Michael Gordon and The New York Times Do It Again

Vice President Dick Cheney and his ideological soul-mates over at Fox News never tire of telling us that The New York Times is a bastion of left-liberal opinion and "unfriendly." But Cheney also loves to cite, whenever possible, the fact that "even the New York Times" agrees with his pro-war assertions, as he famously did with Michael Gordon's co-authored piece with Judith Miller that appeared on September 8, 2002 trumpeting non-existent Iraqi WMDs, and more recently with Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon's op-ed heralding significant "progress" in Iraq. Today, Michael Gordon has offered another gift for Cheney and others to claim that their hawkish views are consistent with those of the "left-liberal" paper of record.

"Hints of Progress Amid Iraq's Warring Numbers," reads Gordon's above-the-fold headline where he drums up the case for progress in Iraq ahead of General David Petraeus's testimony to Congress next week. In the second paragraph Gordon tells his readers: "Data on car bombs, suicide attacks, civilian casualties and other measures of bloodshed in Iraq indicate that the violence has been on the decline, though the levels remain higher than in 2004 and 2005." That's kind of like a doctor telling a patient that his or her cholesterol level has declined but it is still higher than it was two or three years ago. (Talk about the glass being half full.)

My favorite part of the article is where Gordon quotes Michael O'Hanlon to bolster his case that "all major categories of violence have been trending downward over the course of the year." Hold the front page! A promoter of the "surge" sees the policy he supported bearing fruit!

But Gordon has learned a couple of new journalistic lessons from his Judith Miller days. He makes sure to cite one source that is a bit critical of the claims of progress giving him a patina of "objectivity." According to the British NGO, Iraq Body Count: "Levels of violence reached an all-time high in the last six months of 2006," therefore "[o]nly in comparison to that could the first half of 2007 be regarded as an improvement." Bravo Michael! You used a non-military or intelligence source! Too bad you let this point drop like a sack of potatoes without comment.

"[T]he American command has gathered an array of statistics," Gordon writes, that make the case for continuing the occupation of Iraq. As he showed during his recent appearance on the Charlie Rose Show, where both interviewer and interviewee agreed on all of the false premises of the occupation, Gordon wholeheartedly accepts the notion that the United States is an innocent, well-intentioned actor in Iraq with altruistic goals relating to the stability and wellbeing of the Iraqi people. He believes the occupation is legitimate and legal and above board, and that it is even popular among some Iraqis. He sees the 160,000 American troops as a source of stability, not an irritant and focus of nationalistic resistance.

Gordon should read David Halberstam's The Best and Brightest to learn about how smart people armed with computers overflowing with quantitative data can promote a lost cause by remaining blind to their own false assumptions. The Johnson Administration constantly told the American people that the war in Vietnam was showing signs of significant progress. General William Westmoreland produced "body counts," numbers of "pacified" villages, numbers of Vietnamese soldiers trained, and so on. Johnson's brass hats then, like Bush's generals today, accepted a set of false premises, and then made logical arguments for staying in Vietnam based on those false premises. The sociologist C. Wright Mills called this kind of thinking "Crackpot Realism." Next week, when Petraeus testifies before Congress the nation will receive a refresher course in "Crackpot Realism."

Gordon should stick to his beat drumming up anti-Iranian sentiment by telling his readers about those "explosively formed penetrators" Iran is dumping in Iraq. We'll hear more about that in the coming months since Gordon's neo-con friends are preparing a fall push for massaging public opinion into accepting the wisdom of attacking Iran. Stay tuned.