The fact is that such naked gushing over all that lethal Pentagon hardware is perfectly okay from someone with Helene Cooper’s racial/gender/national profile. It’s amazing what you can say if you’re only diverse enough.
Every day, on page A2, the New York Times runs an excruciating feature called “Inside the Times,” wherein one of its reporters tells us (as the feature ought to be entitled) “What It’s Like to Be Me at the New York Times.” Such narcissistic burbling is so empty, and so much less enlightening than the news we should be getting from that skimpy propaganda rag, that this feature cannot possibly have been concocted in response to readership demand (unless those readers are the Times’ reporters’ mothers). What it’s really meant to do is take up space, along with all the other fluff used to fill out those first two pages of the Times: e.g., “Of Interest” (“noteworthy facts from today’s paper”), “The Conversation” (“four of the most read, shared and discussed posts from across nytimes.com“), and “The Mini Crossword,” among other trifles.
But this is not to say that we learn nothing from the me-me-me blathering in that feature. Check out what the feature told us last month in “From Refugee to Pentagon Correspondent, Helene Cooper on Covering ‘the Best Beat in Washington,’” an interview with Times employee Cooper.
First, there’s this bit of background:
How did you get into journalism?
I arrived in the United States from Liberia as a refugee at the age of 14. There had been a military coup in Liberia, and members of my family were attacked and shot. I hadn’t seen it coming, too consumed by my adolescent life to pay attention to what was going on around me.
Once we got to the United States, I became obsessed with the news. I devoured the local newspaper and read back copies of The New York Times. I watched ABC’s “World News Tonight” every day, wanting any glimmer of information on what was happening in Liberia and elsewhere around the world. This was in part because I never wanted to be surprised by something again, and in part because I felt isolated in Knoxville, Tenn., where we lived. I used the news as an escape.
Then I read “All the President’s Men” and was hooked. It was for A.P. American History in 11th grade. That was when I decided I wanted to be a reporter.”
Thus we learn that Helene Cooper is a woman of color (lest we miss that point, there’s a drawing of her face above the title) and, as well, an immigrant to these United States (so take that, Donald Trump!) and, to boot, an immigrant of color who was forced to spend her teen years feeling “isolated” out among the nativist deplorables in Tennessee, where she “used the news as an escape,” hungrily absorbing what she could from “back copies of The New York Times” and “ABC’s ‘World News Tonight,'” until she “read ‘All the President’s Men’ and was hooked,” deciding she would go to work as “a reporter.”
Checking out all the toys
Now read how this reporter feels about her daily beat:
What do you enjoy most about being a Pentagon correspondent? What is most challenging about it?
The cool hardware! I love checking out all the toys the American military has. I’ve flown for hours in the co-pilot seat of a B-1 bomber, including during midair refuels. I’ve done the catapult takeoff and abrupt landing on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. I’ve been in Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters over Baghdad, Kabul and the DMZ, on the border of North and South Korea. I’ve been on an American naval destroyer in the South China Sea while it was being shadowed by the Chinese. That part of the job is just pure fun.
But covering the military also allows me to keep my hand in national security policy, about which I love writing. I think the Pentagon is the best beat in Washington.
The challenging part is the language. The military lives and dies by acronyms. Sometimes sources sound as if they don’t even want to speak English. I’m always stopping people mid-sentence to make them explain what they’re saying.”
Where to begin? As to the orgasmic thrill that this “reporter” gets from riding in those homicidal “toys,” one wonders how that would go down if Helene were H. Lane Cooper, a fat white guy with a buzz-cut, born in Knoxville as opposed to having fled there from Liberia. The fact is that such naked gushing over all that lethal hardware is perfectly okay from someone with her racial/gender/national profile, even as that hardware is now being inescapably deployed in 36 code-named military operations all over her home continent, and wherever else “our troops” are on the job (for a different take on the “pure fun” of riding high in an Apache helicopter, see “Collateral Murder”).
And now for some real challenges
And while it can’t be easy mastering all those acronyms, if that’s what Helene Cooper finds “most challenging” about her beat, she needs to check out what’s been written on the Pentagon, and/or its works, by journalists who haven’t had the time, desire or opportunity to go joy-riding in a B-1 bomber.
For example, Helene Cooper would find it “most challenging” to press her sources on the $21 trillion that the Pentagon could not account for when finally audited late last year. If Cooper were to look into that mind-boggling disappearance, and the Pentagon’s decades of stonewalling as to where their money (that is, our money) goes, it could be the “most challenging” investigation of her whole career, since the Times and all the rest of “our free press” have carefully refrained from such investigation, even as the Pentagon has, year after year, asked for still more funding by Congress (which gladly hands it over), as Dave Lindorff — who broke the news of that failed audit in The Nation — noted in an interview with FAIR:
…[W]hat we’re learning is that one of the main reasons for these plugs in the budget is to allow the Pentagon to come into Congress and say, “Look, we spent all the money you gave us last year, and we need more.” When, in fact, they probably are not spending all the money they get each year, and then the money that doesn’t get spent, which by law is supposed to be returned to the Treasury, gets — they have a term for it — it gets “nippered” away from the category it was in, and moved to five-year money in other parts of the budget, where it gets hidden away, and becomes a slush fund that the Pentagon can use for black projects and other things that it wants to use it for without any observation.”
Or, now that the Pentagon has warned of China’s plans to “build a string of military bases” around the world (as The Guardian has dutifully reported), adding some unspecified number to the one that China operates today (in Djibouti), Cooper also might accept the “challenge” of pressing her sources to help determine just how many military bases the U.S. runs worldwide, since, as Nick Turse noted in Asia Times in 2011, “no American knows [that number]. Not the president. Not the Pentagon. Not the experts. No one.” [emphasis added]
In fact, there are more than a thousand U.S. military bases dotting the globe. To be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077. Unless it’s 1,088. Or, if you count differently, 1,169. Or even 1,180. Actually, the number might even be higher. Nobody knows for sure.
If even the Pentagon does not know (or claims not to know) how many military bases the U.S. runs worldwide, it is because some number of “our” bases — drone bases, for example — are maintained by the CIA (see below). Couldn’t Cooper team up with some other challenge-seeking Times reporter(s) to find out that number? They could, but only if they’d want to (and if their editors would let them).
As noted parenthetically above, the Pentagon is now running 36 code-named operations in Africa. “The code-named operations cover a variety of different military missions, ranging from psychological operations to counterterrorism,” Nick Turse and Sean D. Naylor reported on Yahoo News on May 1. The countries where U.S. special operations forces saw combat — according to Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who served at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) from 2013 to 2105 — are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Tunisia. “[Bolduc] added that U.S. troops have been killed or wounded in action in at least six of them: Kenya, Libya, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Tunisia.”
How is this not big news? Although Turse and Naylor mention no such operation in Liberia, Cooper might find it “challenging” to ask her sources at the Pentagon to shed more light on those three dozen U.S. wars on her home continent.
It also would be very “challenging” for Cooper to investigate the scandal, noted very quietly by a few outlets since 2010, of the roughly 1,700 Pentagon employees — and an unknown number of defense contractors, some with high-level security clearances — seeking out and downloading child pornography on government computers.
The discovery of this apparent criminal network inside the Department of Defense arose from Operation Flicker, “a wider investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” according to Voice of America. Since this scandal is unknown to most Americans, Cooper could perform a crucial public service by doing an in-depth report on it for the New York Times, if her editor would let her. In keeping with the Times’ obsessive #MeToo coverage — and its peculiar lack of interest in the scourge of pedophilia outside the Catholic Church — Cooper has reported on Sen. Martha McSally’s (R-AZ) claim that she was raped by her superior officer in the Air Force.
The Pentagon’s school system educates 47,000 students in this country on military bases in seven states, and 24,000 students on foreign bases in 11 countries. Sexual abuse among children there is common, if not epidemic, and the military tends to let it slide, according to an AP exposé published in March of 2018:
A decade after the Pentagon began confronting rape in the ranks, the U.S. military frequently fails to protect or provide justice to the children of service members when they are sexually assaulted by other children on base, an Associated Press investigation has found.”
In between her jaunts on Black Hawks and Chinooks, Cooper might find it “most challenging” to follow up on that AP report, which seems to have run almost nowhere in the corporate press. (PBS NewsHour, to its credit, did a piece about it.) That the story made no splash makes it quite likely that the Pentagon has not done much, if anything, to make those children safe, so there’s probably a lot for Cooper to investigate.
Diversity as propaganda’s passport
Thus Helene Cooper’s record on “the best beat in Washington” — like that of Eric Schmitt, her predecessor in that role — makes quite clear (as if it hadn’t been quite clear for decades) that the New York Times is wholly at the service of the U.S. war machine, no less so than Stars and Stripes; although that newspaper is explicitly a propaganda outlet for the Pentagon, while the Times pretends to serve the interests of the public, or at least its (Trump-bumped) readership of urban liberals.
Back before it shrank into a full-blown propaganda rag, the Times was highly critical of the Pentagon’s grotesquely bloated budgets. In pieces like “C-5A Jet Repairs to Cost $1.5 Billion,” “Pentagon Discloses $2-Million Increase in Price of an F-14” (both 1975), and “How Pentagon Spending Is Wrecking the Economy” (1986), the Times offered tough reporting on the military industrial complex which is unthinkable today.
This is the same Times that just six weeks ago featured an opinion piece on “Why America Needs a Stronger Defense Industry” and that has Helene Cooper never questioning the U.S. military budget, or its ruinous effects on all the rest of us, but instead selling those obscenely costly “toys,” by pitching the “pure fun” of riding in them, blithely unaware of their atrocious impact down below.
That there has been no protest of that psychopathic rhapsody — no comment anywhere throughout the U.S. press throughout the weeks since that interview appeared — could mean one of two things. The more hopeful possibility is that nobody reads “Inside the Times” (or anything else on those two pages of the paper), and so nobody protested Cooper’s paean to the Pentagon’s “cool hardware” because nobody read it.
If, however, people did read Cooper’s interview, it may be her identity that’s keeping everybody mute. Just as Obama’s color (and Hillary Clinton’s gender) had liberals sitting quiet in the face of an unprecedented surge of U.S. wars, which would have been a harder sell from white-male-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush (even with the background hue supplied by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice), so Helene Cooper’s categorical identity — her status as a (female) refugee (of color) — has clearly let her get away with what some may call whoring for the U.S. war machine as eagerly as if she’d posed, all smiles, in full-page ads for Rockwell, Boeing, Sikorsky, Northrop Grumman or Raytheon.
Cooper’s propaganda function would explain the Times’ avid emphasis on her identity, rather than her expertise in military policy or practices. That campaign began on Jan. 31, 2017 with “A Washington Correspondent’s Own Refugee Experience,” Cooper’s harrowing account of what her family went through in post-coup Liberia, “where enlisted soldiers took over the government and launched an orgy of retribution against the old guard:”
My father was shot. My cousin was executed on the beach by firing squad. My mother was gang-raped by soldiers in the basement of our house after she volunteered to submit to them on the condition that they leave my sisters and me, ages 8 to 16, alone.”
Cooper then recounts her family’s flight from that anarchic nightmare to the United States: “The plane was a DC-10 … it was like we were already in America, with carpets and air conditioning and air freshener.” And then proclaims her stand against Trump’s xenohphic immigration policy:
This country took me and my family in when we were at one of the lowest points of our lives and returned to me a feeling I had lost: that of being safe. I was so proud when I eventually took the oath of citizenship and posed for photos, waving an American flag, in front of the courthouse where I was sworn in.”
The piece ends with good news about the gradual recovery of Liberia — that “it elected a female president — the first African country to do so” — and a reprise of the exhilarating moment when that DC-10 took off from Monrovia.
I hadn’t seen my mom cry in the whole month after the coup. Not even the night she was raped. But when the plane’s engines revved and it accelerated down the runway [as] we left for the United States, her chest heaved with big racking sobs.”
So poignant is this story of deliverance (and diversity) that it could seem a little churlish to deplore the author’s hearty appetite for military rides — or to point out that the “military coup” that rocked Liberia in 1980 causing so much misery for Cooper’s family and forcing them to flee to the United States, had been covertly run by the United States.
During the presidency of William Tolbert (who was murdered in the coup), “both the CIA and the Pentagon were … prospecting for leadership change in Liberia,” according to the final report of that nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, founded in 2005 (the report has since disappeared online). That Cooper now reports so gently on the Pentagon responsible for her own family’s agony seems rather strange, to say the least.
The social justice war dance
But what all of this may tell us about Helene Cooper, and her beautiful career, matters far less than what it says about the U.S. war machine’s grand strategy — so far, a winning strategy — of using the clichés of “social justice” to sell war and coups — all over and forever.
This strategy explains Barack Obama’s rise from nowhere to front for an unprecedented seven wars at once (and maybe more), along with an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and total blackout on state operations — a record that is sure to be maintained, if not surpassed, by whichever female, black, Hispanic and/or gay exemplar of “diversity” may be anointed, and “elected,” to deliver us from Trump (right now Pete Buttigieg appears to be that person).
And that ostensible deliverance will have millions of us dancing in the streets, as other millions of us weep, and gnash their teeth — and still the U.S. war machine will just keep rolling along, killing further millions (mostly brown), and driving us still deeper into inequality and poverty.
And so it will go on and on, until the United States of America collapses, or the planet burns, unless we all wake up — and work as one to put a stop to it at last.
Feature photo | Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after touring the 33rd Fighter Wing and the F-35 Lightning II integrated training center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 10, 2014. Samuel King Jr. | DoD
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media studies at New York University, and the author of the book: Fooled Again, How the Right Stole the 2004 Elections. He is known for his writing on American media and for his activism on behalf of democratic media reform.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.