Sep 1 2000

CPJ Declares Open Season on Thomas Friedman

As longtime supporters of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ important mission of defending press freedom, FAIR wrote the following letter to the CPJ to protest its exclusion of the 16 Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) employees killed by NATO from its annual list of journalists murdered because of their work. The letter was signed by a number of concerned journalists, media activists and scholars.

While CPJ protested the RTS bombing in an April 23, 1999 letter to NATO, the decision to exclude the killed RTS workers from its influential annual list sets a dangerous precedent.

CPJ says it excluded the RTS journalists not because the station broadcast propaganda, but because of its role as “an integral part of an ethnic cleansing campaign” in previous Balkan wars. CPJ acknowledges, however, that RTS broadcasts did not generally play this role during the Kosovo conflict.

CPJ makes a false distinction when it implies that, as a media outlet, RTS is somehow unique in condoning war crimes committed by its country’s armed forces. RTS‘s behavior in this respect is deplorable, but all too routine.

In fact, NATO’s Kosovo War saw prestigious media outlets in the NATO countries engaging in similarly crude race-hatred and war-crime agitation. For example:

  • Thomas Friedman, the New York Times‘ influential foreign affairs columnist, made a plea for heavier attacks on Serb civilians (4/23/99):
    Let’s at least have a real air war…. It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road, and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set back your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.
  • Bill O’Reilly, the top-rated commentator on the Fox News Channel, said (4/26/99):
    I believe that we have to go in there and drop leaflets on Belgrade and other cities and say, ‘Listen, you guys have got to move because we’re now going to come in and we’re going to just level your country. The whole infrastructure is going.’… Any target is OK. I’d warn the people, just as we did with Japan, that it’s coming, you’ve got to get out of there, OK, but I would level that country so that there would be nothing moving—no cars, no trains, nothing.

During the Kosovo war, FAIR was outspoken in condemning this type of war-mongering. But we emphatically do not believe that media that produce such material should lose their status as journalists, or the CPJ’s protection.

Selectively revoking the status of Serbian media workers can only send the message that “enemy” journalists will not be defended by one of the world’s foremost press freedom organizations. FAIR asks CPJ to reconsider its decision and to apply a more uniform standard in the future.