This week we’ve been examining various aspects of CNN’s stoogery – among them its appeasement of dictators in order to maintain access to their countries and its reluctance to call Islamic jihad by its own name. Not unrelated to its delicate concern for Islamic sensibilities is another attribute – namely, its systematic anti-Israel bias.
In August 2014, during that year’s Gaza War, protesters outside CNN’s studios in New York condemned the network’s anti-Israeli slant – and that of many other news operations. Jeremy Dery, a former parliamentary assistant in the Knesset, complained that thanks to the media, the world “believes that Israel targets innocent people.” Journalist Stephen Tebid, who held a poster reading CNN = Crap Not News, charged that coverage of the war didn’t include a single “picture of Hamas shooting a rocket.” That July, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., chastized CNN, which had shown pictures of children killed in an Israeli strike on a U.N. school but had omitted to mention that Hamas was hiding rockets in those schools – as well as in hospitals and mosques.
In the same month, comedian Joan Rivers – in an impromptu airport interview with the celebrity news website TMZ that went viral immediately – censured CNN and the BBC for their hand-wringing over “civilian deaths” when, in fact, many of the “civilians” in question were actively helping terrorists and storing weapons in their homes. “The BBC should be ashamed of themselves,” she insisted. “And CNN should be ashamed of themselves!” But far from exhibiting any shame, CNN later ran a report on follow-up remarks by Rivers in which it seriously misrepresented her position – the obvious goal being to make her look bad.
Like many other news media, CNN frequently reports on terrorist attacks in such a way as to suggest that they were ethically neutral military or civilian conflicts. In November 2014, for instance, two Palestinians were killed committing a terrorist assault on a Jerusalem synagogue that claimed the lives of four Israelis. CNN’s headline read: “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead in Jerusalem.” To compound the outrage, CNN described the atrocity as an “attack on Jerusalem mosque” – allowing viewers to assume that perhaps a gaggle of violent Jews had preyed on a congregation full of innocent praying Muslims. (Le Monde‘s headline about the same incident read “Six killed in Jerusalem.”) CNN later apologized for misrepresenting the facts – but somehow it keeps on doing exactly the same kind of thing.
CNN has also routinely passed along fairy tales served up as fact by various pro-Palestinian propaganda outfits or by the official – and famously unreliable – Palestinian Authority “news” agency. A particularly absurd example: in June of last year, CNN ran a story by Don Melvin under the headline “Israeli settlers reportedly chop down 800 Palestinian olive trees.” There was no truth whatsoever to the account – but instead of withdrawing and apologizing for it, Melvin followed up by (believe it or not) pretending that he’d written it on the assumption that readers would realize that the report in question was unreliable.
Some CNN talking heads, when confronted with Islamic terrorism, instantly head in the opposite direction from moral clarity, rushing to speak up for Islam while at the same time making absolutely no sense. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January of last year, for example, CNN anchor Jim Clancy tweeted as follows about the satirical magazine’s Muhammed cartoons: “The cartoons NEVER mocked the Prophet. They mocked how the COWARDS tried to distort his word. Pay attention.” What?
This was only the first of a series of tweets – described as “bizarre” by Israel National News – in which Clancy managed to change the subject from Islamic terrorism to alleged Israeli perfidy. The good news is that Clancy left CNN shortly thereafter; the bad news is that Clancy, by that point, had spent 34 years spreading disinformation at the network.
Every now and then, the truth about CNN gets out…on CNN itself. In August 2014, a reporter for the network asked Ben Shapiro of the Truth Revolt website: “Has Israel somehow lost more in the eyes of the world than Hamas has?” Shapiro said yes, explaining that while “Hamas is a terrorist group…Israel, thanks to outlets like CNN, has been turned into the villain….If Hamas could have come up with any sort of outlet that could have created more will to kill more Jewish babies and Palestinian babies, CNN would have been it.” Shapiro faulted CNN for failing to inform audiences of the “restrictions that Hamas puts on your reporting inside the Gaza Strip,” of Hamas’s use of children as human shields, and of the Hamas charter’s commitment to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews worldwide.
The headline of a Washington Post editorial on January 31 didn’t mince words: “Failure in Cuba.”
“President Obama’s opening to Cuba,” argued the Post‘s editors, had failed in its declared objective, namely to “unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans,” to “engage and empower the Cuban people,” and to “empower the nascent Cuban private sector.” Obama, the editorial charged, had made concession after concession to the Castro regime without demanding human-rights advances, the release of dissidents from prison, the introduction of independent media, Internet access, or an end to state control of the economy.
In sum: while Fidel and Raúl Castro were profiting handsomely from Obama’s opening to Cuba, they were refusing to make any meaningful reforms. Obama kept making concession after concession to the Cuban tyrants, but in return the Cuban people were getting nada. “Autocrats everywhere,” wrote the Post‘s editors, “must be watching with envy the Castros’ good fortune.”
Cut to Paris, where Raúl Castro made a historic state visit on February 1. It was a perfect opportunity for French President François Hollande to call for precisely those changes in Cuba that the Post editorial had enumerated.
Yoani Sanchez, the internationally known Cuban blogger and pro-freedom activist, wrote an article urging Hollande to “take advantage of Raúl Castro’s official visit to demand a democratic opening.” France, she wrote, would lose nothing by taking “a stronger stance on the lack of freedom under which 11 million Cubans live.” Reporters without Borders agreed.
Did Hollande heed their call? Au contraire. He gave Castro (in the words of Voice of America) “the red-carpet treatment.” He hugged him. He threw a state dinner. And, according to one source, he actually “declared his love” for Castro.
Indeed, instead of criticizing the Cuban dictator, Hollande lectured Obama, exhorting him to make even more unilateral concessions to the Havana regime. The U.S. embargo, Hollande insisted, was a “vestige of the Cold War” and must be lifted in its entirety so that Cuba could “fully takes its place” in the community of nations. This, Hollande added, was not only “the will of this country” – i.e., France – but was also “the will of the international community.”
Hollande made it clear, in short, he’s big on “normalizing” the world’s relations with Cuba. But he didn’t drop so much a hint that if the Cuban government wants its country to fully join the community of nations, it has its own job of “normalization” to do – it needs, quite simply, to grant its people the same individual liberties enjoyed by everyone else in the Western hemisphere.
What’s the background to this Franco-Cuban lovefest? Briefly put, Hollande sees Cuba as a golden opportunity for French business development, and thinks U.S. policies are keeping many French entrepreneurs from diving in. Yetas one contractor toldLe Monde, the main obstacle to Cuba’s re-entry into the community of nations isn’t the U.S. embargo; it’s the Castros’ refusal to turn their dictatorship into a nation of laws, with property rights, financial transparency, and so on. Without such reforms, many potential foreign investors will prefer to put their money elsewhere.
Meanwhile, we’re left with Hollande’s shameful silence on Cuban Communism. “This encounter,” lamented one Cuban emigre, “is all about profiting from Cuban slave labor. Nothing more, nothing less.”
At one time he was the NYSE’s senior managing director for international relations – “the face of the New York Stock Exchange outside of the United States.” But he left the Big Board, along with a couple of other higher-ups, in the wake of a controversy over compensation packages. Today, after decades at places like Morgan Stanley and Kidder Peabody, the Belgian-American investment banker Georges Ugeux runs his own store, Galileo Global Advisors, in New York.
He also contributes regularly to both Le Monde and The Huffington Post – and the first thing that needs to be said about his contributions to the latter organ (his Le Monde pieces are presumably run past an editor before they see print) is that the prose is downright execrable. It’s riddled with grammatical errors and, even when he’s apparently making a simple point, can be hard to make total sense out of.
Take a March 2014 HuffPo piece about the dust-up in Ukraine. “Does the Parliament votes [sic] to join Russia?” he wrote. “It is illegal. Will Crimea, who [sic] disposes [disposes?] of a special status, vote whether they [sic] want to be reunited with Russia or not?” There’s more: “For all its weaknesses,” he writes, “Europe has to live with borders with Russia and Ukraine. It has to resolve its neighborhoods [sic] problems. There is no need, however, for them to supersede what the Crimea’s people will decide.”
Look at those last two sentences. Presumably both “it” and “them” are meant to refer back to “Europe.” Okay. But “supersede”? What does it mean to say that Europe doesn’t need “to supersede what the Crimea’s people will decide”? None of the accepted meanings of “supersede” makes sense here. You can kind of guess what Georges Ugeux is driving at, but this isn’t a paper for a remedial high-school English class – it’s an opinion on international events delivered by a world-class thinker, a guy with a stellar CV, someone we’re supposed to take seriously as an authoritative voice on these matters. This being the case, wouldn’t you think a dude at this level would give his own prose a careful read-through before sharing it with the world? Or hire somebody competent to do so?
To be sure, the thrust of his March 2014 piece was clear enough. In the conflict between Putin and Ukraine, Georges Ugeux stands with Putin. No, really. He also sympathizes, as he put it, with “the people of Crimea who do not want to remain under the fascists who dominate Ukraine and prohibit them from speaking Russian.” As if all that weren’t enough, he took the opportunity to smear Russia’s anti-Putin opposition as being “under the influence of extreme right and neo-Nazi groups” and to describe Putin as having been “legitimately elected.”
All of which raises the question: is a guy with this kind of political acumen and moral judgment – to say nothing of his slovenly prose – somebody you’d ever want to trust with your money?
Another example. In September 2013, Georges Ugeux weighed in on Obamacare:
The Republicans do not seem to understand that when Congress votes [sic] a law, it is the law of the land. It is sacred in a number of ways that they like. When they don’t like it, they ignore their obligations.
Yes, tea party blackmailers, the Affordable Health Act is the law. By using budget or debt ceiling to trap the credit of the United States of America, you are being in-civic.
Some writers manage – every now and then, anyway – to hit on le mot juste; Georges Ugeux repeatedly misses it by a mile. “Trap the credit”? (And this is a financial expert?) “In-civic”? And of course the law is called the Affordable Care Act, not the Affordable Health Act. He goes on:
You are guilty of not respecting the United States institutions, and the value of your own votes. This creates in turn a total discredit of congressional votes and the institution of Congress in the eyes of our citizens and the world.
Time and again, reading Georges Ugeux’s prose, you get the impression that it’s gone through at least two incompetent translations, from language A to language B to language C, before it ended up in English – or a rough approximation thereof. Think this is unimportant? Think again. Clear, coherent prose reflects clear, coherent thinking. Prose like his is the mirror of a more than moderately muddled mind.
Which brings us to his financial commentaries. Georges Ugeux has written about a number of topics related to international finance, but of late he’s made a specialty of slamming the so-called “vulture funds” and the U.S. courts that have ruled in their favor in the matter of Argentina’s sovereign debt. “Are Sovereign Ratings a Legacy of Colonialism?” asked the headline of one piece he published in 2011. In another article, deploring the judiciary’s support for the “vulture funds,” he actually compared the U.S. Supreme Court to Pontius Pilate. But he reserves his real venom for Paul Singer of Elliott Management, whom he accuses of having brought grief to the Argentinian people by insisting that their government pay Elliott the entire amount owed to it.
Georges Ugeux, you see, is deeply concerned about the Argentinian people. Yet instead of getting exercised about the wholesale corruption committed by the regimes of the late President Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor, Cristina Férnandez de Kirchner, as well as by their shameless (and, it sometimes seems, countless) cronies – who have ripped off billions upon billions of dollars from that once-prosperous country’s hapless citizens – Georges Ugeux places the blame for Argentina’s suffering squarely on the shoulders of Singer, whose activities he condemns as “the capitalist system at its worst.” Not only is he quick to join the vile Cristina Kirchner in using the term “vulture funds”; he also calls Singer & co. “scavengers” and accuses them of “heinous behavior” – all this for the supreme offense of purchasing debt fair and square and expecting to have it paid back in full.
Let’s start with the highlights of her CV. Her books on globalization and urbanization have been translated into twenty-one languages. Born in the Netherlands, she grew up in Buenos Aires and studied in France, Italy, Argentina, and the U.S.; she’s taught sociology at Harvard and the University of Chicago, and now divides her time between Columbia University and the London School of Economics. She has a bushel full of impressive-sounding establishment affiliations – she’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, of a National Academy of Sciences panel on cities, and of something called the Committee on Global Thought, no less, and has accumulated awards and honorary degrees aplenty from places like the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, the University of Poitiers, and the Royal Stockholm Institute of Technology.
In short, she’s as establishment as it comes. Routinely, however, Saskia Sassenpresents herself as a fearless anti-establishment radical and “transnational citizen” whose bag is proffering “counterintuitive” solutions to pretty much all the world’s major problems. This fearless-radical pose has won her a kind of cult following that’s rare, to say the least, among professors of the social sciences. A few years back, when she was teaching at the University of Chicago, a recent social-sciences grad student at that institution reported that many of his friends there “were staunch followers of Saskia Sassen – in fact, she was their raison d’etre there.”
A 2014 profile in Le Monde breathlessly pointed out that this globalization expert is also a world-class globetrotter: “Today in Bilbao, yesterday in New York, tomorrow in the U.K….” The irony that went utterly unmentioned by Le Monde‘s awestruck correspondent was that, even though Saskia Sassen burns a lot more than her fair share of jet fuel, she’s a world-class global-warming scold who, in a May 2014 piece for Salon, solemnly browbeat readers about the dark and dire consequences of “global CO2 emissions.”
As it happens, one of the few members of the sociology profession whose fame matches or even exceeds Saskia Sassen’s is her husband, Richard Sennett, who shares her far-left politics (he was a red-diaper baby), her preoccupation with globalization and urban issues, her hand-wringing concern about CO2 emissions and global footprints – and, ahem, her jet-setting lifestyle and two glorious homes in New York and London. For both Saskia Sassen and Sennett, hating capitalism has paid off big-time. A 2001 Guardian profile gushed over their “spacious, almost surreally well-ordered flat” in the heart of London, with a “roof terrace offer[ing] a dazzling view of an apparent jumble of warehousing and wasteground, a scene of brutal slate-grey beauty.” Six years later, a piece in the real-estate section of the New York Times described their “picturesque former carriage house on a cobblestone alleyway just off Washington Square Park” in Manhattan, in which Sennett had been living for twenty-eight years and for which they paid the landlord – Sennett’s employer, New York University – a monthly rent that was “below market rates.”
But this luxury, reported the Times, came at a cost: namely, guilt. (The piece was actually titled “The Guilt of Having a Good Thing.”) Bennett admitted that he felt guilty about living in this “gated community,” from which pedestrians were banned between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. After all, as he pointed out, he’s written himself “about the evils of gated communities.” Why live in one, then? Because “I’m not a sufficiently moral person to abandon this house.” He laughed as he accused himself of suffering from “a moral failing.” The refusal of both Saskia Sassen and Sennett to practice what they so vociferously preach made one wonder just how deep the guilt actually went; and Sennett’s laughter as he accused himself of “a moral failing” raised the question of just what the level of hypocrisy in that household is.
The Times was curious about the details of the couple’s lifestyle. Sennett explained that he and Saskia Sassen “divide up our clothes so that 50 percent are in London and 50 percent in New York.” And he “admitted — sheepishly — to owning duplicates of favorite items,” such as cellos. “I have a cello here and a cello in London, which may seem over the top,” he said. “But after 9/11 it became so difficult to travel with my cello.” Saskia Sassen, for her part, admitted, apropos of a recent trip to a conference in Mexico City: “I like a good comfortable plane ride.” Unlike her husband, however, she wasn’t quoted as accusing herself of “a moral failing.” No surprise there: she comes off as a hell of a lot more strident and self-righteous than he does. One gets the impression that she considers herself quite the moral icon. What with their two terrific homes and their constant air travel, their global footprint is obviously much bigger than most people’s – but one images that Saskia Sassen, at least, feels that they’ve earned it. They’re the exception. It’s all for the cause. For the rest of us, they’re certainly a great poster couple for leading the good life while preaching fiercely against it.
Global warming, to be sure, is far from the only crisis on her busy agenda. She also frets about the perpetual crisis in Middle East, and considers Israel to be at the root of the whole problem. In her writings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she consistently depicts Israel as a brutal militant aggressor and Hamas as a benign force – a supplier of food and water, medical supplies, and other services that’s always being put on the defensive by the IDF. Saskia Sassen demonstrated the extent of her hostility to Israel back in 2004, when, as Stanford law prof Peter Berkowitz put it, she “storm[ed] off the stage” during a University of Chicago panel discussion about the Middle East, outraged that the panel was composed of both pro- and anti-Israel voices. As Berkowitz later wrote,
the panel consisted of Professor Saskia Sassen, who spoke on behalf of transnationalism, or principles and forms of government that transcend the nation state; myself, discussing nationalism and how Israel could be both a liberal democracy and Jewish state; Professor Anne Bayefsky…of Columbia University Law School, who analyzed the double standard the U.N. has applied to Israel for decades; and Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Yale University geneticist, who sought to equate Zionism with Nazism, racism and apartheid.
What happened on that panel? According to Berkowitz, here’s how it went down:
After listening to Professor Bayefsky recount the many and varied ways that the U.N. had singled out Israel among all the nations of the world for special condemnation and Professor Qumsiyeh single out Israel as indistinguishable from one of the most heinous regimes in human history, Professor Saskia Sassen knew which opinion needed to be denounced…..Saskia Sassen explicitly upbraided the calm, lucid analyst of U.N. hypocrisy toward Israel (and me implicitly), and sided with the hate-mongering purveyor of the monstrous falsehood that Israel was in principle no different from the regime that murdered six million Jews for no other reason than that they were Jewish.
Here’s what she actually said on the panel in reaction to Bayefsky’s remarks: “We cannot make any headway even in our academic discussion if we talk about the Israeli government as a pure victim the way two of the speakers explicitly or implicitly did….We need to recognize that the Israeli state has operated with excess power in a situation of extreme asymmetry.” Which to her, presumably, meant that a panel discussion on the issue should also be characterized by “extreme assymetry” – in favor, naturally, of the Palestinian side.
And then she walked out – “after she had spoken for a second time,” noted Berkowitz, “but before she could be challenged.” By doing this, charged Berkowitz, “She showed that she held her own opinions to be beyond criticism and regarded her opponents’ opinions as unworthy of serious debate….Taking her conduct and comments together, one is led to conclude that Professor Saskia Sassen objects to sharing a stage with people who hold views that differ from hers; that she finds offensive the obligation to confront evidence and arguments put forward on behalf of positions she dislikes; and that she has forgotten or is unaware that the kind of debate that educates is debate with people with who hold the opposite opinion.” In short, Berkowitz concluded, she had exhibited “the high-handed and authoritarian habits that have become second nature for many faculty on campuses across the country.”
Saskia Sassen’s ardent engagement with such issues notwithstanding, her big bugaboo isn’t global warming or the brutal tyranny of Israel. It’s capitalism. For her, the overarching cause is “social justice,” and Public Enemy #1 is capitalist oppression (a conviction she shares with her late friend and mentor, Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm). She speaks of “capitalism’s deepening crisis” and of “the end of financial capitalism.”In her view, the current global financial system is suffering from a terminal ailment, and there’s no hope of saving it. “It is too late,” she maintains. What we need to do, Saskia Sassen prescribes, is “to definancialise our economies, as a prelude to move beyond the current model of capitalism.”
And what’s the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s rot, as Saskia Sassen sees it? Apparently, the phenomenon of distressed-security funds – which she, echoing Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, doesn’t hesitate to call “vulture funds.” Saskia Sassen despises those funds. They’re “a problem to be taken seriously,” she asserts, because they “threaten capital markets and the economic stability of many countries – and in doing so put the entire international economic system at risk.” When Fernández – in an effort to avoid paying her country’s debt to one such fund, Elliott Associates, as ordered by a U.S. judge in 2014 – took the case to the International Court of Justice, Saskia Sassen lent the President her full support. Of course she did: when you’re a “transnational citizen,” you support transnational institutions. This is one woman who trusts diktats by the UN (up to and including its absurd Human Rights Council) as zealously as she distrusts the free market, the American judiciary, and the West-based international financial order.
Then again, it’s easy, fun, and hip to be a “transnational citizen” who sneers at everything Western when you’ve got dream homes in the world’s two financial capitals and are constantly traveling the globe on a Western passport. “Transnational citizen,” indeed.
We’ve seen how far-left filmmaker Oliver Stone admires Kremlin gangster Vladimir Putin for his “new authoritarianism” that, in his view, gave Russians their “pride back.” Stone is far from the only Western cultural or intellectual figure who has a soft spot for the former KGB thug, but he’s something of an exception to the rule: most of Putin’s fans in the West, as it happens, aren’t left-wingers like Stone who like Putin because he reminds them of Fidel Castro but social conservatives who like Putin because they see him as a hero of “traditional values.” Indeed, all he has to do is say the words “traditional values” and they start salivating.
Never mind that Putin’s “traditional values” are pre-democratic and pre-modern; never mind that they’re part and parcel of all the worst chapters of both Tsarist and Soviet history – the pogroms, the Gulag. Putin’s disdain for gay rights and other such Western phenomena – a disdain shared and applauded by the likes of Pat Buchanan – is nothing new; contempt for Western “decadence” was a staple of Soviet propaganda from 1918 to 1989. What Putin is encouraging with his “traditional values” rhetoric is the perpetuation, and even revival, of a self-destructive, pathological culture whose hallmarks are maudlin self-pity, dictator-worship, a love of cruelty and physical brutality, rampant alcoholism, and the often violent oppression of Jews and other minorities.
But you’d never know that to read apologists like Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, who in September 2011, while not quite admitting that he himself celebrated Putin, was eager to provide reasons why others might do so: “he saved the country from servility”; he “[f]lout[ed] western norms”; he has “address[ed] real problems.” Caldwell dismissed Western critics of Putin, such as Le Monde, as “harsh” and “condescending.” And he suggested that if Putin is less than a saint, well, it’s largely the fault of NATO, whose “moralistic adventure in Kosovo humiliated Russia and its Serbian allies unnecessarily.”
As for Putin’s offenses, they were relegated by Caldwell to the “yes, but” category: yes, “the west can deplore” Putin’s imprisonment of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his invasion of Georgia, and his assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and dissident Aleksandr Litvinenko, “but it cannot ignore the reality of Russian sentiment.”
In his 2011 piece, Caldwell seemed hesitant to praise Putin too overtly; this hesitancy pretty much disappeared in an article he published this February, in which he scorned Obama, Hollande, and Cameron for their “ostentatious” boycott of the Sochi Olympics while praising the “level-headed” decisions of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and Turkey’s Islamist despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend the games. Caldwell dismissed attention paid to “alleged corruption around Olympic construction” as “obsessive,” calling it “a local story.” Besides, he argued, haven’t other Olympic games also been corrupt? He offered a good deal of this sort of argumentation: yes, Putin has introduced undemocratic laws, but haven’t other governments done the same?
Caldwell was more critical of the gutsy anti-Putin protesters of Pussy Riot, whom he criticized for interrupting worship at a church, than he was of the punishment Putin meted out to them. He expressed less concern about Putin’s assault on Russian freedom, as exemplified by his brutal crackdown on gays, than about rulings by U.S. judges in favor of same-sex marriage. He even trivialized Putin’s persecution, torture, and ten-year imprisonment of billionaire businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, calling it a cause “beloved of western elites.”
In short, a disgraceful performance by a guy who’s often viewed as a relatively moderate conservative and whose work appears in places like The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly.
But, as we’ll see, Caldwell is far from alone on the right.