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Revealed: Corporation-Courting Imperialist Thomas Friedman

The following is an excerpt of my interview with Aaron Leonard for Truthout, which is currently featuring The Imperial Messenger as its Progressive Pick of the Week.

AL: Why does The New York Times, arguably the most influential newspaper in the world, have a Thomas Friedman?

BF: Friedman is far from alone when it comes to providing a veneer of independent validation to state and corporate hegemonic endeavors – ones in which they are entirely complicit. He just happens to enjoy a special symbiosis with centers of power. He is sought out by Barack Obama to explain phenomena like the Arab Spring (which Friedman obligingly determines was in fact propelled by five “not-so-obvious forces,” among them Obama himself). He receives awards from Goldman Sachs for writing about how important corporate globalization is for human progress. He boasts of plugging the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) without perusing its contents beyond the two words “free trade.” He emits grating corporate-military slogans like: “Attention Kmart shoppers: Without America on duty, there will be no America Online.” The New York Times itself is nothing but a mouthpiece for empire and capital. When considered from that perspective, it makes perfect sense that the Times would have a Friedman. And as long as there is no overwhelming uproar over his stupidity, there’s no reason they should dismiss him; it’s a winning partnership.

AL: From your book one gets a sense that Friedman is really a guerrilla marketer for the hotel industry. Could you talk some about his style?

BF: Yes, guerrilla marketer not only for hotels but also computers (e.g., “when I was done interviewing the mayor, I thanked him and started to pack up my IBM ThinkPad laptop)”; airlines (“As I was boarding my Emirates Air flight from Dubai to Pakistan the other day)”; etc.

People often joke that the only normal human beings Friedman converses with – outside his usual circle of CEOs and national leaders – are cab drivers. In fact Friedman has a certain insistence on speaking on behalf of the world’s inhabitants without actually speaking to them first. Readers are instructed to “just ask any Indian villager” for confirmation that U.S.-directed globalization is desirable, and are informed in 1999 that it is “stupid” to oppose globalization: “The [anti-WTO] Seattle protesters need to understand that. The people of Sri Lanka already do.” The latter insight is gleaned from Friedman’s chat with the owner of a Sri-Lanka based Victoria’s Secret underwear factory, who obviously does not qualify as “the people of Sri Lanka.”

Click here to read the interview in its entirety at Truthout.

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