First of all, Joe, I've been a longtime admirer of Blaine Harden, whom you now have filing dispatches from Belgrade. Back when I was still publishing my MediaGuide -- a critical guide to the national press -- I regularly singled out Harden for his exceptional and insightful work at the Washington Post, in Nairobi and in Warsaw. His problem now is in being transferred into Belgrade so soon after our Political Establishment had to demonize Slobodan Milosevic in order to justify President Clinton's illegal and unconstitutional intervention in the Yugoslav civil war. Times reporters now feel free to incorporate the demonized version of Milosevic's presidency into their routine dispatches, as if he were an international criminal and not a legitimate head of state. I have no objection to editorial writers playing propaganda games with their readers. The Times, the WSJournal and the Washington Post editorial writers all are playing their assigned roles for the Political Establishment in demonizing the Serbs. When the Times had Steven Erlanger in Belgrade, he scrupulously followed the highest standards of American journalism, which is why I relied on the Times for my news from Belgrade during the crisis months. Is he on vacation?
What am I to think when I pick up Saturday's Times and find the lead article on page one, by Hardin and Carlotta Gall, telling us that Serbian Orthodox church "10 years ago welcomed Mr. Milosevic's violent land grab in the collapsing Yugoslavia." Later in the piece, the reporters relate that "In the decade during which Mr. Milosevic has been fomenting ethnic war in Yugoslavia, the Serbian Orthodox Church has frequently criticized him and called for his resignation." The inference is that the church wanted him to cease his "land grabs" and "ethnic cleansing." Now, the reporters tell us there is some confusion, because the Patriarch is criticizing Milosevic for his "failure" to bring about a Greater Serbia. This is the kind of reporting that recently led Rep. Jim Saxton, the New Jersey Republican who chairs the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, to go to Belgrade to find out what the heck was going on. He came back totally disgusted with the American press, as far as I can tell. It was the other bipartisan congressional committee led by Rep. Curt Weldon [R-PA] that recently traveled to Moscow, to engage the Russian government in what finally led to the successful end to the insane NATO bombing of the region.
Now, I will defend to the death the Times right to print what it wants to print, as long as it abides by the Supreme Court ruling it won in NYT vs. Sullivan and acts without malevolence. So my complaint here only is about allowing your news pages to slide into editorial commentary, especially when it is as sophomoric as the accounts I mentioned. Hardin was back at it on Monday with a front-pager blaming the declining birth rate in Serbia on Milosevic's "four lost wars," during a decade "in which Mr. Milosevic has sent legions of Serbian men off to carve a Greater Serbia out of the ruins of the old Yugoslavia." Today we get from Hardin a piece on Milosevic's 25-year-old playboy son, which is okay, but still loaded toward the kind of adversarial journalism that crept into the Times in the bad, old Vietnam days.
Just for the sake of argument, Joe, you surely understand that the four wars that Milosevic "started" were not with foreign countries, but with pieces of Yugoslavia that wanted to get out of the federation. Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Kosovo were all part of Yugoslavia. The dominant ethnic members of each province intermingled with the ethnic minorities, including the ethnic Serbs that had integrated throughout the nation state in a Milosevic dream of a multicultural melting pot. Intermarriage was encouraged and the federal economy was so sound that the standard of living was better than some of the "capitalist" countries of Europe. Trading between people of Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox faiths made Yugoslavia the envy of eastern Europe. Milosevic was "grabbing land" the way Lincoln was "grabbing land" after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.
Please advise Hardin that if wishes to understand WHY the federation unraveled, he has to go back to 1987 and examine the economic policy changes that took place in Belgrade at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund. Yes, you know I have for a quarter century been arguing that the IMF is an Evil Empire, that destabilizes almost every country it "helps" with its friendly loans. The Times editorial page has been an active, unquestioning agent for the IMF all these years, coaxing the Congress into supplying it with fresh capital every two or three years so it can do more of its dirty work in Africa and Latin America. You know how hard it is for correspondents to cut against the editorial positions of the newspaper. But I do not recall ever reading anything in the Times about how the peace and prosperity of Yugoslavia came to such an abrupt end. Do you? As executive editor, don't you think it would be useful to have these questions asked, rather than assuming Milosevic suddenly became deranged a dozen years ago and decided to tear his country to pieces?
I've been reading the Times for 50 years now, since I started high school at Brooklyn Tech in February of 1950. When other kids wanted to grow up to be Pee Wee Reese, I wanted to grow up to be Scotty Reston. The paper has had great years and it has had miserable years, when its editors allowed its reporters to let it all hang out. My criticism is well-meaning, Joe, and I think constructive. It easily can be fixed by a note from you to your editors, simply encouraging all your reporters to ask more questions, and keep asking them until they run out of people with answers.