Below is an excerpt from David Cronin‘s review for The Electronic Intifada of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, slated for release by Verso this coming Monday, Nov. 7. Cronin, the author of Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation, writes:
Few books on current affairs merit being called page-turners; because of Fernández’s witty and punchy style, this one does.
Even though just one chapter is specifically focused on the “special relationship” between Israel and the US, Friedman’s commitment to Zionism is criticized throughout Fernández’s book.
While Friedman has claimed he learned he was “more Middle East than Minnesota” on his first visit to Jerusalem in 1968 (55), Fernández stresses that his refusal to analyze Zionism and its legacy from a critical perspective means that all his work on the region must be treated with circumspection (54).
In any event, his claim is a dubious one; a great deal of his travels are spent in the Westernized environments of golf clubs, luxury hotels or hamburger restaurants (Friedman’s most famous and ludicrous theory is that no two countries hosting a branch of McDonald’s have gone to war against each other (3)).
Perhaps the best thing about this book is how it highlights the shoddiness of Friedman’s research and how someone who has been lauded by Pulitzer Prize judges for his “clarity of vision” is frequently muddled and inconsistent.
Last year Friedman stated that “when widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem” (135). Yet his own copy is known to rely on sources of questionable veracity, in particular the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which, according to Friedman, offers “an invaluable service” by translating foreign-language articles written by Arabs and Muslims into English (61).
MEMRI is a somewhat shadowy neoconservative outfit, yet on its website it is candid about one of its goals: to aid the US government and military in their “war on terror.” By definition, then, the “invaluable service” is fighting a propaganda battle on behalf of American foreign policy.
Another telling example of why Friedman should not be trusted is that he concluded Yasser Arafat was a “bad man” based on a Google search, which yielded more hits when Arafat’s name was combined with “jihad” and “martyrdom” than when it was combined with “education” (106).
Meanwhile, Friedman’s view of Israeli settlements has veered from arguing their continued expansion was as irresponsible as drunk-driving (96) to dismissing them as “extraneous” to the underlying conflict (93) within the space of a seven-month period.