6.30.2013

That time an iconic war criminal and a hard-hitting journalist got together for a warm chat

Here's the charming and elegant former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a 1996 appearance on 60 Minutes, responding to a question from Lesley Stahl on the murderous regime of economic sanctions the U.S. imposed on Iraq:
Lesley Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it? 
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.
"You know, is the price worth it?" Those of us who are Unserious about foreign policy have focused on Albright's sociopathic answer to this question for years. It's worth noting that the question itself, though, is fucking insane. Stahl, a journalist, just casually asks one of the most powerful political leaders in the country if murdering 500,000 children for no reason whatsoever is "worth it." She might as well have been asking about a parking ticket.

Albright has never, to my knowledge, been called out for her genocidal lunacy by anyone in the courtier press. She is one of the more respected and beloved members of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), and supporting genocide is hardly grounds for having one's membership in the FPC revoked (that would require a sex scandal or something).


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On Friday, Albright sat down for a warm chat with Andrea Mitchell, aka Mrs. Greenspan. Mitchell hilariously fancies herself as some kind of intrepid truth-teller; she brags in her MSNBC promo that she personally confronted Sudanese president al-Bashir over his genocidal assault on the people of Darfur. It probably doesn't even dawn on her that the primary role of an American political journalist is to challenge and confront American power. Confronting the leader of an Official Enemy takes approximately zero courage or integrity.

The idea of confronting Albright over her shocking support for murdering a half a million innocent children has probably never even arisen in her head. Mitchell, you see, is only horrified by genocide when Other Leaders engage in it. Bringing up dead children to Albright would just be terribly impolite and it would make the next Georgetown cocktail party so very awkward.

The glamorous, sometimes-opponent of genocide and her esteemed guest, then, decided to Look Forward, Not Backward, and had a very pleasant discussion on current developments in the Middle East. Mitchell dutifully referred to Albright by the honorific "Madam Secretary" and started the interview by praising her as "someone who knows shuttle diplomacy well" and thanking her "so much" for her presence. Mitchell repeatedly referred to the U.S. government as "we" and "our" - what do "we" do if Syria spins out of control, what do "we" do if Morsi cracks down in Egypt, Jordan is "our" strongest Arab ally. As Matt Taibbi recently wrote, "as a journalist, when you start speaking about political power in the first-person plural - it's pretty much glue-factory time."

After letting this deranged killer spew a bunch of meaningless platitudes like "what is important about democracy is listening to the people," Mitchell implied that Albright was the great humanitarian of the Clinton administration, always trying to convince the Colin Powells of the world to save someone, somewhere. Albright accepted Mitchell's praise/question and dusted off her old talking points:
"I mean, do think that there is a responsibility in the international community to protect those who are in fact being murdered or ethnically cleansed for no reason."
U.S. sanctions apparently qualify as a valid "reason" for mass murder. Mitchell closed the fearless, adversarial interview by commending Albright for her "hard work on reconciliation," providing her with an opportunity to praise Nelson Mandela, and complimenting "Madam Secretary" on her Lady Liberty pin.

This stuff matters. Yes, the notion of Mitchell confronting Albright over war crimes is completely ludicrous, but we shouldn't let ourselves forget that in a functioning democracy with an adversaral press, of course the journalist would confront the war criminal. It would be the first question! The fact that establishment journalists giving hot stone massages to the powerful is the norm in this country does not mean that right-thinking people should cease pointing it out. Especially in the current moment, with Glenn Greenwald having exposed so much of establishment journalism for what it is and opening way more eyes to the twisted, incestuous relationship between political power and its servants in the press.