Cover-to-Cover Liberal Bias in the Sunday Book Review

From liberal Times reporters approving of liberal books to liberal professors praising books from liberal Times reporters, the Sunday Book Review came loaded with bias from every angle.

No light summer reading here: The Times Sunday Book Review came loaded with bias from every conceivable angle, from liberal Timesreporters approving of liberal books to liberal professors praising books from liberal Times reporters.

Start with Times Metro reporter Nicholas Confessore's review of J. Peter Scoblic's "U.S. vs. Them: How a Half-Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security."

Confessore used to write for the liberal American Prospect magazine (often praising the Times from that perch) and his liberal views have poked through his reporting. Those views come through strongly in Confessore's favorable review of Scoblic's paranoid-sounding book:

As the occupation of Iraq grinds through its sixth year, many who view American involvement there as a disaster are content to blame the neoconservatives, those operatives and intellectuals inside and outside the Bush administration who once believed they could democratize the Middle East at the point of a gun. Even some right-leaning critics have declared that the neoconservative project in Iraq was both utopian and imprudent, and therefore at odds with basic conservative principles.

Not so fast, says J. Peter Scoblic. In "U.S. vs. Them," Scoblic, the executive editor of The New Republic, argues persuasively that neoconservatism isn't the problem - plain old conservatism is. For Scoblic, the Bush administration's habits of foreign affairs - its distrust of international institutions, its conviction that "good" and "evil" nations cannot coexist in the world - are part of an inglorious tradition of bad ideas that dates to the years of the cold war, when Barry Goldwater lobbied against building a Moscow-Washington hot line.

For decades, the "them" was simply the Soviet Union and its satellites. Conservatives opposed the successful bipartisan policy of containment, favoring a policy of "rollback" by force. They rejected the theory of nuclear deterrence and worked diligently to undermine the arms control agreements that brought some stability during the cold war era. They favored religious, even apocalyptic rhetoric about the Soviet threat. And they created wildly off-the-mark worst-case scenarios about Soviet military power to confirm their own biases.

Sound familiar? "George W. Bush," Scoblic writes, "is the direct descendant - indeed, the ultimate product - of this movement." Cast adrift after the cold war, conservatives seized upon the 9/11 attacks to craft a new "them": Iraq, Iran and North Korea, sponsors of the formless evil of terrorism. The Bush administration ached for a world where America could guarantee its own safety without the messiness of alliances, diplomacy and compromise, a dream that appealed to both the newfangled unilateralism of neoconservatives and the old-fashioned nationalism of paleoconservatives.


Scoblic argues convincingly that conservative foreign policy in the years since has increasingly undermined American security, most strikingly in the area of nuclear proliferation, where the Bush administration's bellicosity has spurred a new arms race among nonnuclear powers. But the book is less satisfying when trying to account for the popularity of the "us versus them" mentality among rank-and-file voters, attributing the attitude to Americans' innate tribalism and fear of death.

Victor Navasky (former editor and publisher of the far-left magazine The Nation, now chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review) was the paper'sstrange choice to review two booksinvolving late conservative icon William F. Buckley. Navasky attacked Buckley's politics but showed some sympathy for his position in the political culture as editor of an opinion journal, one Navasky shared:

I despised Buckley's rationalizing role during the McCarthy period, his early and arrogant opposition to integration, his radical conservatism and all the rest, but a part of me identified with his struggles as the proprietor of his little money-losing journal of opinion. (Despite Buckley's commitment to free enterprise, which would have ordained an early death for National Review, he often excused his annual appeal for support by observing, "You don't expect the church to make a profit, do you?") Unlike the mainstream news media, journals of opinion, right or left, admit they have a point of view, are suspicious of the Establishment press's claims to objectivity, revel in covering stories that the mainstream press either chooses to ignore or simply doesn't see, raise questions that big media prefer not to address, take it as their mission to put new issues on the national agenda, perform a troop-rallying function in times of trouble for their side, and loudly (and justly) claim an influence far in excess of what their circulation numbers would seem to entitle them to.

Long-time globe-hopping Times reporter Raymond Bonner reviewed "Standard Operating Procedure" by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, a book based on their documentary film of the same name on abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Back in April, Bonner wept over the innocents at Guantanamo Bay prisoners in a review of four books on the subject for the left-wingNew York Review of Books:

There are still hundreds of prisoners held without charge at Guantánamo, and it will in all likelihood be left to the new administration to deal with them. Until it does so, the United States will maintain its reputation as a country that has flouted the basic principles of justice and set a deplorable example for the world.

In Sunday's book section, Bonner wrote of "Standard Operating Procedure":

After the abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib was exposed in April 2004 by The New Yorker and "60 Minutes," the Bush administration sought to portray the reprehensible misconduct as the work of a few bad apples. Seeming to underscore that verdict was the fact that soldiers took pictures of themselves, smiling, holding thumbs up, with the naked, dead, abused and humiliated prisoners.

Unfortunately, the truth, which emerges with painful clarity from "Standard Operating Procedure," is that what happened at Abu Ghraib was not only tolerated but condoned and encouraged. Harsh treatment wasn't punished; it was rewarded. When First Lt. Carolyn Wood of the Army was in charge of the interrogation center at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan in 2003, she established a policy that allowed prisoners to be held in solitary confinement for a month, to be stripped, shackled in painful positions, kept without sleep, bombarded with sound and light. Three prisoners were beaten to death on her watch. She was awarded a Bronze Star, one of the armed forces' highest combat medals, promoted to captain and sent to Iraq.

Finally, liberal Cornell economics professor and Times contributor Robert Frank reviewed "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker" by Times' labor reporter Steven Greenhouse.

In this and a host of other ways, the environment confronting American workers has grown nastier in the last three decades. Millions of workers have seen their employers abandon longstanding company pension plans, and even larger numbers have lost their health insurance. Violations of safety regulations and other work rules are increasingly common. The median hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, has scarcely increased at all, even as the risk of being laid off has risen sharply.

In "The Big Squeeze," the New York Times labor correspondent Steven Greenhouse interviews hundreds of workers who have had to adapt to these changes. He explores the forces that have transformed their lives and offers suggestions for what might be done to help them cope.


All the while, Greenhouse reports, the American legal climate was growing more hostile to labor unions. The watershed event, in his account, was President Reagan's 1981 decision to fire 11,500 air-traffic controllers who had initiated an illegal strike. Since then, a large industry of union-busting consulting firms has emerged and prospered, often through illegal tactics that draw little scrutiny from the Justice Department.

In his book, Greenhouse lobbies for liberal laws, with Frank's approval:

In any event, Greenhouse is wise to acknowledge the possibility that many of the problems he describes are rooted in competitive forces beyond any individual company's control. If so, then collective action is the only remedy. His suggestion to strengthen labor laws could help, but probably only in industries sheltered from foreign competition....As Greenhouse observes in his closing chapter, the components of an efficient social safety net are reasonably well understood. For instance, we could easily afford a single-payer health system like the one in France, which covers everyone and delivers better health care for about half the amount we now spend per capita.