Has the Biden administration lost the support of The New York Times, the stalwart and lead steer of the liberal media, in response to the nightmarish cascade of errors it has committed in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
A distinct wave of disapproval, disdain and skepticism is redolent in the Times’s recent coverage. If it persists, it could encourage throngs of other media to follow suit, thwarting the Biden agenda and the Democrats’ prospects in the mid-term elections.
This goes beyond the Times opinion pages, for the news pages of the Gray Lady are just as telling in their slant.
On Saturday, Afghanistan anguish occupied the entire front page above the fold. Lead story headline, all caps: “A SUICIDE BOMBER HID IN PLAIN SIGHT AT PACKED AIRPORT.” Deck: “Attacker Ignited Explosives Just as U.S. Troops Were About to Frisk Him.”
Page One sidebar on Afghan family: “Family That Worked With U.S. Buries a Father and Their Hopes.” Second one: “Marine Barely Older Than War Is Killed Bringing It to an End.”
On Sunday, the top of the fold again was all Afghan misery again: “Frenzied Exit From Kabul Nears End as the President Cites a New Terror Threat.” And in the headline framed by the photos of 13 U.S. troops killed in a suicide bomber blast at the Kabul airport: “Americans Mourn 13 Fallen Troops In Final Days of War in Afghanistan.”
The most revealing story in the Times, however, may have been the one that ran last week: “How Mexico Helped The Times Get Its Journalists Out of Afghanistan.” It told of how the paper’s Kabul staff wanted to help their Afghan colleagues flee the country.
Instead of tapping its sources in the U.S. administration, the Times turned to the foreign minister of Mexico, who came to the rescue. The mission also included Afghan staff for The Wall Street Journal, the Times reported.
The story, Times media columnist Ben Smith writes, “offers a disorienting glimpse of the state of the American government as two of the country’s most powerful news organizations frantically sought help far from Washington.”
It continues: “Mexican officials, unlike their counterparts in the United States (emphasis added), were able to cut through the red tape of their immigration system to quickly provide documents that, in turn, allowed the Afghans to fly from Kabul’s embattled airport to Doha, Qatar.”
The piece says “the politicized and bureaucratic American immigration system has struggled to meet the crisis,” and it cites “the frantic and scattershot evacuation of Kabul.”
The Mexican caper began with the Times’ former bureau chief in Kabul and Mexico, Azam Ahmed, writing a personal, encrypted text to his old source, Marcelo Ebrard, the Mexican foreign minister, at 5 p.m. on August 12. He asked: “Is the government of Mexico willing to receive refugees from Afghanistan?”
It was willing, indeed. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim owns a small stake in The New York Times’ parent company, although no mention of this is made in the Times story. After the Mexican government struck an accord to help 24 Afghan families linked to the Times, it extended a similar offer to the Journal and The Washington Post. The Journal accepted the offer, no word from WashPost.
The Times put the touch on Mexico after the publishers of the Times, the Journal and the Post had issued a joint plea to the Biden administration on Monday, August 16, asking for help:
“For the past 20 years, brave Afghan colleagues have worked tirelessly to help The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal share news and information from the region with the global public. Now those colleagues and their families are trapped in Kabul, their lives in peril,” as the Post reported.
Apparently the Biden team’s response, if it responded at all, was insufficient.
The media can overlook and forgive many things — except when a source puts them in danger or makes them look stupid. In the cluster-flup that is Afghanistan, both sins are occurring.
When two of the most important newspapers in the world (I worked at The Journal for 16 years) turn to Mexico rather than the U.S. government for help in an international crisis, it is a vote of “no confidence” that could dog Joe Biden for months to come.
Dennis Kneale is a writer and media strategist in New York, after six years as anchor at CNBC and Fox Business Network and 25 years at The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. He helped write "The Trump Century: How Our President Changed the Course of History," by Lou Dobbs, published in September 2020 by HarperCollins. Read Dennis Kneale's reports — More Here.
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