Bitch Slap from the Grey Lady

John Burns at the New York Times woke up yesterday in a bad mood, after seeing what the Pentagon had so effortlessly helped him hide make its way into print, and went on a mission.  The result is a deeply unprofessional and unintentionally revealing attempt to create a commotion that draws eyes away from the relevant documents, kind of like they do over at FOX.  But there it is above the fold, “Wikileaks Founder on the Run, Trailed by Notoriety,” alongside the, well, facts. He concludes his laughably hostile smear piece about Julian Assange with this:

Mr. Assange’s own fate seems as imperiled as Private Manning’s. Last Monday, the Swedish Migration Board said Mr. Assange’s bid for a residence permit had been rejected. His British visa will expire early next year. When he left the London restaurant at twilight, heading into the shadows, he declined to say where he was going. The man who has put some of the world’s most powerful institutions on his watch list was, once more, on the move.

Or, in plain English, the Grey Lady says, “off with their heads.”  As Glenn Greenwald wrote today, the article demonstrated the degree to which the supposed liberal media is fundamentally against journalism itself, when it comes to, say, informing the public about the activities of the government.  John Burns really, really doesn’t like that sort of impertinence, and isn’t the least bit embarrassed to say so on Page One; nor, evidently, are his editors.  After years and years of pointless casualties in the pointless wars Burns has been covering, he’s gotten more, not less, trusting of the Pentagon, and he sees this disturbing credulity as the proper model for others.  Why does the public want to be bothered with all that torture and slaughter of civilians?  Barbara Bush doesn’t worry her “beautiful mind” about such ephemera, and neither does Burns.  He thinks that Assange must be crazy, and sets out to prove it.

As Greenwald points out, it’s certainly understandable that a discredited Pentagon toady like Burns would go after Assange with such unseemly gusto, since he managed to do in a few months on a shoestring what Burns couldn’t do in nearly ten years with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men:  in this case the kings are the NYT and the Pentagon, who seem to have split Burns’ tab.  Still, the overkill is pretty startling.  I’m a little surprised Burns couldn’t find somebody who disliked Assange when they were in Boy Scouts, or whatever the Australian equivalent would be.  It seems that deep down, there is still a tiny journalist lurking within Burns and his collaborators, and they’re pissed because they’ve been scooped, but their strategy for dealing with their hurt feelings must be something they picked up from Maureen Dowd.

While Greenwald accurately compared Burns’ article with the work of Nixon’s plumbers, and the irony that the Times, which successfully beat the Nixon Administration in Supreme Court to publish the Pentagon Papers, had so clearly moved to the other side when it came to Pentagon secrets, it’s actually worse than that.  The plumbers committed multiple crimes in hope of finding real dirt on their enemies, to then take to the media, which in those days required evidence of sensational smears.  No evidence is required anymore, as long as the “enemy” is someone outside the corridors of power, whether those corridors be at the Pentagon or the New York Times.  Doubters of wars will always be smeared, so John Burns’ grandchildren can grow up to be little war correspondents, and David Petraeus’ grandchildren can grow up to be little generals, and only the truly little people will die and all that icky stuff, while they keep their secrets and burnish their resumes.  They aren’t worried about their “fates.” Nice fucking work if you can get it.

What was missing from Greenwald’s excellent analysis was the sheer, unadulterated imperiousness of the article, as exemplified in the closing paragraph I quoted.  Though Burns repeatedly calls Assange “imperious,” he also manages, in every other sentence, to darkly intone that it is Assange who should take responsibility for any of the remotely possible but nonetheless plausibly scary repercussions of his work, while Burns is, by definition, to be held blameless, seemingly because he was following orders, and Assange wasn’t.  Burns, who never questioned two disastrous wars tainted by torture, corruption, and lies that led to the deaths of at least a hundred thousand people, when he was in a position to do so, cannot justify himself, so he seeks to silence Assange, instead.  It’s like Nuremberg, reverse-engineered.

In the perfumed chambers of such mendacious, war-loving elitists as Burns, there are certain things never to be said in front of the servants, and the fact that the two intractable and catastrophic wars bankrupting the country morally and materially were lost before they begun is pretty much on the top of the list.  Who, pray, is calling whom imperious?   The well-paid “journalist” who argues, vehemently, against the peoples’ right to know, or the powerless outcast who had the temerity to disagree?   We report, you decide.


  1. retzilian says:

    I, too, did a double take when I saw that article on the Times this morning and said to myself, “This is the NYT??!” The WaPo, sure, but the Times? The same paper that was sharing the documents recently dumped and doing a pretty good job of summing up the most egregious facts about the contractors (today’s reveal)??

    Some things I noticed: Burns referred to Assange’s ‘hacking’ days, since of course “hackers” are always criminals; then the alleged rape accusation which was, iirc, dropped altogether and despite seriously suspicious circumstances (honey pot, anyone?) was never investigated by Burns to determine if the allegations had merit.

    No, it was a hit piece, pure and simple. I can just imagine the editorial meeting before this Sunday Times was printed – on the one hand, we have to print the document dump info, but on the other hand we have to vilify the person(s) responsible for the dump.

    I think Assange is a hero, and I suspect millions of others do as well. Nobody will ever even remember Burns name, except a sliver of people who paid attention to his work, but Assange will go down in history. Someone, someday, will erect a statue to him. Burns? Who the hell is Burns?

    • cocktailhag says:

      What matters is that HE obviously thinks he’s somebody…. The Miss Manners of the Fourth Estate, maybe? Sheesh. I’m sure he has a lovely co-op, a politically connected wife, and children in fancy private schools, like they all do, and he is horrified that Assange would live so haphazardly. To his mind, the market has spoken, and he won. Case closed. It’s all over but the smearing.

    • Thanks for the link Dirigo.

      There are many facets of the Wikileaks story that have yet to come out. I was a crypto-specialist (with a high level security clearance) when I was in the Army many years ago. I came to recognize the importance of how our military (any military) has to operate in a completely different “disclosure” environment than the “commercial” disclosure environment that exists in our everyday lives here in the states. Many innocent Vietnamese civilians would have been threatened (in fact killed) if Wikileaks would have published the same type of ground-level intelligence back then.

      Assange sees himself as being a “save-the-world” martyr, saying “so what.” If a few hundred Iraqis are “eliminated” because of his full disclosure, that’s a small price to pay in order to bring the complete story to light. But, he could have achieved the same result without jeopardizing the lives of innocent civilians.

      Actually, I agree with his disclosures, but I don’t agree with the level of detail that Assange felt that he needed to disclose. He could have easily redacted the names of Iraqi confidants, but he didn’t, just as he didn’t redact the names of the Afghan informants in his earlier release. Most of the internal indignation being reported within the Wikileaks organization appear to be based on Assange’s insistence that he wanted to “reveal all.” This is a very naïve way to deal with this issue. He could have (should have) brought out the salient points without potentially harming the lives of our soldiers in the field or the innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians who support them.

      Retzillian’s point that Assange will one day be recognized as a hero is completely off the mark. I honestly think that he will one day be seen as an egomaniac who developed the perfect tool for exposing the truth about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but blew it by intentionally destroying the lives of many innocent people.

      • cocktailhag says:

        Call me crazy, Steven, but I’m skeptical. So far, none of the grim prognostications about the Afghanistan docs have come true, and despite the scrupulous honesty I’ve come to expect from the Pentagon (I was born during the Gulf of Tonkin, and nothing has changed…), the leak fearmongering sounds to me to be just that. Consider the source.
        Moreover, consider what that source wants: Media cooperation with (non-civilian) military brass to determine how many decades all the wars will last, regardless of what voters think.
        As I’d have liked to say to Dick Cheney and the rest, if you want privacy, get into another line of work.
        Up till now, the Times and Daniel Ellsberg have been widely recognized as heroes who did help bring a disastrous and unwinnable war to a close, and like it or not, Assange is the closest thing to Ellsberg we’ve got left; someone to remind us that the moral catastrophe of war is generally brought about by lying sociopaths who need to be stopped.
        I just read a lovely piece in the WaPoo about how Iraq will be just Jim dandy.. by 2025 at the latest. (h/t Paul’s News Blast…) If that’s where we’re heading, we can take our chances with Assange.

        • It’s true. Daniel Ellsberg was indeed a hero for bringing the facts to light about Vietnam. But, if you look at the “Pentagon Papers” that Ellsberg presented, they were about our military’s “strategic” assessment of the actions taking place in Southeast Asia. They told of the high-level arrogance that got us into (and kept us in) that war. Assange’s publications, on the other hand, are nothing more than ground-level day-to-day tactical operational discourse. His disclosures don’t provide any insight into the insane strategic decisions that were made within the Bush administration. That is what made Ellsberg’s work so important.

          I’m all for publishing the details about the fuck-ups who got us into the war in Iraq, but Assange’s disclosures don’t do that. They don’t even come close to the Ellsberg “Pentagon Papers.”

      • dirigo says:

        RMP and I have had an email exchange on this.

        Not to speak for him, but as a vet myself, we both know, as you do, Steve, how the military works.

        It has its necessary procedures, to keep information close, especially to ensure that troops are protected as much as possible during operations. It is a fact that no military in the world, or in history, is as protective of its force as the American military. Maybe the Brits and the French, but few others who actually are capable of high-tempo offensive operations. The rest today are defensive, protective, advisory, or technical. In support.

        This is not to lionize any military (yes, they lie in their own interest), or any war, but under these circumstances, it needs to be said that Assange may be naive, just as Steve, and some of Assange’s people, suggest. His data dump, a pile of chaff about tactical fuck ups, company-level faux pah, and chow line gripes, may not add up to a damning strategic take down.

        Based on reporting on the dump thus far, it is fair to ask whether a total dump, rather than an edited one, one sufficient to protect people who may become fair game for reprisals, is irresponsible.

        I’m no military expert by any means. Jaysus! – I was in the Air Force! But I do know a moving force in battle does not have the time to dot every I and cross every T when it comes to collateral damage or atrocities among or between the “conquered” peoples. Sherman, bloody bastard that he may have been, had orders to take Atlanta and march to the sea, and that’s what he bloody did. The idea was to sue for peace and end that war.

        I’m very interested in a serious inquiry into the call to invade Iraq (Gen. Shelton?) and the torture that occurred after, some of the “distortions” Steve alludes to.

        “Gosh! This IS a huge mess. Can we get the former president in to talk about any of this?”

        Nick Clegg, the UK coalition leader, has called for additional probes into torture, on top of the pending Chilcot probe into the Iraq invasion.

        There’s still nothing happening in this country on these two intertwined issues. Oh they’ll fry this trooper Manning’s butt, and some others, and then the Pentagon, as it may be already, will close the tech donut hole.

        I don’t care, really, about Assange’s reputation, mental state, hurt feelings, or whether he’s getting any. If he becomes another Ellsberg, that’d be okay, but time will tell.

        I do care about our people in the service. As with many who were involved during Vietnam, a similar rage bubbles up, and I say: “Leave them alone.”

        Don’t mean nuthin’ …

        • Well said Dirigo. I too am sensitive to issues related to our people in the service. They’re just doing their job. It’s the higher-ups (the ones who got us into this mess) that need to have closer scrutiny. Let’s hope that the Clegg and Chilcot investigations get into the strategic decisions that led to torture and the distortions leading to the invasion.

          btw: I haven’t seen any comments from RMP lately. Hope he’s doing well.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Ah, there might be more truth to NYT story, perhaps, but it’s just another important facet missed by that crack reporter John Burns.
      The point of his story was to say that nobody crosses the Pentagon and gets away with it; the parts about the other priorities didn’t interest him much. Great catch; I hadn’t seen that.

  2. FunnyDiva says:

    Dear Cocktailhag,

    I’ve been so enjoying your blog the last few months. The combination of on-target Snark and lyrical prose is just irresistible! (love your “memoir” posts, too!)

    But this, this one is just perfect and I couldn’t resist sticking in my oar to comment. Well done. Well done indeed.


    • cocktailhag says:

      Why thank you, Dear; what a nice comment. I’m in favor of your commenting much more often, in fact.
      I always appreciate being appreciated. Wish I could think of something to write about today…..

  3. Ché Pasa says:

    I’ve been trying my best to understand what’s really going on with Julian and WikiLeaks because from my perspective, it just don’t sit right. For someone who constantly says he doesn’t want the story to be about him, Julian sure as hell makes it about himself. John Burns wrote a profile that touches on some of the accusations against Julian and holy hell breaks loose, and why? If it’s not about Julian, then who cares what Burns writes? John Burns is very good writer, and he is a stone warmonger. What he writes — or doesn’t write — about Julian is irrelevant. What matters is what’s in the docs that Julian has partnered with the Times for American publication.

    Oh, but wait. The Times has consistently been one of the most Empire supporting, bloodthirsty and warmongering of any American media outlet. Why would Julian partner with them to begin with? What does he expect to accomplish, when he should know that the Times will at the least distort, and at worst completely falsify what’s in these field reports, knowing that most people will never ever read them for themselves, and the Times circulation and media power will ensure that the Times’ distortions and falsifications will permeate all the American media.

    So it has been.

    What’s the deal here?

    From my perspective, there’s no reason these field reports were classified in the first place, except for the fact that that’s what the military and the government does. It is their way. But there is very little in them — at least from what I’ve seen, and that’s not a whole lot in the vast, eternal scheme — that warrants “secrecy”, and what there is that should be “secret” can easily be censored. (When the Government does it, it’s censorship, and when it is explained why something is being censored, even radical civil libertarians rarely have a problem with it. The problem is in classifying everything “secret.” That’s just unadulterated horseshit.)

    These reports are now being selectively filtered and “interpreted” by the Times to present a certain picture of Our Imperial Project that supports the long-time Times perspective: Iran must be destroyed and Our Glorious Empire must endure forever because the gibbering Natives obviously can’t rule themselves by civilized standards.

    As I’ve put it in other contexts: More Empire (Done Better)™.

    That is already the congealing CW.

    Is that what Julian had in mind when he partnered with the Times? Well, that’s what he got.