauthor (with Richard Falk) of The Record of the Paper: How The New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (Verso, 2004), and (with Falk) of Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (Verso, 2007).

[1] “Kristol Mess? It’s Official –‘NYT’ Explains Hiring New ‘Op-Ed’ Wag,” Editor & Publisher, December 29, 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In “Going After Hillary,” published in the November 12, 2007 issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: “Millions of rank-and-file Democrats were snookered into supporting this war, or at least the threat of it. Like Clinton, they were for it before they were against it, and they may not appreciate having their noses rubbed too vigorously in what was their mistake as well as hers.”

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