Dec 2 2003

Is Thomas Friedman Even Listening?

Columnist wrongly attacks Bush protesters for ignoring same-day bombing

(NOTE: Please see the update to this action alert.)

In Thomas Friedman’s November 30 New York Times column, he chides anti-war activists participating in a protest against George W. Bush’s visit to London for not acknowledging the bombing of British targets in Istanbul that had occurred on the same day (11/20/03) just hours before.

“Sorry, but there is something morally obtuse about holding an antiwar rally on a day when your own people have been murdered– and not even mentioning it or those who perpetrated it,” Friedman wrote. The lack of acknowledgment of the Turkish bombings made Friedman “wonder whether George Bush had made the liberal left crazy.”

Friedman appeared to base his analysis of the protest’s message on a survey of signs carried by activists in the march; he complained that none that he saw made any reference to the killings in Istanbul. It is difficult, of course, to respond to a breaking news event on a handheld sheet of cardboard– particularly since they are often painted the day before a march. If Friedman had actually listened to what the speakers at the rally had to say, however, he would have heard plenty of discussion of the day’s violence.

For example, a report in the London Independent (11/21/03) quoted Damon Albarn, lead singer of the rock group Blur, as addressing the bombings in his speech to the gathering: “That’s going to happen increasingly because of the policies of the Western world. The attacks in Turkey and Bush’s visit to Britain were no mere coincidence. People are playing for very high stakes.” The paper described Alburn as being “among those who pointed to yesterday’s bombings in Istanbul as evidence of the need to demonstrate.”

Another such speaker, according to the Glasgow Herald (11/21/03), was the British Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, who told the crowd that the violence in Istanbul “shows us our world is anything but more secure today.”

In defense of Friedman, very few news accounts of the rally gave any indication whatsoever of what the speakers had to say. But the columnist would only have to read his own paper’s account of the rally to know that the violence in Turkey was very much on the minds of marchers: “News of Thursday’s bombings in Istanbul– which killed more than two dozen people, including Britain’s consul general, and wounded hundreds of others– appeared to galvanize the protesters’ opposition to the continuing operation in Iraq,” the New York Times reported (11/21/03). “If anything, many protesters said repeatedly, the war on Iraq created more instability in an already volatile region.”

In any case, before one declares that a political movement is “morally obtuse” or even “crazy” for ignoring a significant event, one might be expected to check to see whether it has in fact been ignored. This mischaracterization of the event’s treatment of the Istanbul bombings is a significant error and it deserves to be corrected. It also raises the broader question of whether Friedman is pontificating about the left without listening to what the left has to say.

ACTION: Please write to the New York Times to ask that Thomas Friedman correct his inaccurate assertion that those who held an anti-war rally in London did not even mention the bombings that occurred the same day.


New York Times

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