Monday, February 07, 2005

L.A. Times Book Review Biased Against U.S. In An Iraq Book Review

Normally, I am a fan of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and am respectful of its talented editor, Steve Wasserman.

But I was disappointed Sunday, Feb. 6, to read the review by Carol Brightman of three books touching on the war in Iraq and the U.S. military. By contrast, the New York Times Book Review on the same day was much better balanced both in its choice of books to review on the Middle East and its choice of a reviewer.

L.A. Times editors too frequently seem to ignore the fact that in occasionally leaning far to the left they destroy their own credibility with many readers. The New York Times, while often described as a liberal newspaper, usually is dispassionate enough to preserve its own good reputation.

Brightman's own recent book, "Total Insecurity: The Myth of American Omnipotence," is entitled in such a way as to strongly imply her own bias against the United States. I would expect her, in a review, to choose every spiteful comment she can find to emphasize her own point of view.

And she has certainly done that. But it is especially disheartening to see that a week after the initial round of Iraqi elections won plaudits throughout the world, and the L.A. Times itself, on its editorial page described the elections as "some unequivocal good news," Ms. Brightman chooses to use quotes indicating that the elections are bound to be a failure.

So, for instance, she quotes Christian Parenti, author of one of the books reviewed, "The Freedom, Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq," as saying in a recent interview in Mother Jones magazine, "The elections will be a sham and a disaster."

But they were not a sham and a disaster, we already know that, and simple fairness would have required the Times editors to omit this spurious quotation in a review that went to press after the elections. Since Brightman does include in her review a quote from a column written after the elections, it is absolutely clear that there was time to correct false and unfair suggestions by the time her review was printed.

Also, Brightman remarks, "Administration officials have acknowledged that whichever group wins will demand a U.S. withdrawal." Administration officials, to my knowledge, have acknowledged nothing of the sort, and, in fact, the apparently winning Shiites in the election have made it plain in the last week that they want U.S. forces to remain for the foreseeable future.

From Brightman's account, another of the books reviewed, "America's Military Today, The Challenge of Militarism," would appear to argue that the U.S. military is a mess and a disgrace. This is an extremely biased view, and the reviewer in any event has chosen to emphasize one essay in the book by the son of a Nicaraguan Sandinista who served in the Florida National Guard in Iraq, and subsequently received a bad conduct discharge.

There is no other way to read this review without concluding that the authors reviewed and the reviewer herself are one in believing that as Americans we should be ashamed of the way this country has conducted itself in Iraq. In fact, of course, the recent elections indicate we may be on the right track there.

In the other book reviewed, "The Fall of Baghdad," by Jon Lee Anderson, Brightman quotes the author as describing Saddam Hussein as a throwback to "warrior kings {who} reigned as semi-divine creatures, malevolent and munificent all at once."

The word "munificent" is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "very generous in giving, lavish, characterized by great generousity." Anyone who would describe Saddam Hussein, a simple thug and gross murderer, with such a term, is not qualified, I daresay, to have his book reviewed favorably in the Los Angeles Times.

In next week's review, I hope Mr. Wasserman will apologize for this travesty of a review.

By contrast, the New York Times review of five different books, but all on Islamic and Middle Eastern subjects, is much fairer in every respect. The NYT editors chose a reviewer, Noal Feldman, a professor at the New York University School of Law, whose own book, "What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building," conveys by its title a more neutral, dispassionate view.

At one point in his solid review, Feldman remarks, "It would be nice if the extremes of the American right and left showed some of the same measured ability to argue against mistaken American policies without impugning the integrity of the other side, but perhaps this is asking too much of ideologues caught up in the past."

Amen! We certainly did not find such measure in the review by Ms. Brightman.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Wasserman deserved the praise you give him he'd have detected the liberal bias that often crops up in his section and moderated it. Since he doesn't, that indicates he's not as "talented" as you suggest he his.

2/07/2005 1:16 PM  
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