Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The rewards for being wrong

Radar Online has decided to follow up on four prominent moderate journalists who egged on the Iraq disaster, as well as four who were against it from the start, to see what the costs of being wrong were. Answer: "Something is rotten in the fourth estate."

Two of the four pro-war names will interest Indians: Fareed Zakaria, son of Rafiq Zakaria and international talking head, and Thomas Friedman, flat-earther, best known in India for his wide-eyed reports on Bangalore.

On Zakaria, there is an interesting little nugget about his small behind-the-scenes role in the planning of the war, which doesn't seem to have excited wide comment.

Friedman, meanwhile, has been one of my pet peeves for years. I used to read (and detest) his drum-beating columns in the run-up to the Iraq war, but Radar seems to have spotted quite a lot that I missed: they offer Friedman quotes that suggest Friedman knew all along that it was a war of choice, that WMD weren't the issue, that failure was likely, that the consequences of failure would be devastating, and that the Bushies were incompetent idiots. But he rooted for the war anyway.

What I remember from those columns is his child-like faith in the honesty of the US government's intentions. Even if he thought that they may screw it up, he didn't think that their motives were anything other than watching democracy flower in the Middle East.

I wasn't impressed either with the other topic of Friedman's punditry, globalisation, or the excerpts I read from his book "The world is flat". (I've stopped reading him since the columns disappeared behind a pay firewall, so I don't know what he's up to now.) Apparently I'm not alone: here's The Economist's scathing review, an equally unflattering review by The Hindu's Siddharth Varadarajan -- one of the few Indian journalists to be less than impressed by him -- and here is Matt Taibbi's hilarious (though sometimes below-the-belt) take. (Friedman is not so much wrong about globalisation -- except, as Taibbi points out, in his metaphors -- as painfully obvious and uninsightful. In the Economist's words, "[Mr Friedman's problem] is that he has so little to say.... Rarely has so much information been collected to so little effect.")

And finally, here's Our war with Friedman, that I wrote in 2003 in response to (and based closely on) this Friedman column. (I mailed it to a few friends, who were amused, and to the NYT, who didn't respond.)

Perhaps a TimesSelect subscriber can tell me whether Friedman has since written a column titled "France was right..."


Anonymous said...

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and reading some of the articles at


Anant said...

I read a review of a book called "Good Muslim,Bad Muslim" by Mahmood Mamdani (sp?).The basic upshot is that a Muslim who is forUS is good, while one who is not is bad.On this count, ole Farid is about as good as they get?