Analyzing the Dehumanizing Rhetoric in the NYT

Dylann Hanrahan ’25

Opinion Editor

It is a bit disheartening to see past editorial staff of this paper praise the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal as the golden standard for journalism. Maybe it is naïve of me, but I assumed better. In my time at Trinity, I studied the New York Times’ involvement in the public’s consent to the war in Iraq. This month, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have caught attention online for two opinion pieces titled, “Understanding the Middle East through the Animal Kingdom” and “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital.” Let’s focus on Thomas Friedman’s comparison of the “Middle East” to the “jungle.

These comments come as no surprise as Thomas Friedman, prominent New York Times columnist, was heavily outspoken on his support for the war in Iraq and establishing “democracy” in the Middle East. If there is anyone who we should be listening to, it is definitely not Friedman as his reporting of the war in Iraq is haunting to this day. Infamously in 2003 he did an interview with Charlie Rose in which he grimly stated, “What the needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house — from Basra to Baghdad — and basically saying: Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?: You don’t think we care about our open society? You think this fantasy — we’re just gonna let it grow? Well, suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We coulda hit Saudi Arabia… We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.” The interview is full of equally questionable statements, but I write to remind us not to forget his words. Following this, in June 2003 Friedman released an opinion article in the New York Times titled “Because We Could” acknowledging the Bush administration’s failure to “produce any WMDS in Iraq” but claiming the war was for “moral reasons.” To Friedman, foreign policy is us versus them, moral versus evil, yet, we still have the masses claiming the New York Times should be our journalistic ethical standard. I want to ask how does this language help the general public’s understanding of the events? In 2011, when troops were withdrawing from Iraq, Friedman stated, “Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.” Again, hauntingly drawing on religious moral narratives that have no basis, while not batting an eye at the utter destruction his words helped cause by supporting the Bush administration with a reckless pen. The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University estimates that “280,771-315,190 people have died from direct war violence in Iraq…”

On Feb. 2, 2024, on foreign policy Friedman writes, “We have no counterstrategy that safely and efficiently kills the wasp without setting fire to the whole jungle.” Now this is not the most shocking thing he wrote as he ended the piece with, “Sometimes I contemplate the Middle East by watching CNN. Other times, I prefer Animal Planet.

Thomas Friedman’s incessant use of such dehumanizing language should be a reminder not to place your full moral and ethical trust in the opinion section of the New York Times, especially in times of war. Friedman places the United States at the top of the food chain, no surprise, as an old and tired lion who is king of the jungle. While of course, in true NYT op-ed fashion, he likens Iran to wasps and Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq as caterpillars. He compares Netanyahu to a sifaka lemur eerily adding, “That’s Bibi, always shifting side to side to stay in power and avoiding going decisively backward or forward.” Friedman’s language here is sinister as it lacks depth, calling the leader by his nickname and seemingly joking about his actions.

Fatima Bhutto, Pakistani writer and columnist wrote on X: “Through the animal kingdom? Freidman you absolutely ignorant racist… These are human beings and your failure to recognise this is part of why we are watching your country sanction the genocide of men, women and children for over 120 days.” Friedman’s opinion piece has created controversy online as many wondered how the article was approved and many argue that there is an evident double standard. Despite what many people might tell you, I suggest that you read news from all outlets – ones you agree with and ones you do not. No one should just rely on American newspapers or journalists who are clearly only aligned with one agenda.

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  1. 1
    Laura

    thank you for writing this, I had similar thoughts as to whether the NYT and WSJ can be considered the standard anymore given these “opinions” as of late.

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