New Media Heights For A Remarkable Pundit
By Norman Solomon
Thomas Friedman has achieved another media triumph with the debut of "Tom's
Journal" on the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." The feature will be a
"one-on-one debriefing of Friedman by Lehrer or one of the program's senior
correspondents," says a news release from the influential PBS program. Friedman
will appear perhaps a dozen times per year -- whenever he comes back from a major
Specializing in foreign affairs, Friedman reaches millions of readers with his syndicated
New York Times column. And he's often on television -- especially these days. "In
the post-9/11 environment, the talk shows can't get enough of Friedman," a Washington
Post profile noted. He appears as a guest on "Meet the Press," "Face
the Nation," "Washington Week in Review" and plenty of other TV venues.
He even went over big on David Letterman's show.
A passage from Friedman's 1999 book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" sums
up his overarching global perspective: "The hidden hand of the market will never
work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas,
the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world
safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force,
Navy and Marine Corps."
If he were as passionate about challenging global corporatization as promoting it
-- or as fervent about stopping wars as starting them -- it's hard to imagine that
a regular feature like "Tom's Journal" would be airing on the "NewsHour."
Friedman has been a zealous advocate of "bombing Iraq, over and over and over
again" (in the words of a January 1998 column). Three years ago, when he offered
a pithy list of prescriptions for Washington's policymakers, it included: "Blow
up a different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights
will go off or who's in charge."
In an introduction to the book "Iraq Under Siege," editor Anthony Arnove
points out: "Every power station that is targeted means more food and medicine
that will not be refrigerated, hospitals that will lack electricity, water that will
be contaminated, and people who will die."
But Friedman-style bravado goes over big with editors and network producers who share
his disinterest in counting the human costs. Many journalists seem eager to fawn
over their stratospheric colleague. "Nobody understands the world the way he
does," NBC's Tim Russert claims.
Sometimes, Friedman fixates on four words in particular. "My motto is very simple:
Give war a chance," he told Diane Sawyer four months ago on "Good Morning
America." It was the same motto that he'd used two and a half years earlier
in a Fox News interview. Different war; different enemy; different network; same
In the spring of 1999, as bombardment of Yugoslavia went on, Friedman recycled "Give
war a chance" from one column to another. "Twelve days of surgical bombing
was never going to turn Serbia around," he wrote in early April. "Let's
see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance."
Another column included this gleeful approach for threatening civilians in Yugoslavia
with protracted terror: "Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will
set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want
1389? We can do 1389 too."
Last November, his
column was in a similar groove. "Let's all take a deep breath and repeat
after me: Give war a chance. This is Afghanistan we're talking about. Check the map.
It's far away."
Friedman seems to be crazy about wisps of craziness in high Washington places. He
has a penchant for touting insanity as a helpful ingredient of U.S. foreign policy;
some kind of passion for indications of derangement among those who call the military
During an Oct. 13 appearance on CNBC, he said: "I was a critic of (Defense Secretary
Donald) Rumsfeld before, but there's one thing ... that I do like about Rumsfeld.
He's just a little bit crazy, OK? He's just a little bit crazy, and in this kind
of war, they always count on being able to out-crazy us, and I'm glad we got some
guy on our bench that our quarterback -- who's just a little bit crazy, not totally,
but you never know what that guy's going to do, and I say that's my guy."
And Friedman doesn't just talk that way. He also writes that way. "There is
a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like," a Friedman column
declared in mid-February, "but their willingness to restore our deterrence,
and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right."
Is Thomas Friedman clever? Perhaps. But not nearly as profound as a few words from
W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."
His syndicated column focuses on media and politics.