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10 of Thomas Friedman's Dumbest "Big Ideas"

The following is an excerpt from my piece for AlterNet on 10 lesser-known Friedmanian gems.

In conferring the honor of “Wanker of the Decade” on New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, blogger Duncan Black observed that “truly great wankers possess a kind of glib narcissism, the belief that everything is about them while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility for anything.” The sorry “state of the world is what it is,” Black continued, “in large part because people in positions of great power think this absurd buffoon of man is a Very Serious Person.”

Most readers are presumably familiar with the most prominent theories to have emerged from the brain of Thomas Friedman over the course of his career. To name a few here:

  1. The world is flat.
  2. Countries that have McDonald’s do not go to war with each other—except when they do, in which case it is preferable if the outcome of the conflict indicates that Serbs “wanted to stand in line for burgers, much more than they wanted to stand in line for Kosovo.”
  3. By pure coincidence, the 2011 Arab uprisings were caused by some of Friedman’s own favorite topics: Barack Obama, Google Earth, Israel, the Beijing Olympics, and Salam Fayyad. (See blogger Sarah Carr’s response, in which she notes the additional revolutionary impetus provided by the 2008 Cheese-Rolling Competition near Gloucester, England.)

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The Emperor's Messenger Has No Clothes: Belén Fernández Dresses Down Thomas Friedman

Robert Jensen

The following is an excerpt from a review for Truthout by Robert Jensen, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. Also included in the review is an interview with me.

The Imperial Messenger is currently the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week.

How does a journalist with a track record of bad predictions and a penchant for superficial analysis – a person paid to reflect about the world yet who seems to lack the capacity for critical self-reflection – end up being treated as an oracle?

The answer is simple: Friedman tells the privileged, and those who aspire to privilege, what they want to hear in a way that makes them feel smart; his trumpeting of US affluence and power are sprinkled with pithy-though-empty anecdotes, padded with glib turns of phrases. He’s the perfect oracle for a management-focused, advertising-saturated, dumbed-down, imperial culture that doesn’t want to come to terms with the systemic and structural reasons for its decline. In Friedman’s world, we’re always one clichéd big idea away from the grand plan that will allow us to continue to pretend to be the shining city upon the hill that we have always imagined we were/are/will be again.

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Financial Times betrays Thomas Friedman

Today marks the release of yet another book by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ prolific foreign affairs columnist whose articles over the years have exposed such trends as the “collective madness” of Palestinians and the progress in Mexican baby names to more NAFTA-friendly alternatives than Juan, such as Alexander and Kevin.

Friedman’s latest book, endearingly titled That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, is coauthored by Friedman’s “intellectual soulmate”, the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum—a longtime staple of Friedman columns and a purveyor of such predictable notions as that “The real threat to world stability is not too much American power. It is too little American power”.

Despite having admitted to an audience in Istanbul that his two previous bestsellers—The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded, marketed as wakeup calls concerning globalization and clean energy, respectively—really “have nothing to do with technology or environment at heart” and are instead “basically cries of the heart to get my country focused on fixing itself”, Friedman managed to advertise That Used to Be Us as “the first book I’ve really written about America” during an interview with Fox’s Don Imus earlier this year.

Slightly more surprising than Friedman’s continuing habit of self-contradiction is a recent less-than-favorable review of the new book on the website of the Financial Times, the institution that in 2005 partnered with Goldman Sachs to bestow upon Friedman the first annual £30,000 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for The World Is Flat. Friedman responded to the honor by referring to the pair as “two such classy organizations”, before finally conceding two years after the 2008 financial crisis that Goldman Sachs is perhaps in fact “utterly selfish”.

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Turkey blocks blogspot

When I first noticed earlier this month that I was unable to access my blog here in Turkey, I assumed that I had unintentionally offended Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, whose sanctity has caused Turkish courts to block YouTube access for extended periods of time.

It quickly became clear, however, that the crime was not mine and that blogspot.com had simply been blocked at the order of a court in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır, following complaints by the Digiturk satellite network that its exclusive football broadcasting rights had been violated somewhere on the site.

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U.S. confused by lack of press freedom in Turkey

Last week Turkey arrested four journalists suspected of links to the ultranationalist Ergenekon organization, which is accused of plotting to force a military coup against the ruling AK Party.

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone responded to the arrests by stressing the importance of freedom of the press:

Journalists are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of the speech are given on the other. We do not understand this.”

In the interest of adding to the ambassador’s confusion, I am submitting the following two recent news excerpts on the subject of press freedom. The first is from an article in The Guardian about the possible true identity of “Raymond Davis,” the American contractor who murdered between two and three people in Pakistan at the end of last month. The second is from the introduction to a Democracy Now! interview with American journalist Brandon Jourdan.

1. “A number of US media outlets learned about Davis’s CIA role but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration. A Colorado television station, 9NEWS, made a connection after speaking to Davis’s wife. She referred its inquiries to a number in Washington which turned out to be the CIA. The station removed the CIA reference from its website at the request of the US government.”

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