NOVEMBER 14, 2007
IF YOU'RE "RIGHT," BEING WRONG DOESN'T MATTER
by Myriam Miedzian and Gary Ferdman
This September, over 3,500 Stanford University faculty members signed a petition protesting Donald Rumsfeld's appointment at the university's Hoover Institute as Distinguished Visiting Fellow on a task force on terrorism and ideology.
Should we be surprised that Rumsfeld was hired by one of our nation's most prestigious universities for his alleged expertise on terrorism and ideology after getting us into a disastrous and unnecessary war in Iraq, making all the wrong decisions on how to run it, and setting up his own propagandistic intelligence group at the Pentagon when CIA intelligence did not serve his political needs? He also provided terrorists with a recruiting bonanza, paving the road to Abu Ghraib by approving the use of torture.
For conservative hawks, as far as the media and academia are concerned, being disastrously wrong rarely has disastrous consequences for their careers. Take neo-con Bill Kristol, a founder of the Project on the New American Century, purveyors of today's disastrous Bush foreign policy, and early advocate of attacking Iraq. His reward for being wrong--he gets to teach a class in Public Policy at Harvard and is appointed part-time "star" columnist for Time Magazine which provides him with a nationwide platform from which to compound his earlier mistakes by calling for an attack on Iran.
Ann Coulter, in spite of being tragically wrong about the war, outrageously wrong about 9/11 widows, and unconscionably wrong about John Edwards, still has her column distributed to newspapers across the country by Universal Press Syndicate.
Victor Davis Hanson is a Classics professor and military historian much admired--and listened to-- by Dick Cheney. Hanson who was a major advocate of attacking Iraq is now at Stanford's Hoover Institute. In 2004, the Tribune Media Services provided him with a syndicated column.
There's nothing new here. Vietnam War extender and defender Henry Kissinger, who was Richard Nixon's Secretary of State and played a key role in the secret bombing of Cambodia, has probably appeared as a foreign policy "expert" on more TV talk shows than any other former statesman.
Vehement anti-communist Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan's foreign policy advisor and United Nations ambassador favored supporting friendly right wing dictatorship because as she put it "traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies."
Although her contention that right-wing "authoritarian" governments are more amenable to democratic reform than left-wing "totalitarian" states was proved wrong by Gorbachev, glasnost, the end of Soviet communism, and the transition to democracy of former Soviet republics and much of Eastern Europe, she continued to be a favorite of TV talk show hosts.
So if being "right" and wrong gives you prestige in the academy, broad media exposure and the ear of presidents and presidential candidates, what happens to people who are "left" and consistently right?
Even if you're over fifty, unless you're from Connecticut, you've probably never heard of Chester Bowles who after serving as governor and member of Congress , became Undersecretary of State in the Kennedy administration. Unlike Kissinger, Bowles was right on some of the most important issues of the time. He opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War. As a result, he was eased out of Kennedy's inner circle of advisors. Even after it became clear that the Vietnam war had been a terrible mistake, he was not sought after as a TV pundit or columnist, and more generally never got the kind of media attention that was showered on Kissinger.
The establishment media fired Phil Donahue and Bill Maher who had the courage to speak truth to power. Despite solid ratings, Donahue was dismissed by MSNBC in 2003 because of his opposition to the Iraq war. Maher was banished from his popular nightly ABC gig for uttering the obvious truth that the 9/11 terrorists were correctly described as murderers but could not be called cowards since they sacrificed their lives for their deeply misguided cause.
Why doesn't Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism czar in the Clinton and Bush Administrations who rightly criticized the Bush Administration for not connecting the obvious dots prior to 9/11, and opposed attacking Iraq, have a "star" column in Time Magazine? Why isn't World War II hero and former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern a regular on Sunday Morning talk shows? Why was his Op-Ed on the need for the United States to lead the world in reducing nuclear weapons rejected by top-tier newspapers and finally published in the Miami Herald? (Bill Kristol doesn't seem to have this kind of problem, he recently advocated "limited military actions" against Iran in a Washington Post Op-Ed.) McGovern was right in opposing the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and his 2006 book outlines a detailed plan for getting out of Iraq. What could be more timely and relevant?
Reverend Bob Edgar, a leading and early religious voice of opposition to the Iraq invasion when he was General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, which represents more Protestants than any other organization in the United States, was virtually ignored by the major national media, while the major TV networks saturated the airwaves with pro-war religious leaders like the late Jerry Falwell.
And it's not just the media and academia that take seriously those on the right even when they're proven wrong.
Presidential candidate John McCain is advised by Bill Kristol and Henry Kissinger, while Norman Podhoretz, Charles Hill, and other early advocates of attacking Iraq have the ear of Rudy Giuliani.
So the lesson is clear. If you want a platform to cheerlead for ill-advised wars, warp the minds of the future generations of policy makers now studying at our elite universities, and provide disastrous advice to current and future leaders, your best bet is to be both wrong and "right."
Myriam Miedzian is the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and writes frequently on social and political issues. Her website is: Gary Ferdman is a non-profit executive.