Psychological Warfare and Self-Parody at the New York Times

By Tortilla con Sal

Most people interested in getting a true and fair view of foreign affairs realize they stand little chance of finding it in the New York Times.

For a long time now, most people interested in getting a true and fair view of foreign affairs have realized they stand little chance of finding it in the New York Times. Here in Nicaragua, the veteran Sandinista guerrilla fighter, politician and former human rights ombudsman, Omar Cabezas, used to recall how, when he visited the New York Times many years ago, he was amused to learn that the NYT’s editorial office was known as “the Kitchen”.

Judith Miller’s phony reporting on Iraq showed how appropriate that nickname is for an information outlet that almost literally cooks up its foreign news. Just as some of the corporate elite’s most extreme overseas policies of pillage and plunder have come home to plague domestic social and economic policy in the United States, so domestic news coverage by the New York Times more and more reflects that same process in the corporate disinformation sphere.

Current New York Times editorials shamelessly puff the archetypal yankee imperialist, war criminal and unrepentant Wall Street shill Hillary Clinton, while disparaging and belittling the powerful grassroots appeal of Bernie Sanders. Like its phony progressive British equivalent, the Guardian, the supposedly liberal New York Times collapses ever more frequently into self-parody, especially so in its coverage of events in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Here, its role in NATO’s global psychological warfare has been to attack any sign of anti-imperialist resistance, in particular Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, but also governments ranging from revolutionary Cuba to Argentina under the government of Cristina Fernandez.

Among the routine disinformation techniques are: presenting ill-informed, biased opinion as “expert” while framing alternative views as prejudiced or unreasonable; cherry-picking convenient facts and omitting inconvenient facts; understating or mis-stating information that cannot be omitted but which contradicts the overall false argument; and exaggerating events and opinions that are marginal in the overall context

All these techniques appear in Suzanne Daley’s article published on April 3 under the title “Lost in Nicaragua, a Chinese Tycoon’s Canal Project“, another sterile New York Times exercise in careless and ignorant, or else deliberately skewed, misinformation. Daley inaccurately reports, “Nicaragua’s history is littered with dozens of failed canal schemes” clearly implying that Nicaragua’s current proposed Interoceanic canal project is also doomed to fail.

Her report seems purposely contrived to confuse and bewilder Western, or any other, audience to prevent them from understanding events in Nicaragua. Daley says that the project “is shrouded in mystery and producing angry protests” and suggests that nothing has happened with Nicaragua’s canal for many months, while protests against its construction are growing.

Anyone living in Nicaragua will know Daley’s report is hopelessly wrong and recycles discredited falsehoods and innuendo. Protests against the canal are virtually nonexistent in Nicaragua where over 70 percent of people positively support the project. What few protests do occur are invariably linked with efforts by the national political opposition to boost their support, currently standing at less than 9 percent of voters nationally.

To prop up her false argument, Daley’s article quotes Margaret Myers, from the center-right Inter-American Dialogue policy institute, saying, “It’s a project that has been notoriously non transparent”. In fact, through 2015, the HKND group, the Hong Kong based company building the canal and its associated projects, as well as the government’s National Interoceanic Canal Authority held extensive public meetings and exchanges over many months all along the area affected by the canal’s proposed route. At the end of May, last year, HKND presented a comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment carried out by the London-based ERM firm of consultants at the request of HKND and the Nicaraguan government.

Since then, these in-depth feasibility and environmental impact studies have been widely publicized and discussed in Nicaragua, a fact the New York Times report simply omits. The ESIA’s conclusions emphasized the need to comply with international standards in order to make the project both environmentally and economically viable, and that is what HKND Group and the Nicaraguan government are doing.

Ever since the canal was announced back in 2012, its critics have alleged that not enough time has been taken to assess its impact. Now that HKND and the National Canal Commission are carrying out ERM’s recommendations to do more work on the studies, the Nicaraguan opposition and its foreign allies, like the New York Times, smugly imply that the canal has been abandoned. Daley does mention the ESIA, but does not say that it was carried out at HKND’s and the Nicaraguan Government’s own initiative. Nor does she recognize that publication of the ESIA contradicts her own assertion at the start of her article that nothing has happened in relation to the canal for the last 16 months.

However, even more egregiously, her report omits other important developments. In February this year, the Nicaraguan Government’s report to the National Assembly restated that they expect the project will be finished in 2020. Then on March 18, a group of Japanese parliamentarians and businessmen met in Tokyo with Nicaraguan government representative Dr. Paul Oquist, in order to learn more about the canal. At the meeting, both elected officials and businessmen expressed their interest in the project.

Over the last year, German, Danish and other European businesses and government bodies have also expressed their interest in the canal and its related projects. More recently, just last March 31st, the HKND Group presented the results of the first phase of the archaeological studies in the project area which were carried out in December, 2015, resulting in the recovery of thousands of pre-Columbian pieces of incalculable value.

In the Brito area, where the canal will enter Nicaragua from the Pacific, archaeologist and historian Dr. Patrick Werner has explained there are many places that need thorough investigation before any engineering work is carried out because they offer a wealth of historical evidence from indigenous civilizations. This work is being done in accordance with Nicaraguan law as well as international criteria approved by UNESCO. HKND’s preliminary study consisted of excavations in 77 sites where more than five thousand pieces of pottery where found.

The archaeologists also found the first pre-Columbian salt processing compound in Central America and, too, fourteen early 15th Century hearths. Such findings are very important by products from the construction of the canal for a country such as Nicaragua, which in spite of its rich history, has virtually no resources to fund costly archaeological surveys and excavations.

Even more recently, on April 10, HKND Group announced that it would start an ambitious reforestation project along the path of the Canal at the beginning of the rainy season this year. The goal of the project is to plant half a million trees in the area with seeds from local growers and workers trained by the company in both planting and taking care of the trees. This reforestation program will be the largest of its kind in this part of the world, according to HKND Group’s Chief Project Adviser Bill Wild.

The program will span from the Indio Maiz natural reserve in the Caribbean to the San Miguelito wetlands bordering Lake Cocibolca also the canal route between Lake Cocibolca and the Pacific. According to Wild, this measure is motivated by the need to prevent loss of water in Lake Cocibolca. Retaining rainwater in forests around the lake and along the canal route is the easiest and cheapest way to preserve this vital resource, which is fundamental for the operation of the canal. After being in high gear since 2012, the campaign against the Nicaraguan canal in Western corporate media is now losing momentum.

A few local NGOs continue trying to mobilize international opinion against the canal without explaining how, without the canal, they propose to arrest, let alone remedy, Nicaragua’s enormous environmental problems. Nicaragua’s canal offers an epoch-making solution both to Nicaragua’s impoverishment and to the impending environmental catastrophe the country will suffer from deforestation and under-resourced water management if the canal is not built. Year by year, the developing reality of Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal debunks its opponents’ predictions.

This latest article in the New York Times is another ineffectual hatchet job reflecting the historic fear on the part of U.S. and allied elites of a Central American canal not controlled by the United States. For anyone aware of the facts, Susan Daley’s reporting in the New York Times on Nicaragua’s canal is about as convincing as Paul Krugman’s recent argument in an article attacking Bernie Sanders in the New York Times saying that U.S. banks were not at the center of the 2008 financial crisis. No one looking for a true and fair account of international affairs, in Latin America and the Caribbean or anywhere else, will find it in the generally fact free screeds cooked up in the New York Times editorial kitchen. Increasingly, the same is true of the New York Times’ domestic coverage too.