Article by Peter Maass

Trump Built His Own Green Zone. He Got the Wall He Deserves.

The Intercept  |  June 5, 2020

An array of what might be described as the accessories and devices of dictatorship have expanded with infectious ruthlessness in American cities. The police swinging batons wildly, the paramilitary forces refusing to identify themselves, the hysterical president trying to incite war, the vigilantes in league with the police, military helicopters clattering overhead, the general marching in the streets in combat fatigues, the state TV network loosing its tales of sabotage and mayhem — it’s all there, loud and clear.

And Thursday, when 1.7 miles of cement barriers and wire fences were transported to the heart of Washington, D.C. and latched together to form an expanded perimeter around the White House, we even got our own Green Zone.

The Green Zone was the diseased heart of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It was a jittery enclave in the center of Baghdad where American officials worked in once-opulent buildings that were encircled by a fearsome perimeter. The miles and miles of cement barriers that serpentined around the Green Zone were brutalist tombstones mutely announcing the fear and failure of the U.S. invasion. I got to know those blast walls while reporting in Iraq.

Trump’s Green Zone is not nearly as large as the one in Baghdad, and it is not threatened by suicide bombers or mortar shells; it’s a miniature in all respects, as is our president. It is a monument to Trump’s cowardice in the face of peaceful opposition, though perhaps we should call it the White Zone, given his ideology of white nationalism. Trump’s administration — and police forces across the country — have been hapless in everything except their viciousness against protesters who demand little more than to live in a country in which the judicial system does not destroy the lives of innocents, especially African Americans.

Yet there it is, a government executive that has surrounded itself with walls and troops, besieged by forces that in a way are stronger than any insurrection might muster — the collapsing force of its own malignance, incompetence, and cowardice. This Green Zone or White Zone or whatever we should call it is not a projection of strength, not something to cower before. We might even want to celebrate it. While there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty about what will happen next, there is no greater sign of the failure of a political or military enterprise than the fact that it has to seal itself off from the general population in what it hopes and prays is an impenetrable fashion.

A screenwriter could not have crafted a better arc, the return of the Green Zone, and it’s not an entirely contrived plot twist. Trump is an ill culmination of many deformities in American politics and culture, including decades of militarism overseas and deceptions at home that have impoverished the country literally and morally. Empires tend to collapse as a result of such errors — it’s worth remembering that the Soviet Union was to a great extent killed off by Afghanistan and Chernobyl, while America got Afghanistan, Iraq, and Covid-19. “When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there, but it is still there,” noted a heroic Soviet scientist in “Chernobyl,” the HBO miniseries about the 1986 nuclear meltdown. “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”

So the debt of lies and racism and militarism must be paid in America; Trump is probably hastening the reckoning, though we might have been destined to have our own Green Zone at some point, or some other startling representation of the bottom being reached. It’s oddly fitting, after all, that the troops summoned to the Washington, D.C. area included the 82nd Airborne Division, which participated in the invasion of Iraq and fought there throughout the years. (I even wrote about an 82nd Airborne company as it tried to secure one of Baghdad’s oil refineries from post-invasion looting.) So this is a reminder of the debt we are paying for sins committed by our leaders over the years and decades: Soldiers from a famous unit that once trotted around Baghdad’s Green Zone are called to Washington, D.C., where they are just as out of place as they were in Iraq.

There is a final irony to the barricaded White House that’s almost too obvious to mention. A president who came to office promising to build a beautiful wall at the southern border to protect the nation from foreigners has instead erected a pathetic one to protect himself from his own people. Trump has gotten some of what he deserves. His tiny Green Zone is not a prison, but it’s a verdict on what he’s done.

The King of Sweden Gives Peter Handke a Disgraceful Nobel Prize

The Intercept  |  Dec. 10, 2019

A Nobel Prize that will live in infamy was officially presented today to Peter Handke, who is a genocide denier. There was no sign of protest or discord inside the Stockholm Concert Hall as King Carl XVI Gustaf delivered a gold Nobel medal to Handke. After the Swedish monarch warmly shook Handke’s hand, and the Austrian-born writer gave a slight bow in return, an orchestra played an extract from Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour.”

The ceremony, on a winter day with little sunlight, came after precisely two months of international controversy. Among Handke’s large body of work are more than a half-dozen books that downplay and deny the wave of atrocities committed by Serb fighters against the Muslims of Bosnia in the 1990s. Handke is unapologetic about his views, which are widely regarded as extremist and are refuted by, among other things, the verdicts of war crimes tribunals in the Hague and elsewhere. At a press conference on Friday, when I asked Handke why he refuses to accept the fact that more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men from Srebrenica were massacred in a genocide by Serbs, he compared my question to a “calligraphy of shit.”

Protests against this award have been unprecedented. The Balkan countries that best know what happened in the war — Bosnia, Turkey, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Albania — boycotted the award ceremony today. Two members of the Nobel Committee for Literature have resigned their posts, and one member of the Swedish Academy, which is the final arbiter of who wins the literature prize, refused to attend the ceremony. Additionally, a significant number of well-known journalists who covered the Bosnia war issued a series of blunt posts on Twitter and Instagram in the past 24 hours that reaffirmed the truth of the genocide that Handke denies. Those journalists include Christiane Amanpour of CNN and Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who in the 1990s covered the war as a freelance journalist.

Christiane Amanpour
@camanpour
I was there. We all know who’s guilty. #handke #bosnia #BosniaWarJournalists

Samantha Power
@SamanthaJPower
On 7/14/95, I filed a @BostonGlobe story from Sarajevo containing initial reports of massacres in Srebrenica. The world would soon learn the extent of the genocide being committed by Bosnian Serb soldiers, who murdered 8,000 Muslim men & boys. Undeniable fact. #Handke #NobelPrize

Before Handke received his Nobel from the king today, a senior member of the Swedish Academy, Anders Olsson, stood at the podium in white tie and delivered a congratulatory five-minute speech that extolled what he broadly described as Handke’s unique genius — as Olsson put it, his “elucidating gaze and restrained language.” Olsson completely avoided any reference to Handke’s discredited books on Bosnia. They were swept under the rug. At the end of his speech, Olsson even delivered what seemed to be a swipe of defiance against the individuals and nations that regard Handke as a far-right nationalist who is distorting history.

“Dear Peter Handke,” Olsson said, as Handke rose from his red velvet chair, “I would like to convey the warmest congratulations from the Swedish Academy as I call on you to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2019 from the hands of his majesty the king.”

When the academy announced its decision on October 10, there was shock and bafflement. Although the academy has refused to explain itself in any coherent way, it has become clear that its appointed-for-life members either agree with Handke’s political views or don’t believe that the denial of genocide is a sufficiently important matter to stand in the way of receiving a Nobel Prize. While the Swedish Academy has just 18 seats, its decision was today endorsed by a far greater authority — the country’s monarchy. Although Sweden has a generally liberal reputation in the world, the king’s support for Handke serves as a reminder of the royal family’s own dark history; the king’s wife, Queen Silvia, has been accused of falsifying her father’s close connections to Nazi Germany, which included his membership of the Nazi Party.

At 6 p.m., more than a thousand protesters gathered at Norrmalmstorg, in central Stockholm, to bear witness to what had happened. There were speeches by, among others, a representative of a group of mothers whose sons were killed in Srebrenica. Handke has mocked them. There was also a professor from the University of Sarajevo, Vahidin Preljevic, who noted the heroic role that Serb war criminals, such as Radovan Karadzic, now play in far-right violence in Europe and elsewhere. “If the Nobel Committee does not understand or if it does not care that it is using this Nobel Prize to serve the nationalist narrative in the Balkans,” Preljevic said, “then it should at least understand how dangerous Handke’s visions are for Europe in particular.”

One of the organizers of the protest, Adnan Mahmutovic, who is a lecturer in Stockholm University’s English department, quoted the 1993 Nobel Prize lecture by Toni Morrison, who warned that “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” Mahmutovic then said, referring to Handke’s refusal to acknowledge what war crimes courts have determined in their verdicts, “Let us call things by their right names. … There is something called a crime against humanity. There is something called genocide.”

The protesters included a number of men who had survived the concentration camps where so many others had been killed. One of the survivors, Nijaz Mujkanovic, was holding a book about the Omarska camp that had a picture on its back cover showing prisoners there. He pointed to one of the men in the picture. “That is me,” he said. Why did he have to hold up his book to strangers? To prove, a confounding quarter-century later, that the truth was the truth, that what he had lived he had really lived.

There were various signs held aloft during the protest, including one that was particularly chilling: “Denial of the Genocide is the Final Stage of the Genocide.” What that sign meant was clear. After an hour of speeches, when the protest was finished and everyone headed out into the darkness of the long night, there were no illusions. The fighting was over, but the war was not.

Nobel Winner Peter Handke Compared My Questions About Genocide in Bosnia to a “Calligraphy of Shit”

The Intercept  |  December 6, 2019

The Swedish Academy held a press conference on Friday for Peter Handke, the writer it selected as the winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. Handke’s lifetime work includes about a half-dozen books that downplay Serb massacres of Muslims in Bosnia, and his critics regard him as a genocide denier.

After about 15 minutes of questions and answers in the chandeliered conference hall at the Academy’s headquarters in Stockholm, I was given the microphone for what turned out to be the last questions of the day. I asked Handke why his books did not acknowledge the documented fact that thousands of Muslim boys and men were killed by Serb fighters in Srebrenica in 1995, and I asked whether he would now acknowledge that these mass killings had happened.

Over the next few minutes, Handke became combative and insulting, refusing to answer my questions about Srebrenica. He described receiving an anonymous letter that he said included toilet paper with a “calligraphy of shit,” and he added, “I tell you, I prefer the anonymous letter with toilet paper inside to your empty and ignorant questions.”

Back in 1992, I started covering the war in Bosnia and visited the concentration camps where Serbs tortured and murdered prisoners, almost all of whom were Muslim. In the winter of that year, I also reported on the sieges that Serb fighters had thrown over Sarajevo and several other cities, including Srebrenica. The Serbs’ strategy was brutally simple: starve and freeze the Muslims into surrender. The war continued until the summer of 1995, when the massacre at Srebrenica turned into the final straw for the U.S. and its allies, which bombed Serb targets and brought the war to an end.

Handke despises the journalists who covered the war and provided the first accounts of Serb crimes — in one of his books, he describes us as a “horde of foreign reporters every evening at a hotel bar” and implies we made up our stories. His sympathies, which broke to the surface with his 1996 book “A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia,” have been fairly obvious for quite a while. In 2006, he delivered a eulogy at the grave of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was not only the mastermind of the war in Bosnia, but was also ultimately deposed by his own people and extradited to The Hague to face trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Milosevic died of a heart attack before a verdict could be delivered.

The depths of Handke’s sympathies have not all been visible, however. After he was announced as the Nobel winner two months ago — he is now in Stockholm for the official ceremony in a few days — I began digging into his books and the Swedish Academy’s baffling decision to honor him with the world’s most influential literary award. One of the things I found out was that in 1999, Handke secretly obtained a Yugoslav passport from Milosevic’s outlaw regime; Handke subsequently claimed that he got it to make things easier when he traveled to Serbia.

Handke’s elevation to Nobel Prize laureate has generated an unprecedented amount of turmoil even within the Nobel organization. Just a few hours before the press conference, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter broke the news that one of the most prominent members of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, would boycott the award ceremony. Englund, who has reported on Bosnia, said, “To celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part.” And just a few days earlier, two members of the Nobel Committee for Literature, which plays a key role in choosing the winner, abruptly resigned from their posts, with one of them explicitly citing Handke.

In his books, as well as in comments he has made to reporters over the years, Handke plays with the facts of what happened in Bosnia, always asking whether we can really believe it, suggesting that Muslims might have bombed themselves in some instances, and arguing that even if some of the facts might be true, the Serbs might have been provoked into crimes by Muslims who resisted their dominance. These are the tactics of genocide denial: Throw doubt into the air so that people begin to question the truth. Handke tries to avoid direct confrontations with facts that have been established beyond any doubt whatsoever, and that’s why I asked the following:

International war crimes tribunals have established as fact that there was a genocide committed in Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed. And they have established as fact that there were other massacres. Why in your books have you not accepted and written these facts? Are you willing now to accept them?

Handke, who is Austrian-born and was speaking in English, then appeared to bait me.

“Continue your questions,” he said. “I like these questions. Is [this] the only one? I think you have a lot of questions. Continue, continue.”

I sensed this was a trap — with more questions, Handke would be able to avoid answering any single one.

“We’ll do them one at a time, one at a time,” I replied.

“Continue,” he said.

“No,” I responded. “This is your press conference.”

He then did something peculiar — he pulled a few pages of paper out of his coat pocket. Earlier in the press conference, he had mentioned receiving what he described as a letter from a New York Times culture reporter. This was apparently it.

“I start to read the letter,” Handke said. “Dear Peter — I don’t know this man, but he calls me ‘Dear Peter.’ Then he has a lot of questions.”

Handke then read excerpts of the letter, which, it became clear, was not a letter but a series of questions that its writer — whom Handke soon named as Alex Marshall — apparently wanted the Nobel winner to respond to. It was an ordinary query from a journalist, not a personal missive. Handke then pivoted and said he had received “a lot of wonderful letters” from readers who appreciated his books.

The winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature then turned on me. As Handke is not a native speaker of English, I have used ellipses in places where he had extraneous or ungrammatical words.

“Only one was an anonymous letter which didn’t come from the heart,” Handke said. “There was toilet paper in it. … It had a kind of calligraphy of shit. And I tell you, all you who … put these questions like this man, I tell you, I prefer the … anonymous letter with the toilet paper inside to your empty and ignorant questions.”

I no longer held the microphone, so I shouted out my response.

“Why do you refuse to answer the question about why you do not accept the verdict of international courts in your works?”

Handke started talking over me about halfway through, so I am not sure he heard my entire question, but he apparently heard enough to know what to say.

“I don’t want to answer you,” he replied. “I read this letter from the Dear Peter, I don’t know him, this man, his name. He calls himself a culture reporter from the New York Times. … His name is, I think, Alex Marshall. And I don’t want to answer any of your questions.”

An official from the Swedish Academy who held the microphone then intervened, asking the permanent secretary of the Academy, Anders Olsson, who was on the dais with Handke, to make a closing statement. Olsson made a reference to the readers of Handke’s books, and this seemed to incite Handke to make a closing insult. Looking at the journalists before him, he said, “My people are readers, not you.”

On December 10, in a white-tie ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall, King Carl XVI Gustaf is scheduled to present Handke with the gold medal of the Nobel Prize in Literature. At that moment, the Swedish royal family and the Swedish Academy will have officially and fully endorsed the work of a genocide denier.

The Nobel Prize, a Rape Camp in Bosnia, and Peter Handke

The Intercept  |  November 28, 2019

What does it mean to spend a night at the Vilina Vlas hotel?

The answer to this seemingly odd question reveals the moral and intellectual collapse of the Swedish Academy, which last month bestowed on Peter Handke the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. Handke is an Austrian-born writer who in his early years produced some remarkable works of fiction and memoir, but since the mid-1990s has promulgated, in a series of thin books, a fringe position on the Bosnia war that amounts to genocide denial.

This story is set on the outskirts of Visegrad, in a forest where the Vilina Vlas is located. The hotel has a spa, and ordinarily it would be a tranquil place to stay except for one fact. In 1992, which feels like yesterday to anyone familiar with this story, the Vilina Vlas was turned into a rape camp by Serbs who were cleansing Visegrad of its Muslims and brought girls and women there to violate.

The Vilina Vlas is an agonizing landmark. Its horrors were detailed in newspaper articles during the 1990s conflict, followed by war crimes trials in which survivors described the rapes in ghastly testimonies. Rape was a consistent feature of what the Serbs did across Bosnia, and that led to a series of pioneering verdicts on sexual violence from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Although Visegrad’s majority population was Muslim before the war, the Serb project of ethnic cleansing was successful: Muslims were murdered, tortured, raped, and removed from the land where for centuries they had lived. But cleansing does not consist just of getting rid of people — that is only the beginning of the process. It is incomplete at this stage. Another step is the obliteration of meaningful objects: The town’s mosques were dynamited and the rubble carted away. There must be no visual reminders of the people who are gone.

There is another step too: the obliteration of memory. After the war, the Serbs who controlled Visegrad reopened the Vilina Vlas as the spa hotel it used to be. Foreign visitors were encouraged to stay, and some did. I do not know how many of those visitors knew what had happened during the war or had heard of it but disbelieved. Many Serbs and their supporters continue to deny the mass atrocities committed during the war. But the visitors came, and, in 1998, one of them was Peter Handke.

It has not been previously reported that Handke stayed at the Vilina Vlas. I came across an elliptical reference to his visit in an obscure monograph written by his American translator, Scott Abbott. Handke often traveled with a small entourage of translators and friends, including Abbott. Near the end of May 1998, according to Abbott’s book, Handke and his companions stayed at “a large resort hotel tucked back into the forested hills above the town.” Abbott did not give the hotel’s name but described it as “a cavernous home to men convalescing from the war.”

I have been to Visegrad twice, once during the war and once after. On my second visit, I went to the Vilina Vlas because during the conflict, I had written about a girl who was raped there. Her younger sister was also raped there and was never seen again (she was presumably killed after the Serbs were done with her). I wanted to see the place. And there it was, set amid a forest, a large hotel that was being used for not just the occasional foreign visitor but also, as Abbott noted in his book, for Serbs convalescing from the war.

Visegrad has few hotels and none of the others match the description provided by Abbott. When I contacted Abbott, he said he could not remember the name. I found a person who happened to be staying at the Vilina Vlas at the same time as Abbott and Handke, and though this person could not remember the hotel’s name, I sent pictures of three hotels and this person identified the Vilina Vlas as closely resembling the one where they stayed. (Handke did not reply to emails sent to his representatives.)

At the time of his visit in 1998, Handke was a famous writer beloved by Serbs. In 1996, he published two books endorsing the discredited Serb ultranationalist view that atrocities committed by their fighters had been exaggerated by the media. In “Summer Addendum to a Winter’s Journey,” Handke expressed skepticism and scorn for news reports about Serbs going on a rampage against Visegrad’s Muslims. Handke had visited Visegrad in 1996, and when he returned with his travel companions in 1998, he was a hero to the Serbs there. Abbott’s book even recounts how the mayor, Aleksandar Savic, was their ever-present host. (Savic was among the wartime Serb leadership in the town, and though he was not charged with war crimes, he was banned from holding public office in 2004 after international monitors determined that he was obstructing the effort to find war criminals.)

We are getting closer to understanding what it means to stay at the Vilina Vlas hotel.

It is hard to imagine that Handke was not aware, when he stayed at the Vilina Vlas, of what was widely reported to have happened there. He had visited Visegrad before and written in detail about the town’s cleansing (which he doubted). A passage in “Summer Addendum” even mocks an investigative article written about Visegrad by New York Times reporter Chris Hedges. Handke must have read that story closely because he made fun of Hedges for referring to the town’s warlord as walking around barefoot. In his close reading of that article, Handke would have come across the lines Hedges also wrote about a witness account of warlord Milan Lukic: “He said Mr. Lukic and his followers raped young girls held captive at the Vilina Vlas spa outside Visegrad. And he said Jasna Ahmedspahic, a young woman, jumped to her death from a window of the spa after being raped for four days.”

It would seem unlikely that Handke, after reading and writing about the Hedges story, would have forgotten its chilling reference to the Vilina Vlas. If, however, that was the case, it is very unlikely that all of his companions were in the dark about it. According to Abbott’s book, the entourage included Thomas Deichmann, a German journalist who is regarded as one of the principal deniers of the genocide in Bosnia. A year before the trip, Deichmann wrote a discredited article that tried to argue that the first images of Serb concentration camps had been staged. Even though Deichmann’s views on what happened in Bosnia are appalling, he must be well aware of the reporting on the war, and it is hard to imagine that he did not know what was written about the Vilina Vlas. (Deichmann did not respond to a request for comment).

The answer to the question of staying at the Vilina Vlas is now before us.

What’s come to be known as ethnic cleansing is not a simple or quick act. To succeed, it must be ongoing and everlasting. The memory of what happened must be denied and repressed at all times, so that it does not return to destabilize the false history you are trying to establish. If you stay at the Vilina Vlas without knowing what happened there, then you are an unwitting participant in the process of memory erasure, to life returning to normal in places that are not normal and never should be. If you stay there with the knowledge of what happened, then you are an active accomplice to the moral crime of genocide denial.

I find it impossible to end this story without mentioning something that’s probably obvious by now: the fury I feel that more than 25 years after the war, we again have to debate and prove these already proven crimes. The terrible questions of atrocity and guilt in Bosnia were settled long ago in trials and other investigations; there is a mass of evidence. But thanks to the Swedish Academy, these long-settled questions have been reopened because the work of a genocide denialist has been authenticated with a Nobel Prize. The witnesses and survivors of murder and torture are recipients of yet another blow from the so-called civilized world that, for so many years, hardly lifted a hand to help them during the war. We must plead our case again.

There is no end to the agony that this so-called civilized world is willing to let those who are not in its charmed circle suffer. They do not care, and there is no sign they will ever care. Having made this horrendous mistake, the Swedish Academy shows no inclination to return to the grave the lies that they have unbelievably brought back to life. They could still revoke the Nobel Prize that was awarded to Handke — the official ceremony is on December 10 — but it seems unlikely that they will do so, because they do not recognize the truth and pain of others.

The Nobel Prize Organization Is Now Fully Engaged in the Business of Genocide Denial

The Intercept  |  November 20, 2019

It has come to this: The Nobel Prize organization has not merely selected a genocide denier for its 2019 literature award. The organization itself has become an open skeptic of the mass murder of Bosnia’s Muslims.

In a letter to a group of publishers in Bosnia, the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, made several stabs at gaslighting not just the survivors of the genocide, but also the historians, war crimes investigators, and journalists who documented the 1992-1995 onslaught. Rather than reassessing its heavily criticized choice of Peter Handke, the 18-seat Swedish Academy doubled down by coming out, for the first time, in defense of the worthiness of the Austrian-born writer’s skepticism of the genocide by Serb military forces.

“The Swedish Academy believes that in an open society there must be room for different opinions about authors and that there must be space for different reasonable interpretations of their literay [sic] works,” the letter said. It was signed by Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Literature, and dated November 15; news of it began circulating on social media two days ago. “We strive for respectful interchange notwithstanding sharply diverging views in important matters,” the letter added.

In this instance, the important matter is genocide, and the diverging view is that it did not happen. The letter has a tragicomic aspect too — the world’s most famous literary group was unable to properly spell the word “literary.”

The works in questions are the multiple books in which Handke asked whether deadly Serb bomb attacks on Sarajevo might have been committed by Muslims against themselves, to stir global anger against Serbs; suggested that Muslims were partially responsible for the Serb massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica because some Serbs died in earlier fighting; argued that the pictures of Muslim victims of ethnic cleansing had been staged by photojournalists; stated that all sides in the Bosnia war had prison camps of equivalent brutality; and questioned whether it was right to call Serbs “aggressors” in the conflict. This is a very partial list of Handke’s revisionist writings, all of which are refuted by decades of journalism about the war, investigations by human rights groups and, most importantly, resounding verdicts against Serbs at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY.

Jasmin Mujanovic, a political scientist and Balkan expert, issued a scathing response after the letter began circulating. “The issue is no longer Handke,” Mujanovic wrote on Twitter. “His revolting views were always clear & known. The issue is w/the @NobelPrize committee, an institution now wholly committed to the cause of genocide denial and historical revisionism.” Emir Suljagic, a survivor of Srebrenica, wrote that “it is shocking, just shocking” that the Swedish Academy believes that “different reasonable interpretations” can be made of Handke’s denialism.

The letter constitutes the Nobel organization’s most forthright response in the controversy set off last month by its selection of Handke for the 2019 literature prize. The letter tries to make a false distinction at the very start, contending that the critiques aimed at Handke are inappropriate because they are about his personal views rather than his literary work. As the letter states, “When Handke is awarded the prize, the ambition is to celebrate his extraordinary literary work, not the person.” But this is enormously deceitful — the bulk of the criticism circles around what Handke wrote on the Bosnia war, particularly these books: “A Journey to the Rivers,” “Summer Addendum to a Winter’s Journey,” “Around the Grand Tribunal,” “The Tablas of Daimiel,” “The History of Dragoljub Milanovic,” “The Coucous of Velika Hoca,” “Asking in Tears,” and the play “The Journey in the Dugout Canoe.”

The Nobel Prize organization appears ignorant of a basic fact about genocide: Outright lying is just the most obvious method of denying it. Experts on genocide (not just the one in Bosnia) consistently note that casting doubt is another form of denial. As I wrote in a previous article, a paper by Israel Charny of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide described genocide denial as including claims that deaths were inadvertent or unauthorized by political leaders, that there were not as many deaths as reported, or that the victims were killed in retaliation for previous killings they had carried out. These are the sorts of statements made in Handke’s books. It’s worth referring again to what I was told by Edin Hajdarpasic, a historian of modern Europe at Loyola University Chicago:

What I’m realizing is that surprisingly few people understand what genocide denial is, and what different forms it can take in the ultimate service of denial. Genocide denial does not just look like [former Iranian leader Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad: deliberately appalling, aggressive, uncouth, brazen in calling established events “lies.” Handke is not like that. Handke knows not to call Srebrenica or the entire siege of Sarajevo a lie. If one seeks to destabilize truth, it is better, Handke knows, to ask questions with lots of clauses, subjunctives, conjectures, and other stylish pauses so that the perverse implication of his questions can be denied.

The Swedish Academy’s letter has elicited grim scorn on social media. The sharpest and briefest may have been this five-word tweet: “try this with holocaust lol.” The intellectual holes in the letter are too numerous to parse in this story, even though the letter occupies less than a page. But one thing to note: While saying that Handke’s views are reasonable enough for discussion, the letter also says that everyone should rely on the “lawful findings of courts such as the Hague Tribunal,” which the letter describes as “an essential part of the understanding of Europe’s tragic history.” Yet the verdicts of the ICTY at The Hague are crystal clear. The political and military leaders of the Serbs in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide, and are serving life sentences. The Serbian leader who masterminded the war, Slobodan Milosevic, was on trial for charges that included genocide when he died of a heart attack.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot mouth fidelity to the genocide verdicts of The Hague and at the same time contend that Handke’s questions about the genocide are reasonable.

In its final line, the letter attempts to square this circle by referring to a short statement that was attributed to Handke by his German publisher last month, shortly after the news broke that in 2011, Handke had said he did not believe the grieving mothers of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre and that he would not condemn the Serbs for what they did there. In the short statement from his publisher, Handke is attributed with a corrective, saying of Srebrenica, “The genocide has caused infinite suffering, which I have never denied. … I regret my remarks if they have conveyed something else.”

This was the first time, as far as I can tell, that Handke described what happened in Bosnia as a genocide of Muslims. The fact that this statement — which came from his publisher, not directly from him — arrived in response to the damaging revelation that he had clearly said the exact opposite does not inspire confidence. There is only one other occasion on which I have seen Handke, in one of his books, apply the word “genocide” to the former Yugoslavia. It was in his book “Around the Grand Tribunal,” in which he quoted without criticism the claim by Milosevic that the hostile policies pursued by the Clinton administration constituted a “genocide of the Serbs.”

Update: November 23, 2019
After this story was published, The Intercept learned of additional letters the Swedish Academy sent to Kosovo’s Academy of Sciences and Art and Bosnia’s Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide. All three of the Swedish Academy’s letters can be accessed here.

Peter Handke Won the Nobel Prize After Two Jurors Fell for a Conspiracy Theory About the Bosnia War

The Intercept  |  Nov. 14, 2019

This is a story about a conspiracy theory that was born in the 1990s, hibernated in obscurity for two decades, and in 2019 appears to have duped jurors into awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Peter Handke, who has denied the Serb genocide of Muslims in Bosnia.

The short version is that two Nobel jurors, responding to global criticism over their selection of the Austrian-born writer, took the unusual step last month of disclosing the sources they consulted while making up their minds. One of the jurors, Henrik Petersen, cited a book by a little-known author, Lothar Struck, who lives in Düsseldorf and contributes to an online literary magazine. Another juror, Eric Runesson, said he relied on a book by an Innsbruck historian named Kurt Gritsch. Neither book has been translated from German, and they have only a handful of citations on the German version of Google Scholar.

The books by Struck and Gritsch defend Handke’s skepticism over the scale of Serb atrocities, and they endorse Handke’s argument that news reports in the 1990s were unfair to Serbs. The books have a confident tone, and apparently the Nobel jurors concluded from them that Handke was justified in his written and gestural sympathy for the Serb side (which included delivering a eulogy at the 2006 funeral of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack while awaiting trial on charges that included genocide).

But these two books have a huge flaw that the Nobel jurors apparently didn’t recognize. Both books support a conspiracy theory that asserts an American publicity firm, Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs, masterminded a campaign to inflate Serb atrocities and thus shifted U.S. opinion against the Serbs. According to the wag-the-dog theory of the Bosnia war that these books adopt, the accepted narrative of immense and one-sided atrocities by Serbs was largely the consequence of a deceptive publicity campaign, rather than actual events on the ground. Gritsch mentions Ruder Finn about 20 times in his book, “Peter Handke and ‘Justice for Serbia,’” devoting a short chapter to it. Struck, whose book is titled “The One With His Yugoslavia,” was so taken with Ruder Finn that he published a digital supplement that consists of — to a surprising extent — disclosure forms the company filed with the U.S. government.

As Gritsch wrote, “Due to various resentments and an already-existing anti-Serb and pro-Muslim position among many journalists, the thesis developed that the Serb side (and only the Serb side) was operating death camps in the Yugoslav conflict, and after that the PR agency Ruder Finn publicized this theory, bringing the news of Serb concentration camps into massive circulation.” Gritsch added that after the first pictures and videos emerged of the Serb camps, “the use of emotionally-loaded terms like ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘concentration camps,’ etc., can be attributed to the PR agency Ruder Finn.”

This is a vast rewriting of history. The first articles about Serb camps took off on their own accord in August 1992; it was a spectacular development that didn’t need any nudges from a publicity firm. Subsequent investigations, articles, and war crimes trials proved that the camps turned out to be even worse than the first reports were able to detail. And the phrase “ethnic cleansing” was in wide use from the start of the war in April 1992, when Serb militias stormed into Bosnian towns and killed or expelled the Muslims there.

“It’s just nonsense,” said Marshall Harris, a Bosnia expert in the State Department when the war broke out. Harris, who resigned his post to protest the lack of U.S. action early in the conflict, went on to lead a coalition of prominent activists on Bosnia, and he interacted with Ruder Finn. “The U.S. intervened in the Balkans because of Slobodan Milosevic. The purpose of attributing great success in influencing U.S. Balkans policy to a good but small PR firm with limited political reach minimizes the gravity and scope of the genocide.”

The theory is so off-base that it’s hard to find scholars familiar with it. University of Chicago professor Michael Sells, author of the 1996 book “The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia,” noticed Serb nationalists mentioning Ruder Finn on internet bulletin boards during the war, but he was surprised to learn, when contacted by The Intercept, that the firm was being discussed now as an important or even minor factor in the conflict. “Things were so overwhelming and clear in Bosnia about what was going on, from so many different sources, that I can’t image that Ruder Finn would have tipped the scales in any way,” he said.

The conspiracy theory about Ruder Finn has circulated in the bowels of the internet for nearly as long as the web has existed. While a small number of books and articles defending the Serbs feature it, there is basically no reputable work that lends any credence to the theory. The proposition that it was unfair to define the Serbs as the overwhelming culprit in Bosnia — and that a relatively small PR firm created this myth and got everyone to believe it — is utterly crackpot. Even Jacques Merlino, the French journalist whose 1993 interview with a Ruder Finn executive gave rise to the theory, seems taken aback with how far it’s gone. “I know they did their work but I don’t know if it was particularly effective,” he wrote in an email to The Intercept.

Yet two jurors for the Nobel Prize for Literature say they relied on books that peddled this conspiracy theory in the service of exonerating Handke.

THE BEST WAY to tell this bizarre story is from its origin, which is April 24, 1993. That’s when Merlino arrived at the office of James Harff, a Ruder Finn executive in Washington, D.C.

Harff worked on behalf of Bosnia’s beleaguered government, which at the time was trying to stave off defeat by Serb forces that in 1992 had attacked the country and seized 70 percent of its territory, murdering or expelling Muslims in their path. It was Harff’s job to talk with journalists and politicians about the war, which by 1993 had reached a stalemate as Serb militias besieged the capital of Sarajevo and other cities, including Srebrenica.

As Harff remembers it, the interview did not last long and was not recorded. But at the end of 1993, Merlino published a book in France, “The Truths From Yugoslavia Are Not All Easy to Tell,” that had a chapter about Ruder Finn. It quoted Harff as boasting that his PR firm had “outwitted” three major Jewish organizations into supporting Bosnia’s government, thereby turning the tide of public opinion. According to Merlino’s book, Harff said Ruder Finn had disseminated reports of Serb-run concentration camps even though the reports were not confirmed. “Our work is not to verify information,” Harff was quoted as saying. “Our job, as I’ve told you, is to accelerate the circulation of information that is favorable to our side. … We are not paid to be moral.” Harff’s comments seemed to be evidence that the Serbs had been framed — unfairly and without evidence — for committing genocide in Bosnia.

Merlino’s book found an immediate audience among Serbs and their supporters who were trying to stave off military intervention by the U.S. Here, finally, was proof of what they were trying to tell the world — that the news reports about Serbs slaughtering Muslims in a one-sided wave of atrocities was based not on reality but on a manipulative campaign by a PR firm that now admitted its role. Extracts of Merlino’s chapter on Harff were published in pro-Serb media and even made their way into a handful of opinion pieces in mainstream U.S. and European publications.

Conspiracy theories often have elements of truth that launch their big lies. What was true in Merlino’s book, and in what was attributed to Harff, is that the first reports of Serb concentration camps, in two dispatches in July and August 1992 by Newsday’s Roy Gutman, were unconfirmed. Gutman had talked with aid workers and two survivors of the camps, but he had not visited the camps and did not have an abundance of firsthand testimony. So it was correct that Ruder Finn circulated unconfirmed reports.

But the Merlino conspiracy theory skips a crucial fact: Within days and weeks of Gutman’s articles, subsequent reporting by other journalists confirmed his work, as did war crimes trials that came years later. Gutman won a Pulitzer Prize for his articles the following year.

Virtually every major newspaper, magazine, and TV network in the United States became filled with on-the-ground reports starting in early August. Were they exaggerated? As a reporter for the Washington Post, I made my way to Banja Luka and visited two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje. They had been cleaned up a bit — Trnopolje even had an English banner over its entrance that said “Trnopolje Open Reception Center” — but they remained horrifying. Here’s what I wrote not long afterward:

“I never thought that one day I would talk to a skeleton. That’s what I did at Trnopolje. I remember thinking that they walked surprisingly well for people without muscle or flesh. … One skeletal prisoner had just enough time to unbutton his shirt, showing off a mutilated chest with a few dozen fresh scars from God-knows-what torture, before a look of horror came over his face. He was staring, like a deer caught in a car’s headlights, at a spot just above the top of my head. I looked around. A guard stood behind me.

An eighteen-year-old youth came up to us. He had just arrived at Trnopolje after two months at Omarska, the worst camp of all. His skin was stretched like a transparent scarf over his ribs and shoulder bones. “It was horrible,” he whispered. “Just look at me. For beatings, the guards used hands, bars, whips, belts, chains, anything. A normal person cannot imagine the methods they used. I am sorry to say that it was good when new prisoners came. The guards beat them instead of us.”

And Trnopolje was the better camp. It was where men and women released from Omarska were sent to, and it was where some refugees went voluntarily because staying in their homes was even more perilous, due to Serb militias killing and looting their way through the region. Omarska was pure evil, even in its improved condition, and this wasn’t a fiction dreamt up by James Harff in Washington, D.C. Taken to a cafeteria where the prisoners had been marched in, the climate of fear was overwhelming when I tried to talk with them.

“They bowed their heads farther down, noses virtually in the bowls,” I wrote at the time. “This was a place where words, any words, could kill them. ‘Please, don’t ask me questions,’ one of them begged in a whisper. A prisoner slipped a note to us. ‘About 500 people have been killed here with sticks, hammers and knives,’ it said. ‘Until August 6, there were 2,500 people. We were sleeping on the concrete floor, eating only once a day, in a rush, and we were beaten while we were eating. We have been here for 75 days. Please help us.’”

Was it so bad? In 1997, the two Serb warlords responsible for these camps were indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. One of them, Simo Drljaca, was killed as NATO troops tried to arrest him. Drljaca had taken me and the other journalists to Omarska and Trnopolje. The other warlord, Milan Kovacevic, with whom we had argued to get permission to visit the hellish camps, was flown to The Hague but died of natural causes during his trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

When Merlino’s book came out, Ruder Finn did what it could to correct its fallacies and errors, Harff told me in a phone interview last month. Faxes were sent to Merlino — one of them, which Harff emailed to me, had the subject line “Misquotes, Inaccuracies, Cynicism” — and legal letters were dispatched to media outlets that quoted Merlino’s book. Nothing was corrected or retracted (Merlino told me he didn’t receive any faxes from Ruder Finn), but as the war went on, Merlino’s book didn’t seem to matter that much because evidence of Serb atrocities became so overwhelming.

In the summer of 1995, the onslaught culminated with a massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica — a new act of genocide that finally triggered military intervention against the Serbs by the U.S and its NATO allies. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague later indicted key Serb politicians — not just Slobodan Milosevic but also Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic. Milosevic’s death spared him a verdict, but Karadzic and Mladic were found guilty of genocide and sentenced to life in prison. The evidence was indisputable.

Yet Merlino’s book had a surprising afterlife. A quarter-century later, it helped deliver the Nobel Prize to Peter Handke.

THE CONSPIRACY THEORY about Ruder Finn is tenacious on the homepages of left and right extremism, but it’s obscure elsewhere. Even though I covered the war and wrote a book about it, I had not heard of Ruder Finn until I contacted Kurt Gritsch last month.

I reached out to Gritsch because Eric Runesson, the Nobel juror, had mentioned Gritsch’s book as what appeared to be his principal source for deciding, before awarding the Nobel to Handke, that the criticism of him was wrong. “Kurt Gritsch, as I see it, comes to the conclusion that the criticism is not entirely factual,” Runesson told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter last month. I emailed Gritsch to ask whether he might have an unofficial English translation of his book because I can’t read German. Gritsch said there was no translation, but he provided a nearly 2,000-word explanation of his research. He wrote that “Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs played an important — and probably the most important — role in many ways of the conflict,” but he also cited the Bosnian Croat militia and what he described as “the Bosnian-Muslim militia” — which is a provocative way to refer to the Bosnian Army, the only military force in the country that had a legal standing.

He defended Handke by mashing together several debunked talking points that pivoted around Ruder Finn. One of the talking points involved a controversial statement issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1992 in response to Gutman’s articles about the Serb camps. The ICRC, seeking to remain a neutral arbiter, falsely suggested that all combatants had prison camps of equal brutality. The statement was disproved by the stream of subsequent news reports, investigations, and war crimes trials, but conspiracy theorists nonetheless cite it as proof that abuses at prison camps in Bosnia were roughly equivalent on all sides. The conspiracists pick one soon-to-be-discredited data point and ignore everything that discredited it later on.

The following is what Gritsch wrote in his email, with the grammar corrected as he requested (“You can quote this but … please correct the grammar, vocabulary and spelling when needed”):

“The reason for all of this can be found in a PR campaign of 1992. In August 1992, Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs was working for the Croatian and the Bosnian-Muslim governments. They published that camps had been found in Bosnia and that it was Serbs running them. The facts were, as the ICRC (the Red Cross) gave evidence in the same month, that all three parties in the Bosnian conflict — Croats, Muslims, Serbs — were running prison camps. The ICRC was very clear about this and very concerned about the terrible conditions of those camps, where human rights violations took place every day, up to rape and murder. The ICRC confirmed that there were many Serbian-run camps but … explained that this was within the proportion of the fighting parties — the Serbian militia was the biggest group at that time and ran the most camps. Yet the other two groups had their prison camps too.

But ignoring this was not the only thing Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs did. They gave it a spin by declaring prison camps to be death camps and by comparing Bosnian Muslims with the Jews. This was possible with the help of three big Jewish American organizations which publicly supported the Bosnian Muslims (ignoring the fact that their leader, Alija Izetbegovic, had his own ideas of an Islamic state, published in a book many years before). The next step was to combine the perpetrators, and there it was: If Bosnian Muslims were the Jews of our time, then the Serbs had to be the Nazis.”

Just as he does in his book, Gritsch repeated yet another discredited theory that comes from a long-debunked 1997 article by a German freelance journalist, Thomas Deichmann. Among conspiracy theorists, Deichmann’s work is often cited alongside Merlino’s; they are fundamental parts of the extremist canon that tries to rewrite what happened in Bosnia. And in what may be one of the most telling yet least noted twists of the entire Handke controversy, Deichmann has been one of Handke’s closest traveling companions in the Balkans — they made at least four visits together to Serbia and Bosnia in the 1990s and 2000s. Though their joint trips are little-known, it’s not a secret; they have been mentioned in various books and websites.

Deichmann first came into public view when he testified as a defense witness in the 1996 trial of a Serb named Dusko Tadic, who was accused of committing war crimes at Omarska and elsewhere. Deichmann, testifying as a media expert, said that Bosnian Muslims who identified Tadic in court might have known him only through news photos or TV reports about him. Deichmann was suggesting that their identification of Tadic was a lie or a case of mistaken identity. It was not a persuasive argument: Tadic was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Within a year, Deichmann was back in the limelight, writing a lengthy article headlined “The Picture That Fooled the World.” His article was published by a far-left magazine called LM, which was formerly called Living Marxism and launched a decade earlier by Britain’s Revolutionary Communist Party. Deichmann wrote that a British television crew from ITN, the first to visit Trnopolje, had purposefully staged a shot in which detainees stood behind a fence topped with barbed wire, to exaggerate the conditions there. Deichmann’s article turned into a perfect complement to Merlino’s book of a few years earlier — it was not just a U.S. publicity firm that was trying to smear the Serbs, but journalists on the ground were creating fictions too.

The journalists who were accused by Deichmann sued for libel in a London court and won damages of 375,000 pounds. This forced LM out of business — but not Deichmann’s article. Like Merlino’s theory, it was kept alive by revisionist books and postings on Stormfront and other websites of the extreme right and left. As the photography historian David Campbell noted in a meticulous study, the Deichmann article was “part of an overall argument which attempts to revise the understanding of the Bosnian war by denying the nature, extent and purpose of the violence in the Bosnian Serbs’ ethnic cleansing strategy.” Campbell added, “What matters for LM and others is the way this dispute enables the potential link between Bosnia and the Holocaust to be cut, the meaning of the Bosnian war to be diminished, and the responsibility of those who perpetrated the ethnic-cleansing campaigns to be denied.”

Gritsch treats the Deichmann article as fact in his book and in the email he sent me. “When later Penny Marshall and ITN filmed a refugee camp in Trnopolje and put the film crew behind barb wire in order to make it look like as if the people were imprisoned, the whole world interpreted it as evidence of ‘new Nazi-camps’ in Europe,” Gritsch wrote. “The picture, as you surely know, was later (in 1996/97) analyzed and German journalist Thomas Deichmann found out that it had been a construction (‘The picture that fooled the world’).” Gritsch’s book has at least 30 references to Deichmann, including passages about Deichmann’s work that range, in tone, between neutral to supportive. In an interesting twist, the cover photo of Gritsch’s book, which shows Handke gazing over a body of water along the Montenegrin coast, was shot by Deichmann.

I was surprised to hear these discredited ideas coming from the author of a book that was apparently a crucial factor in the deliberations of the Nobel Prize jury. But Gritsch’s email was consistent not just with his book but with articles he has written, including one from a few months ago in the online magazine Telepolis, where he described Ruder Finn’s efforts as “discourse determining” — specifically referring, in a footnote, to Merlino’s work. As Gritsch wrote in his 2009 book on Handke, “Jacques Merlino’s report about the work of the U.S.-American PR agency Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs urgently poses the question whether and to what extent the official depiction of the Croatian or Muslim perspective can be believed.”

When I contacted Gritsch for comment on this story, he replied politely in another email of about 2,000 words that restated the outlines of his book. His response included these lines: “Science and the search for truth is not something easy. … I do not claim to know the truth about the Yugoslav wars or the debate about Peter Handke, but anyone willing to dive into the debates and discourses can identify the master narrative and the counter narrative. And this can already help to understand the whole debate a little better.”

UNDER ALFRED NOBEL’S WILL, the Swedish Academy is charged with selecting the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The academy’s two-step process was amended this year due to a sexual abuse scandal in 2017 that undermined confidence in the academy’s abilities. This year, five outside experts joined the academy’s four-member subcommittee that chooses a shortlist of finalists. The final decision is made by the 18-seat academy. This year, the subcommittee nominated just one person for the 2019 award — Peter Handke — and the full academy accepted it.

Eric Runesson, who said he trusted Gritsch’s exoneration of Handke, is a member of the academy. Henrik Petersen, a literary critic, was one of the subcommittee’s outside experts. In an article on October 17, Petersen defended the selection of Handke by saying that “a political program is not propagated” in his work, though he acknowledged that “the manner in which Handke articulated his critique was precarious, clumsy, and sometimes led to downright absurd comparisons.” The clumsiness was nonetheless a small factor for Petersen and other jurors, apparently. Petersen wrote that in 50 years Handke would be regarded as “one of the most obvious laureates ever awarded by the Swedish Academy,” and he suggested that “if you would like to know more about what Handke actually said about Yugoslavia, I recommend Lothar Struck’s remarks in ‘The One With His Yugoslavia.’”

Struck’s book appears to have gotten relatively scant attention in literary circles since it was published about seven years ago. His book is more thoughtful than Gritsch’s and doesn’t wade as deeply into other conspiracy theories. Struck has a few passing mentions of Thomas Deichmann and his discredited story about the Trnopolje camp, but he doesn’t delve into it the way Gritsch does. Nonetheless, Struck’s book embraces the general theory about the Serbs being unfairly turned into the prime culprit of the Bosnia war by a manipulative publicity campaign, rather than by their own actions on the ground.

“The opinion about the warring factions was partly determined, early on, by professional PR agencies,” Struck wrote. As evidence, he pointed to what he described as the “almost legendary” interview that Merlino, the French journalist, had conducted in 1993 with James Harff of Ruder Finn. This is of course the same interview, and the same conspiracy theory, that Gritsch wrote extensively about. Struck goes on to quote a passage of the Harff interview that Merlino published. “Harff’s campaign was, by the standards of the industry, surely an excellent maneuver,” Struck wrote. “Above all, it was sustainable, since from that point on the Serbs weren’t simply the aggressors, but rather could be placed in the corner of genocidal murderers.”

Struck’s book had a lengthy digital supplement, nearly 600 pages long, that he described as its “volume of source material.” About a third of it consists of disclosure forms that Ruder Finn filed with the U.S. government in the 1990s, listing its contacts with journalists and politicians, among other things. Struck’s interest in Ruder Finn’s influence has not faded since his book was published. After the Nobel Prize was announced, Struck posted a long defense of Handke on the literary magazine he contributes to, Glanz & Elend (“Splendor & Misery”). Arguing that Handke has been smeared by a deceptive publicity campaign against Serbs and their supporters, he wrote that Ruder Finn and other firms that have represented Croats and Kosovars since the 1990s “have been working the U.S. public, have done a good job, their poison is still there, is being picked up by commentators and injected into the world unchecked.”

Here’s what shocks me most about this Nobel Prize disaster. It’s not that the Nobel jurors fell for conspiracy theories. That’s terrible enough, of course. The worst is that the elevation of Peter Handke has also raised from the nearly dead a discredited rewrite of history and genocide. We are going back in time.

Peter Handke Won the Nobel Prize. Then His Publisher Circulated a Defense of His Genocide Denialism.

The Intercept  |  Nov. 9, 2019

IT IS NOT typical for a publishing house, after its author wins a Nobel Prize for Literature, to feel obliged to issue a private 24-page defense of his work, but that’s what it has come down to for Suhrkamp Verlag, the publisher of Peter Handke.

Newspapers in Germany and Austria began reporting on Suhrkamp’s strange document a few days ago, noting that it was dated October 31 but had not been released to the public. The document, according to the news reports, was apparently a confidential one intended mainly for the benefit of foreign publishers of Handke’s work who had found themselves, like Suhrkamp, in an uncomfortable position as a result of his record of downplaying Serb atrocities against Muslims in the Bosnia war. It seems possible that the document was also intended for Nobel Prize jurors who might be having second thoughts about their controversial selection. After Handke was announced on October 10 as the winner of the 2019 literature prize, there was an almost immediate wave of protest that his books, articles, and speeches amounted to genocide denial.

The document, written in English with Suhrkamp’s name and initials on the title page and the notation “Work in Progress,” was not reprinted by the German-language news outlets that reported on it, but The Intercept has obtained a copy. Making frequent and critical references to articles I wrote in the past few weeks, the document argues that it’s wrong to examine snippets of an author’s work — so in the interests of allowing readers to come to their own conclusions about Suhrkamp’s work, The Intercept is publishing the version it obtained. (A slightly truncated and unofficial version without Suhrkamp’s logo was posted on November 3 by Handke’s American translator on his personal blog, but it seems to have gone unnoticed;  there were no articles written about it at the time.)

Although the German and Austrian media have generally been supportive of Handke winning the Nobel, Suhrkamp’s rambling defense has not received positive reviews from them. “It may work here and there, but in its entirety it is a problematic endeavor,” wrote Der Tagesspiegel, accusing Suhrkamp of doing what the publisher was accusing others of doing: “Many of the Handke quotes are torn from their context.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine was more cutting, asking whether the document “will enter literary history as an act of heroism or an act of villainy.” And an article on the website of Deutschlandfunk Kultur pointed out that Suhrkamp may have shot itself in the foot because Handke’s defenders, including the Nobel Prize committee, have publicly insisted that he is not a political writer and should be judged on literary merits alone — yet the publisher’s effort to define the political meaning of his work “invalidates the argument that Handke is not a political author.”

The selectiveness of Suhrkamp’s defense is illustrated by its first example, which cites four critical stories: two from The Intercept and two from the Guardian. All four stories, published after the Nobel announcement, described Handke as having engaged in genocide denialism. Suhrkamp argues that “Peter Handke has neither denied nor excused genocide and war crimes in the Yugoslav wars,” and it cited two statements he made, one in 2006 and another just over a week ago. But while Handke certainly made those short and begrudging statements, he has also made a far larger number of longer statements and comments in his books, articles, and interviews that heaped skepticism and sometimes scorn on the history of massive Serb atrocities in Bosnia (the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia delivered guilty verdicts on war crimes and genocide against an overwhelming number of Serb defendants). Suhrkamp tries to deflect from that problem by saying, “Handke’s questioning does not apply to the crimes per se, but to the way in which they were reported. From this media-critical approach, he attempts to historically expand the media’s handling of acts and declarations of war from a Yugoslavian and Serbian perspective.” The statement uses the phrase “media-critical approach” on three occasions.

Suhrkamp officials did not reply to requests for comment from The Intercept.

THE STATEMENT, if you’re in the right mood, is nearly comically inept in places. For instance, it seeks to rebut critics who have noted Handke’s closeness to Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who engineered the genocide in Bosnia, was deposed by his own people in 2000, extradited to the Hague for a war crimes trial a year later, and died in prison before a verdict was delivered. Handke visited Milosevic in prison and delivered a eulogy at his funeral in 2006. Trying to deflect these connections between the future Nobel Prize winner and one of the worst tyrants of recent decades, Suhrkamp weakly noted in its statement that although Handke was officially named by Milosevic’s lawyers as one of their possible defense witnesses, “He decided not to testify at the trial” (emphasis in the original).

The statement also dissembles about Handke’s passages on prison camps. It tries to defend him by focusing on the reason he didn’t think the phrase “concentration camp” was an appropriate description for anything in Bosnia, because it evoked a Holocaust comparison that he felt was inappropriate. While that’s disputable, it’s an ancillary aspect of the critique against what he wrote on the camps. Handke always insisted on spreading the blame on all sides, emphasizing that there were Croatian and Muslim camps too. As Suhrkamp noted (again in boldface), “Peter Handke has not denied the existence of camps in the Yugoslav wars.” But that misses, probably intentionally, the most important thing — that the Serb camps were monstrously larger, frequently lethal, and clearly systemic (as the war crimes trials in the Hague demonstrated in case after case). Obscuring the specificity of the Serb camps, as one of The Intercept stories noted, is a way to deny or obscure the crucial fact that there was only one side — the Serbs — that started the war, tried to commit genocide, and created a network of concentration camps to make that happen.

The statement is nakedly deceitful in its treatment of what Handke wrote about Serb massacres of Muslims in the city of Visegrad in 1992. In its statement, Suhrkamp insists in boldface that “Peter Handke has not denied that crimes against humanity were committed in Visegrad.” As proof, Suhrkamp cites a passage Handke wrote: “according to eyewitnesses, many of the victims […] were pushed off the bridge over there, and all on the orders of a young Serbian militia leader.” However, it is almost perverse that Suhrkamp uses that passage to defend Handke, because the book it comes from, “Summer Addendum to a Winter’s Journey,” derides the accounts of witnesses in Visegrad — saying, for instance, they were “exclusively Muslim” and wondering aloud why, if they had witnessed atrocities, they would have been allowed to escape the city to testify about them. When Handke uses the word “eyewitness,” it is to question the veracity of the account. (The full passage that Suhrkamp has selectively quoted from is reproduced at the end of this story).

In that same passage, Suhrkamp portrays Handke as acknowledging the atrocities by writing that the victims were pushed off the bridge “all on the orders of a young Serbian militia leader.” The selective quotation here is astounding. In what he wrote about Visegrad, Handke persistently questioned whether in fact a single young militia leader — his name was Milan Lukic — could really have committed so many atrocities. When Handke writes that the executions were carried out “all on the orders of a young Serbian militia leader,” he means to throw doubt on whether those executions could really have happened. As one of The Intercept’s previous stories explained, “It would seem impossible for anyone to question Lukic’s guilt, but Handke has done just that.”

Suhrkamp, in its 24-page statement, has embraced Handke’s practice of laying literary crimes upon war crimes.

Here is the full passage Handke wrote on the Visegrad killings that Suhrkamp selectively quoted from; the line quoted by Suhrkamp is italicized.

Late at night, then, standing at the open window in the room at the Hotel Visegrad. No peep any more from the town behind me, and the massive bridge, glimmering in the dark, now depopulated, under the already summery southerly bright stars, that seem not to belong to this part of the earth, not connected to it by anything at all any more, and now, the image is crossed by the thought about the reports of killings in the local Muslim community almost exactly four years ago: according to eyewitnesses, many of the victims […] were pushed off the bridge over there, and all on the orders of a young Serbian militia leader; in my memory now, above all: an article from the New York Times, studded with statement after statement against this man, who at this point has vanished, this man who “often went barefoot,” a main characteristic, in the paramilitary force that he had named “The Wolves,” and among the, as usual, exclusively Muslim witnesses for the prosecution, also, again as usual, that one singular Serb, a soldier from this town, a prisoner now, interrogated there by a UN policeman, but later, so it was said, exchanged and also vanished (almost certainly “to his ruin,” the paper wrote).

And I couldn’t help but ask myself, why in this war, again and again, the possible main witnesses of the atrocities had, as it seemed, without much ado, been cleared for exchange, a fact that appeared in every such report, and that was passed on every time completely unquestioned. If this and that witness knew something so terrible, so revealing, why then exchange him and let him go?

And why did the aforementioned article pretend that that Serbian-Bosnian wolf gang here in Visegrad had had complete freedom to execute its months of raging in 1992? The entire city a gruesome playing field for nothing but the few barefooted people playing cat and mouse with their hundreds of victims? (The Serbo-Serbian army, as the usual reports went, watched from across the border, doing nothing, if not covertly joining in, as was even more widely reported.) Hadn’t the civil war erupted back then, with fighting on all sides almost all over Bosnia? How could such freewheeling terror rage, given an overwhelmingly Muslim population, long and well prepared for war, and largely in positions of authority? The Ivo Andric memorial over there at the entrance to the bridge, hadn’t it been bombed away already the year before the war started, as a signal for that, and by whom?

Update: Nov. 13, 2019
This story has been updated with the addition of the full passage Handke wrote about Visegrad that Suhrkamp selectively quoted from.

Why Did Nobel Winner Peter Handke Have a Secret Passport From Milosevic-Era Yugoslavia?

The Intercept  |  November 6, 2019

The spring of 1999 was a busy time for Peter Handke, the controversial Austrian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last month.

Back then, Handke was already criticized for several books that were regarded as denying the Serb genocide of Muslims in Bosnia. But after the U.S. and its NATO allies began a bombing campaign against Serb targets on March 25, Handke stepped even more deeply into wartime politics by traveling to Belgrade to express his solidarity with the isolated country and its strongman, Slobodan Milosevic. “My place is in Serbia if the NATO criminals bomb,” Handke said.

The 78-day bombing campaign, aimed at forcing Milosevic’s army out of Kosovo, ended on June 9, which was the same day Handke was in Vienna for the opening of his newest play, a thinly veiled critique of the war crimes trials underway against a number of Serbs, including Milosevic. These were highly polarizing times for Handke, and while his pro-Serb views were well known at the time, a chapter of his life was unfolding that has not been publicized until now.

On June 15, 1999, less than a week after the opening of his war crimes play, Handke obtained a Yugoslav passport from the Yugoslav embassy in Vienna. Under the law that prevailed at the time in Yugoslavia — which consisted of two republics, Serbia and far-smaller Montenegro — passports were issued to Yugoslav citizens only. It is not possible to determine from the available pages of Handke’s passport whether he also had taken Yugoslav citizenship alongside his Austrian citizenship, although the passport says “Yugoslav” under the heading of “Nationality.”

Handke’s Yugoslav passport is important because of an ongoing international controversy over the Nobel organization giving what is considered the world’s most important literary prize to a writer accused of being a genocide apologist. Handke and his defenders, including the Nobel Committee for Literature and the Swedish Academy, which selected Handke for the 2019 award, have insisted that his books, plays, and interviews about Bosnia have been generally fair and even-handed.

The fact, undisclosed until now, that Handke had a Yugoslav passport would appear to be a new indicator of his actual sympathies and loyalties. In two of his most controversial books — “A Journey to the Rivers” and “Summer Addendum to a Winter’s Journey” — Handke has appeared to cast doubt on whether as many Muslims were killed by Serbs as reported. He has also appeared to suggest that the bloodiest mortar attacks on Sarajevo were committed by Muslims against themselves, to increase global outrage against the Serbs who started the war and were besieging Bosnia’s capital. About 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the 1992-1995 war, the greatest portion by far being Muslim civilians and soldiers. The worst massacre in European history since World War II occurred in 1995, when more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Serb forces in Srebrenica in what the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has defined as genocide.

Handke’s Yugoslav passport has been hiding in plain sight — apparently unnoticed — for a while. In 2015, the Austrian National Library completed an online archive of texts and photos related to Handke’s work and life. The archive is a bit ungainly to navigate through. On a somewhat obscure page about Handke’s connections to Belgrade, there’s a sidebar with 18 thumbnail-sized photos, mostly of Belgrade landmarks. There are also two thumbnail photos of the cover and inside pages of Handke’s passport. (They had been deleted just before The Intercept published this story on Wednesday, but now they’re back online.)

The credit information on the photos says they are from the private collection of Hans Widrich. Contacted by The Intercept earlier this week, Widrich explained that for nearly a decade Handke had rented a cottage on his property in Salzburg. Widrich, now retired from his job as the longtime spokesperson for the Salzburg music festival, said that Handke had given him a number of personal items, including manuscripts and old passports that Widrich subsequently provided to the National Library.

Widrich said that he had once asked Handke about the Yugoslav passport, and Handke replied that he got it because as a foreigner he had to pay a higher rate for hotels when he traveled in Serbia. This is how Widrich recalled the conversation: “I said, ‘Oh, there is a Yugoslav passport,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I asked for it because I visit the country very often and I don’t like paying a high price when my Serb companion pays half of it.’”

It is not clear, however, whether the whole story is quite as simple as that.

What’s certainly true is that Handke — whose mother was from Austria’s Slovene minority — visited Serbia on a number of occasions in the mid-to-late 1990s and usually traveled with a small entourage of close friends, particularly his Serbian translator Zarko Radakovic. His books from that era often mention staying in hotels or pensions. The Intercept contacted several people who lived or worked in Serbia in those years, and they recalled that hotels did charge higher prices to foreigners.

However, obtaining a passport from Yugoslavia (or any country, for that matter) is not a simple process. According to the 1996 Law on Travel Documents for Yugoslav Nationals that was in force at the time, only citizens of Yugoslavia could obtain passports, with the exception of diplomatic passports (Handke’s passport does not have any diplomatic markings). Handke’s publisher did not reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment about the origins of the passport and the question of whether Handke also obtained Yugoslav citizenship.

It is entirely possible that Handke received his passport without going through the usual citizenship steps. For a number of years, Yugoslavia had been a mafia state, with the Milosevic regime ignoring laws and doing as it pleased. The country was wracked by hyperinflation, U.S. sanctions, political violence, and more. The regime punished those it disagreed with and bestowed favors on those it approved of. It is not unimaginable that the regime provided Handke with a passport, bypassing the citizenship process, as a reward and encouragement for his vocal support.

Handke’s decision to receive the passport is a separate matter. He certainly would have paid less money at the hotels he stayed in, but that would seem an insufficient motive for accepting such an unusual and controversial gift from a government that had been widely condemned for crimes against humanity in Bosnia as well as Kosovo. Accepting a passport from Milosevic’s regime would seem akin to a political act that’s heavily freighted with meanings of support and alignment.

The passport appears to have become a sensitive matter for the principals involved. Although Widrich responded to inquiries on Monday and Tuesday, he later requested that The Intercept not publish photos of the passport. When The Intercept checked the National Library’s archive just before publishing this story on Wednesday, the passport photos had been deleted. According to reports in the Austrian media on Thursday, the photos were taken down upon Widrich’s request, but the library went back to him after The Intercept published this story and asked permission to repost the photos. Widrich reportedly agreed after consulting with Handke.

Update: November 6, 2019
This story has been updated to note that Handke’s Yugoslav passport describes his nationality as “Yugoslav.”

Update: November 7, 2019
This story has been updated to reflect that the Austrian National Library, after deleting the photos of Handke’s Yugoslav passport before this story was published, reposted them afterwards.

How the Nobel Prize Succumbed to the Literary Art of Genocide Denial

The Intercept  |  October 26, 2019

There is a crucial question at the heart of the controversy over Peter Handke winning the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature: Can you be a genocide denier if all you do is cast doubts about the genocide?

Handke’s supporters have argued that it’s unfair to accuse him of denying the Serb genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims because he has never actually claimed the genocide did not happen. “For me, it is crucial that Handke regretted the war in Yugoslavia, that he preferred a peaceful resolution of the conflicts,” stated Henrik Petersen, a member of the Nobel Committee for Literature that selected Handke. “He made clear that he wanted to avoid civil war.” Another member of the committee, Rebecka Karde, said that while Handke had written some “hair-raising things,” she could not find a “dogmatic attitude” in his work. Two members of the Swedish Academy that ratified the committee’s choice, Mats Malm and Eric Runesson, lowered the bar further in a statement that they had found “no evidence for the claim that Handke hailed bloodshed, worshipped a monster or denied war crimes while attending Slobodan Milosevic’s funeral.”

These defenses of Handke stand in defiance of what has long been noted by historians of the Holocaust and other genocides: Outright denial is just one way to deny a genocide. According to an analysis by Israel Charny of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, other forms of denial include claiming deaths were inadvertent or unauthorized by political leaders, or there were not as many deaths as reported, or that the victims were killed in retaliation for previous killings they had carried out. Those strategies encompass much of what Handke has written about the Serb genocide in Bosnia — and are the reason so many people and organizations have fiercely criticized the Swedish Academy for honoring Handke with what’s arguably the world’s most important literary prize.

“What I’m realizing is that surprisingly few people understand what genocide denial is, and what different forms it can take in the ultimate service of denial,” said Edin Hajdarpasic, a historian of modern Europe at Loyola University Chicago. “Genocide denial does not just look like [former Iranian leader Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad: deliberately appalling, aggressive, uncouth, brazen in calling established events ‘lies.’ Handke is not like that. Handke knows not to call Srebrenica or the entire siege of Sarajevo a lie. If one seeks to destabilize truth, it is better, Handke knows, to ask questions with lots of clauses, subjunctives, conjectures, and other stylish pauses so that the perverse implication of his questions can be denied.”

The façade of Handke’s soft denialism is showing signs of falling apart, however. On Friday, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported that in a 2011 interview with an obscure magazine called Ketzerbriefe, Handke said that he “would not judge” the Serb slaughter of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica, which he downplayed as an “act of revenge” for earlier Muslim killings of Serbs. This was no slip of the tongue by Handke. In a largely overlooked book he wrote in 1996, “Summer Addendum to a Winter’s Journey,” he used the same deceptive framing, describing Srebrenica as a “revenge massacre” — even though the killings by Muslims in the area were fractional compared to what the Serbs did. This is a key denialist tactic.

Much of the debate about Handke’s position on the genocide in Bosnia has revolved around a different book, “A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia.” It is based on a visit Handke made to Serbia as the war in Bosnia was coming to a close. Handke wastes no time questioning who was responsible for the genocide: On the book’s second page, he refers to the Serbs as “the so-called aggressors.” He then insinuates that the American and West European journalists who chronicled the war from 1992 to 1995 were embellishing it or making it up, describing them as a “horde of foreign reporters every evening at a hotel bar.” (During the war, 19 journalists were killed in Bosnia.) Referring to mortar attacks on Sarajevo that killed more than 100 civilians, Handke wrote skeptically, “Has it been proved that the two attacks on Markale, the market of Sarajevo, were really Bosnian Serb atrocities”?

There’s much more that’s objectionable in the book; I delved into its problematic details in this Twitter thread last week. But his follow-up to it, “Summer Addendum,” contains passages that are even more concerning, and have received little attention so far. The short book was based on a brief visit Handke made to Bosnia not long after the war had ended, and it contains a number of suggestions and questions that cast doubt on the genocide.

For instance, Handke visited Srebrenica and likened the Serbs who besieged the Muslims there to “freedom fighters,” favorably comparing them to Native Americans ambushing convoys of American settlers intruding into their land. “Do the Indians not in fact fight for their freedom?” Handke asked. This is a deceptive reversal of Bosnia, though. Srebrenica, like other cities besieged by the Serbs, had a majority Muslim population before the Serbs surrounded and tried to starve them out.

While not flatly denying the Srebrenica massacre, Handke greatly exaggerated the death toll among Serbs in skirmishes outside the city earlier in the war. “Didn’t the events, no, the crimes at the beginning of this war, and this time not committed by the Serbs, count as the pre-history above all?” he wrote. He went on to describe the Serb slaughter in Srebrenica as “revenge massacres,” writing that “there were also thousands of Serbian victims in the landscape around” the city. Handke’s death toll is significantly off base. As an example, Handke has principally evoked the Serb village of Kravica, which was a military garrison attacked by Muslim fighters from Srebrenica in January 1993. According to the office of the international prosecutor for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, that Muslim attack killed 43 Serbs, of whom 13 were identified as civilians — a death toll that doesn’t come close to the more than 8,000 men and boys killed at Srebrenica in 1995. The commander of Muslim forces in Srebrenica, Naser Oric, was twice tried and acquitted for the killings of three Serb prisoners during the war.

Handke uses the same tactic — raising questions long after the answers have been determined — in his description of what happened in Višegrad, another Bosnian town he visited for “Summer Addendum.” In particular, Handke questioned the role of one of the most notorious Serb war criminals, Milan Lukic, whom an international tribunal convicted for the murder of at least 132 people in Višegrad, including setting fire to two houses filled with women and children. The tribunal noted in its 360-page verdict that some victims survived in the infernos for as long as 20 minutes, and that their agonized cries were “like the screams of cats.” Lukic, who also executed prisoners at Višegrad’s famous bridge, is now serving a life prison sentence for these crimes.

It would seem impossible for anyone to question Lukic’s guilt, but Handke has done just that. He wrote the following dreamy passage as he looked out at the bridge from his hotel window:

“The image is crossed by the thought about the reports of killings in the local Muslim community almost exactly four years ago: many of the victims, according to eyewitnesses (from a hotel just like mine here), pushed over the balustrade of the bridge over there, and all of this at the behest of a young Serbian militia leader; my memory, now, above all: an article from the New York Times, peppered with statement after statement against the man, who at this point has vanished, this man who ‘often went barefoot,’ a main characteristic, in the paramilitary group that he had named ‘the Wolves,’ and among the otherwise, predictably, exclusively Muslim witnesses for the prosecution, also, again predictably, the one singular Serb, a soldier from the town, a prisoner now.”

Handke is referring to an article by Chris Hedges that was published in the New York Times on March 25, 1996. In that article, Hedges documented the murder spree that was carried out by Lukic and the band of killers he enlisted to terrorize and drive out the town’s Muslim inhabitants. “Survivors said the killings quickly became frenzied and common,” Hedges wrote. “On one occasion, witnesses said, Mr. Lukic used a rope to tie a man to his car and dragged him through the streets until he died.”

The article also described the house burnings that 13 years later Lukic would be held responsible for by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Additionally, the article detailed the mass rapes that Lukic and his men committed at a hotel in the forest outside Višegrad. The hotel was called the Vilina Vlas, and the article reported that one of the young women who was held there jumped out of a window to kill herself after four days of being raped.

All of these facts were known at the time of Handke’s visit to Višegrad; Milan Lukic was already a hunted man who would be arrested in Argentina in 2005 and extradited to the war crimes court in the Hague. Yet in the type of genocide denialism that experts have warned about, Handke nonetheless threw doubt on what had happened, questioning whether the witnesses cited by Hedges could be trusted or were real, describing the Muslims as well armed before the war even began, and deriding war reporters as “collectors of statements” in search of “their merchandise.”

“And why did the aforementioned article pretend that that Serbian-Bosnian Wolf gang here in Višegrad had had complete freedom to execute its months of raging in 1992?” Handke wrote. “The entire city a gruesome territory for nothing but the few barefooted people playing cat and mouse with their hundreds of victims? … How could such freewheeling terror rage, given an overwhelmingly Muslim population, long and well prepared for war, and largely in positions of authority? Remarkable, isn’t it, how for those collectors of statements who had traveled here from across the seas, the only thing that mattered was, almost exclusively, their story, their scoop, getting their prey, their merchandise (which, for starters, was of course not to be scoffed at) — ‘witnesses said,’ ‘survivors said,’ that same thing, paragraph after paragraph, the official seal as it were.”

I was one of those statement collectors, and I suppose that’s why I believe it’s appropriate to reject the pseudo-facts behind Handke’s deceptions. In September 1992, as a journalist for the Washington Post, I reported from Višegrad and filed a dispatch that began with a short line: “This is a Muslim city without Muslims.” Lukic was still active in the area but I didn’t see him — as the town was already empty of its Muslims, he had gone elsewhere to commit more crimes, I suppose. I met with the mayor of Višegrad, Branimir Savovic, who had a pistol tucked into the backside of his pants and told me the town’s mosques had been destroyed because they “were used as machine-gun nests and hideouts … so we had to blow them up.”

Handke repeats a version of that in “Summer Addendum,” writing that he had asked his hosts why the mosques were gone and was told that weapons and ammunition had been stored in them. Handke seemed satisfied with that explanation: “In the usual emptiness of the mosques, it did not seem so impossible,” he wrote. Except the physical evidence in Višegrad said otherwise. I inspected the area around the vanished mosques; there were no signs of fighting where they had been, no bullet holes in adjacent buildings, no mortar damage of the sort that would be expected in the fighting described, falsely, by the Serbs.

I have to add one more personal note on Handke’s contempt for what the statement collectors reported about Lukic. At the end of 1992, I travelled to the Bosnian city of Zenica, which was packed with refugees who had been cleansed by the Serbs. In an empty pizza restaurant, I interviewed a 17-year-old girl who a few months earlier had been taken from her home by Lukic and brought to the Vilina Vlas hotel, where she was locked in a room. When Lukic came into the room, he put a table in front of the door and ordered her to take off her clothes. “He said I must, that it would be better to take my clothes off myself, or else he would do it and he would be violent,” the girl told me.

The rest is as terrible as you might imagine; Lukic raped her. But there’s a part you might not be able to imagine, so it must be explained. The girl’s younger sister, just 15 years old, had also been taken to the Vilina Vlas and locked in a room across the hall. Although the girl I talked with was released after being raped, she had no idea, when we spoke, of what happened to her sister, and feared she was dead. The last contact she had with her sister was hearing her sobbing from across the hallway.

Congratulations, Nobel Committee, You Just Gave the Literature Prize to a Genocide Apologist

The Intercept  |  October 10, 2019

Stockholm is more than 1,500 miles from Sarajevo, and the war in Bosnia was halted in 1995, so there’s a lot of time and distance between the Swedes who just chose the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and the nasty war that happened in the heart of the Balkans a generation ago. But that’s no excuse for the decision to give this year’s prize to Peter Handke, who denies that a well-documented genocide was committed by Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia.

We live in perplexing times when the U.S. president saw “very fine people” among neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we have a television network that traffics in racism and conspiracy theories. Our world is being described in fraudulent ways, and history is being rewritten to suit these distorted narratives. The last thing we need, and the last thing I’d expect to happen, is for an intellectual honor as paramount as the Nobel Prize to go to a writer who embodies the prime intellectual diseases of our era. And let’s remember that the Nobel selection comes at a moment when violent white supremacists are singling out the 1990s Serbs as heroic avatars of what needs to be done in our world. It’s dumbfounding that the Nobel Committee would seize this moment to honor an Austrian writer who defends these war criminals and dissembles on their behalf.

What were they thinking?

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this whole thing. But let me start by making clear what I am not saying. I am not saying that we should not read Handke’s literary work. My objection is not a version of the age-old question of whether we should listen to Richard Wagner. Go ahead and listen to Wagner. Go ahead and read Handke. My point is this: It is one thing to read him — it is quite another to bestow upon him a prize that delivers a great amount of legitimacy to his entire body of work, not just the novels and plays that are most impeccable and nonpolitical.

Handke’s most famous political offense was attending the funeral of Serbian strongman Slobodan Miloševic, who died in prison awaiting a trial for genocide and war crimes. Handke had visited Miloševic during his detention in The Hague and made a short eulogy during his funeral in Požarevac, Serbia, in 2006. This followed many years of Handke writing about how the Serbs were misunderstood and were unfairly given the lion’s share of blame for the bloodshed that occurred during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The controversy over Handke winning the Nobel Prize revolves around what he wrote in a series of essays in 1996 that were collected in a short book titled, “A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia.” His book, based on a brief trip he made to Serbia, complained that the media “relentlessly portray the Serbs as evil,” and Handke pretended to distance himself from the Serbian leader, writing that “I am with the Serbian people, not with Miloševic” — which turned out to be a strange thing for one of the few Westerners who attended Miloševic’s funeral to have written.

So what does Handke really believe, and is it so terrible? Handke distilled his views into a concise article he wrote for the French newspaper Liberation after his 1996 essays appeared. The article has gotten very little attention in the current discussion, and that’s unfortunate because it clearly demonstrates that he is a truther on the subject of the genocide in Bosnia. For instance, he wrote that it is wrong to talk of “concentration camps” in Bosnia.

“True, there were intolerable camps between 1992 and 1995 on the territories of the Yugoslav republics, especially in Bosnia,” he wrote. “But let’s stop automatically connecting these camps to the Serbs in Bosnia. There were also Croat camps and Muslim camps, and the crimes committed here and there are and will be judged at the Hague.”

Let me tell you something about the Serb camps in Bosnia that Handke, who never visited Bosnia during the war, does not admit: They were concentration camps. I visited them during the war, which I covered for the Washington Post. I talked with prisoners inside the camps, as well as survivors. The United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague sentenced Serbs to lengthy prison terms for the crimes committed there.

Let me tell you something else about Bosnia: The Muslims had nothing like those industrial-scale camps, where thousands of prisoners were brought in, tortured, and killed. The position that Handke adopts — everyone was doing it — is a dodge that would be funny if it weren’t so evil. Were some atrocities committed by Muslim troops? Yes, but equating a small number of random crimes with a systemic and massive number is a transparent form of deception and deflection. That’s what apologists do.

Handke, who lives in France, deepens that deception in his article for Liberation. When writing about Srebrenica, where several thousand Muslims were executed by Serb forces after they captured the enclave, he allows that what happened there was the most “abominable” massacre in the war, but he swiftly pivots to saying that we should also “listen to the survivors of Muslim massacres in numerous Serb villages around Srebrencia.” This is the same “all sides do it” canard, which equates the extremely few with the very many, and fails to acknowledge that this war was started by Serbs and Miloševic in particular.

Handke is full of it. The writer David Rieff, who has reported from Bosnia, took the time to read “A Journey to the Rivers” and issued this assessment of its author: “The truth is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. … He came to Serbia knowing nothing about its complicated politics and, to judge by the book, left knowing no more.”

There are lots of award-winning writers who have dumb ideas about politics and politicians, and write bad books from time to time. That’s not disqualifying for a Nobel Prize or a three-martini lunch with their editor. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about denying a genocide — turning history on its head, making perpetrators into heroes and victims into villains. And this particular history, of Christians killing Muslims for the supposed sake of defending their culture, is an important one to get right at a time of heightened discrimination of Muslims and other minorities in the U.S. and Western Europe.

The Swedish Academy’s response to the controversy is below pitiful. Confronted with the first wave of objections to its choice, the academy’s permanent secretary, Mats Malm, told the New York Times that Handke was chosen on literary and aesthetic grounds. “It is not in the Academy’s mandate to balance literary quality against political considerations,” Malm said.

This isn’t so far, in the excuse-making sweepstakes, from Ellen DeGeneres talking about what a nice man George W. Bush is (never mind the hundreds of thousands who were killed as a result of his decision to invade Iraq). Our world is a political world, as I hope Ellen and the Swedish Academy would appreciate. People with power and influence have a particular responsibility to connect their words and their hugs to the real world.

While Stockholm is a long distance from Bosnia, it is not so far from Norway, where in 2011 the terrorist Anders Breivik killed 77 people, many of them children at a summer camp. Breivik was obsessed with the Balkans and wrote a 1,500-page manifesto that frequently evoked and praised the Serb ultranationalists who were Miloševic’s puppets. Rising to the defense of Serbs who rampaged through Bosnia is not, in our culture today, a harmless act of ignorance that a prize-giving committee has no responsibility to wrestle with. These genocide-friendly sentiments feed into a wave of violence that afflicts us.

Peter Handke is entitled to believe what he wants to believe. He can lie and dissemble as much as he wishes. That is his right. But I simply can’t believe that the Swedish Academy has done what it has done. Their irresponsible decision evokes the idea of capitalists selling the rope to people that will be used to hang them. The aesthetes on the Nobel Committee have made a selection that will destroy their prize, as it should.

Why Is Bill de Blasio Trying to Kill Me? New York’s Mayor Prefers Drivers Over Bicyclists

The Intercept  |  September 22, 2019

FOR A NUMBER of years, when I was covering wars in places like Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I would wake up in the morning and conduct a risk assessment of what I planned to do during the day. I carefully considered the dangers ahead — ambushes, land mines, bombings, kidnapping — and how to avoid or mitigate them. I ran endless scenarios through my mind, and when I headed out into the insanity of the day, I was extremely vigilant to signs of trouble.

I never expected that the risk-assessment skills I developed in war zones would be relevant to my life as a Brooklyn dad with a desk job in Manhattan, but that was before I started biking to work. It’s not that the hazards of biking in New York City are reminiscent of the frontlines around Sarajevo, but let me say this — I was kind of crazy to do the things I did back in my war reporter days, and I am kind of crazy to ride a bike in New York City. This time, the leader I blame for the mayhem around me is not a warlord or a war criminal: He is Bill de Blasio, the supposedly progressive mayor of New York who says all the right things about the need to respond to the world’s climate emergency yet refuses to do the one thing in his own city that would save the lives of his constituents and the planet we all live on.

As you might have heard, there has been a spike in cyclists killed in New York City; the count is up to 21 so far this year, more than double the amount for all of last year. There have also been more pedestrians killed by cars this year, including a 10-year-old boy who was waiting for a bus earlier this month when the driver of an SUV plowed over the sidewalk and killed him, and a 1-year-old girl in a stroller who was killed just days ago by yet another SUV driver who jumped a curb. There’s not just the death toll: Last year, nearly 11,000 pedestrians were injured by cars in the city, according to the Department of Transportation, and the number of bikers hurt was close to 5,000. That’s not even a full accounting, because it’s based on reports to the New York Police Department; lots of biker and pedestrian injuries go unreported, because why bother? A few years ago, after I had to jump out of the way of a bus that still grazed me as it illegally turned into a crosswalk, a police officer on the scene asked me to not file a report — I assume because he didn’t want the hassle of the paperwork. I filed a report.

If you regularly ride a bike, you know all too well the bloody story that soulless mortality spreadsheets don’t convey. During any ride, there will likely be a couple of occasions on which, if you did not quickly brake for a car that illegally crossed into your path at an intersection, or did not shout at the oblivious pedestrian walking into your bike lane, or pull aside to avoid a biker going the wrong way, or swerve to avoid a suddenly opening car door, or notice the 5-inch pothole just ahead, you would end up as another digit in the statistical category that the city describes as KSI — which stands for “Killed or Seriously Injured.” I never expected that a phrase I often whispered to myself at the end of a busy day in a war zone — “I could have died today” — is one I continue to whisper at the end of a two-wheeled journey home. And I’ve got it easy, because I don’t ride a bike for a living, all day long, as legions of low-wage workers must do in the messenger and food-delivery trades.

There’s a particularly demented nightmare that haunts the cyclists of New York City (or at least me): getting doored. That’s what happens when you’re biking on one of de Blasio’s unprotected lanes, and someone in a stationary car, just inches to your side, opens their door without bothering to check whether a cyclist is coming. You were riding along and following the rules and trusting de Blasio’s encouragements to ride a bike in the great metropolis of New York when suddenly, like a flipper in a pinball machine — but this isn’t a pinball machine, it’s a street, and it’s your life — a door opens and smacks into you. The injuries you suffer at that moment can be quite severe, but the worst may be just ahead. When cyclists are doored by parked cars, they tend to fall into the street, where they can get run over by a moving vehicle. In New York, eight cyclists have been doored to death since 2014.

THERE’S A POINT of commonality between the chaos of New York biking and the mayhem of far-flung war zones. Chaos is not a condition that just happens like an act of God or magic. It must be created. Societies are not always or naturally at war – most are at peace most of the time, if not all the time. When war happens, it is largely the product of decisions and actions by powerful leaders who create the destabilization required for hostilities to break out. That is what is happening in the streets of New York under the neglectful and hypocritical rule of Mayor de Blasio.

When de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, he inherited a city that was quickly moving to a future much more free of cars than its past, thanks to the surprisingly forward-looking policies of his predecessor, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who was terrible in most ways but was great on the issue of cars, pedestrians, and bikes. Bloomberg, who famously took the subway a fair amount (de Blasio prefers his city-provided SUV), infuriated drivers and businesses by speeding up the installation of bike lanes and, among other things, turning Times Square into a pedestrian-friendly zone — a move that has ended up being immensely successful.

Bike lanes have expanded in de Blasio’s time but at a shameful pace and in a frankly dangerous way. Most new lanes are not protected. Instead of a firm barrier that moving cars are unable to cross, all that separates bike riders from their deaths is a painted line or a plastic stick every 20 or 30 yards. This has been referred to as a “paint and pray” policy: painting bike lanes and praying nobody will get hurt. It might be sufficient if several other things existed that do not. They include the following:

Drivers respecting the lines and not driving into bike lanes.
Delivery trucks and other vehicles not parking in bike lanes.
Drivers not opening their doors in front of bikers.
Police enforcing these rules.

These things do not prevail, which is the main reason bikers and pedestrians are being killed and injured by the tens of thousands every year. On my daily commute, it’s not unusual to encounter several delivery trucks, Ubers, or other vehicles parked in unprotected bike lanes on a single block, requiring me to merge into moving car traffic. Often the vehicles, rather than being stationary in the lane, are moving into it. Not long ago, I was riding in an unprotected lane near Union Square in Manhattan and a truck cut into it, forcing me to the curb to save my life. “This is a bike lane,” I shouted at the driver, to which he yelled back, “I don’t fucking care.”

As an excellent article by Aaron Gordon in Jalopnik noted about unprotected lanes, “Instead of directing cyclists to a few carefully designed, safe, protected routes, it spreads them out among dozens of lazy, dangerous, and haphazard ‘bike lanes’ inviting conflict.” Honestly, it feels like the de Blasio administration is luring us into a trap: “Here’s a new bike lane, please come and use it, you’re going to love it, ha ha ha.” But don’t take my word for it. Earlier this month, when someone on Twitter noted how dangerous it is to bike in New York City, the official account of Google Maps tweeted back, “Biking through New York isn’t for the faint of heart, my dude.” That tweet was later deleted and I suppose a social media intern at Google was sent packing for telling the truth.

AT THIS POINT, you might be thinking, Hold on, cyclists are a menace, too; they scare and injure pedestrians all the time. My response is that I totally agree. The moment I get off a bike I have to keep an eye out for cyclists – the ones who ride on the sidewalks, the ones who ride the wrong way on a street, the ones who speed through crosswalks. Bikers can be assholes. The nearest I came to an accident in recent months was when a guy on an electric bike came roaring at me going the wrong way in a protected lane. I swerved to avoid a crash and shouted at him, prompting him to turn around and threaten to punch me out. The guy was maybe 20 years old and totally high, but I found a way to shame him from actual violence. “I’m 59 years old,” I announced. “And you want to take me on? Really? Really?”

But let’s remember a key thing: Asshole cyclists are not the main problem. Last year, car drivers killed 115 pedestrians in New York City, while bicycle riders killed zero. Please don’t fall for the anti-bike propaganda of publications like the terrible New York Post, which loves to portray bikers as antifa horsemen of death. It’s an own-the-libs distraction.

Let’s stand back and look at what’s going on. The problem is the absence of an infrastructure that gives bikers, pedestrians, and even delivery trucks what they need so they don’t go to war against each other for the rat-infested crumbs of asphalt the city has them fighting over. Cyclists need protected lanes and prioritized lights all over the city. Give that to them and they won’t swarm the sidewalks, they won’t drive the wrong way all the time, and they won’t go through intersections when they shouldn’t. Give pedestrians the wide and safe sidewalks they need, the benches their weary legs desire, the trees that make shade in the summer, and calm streets in which the majority of space is devoted to the majority of people who are not in private cars. This has been proven to work — it’s not a risky leap, it’s been ridiculously successful in cities across the world, particularly in Europe.

This isn’t happening, and instead we’re pitted against each other. Honestly, I don’t hate the truck drivers parking in bike lanes; they are victims too. They can’t afford to not park there. The city — meaning Mayor de Blasio — has given them no choice, because so much curb space is taken up by parked cars. And their bosses at UPS, FedEx, and Amazon haven’t given them a choice, either: How can low-wage drivers possibly meet an unrealistic quota of deliveries unless they break the law and park in bike lanes? It’s time to wake up and realize this is a new sort of class warfare on the streets of our city. Let’s unite against our political and corporate bosses, not squabble among ourselves.

Let’s also remember that this should not be turned into a law enforcement problem addressed primarily by giving the NYPD yet more power over our lives. This is a design problem. The streets are chaotic and dangerous because they are badly configured, and there are too many cars, not because the NYPD isn’t handing out enough tickets. If protected bike lanes are built and more streets are designed so that private cars cannot travel on them or are discouraged from doing so, there will be no need to pray that the NYPD will do the right thing (after all, they have shown little interest in doing much with the powers they have — just go on Twitter and perform a search using the phrase “police parked in bike lane“).

AM I OVERREACTING? Well, look at who’s doing the biking. About 75 percent of the riders of Citi Bike, the bike sharing program in New York, are male. A lot of women do not feel comfortable riding bikes in this city, and that’s fundamentally unfair. And look at the ages of the males who ride: Most are relatively young. I rarely see bikers who are old enough, as I am, to shame 20-somethings into not punching them. It’s “Logan’s Run” out there, and it’s a vast discrimination against anyone who is not a man in the physical prime of his life. This is a tragedy because New York City is ideal for short hops on bikes by people of all genders and ages, including children; it’s a flat and high-density city. Yet since 2014, the number of bike riders has fundamentally stalled; nobody new is showing up to the party, because the word is out that it’s not a party, it’s a death race.

A final word, if I may, for Mayor de Blasio and his central role in not doing the one big thing that is within his power to save the planet. You will not find a mayor who is more devoted to talking about the urgent need to fight global warming. He publicly celebrated the courage of Greta Thunberg when the 16-year-old environmentalist arrived in New York on a sailboat earlier this month, and he has piously warned that humanity has only 10 years left to save the planet. He has made some helpful changes, like announcing new guidelines on pollution levels for buildings. But these are the easy things. Getting cars and their lethal exhaust off the streets is the most important thing he could do and also one of the most difficult — because of a vocal minority of drivers with outsized clout. They are like the NRA, except their weapons weigh 4,000 pounds and are turning the planet into cinders (and there is no constitutional right to store your car for free on public streets).

The slightly good news is that de Blasio has finally ended his much-derided run for the Democratic presidential nomination, so we can hope he wakes up. It is unfathomable that during a climate emergency in which a key task is to reduce our use of cars, the allegedly progressive leader of America’s largest city has done so little to turn bike riding into an activity that’s not life-threatening.

HBO’s “Succession” Is a Masterful Demolition of the Absurdity and Cruelty of Our 1 Percent Overlords

The Intercept  |  August 10, 2019

If you had to sum up decades of financial dystopia in America, you could go with the phrase “Money wins.” The accumulation of insane amounts of wealth by the 1 percent has flattened in its path everything else: the interests of ordinary people and the planet, as well as the notion that fairness should be a social compact rather than a sucker’s delusion.

The phrase comes from one of the most scathing accounts of our economically twisted times: the newest season of HBO’s “Succession,” which is both a drama and comedy about a billionaire family based loosely on Rupert Murdoch and his children. The patriarch of the fictional family in “Succession” is Logan Roy, who has built a media and entertainment empire from scratch, with a cable network at its heart that is a dead ringer for Fox News. In the new season of the show, which starts on Sunday, Logan is surrounded by his heirs and assorted hangers-on as he celebrates another business triumph by chillingly proclaiming, “Money wins. Here’s to us!”

The members of the Roy family are fictions but in their evident unfitness to rule, in their manifest sadomasochism, they are true-to-life.
This season of “Succession,” its second, is being rightly praised as pretty much the best thing to watch at the moment. The show is a genre-bending mashup of “Veep,” “King Lear,” and “Empire.” As critics have noted, the writing and acting are stellar, to the extent that even supporting actors have unofficial fan clubs. It’s impossible, for instance, to not be transfixed by the hilariously instrumental relationship between the secondary characters played by Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun (“Back off, this is executive-level business!” Macfadyen screams to his inferiors during a madcap scene in which he pelts Braun with water bottles.)

Allison Keene noted in Paste Magazine that the show is a “marriage of parody with reality,” and she’s right. But our laughs shouldn’t make us treat it as just a joke. Remember, “Succession” is also reality: The show is based on years of research by its creator, Jesse Armstrong, who initially wrote a biopic about Rupert Murdoch and his heirs, the owners of Fox News. When that script didn’t pan out, Armstrong expanded his research to other media families and moguls, including Conrad Black and Sumner Redstone. The members of the Roy family are fictions drawn from multiple sources, but in their evident unfitness to rule, in their manifest sadomasochism, they are true-to-life iterations of our 1 percent overlords.

“Everybody is a coward, everybody is an idiot and everybody is trying to cover their back almost all of the time,” said Lucy Prebble, a writer and executive producer of the show, in an interview with the BBC. “That does feel what reality is like at the moment in terms of the powerful.”

THE SHOW’S CENTERPIECE is the rivalry between the three offspring who are vying to succeed the patriarch Logan, portrayed with masterful cunning by Brian Cox. As Variety has observed, the children are competing for the affection and favor of “an active madman,” and because they are foolish enough or greedy enough to seek his crown, they clearly deserve the humiliation that comes their way. The first season of the show, as well as the five episodes of the upcoming season that have been provided to reviewers, lay out on a cold examining table the foibles and faults of each would-be successor.

It’s hard not to be entertained by their absurdities. Look at Roman Roy, the youngest son, played with sleazy excellence by Kieran Culkin, who in the first season jauntily walked into his glass office, closed the interior blinds so co-workers could not see him, and proceeded to pleasure himself against an exalted view of the New York City skyline. In the second season, Roman finds yet another way, even more surprising, to satisfy his carnal inclinations and make us laugh or recoil in repulsion. He is a court jester with executive responsibilities, and the result is what you would expect. At the end of the last season, overseeing the development of a rocket that he had hurried to the launch pad, he watched a livestream on his phone as it exploded on takeoff — and then, in a bathroom, he literally washed his hands and returned to his sister’s wedding party as though nothing bad had happened. He seems too ridiculous for real life: How could anyone as inept as this third-rate scion be allowed near the C-suite?

The Murdoch correlation is relevant here. Just as the fictional Logan Roy has two sons and one daughter in the running to succeed him, Rupert Murdoch has two sons and one daughter who worked in his empire at various points and jockeyed to take over. In the real world, Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, has won that competition, recently becoming the chief executive of Fox Corporation, largely because his politics are a carbon copy of the old man’s white supremacy. Lachlan is, in this way, a version of the eldest son in “Succession”: Kendall Roy, portrayed brilliantly by Jeremy Strong, spends the first episodes of the new season as a windup zombie, executing whatever orders his despotic father gives him.

Murdoch’s second son (his Roman, as it were) is James, a Harvard dropout who keenly wanted to succeed his father but missed his chance earlier this decade by botching a phone-hacking scandal at the family newspapers he oversaw in London. James’s failure was akin to Roman screwing up the satellite launch. James claimed, without much plausibility, that he had not read emails sent to him about the hacking scandal and that he had approved extravagant payoffs without knowing they were to cover up serious misdeeds. When the British government investigated the matter in 2012, its assessment of James was brutal. “James Murdoch’s exercise of responsibility was less than we would expect to see exhibited by a competent Chief Executive Officer,” the Office of Communications wrote, adding that his leadership “repeatedly fell short of the exercise of responsibility to be expected of him.”

“Succession” isn’t directly or only about the Murdochs; it is about an entire class of super-wealthy individuals, almost all of whom are men. As the British writer Hugh Montgomery has noted, the show is “part of a reckoning with the particular strain of rich white men who continue to have a grip on the Western political and media establishment — and have, arguably, or very clearly, abused that power to monstrous effect.” It is the show of our times.

The Problem at Fox News Is Not Just Tucker Carlson — It’s the Murdochs Who Owns the Network

The Intercept  |  July 10, 2019

Yes, let’s get furious once again at Tucker Carlson, who has broadcast another segment of racist bilge at Fox News. But let’s not stop there.

In a widely circulated clip that’s getting justifiably walloped by journalists who are not admirers of white nationalism, Carlson describes Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia, as a danger to America and a reason the U.S. immigration system should be changed or shut down. Carlson has once again confirmed his standing as one of the most prominent racists at Fox News, alongside the unlikable likes of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

What should be done about this? It’s absolutely correct to direct our anger at the terrible people we see on Fox and the terrible things they say, but they are not the worst culprits or the most powerful ones. Remember the Watergate-era saying, “follow the money”? Do that with Fox News and you’ll quickly realize that the people responsible for its hateful programming — the people who can shut it off in an instant but don’t because they approve of it or are too cowardly to take a stand against it — are Rupert Murdoch and his heirs, who founded and own a controlling stake in the network’s parent company.

Fox News was created in 1996 by Rupert, the Australia-born patriarch who has assembled a globe-spanning array of conservative media properties. Last year, the 88-year-old officially handed over day-to-day management of his empire to his eldest son, Lachlan. While Rupert remains the most powerful shareholder, his six children own significant stakes through a family trust he created; in all, the Murdoch Family Trust owns 39 percent of Fox Corp. Many of his children — not just Lachlan but also James and Elisabeth — have worked for their father in senior corporate positions and have held board seats.

The network does not bear the family’s name but make no mistake, Fox News is Murdoch News. Rupert is not a backseat driver of anything he owns — his power and interventions are legendary. Lachlan is a chip off this stubborn block; he’s now the chief executive of Fox Corp., and when Carlson got into hot water last year for another racist rant, Lachlan texted him a message of support. In addition to Lachlan, three of Rupert’s children — James, Elisabeth, and Prudence — have voting power in the family trust and none of them have ever voiced a public word of criticism against Fox News, the profits of which have helped make them billionaires. (Rupert has two younger children, with his ex-wife Wendi Deng, and while they have shares in the family trust, they do not have voting rights.)

The media has done a good job of pointing out the racism and xenophobia of Fox News in recent years, but most news outlets have come up lamentably short at connecting the dots and making clear to their readers and viewers that the Murdoch family is behind — and profiting from — the poison that’s broadcast by the network. For instance, the anti-Carlson stories written in the latest news cycle by Brian Stelter at CNN and Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, while excellent critiques of the Fox host, make no mention of the Murdochs.

Why isn’t this happening? There are lots of reasons. Even though Rupert Murdoch has on occasion made reactionary remarks, neither he nor any of his heirs have come close to the flagrant ideological entrepreneurship of, say, Steve Bannon, who engineered the rise of Breitbart News. Bannon exulted in his political infamy, whereas the Murdochs shy away from it (Lachlan, for instance, has said close to nothing about politics.) Although Breitbart has had far less impact than Fox, Bannon is banned from polite company, while the Murdochs continue to receive the red carpet treatment at Sun Valley and elsewhere. Another factor is that Rupert was glad to let his chief deputy at Fox, Roger Ailes, serve as the lightening rod for political criticism of the network (Ailes was forced out in 2016 due to his years of sexually harassing employees).

Yet the most important reason for their lack of attachment to the ills of Fox News is probably monetary. The Murdochs are billionaires many times over, and they have made much of their fortune from assets that are not named Fox News. Earlier this year, for instance, the family sold off much of its entertainment holdings, including 21st Century Fox, in a deal that created a new high for the family’s wealth of more than $19 billion, according to an estimate from Bloomberg. They benefit from the plutocrats advantage: If you make enough money, you can get away with almost anything, whether it is creating a private parking space in front of your New York City home, or avoiding decades in prison for raping girls.

It’s time to attach to the Murdochs the sick consequences of their wealth. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are symptoms of an underlying condition. You can’t hope to make a change unless you talk about the force that makes their hatred possible. It has a name: Murdoch.

How James Murdoch Uses Philanthropy to Distance Himself from the Taint of Fox News

The Intercept  |  June 29, 2019

The mission of Unite America is lofty. As its name implies, the little-known group wants to heal a political system that has become “more divided and dysfunctional with each election cycle.”

Its bipartisan mission is an implied critique of Fox News, which has been identified, in study after study, as a principal cause of the polarization that Unite America seeks to cure. Yet a few months ago, Unite America received a “strategic investment” from a surprising source: a foundation run by James and Kathryn Murdoch. Their last name might ring a bell; James is a son of Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, and for nearly two decades he was a top executive in his father’s businesses.

The donation is quite a paradox. Fox has consistently promoted conspiracy theories and white nationalism while demonizing leaders of the Democratic Party. Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a frequent target of its slanted coverage, has bluntly described the network as a “hate-for-profit racket.” Yet while many Americans have been harmed by the toxins of Fox News, it has helped enrich the Murdoch family. James and and his wife Kathryn, like other members of the family, are billionaires. Until last year, James was even hoping to take charge of the family’s empire but his brother Lachlan got the nod from their father, who is now 88 years old.

A question arises: What is going on here?

Alongside his wife, James Murdoch is trying to cast himself as a member in righteous standing of the effort to repair the damage his family helped cause. In addition to the infusion into Unite America, James and Kathryn Murdoch have donated $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League, which combats the sort of hate crimes that Fox News is widely regarded as encouraging. Through their foundation, which is called Quadrivium (the Latin word for “crossroads”), they have also donated at least $4.25 million since 2013 to the Environmental Defense Fund — a group fighting against the skepticism of climate change that Fox News has ceaselessly promoted. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which posts and links to articles that criticize Fox’s skewed reporting on science and the environment, has received more than $1.75 million from their foundation.

These donations have come without an apology or even an acknowledgment of the Murdochs’ connection to Fox News. Their foundation’s website makes no mention of Fox News, which is arguably the most consequential entity James and Kathryn are associated with (the Murdoch family owns other newspapers and television networks across the world). The same goes for the biographies of James and Kathryn that appear on the websites of the nonprofit organizations on whose boards they serve: None mention Fox News. When James and Kathryn announced their donation to the ADL, in response to the neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville, they condemned the rise of hatred in America but did not mention their family’s role in fueling it.

There is a reason for these omissions: It is the greasy way things have always been done in philanthropy. For the most part, few people have cared about billionaires remaking their questionable reputations by donating to nonprofits — but that’s changing.

A new debate has been set off by the philanthropy of the Sackler family, which owns the company that makes OxyContin, the brand-name drug at the center of the opioid epidemic. In the past year, the family has been shunned by nonprofit organizations that used to line up to accept their donations. This is the result, in part, of a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general that described the Sackler family as trying to donate their way out of trouble.

“The Sacklers used their ill-gotten wealth to cover up their misconduct with a philanthropic campaign intending to whitewash their decades-long success in profiting at New Yorkers’ expense,” the suit said.

The Sacklers might be somewhat unique in the annals of tainted fortunes because their company, Purdue Pharma, is legally connected to an epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. But their shunning has elevated a question that was summed up not long ago by the writer Anand Giridharadas, who asked, “When people get rich harming others, should nonprofits take the blood money?”

Buying and Selling Mercy

James and Kathryn Murdoch declined to be interviewed for this article but their spokesperson, Juleanna Glover, invited written questions. The Intercept asked whether James and Kathryn had ever criticized or tried to change, internally or publicly, Fox News’s coverage of politics and climate change. Glover offered a two-line response: “James and Kathryn Murdoch have always led with their own values and will continue to do so. That’s patently clear to all who know and work with them.”

Their values do not appear to include a sense that they should connect themselves to any public critiques of the family business. A review of news stories failed to turn up any occasions on which they said a negative word about Fox News since its founding in 1996.

Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” has a searing critique of philanthropists who hope a bit of generosity will eliminate any expectation that they should acknowledge the society-wrecking origin of their fortunes. “I think there could be ways, if they are trying to give away their money, that they can atone for breaking America apart,” Giridharadas told The Intercept. “But it would begin with them standing before a bunch of microphones and saying they recognize they created the problem.” He added, “We have to be very clear about the nature of the transaction. The Murdochs are trying to buy mercy on the cheap and it is being willingly sold to them by people who should know better.”

The Murdoch family has already faced opposition to its philanthropy — just not in America. In late 2017, one of Rupert Murdoch’s children, Elisabeth, who lives in Britain, was appointed National Council member of Arts Council England, a powerful organization that distributes government funding. Elisabeth, like her siblings, is part-owner of the parent company of Fox News and other media properties; she, too, is a billionaire. After her appointment was announced, a protest letter was issued by Artists’ Union England, arguing that “the Murdoch family, through its international network of media outlets, has consistently proved to be an antithesis to the values Arts Council England claims to promote.” The letter continued:

The Murdochs … have regularly promoted hate, bigotry and Islamophobia, through their ownership of The Sun, The Times newspaper, Fox News and their many other media outlets. In the interest of private capital, the Murdoch family empire has a shameful record in employing unsavoury tactics to influence public opinion and public policy and we believe this appointment is another attempt to expand its damaging influence.

The protest did not result in Elisabeth Murdoch’s removal but the idea at its heart has taken root with the Sacklers. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and the Tate Modern in London, have announced they will no longer accept money from members of the Sackler family. And the Whitney Museum is now under fire for having on its board the owner of an armaments company, Safariland, that sells tear gas reportedly used against migrants at the U.S. border — though the protests and petitions have not yet forced the removal of Warren Kanders.

Organizations that have accepted money from James and Kathryn Murdoch are not eager to address questions about the origin of their funds. In a statement to The Intercept, Unite America’s executive director, Nick Troiano, said his group “does not condone the divisive role Fox News or other partisan media outlets play in our politics and culture today,” but he did not respond to the question of why Unite America accepted money from the family that created Fox. Instead, he praised what he described as Kathryn Murdoch’s “dedication to reducing partisanship and polarization.” His statement did not mention James Murdoch.

None of the organizations contacted by The Intercept were willing to offer a representative to speak on the record, though some issued vague statements similar to the one from Unite America. They tended to be quite brief. For instance, ADL spokesperson Todd Gutnick replied in a one-sentence email, “We do not discuss any internal conversations about our donors.”

Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also responded in a short statement. “AAAS’s reputation as a trusted communicator of unbiased scientific information is of the utmost importance in our work, thus all prospective philanthropic relationships are considered thoughtfully with regard to potential conflicts of interest,” Holt stated. “We are an organization dedicated to speaking up for science and evidence-based decision-making.”

The Environmental Defense Fund issued a statement in the name of its senior vice president for strategy and communications, Eric Pooley. Addressing only Kathryn Murdoch’s seat on the group’s board of directors, the statement said, “Kathryn has been a leader in the climate community for many years. Her work with the Clinton Climate Initiative, Environmental Defense Fund, Climate Central, SciLine, ReSource at Oxford University and the Quadrivium Foundation is a testament to that leadership and speaks for itself. We are grateful for her ideas, advice, and support.”

Quadrivium made a major donation in 2018 to another organization where Kathryn Murdoch is a board member — Climate Central, which publishes news about scientific issues. A statement from Climate Central’s chief executive, Benjamin Strauss, echoed the one from the EDF. “We are deeply grateful for Kathryn Murdoch’s leadership on the Climate Central board,” he stated. “Her clear commitment and support have helped us to introduce sound science on climate change to millions of people, so they can better understand the implications for their lives and their communities.”

One of the organizations that has accepted money from James and Kathryn — Dia Art Foundation, which received a $250,000 donation from Quadrivium in 2016 and appointed James to its board in the same year — did not respond to emails and phone calls. Dia is in a double philanthropic bind. It has not just a Murdoch but also a Sackler on its board: Marissa Sackler. In 2016, Dia received a major donation from the Sackler family, but unlike other museums, it has not renounced its ties with the family.

Cogs in a System

Even though he sought to take over the family business and has loyally defended some of its worst excesses, including a phone-hacking scandal in Britain, James Murdoch has also occupied a more moderate political position than his arch-conservative father. James recently donated $2,800 to the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, the largest individual amount allowed, and Kathryn has tweeted approvingly about Buttigieg. Both James and Kathryn have been advocates of environmental causes for many years, with James reportedly leading an effort to make his family’s companies carbon neutral. From 2006 to 2011, Kathryn was the director of strategy and communications for the Clinton Climate Initiative, according to her biography on the Quadrivium website. Despite that, they apparently have voiced no public objection to Fox News’s key role in fomenting doubt about the science of climate change.

The Murdoch family is generally secretive about what goes on behind closed doors, but a sprawling story in the New York Times earlier this year included a nearly Shakespearean account of why James opted to work for his father for so long. According to the Times account, which appears to have benefited from direct or indirect input from James: “He had stayed with the company for more than two decades, to prove himself to his father and because of dynastic obligation. ‘I can’t leave,’ he told a friend during the hacking scandal. ‘I was brought up to do this.’”

It’s true that James never had direct control over Fox News. The network was tightly run by one of his father’s closest deputies, Roger Ailes, until he was forced out in 2016 after being accused of sexual harassment. From its founding, Fox was viewed as the private fiefdom of Ailes and Rupert Murdoch. But James did have two positions from which he might try to influence Fox: as a board member of the parent companies of the network, and as his father’s son and possible successor.

The Times article implies that James was frustrated with Fox. The donations he has made with his wife appear to be a quiet rebuke of nearly everything Fox stands for — as the Times puts it, an effort to “neutralize” the political weapon that Fox had become. But that gets back to the heart of the critique of their philanthropy: Do they owe more than a sliver of their fortune to the public that has been damaged by the company that enriched them? Do they owe a fuller accounting of what they have done or failed to do?

Chiara Cordelli, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who has written about the ethics of philanthropy, believes that giving away tainted money should not necessarily be a silent act. “If my money comes from Fox News, and I want to use the money to promote causes that Fox News undermines, then I should at least publicly explain my rationale for doing that, and I should disavow Fox News’s views on those matters,” Cordelli said in an interview. “Otherwise it seems the donation is nothing else but a way to clean up a reputation.”

Roger Berkowitz, the academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, noted in an interview with The Intercept that Arendt offered, in her philosophical examinations of Germans under Hitler, a sharp critique of people who excused themselves as cogs in an evil system whose excesses they tried to quietly lessen from the inside. In an essay titled “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship,” Arendt wrote that people who believed a system was evil yet decided to work for it should be asked, “[W]hy … did you become a cog or continue to be a cog?” She added that unless they were actively conspiring to overturn the system, their participation was indefensible. Without the acquiescence of its cogs, Arendt observed, the system would not have been able to survive.

What the Concentration Camps of Bosnia Can Teach Us About the Abuse of Immigrants at the U.S. Border

The Intercept  |  June 27, 2019

How do you investigate human rights abuses at detention centers that are off-limits to outsiders?

I am not one of the on-the-ground reporters covering the Trump administration’s abusive treatment of immigrant children on the border with Mexico, but more than 25 years ago I investigated the concentration camps where Serbs tortured and executed Muslims during the Bosnian war. I can’t quite believe that I am writing this line and this story, but much of what I saw at those Balkan camps in the 1990s is relevant to what’s happening now in America.

It appears that due to a burst of media attention, the conditions of the U.S. border camps will likely be improved — there will be soap, toothpaste, and bedding — and journalists are being allowed to visit though in sharply restricted ways. This is a script we have seen before. After the first stories about Serb-run concentration camps were written by Roy Gutman, based on testimony he collected from survivors, the camps were cleaned up a bit and some journalists were allowed inside. I was among the first visitors in the summer of 1992, and what follows is a guide to help journalists understand and thwart the U.S. government’s likely cover-up of abuses that have occurred at its concentration camps. That’s another sentence I can’t believe I am writing today.

Tours of detention camps are public relations tricks; governments do their best to make sure journalists don’t actually visit the exact places where crimes occurred. Here’s an example from Bosnia. One of the worst prison camps was at a ceramics factory known as Keraterm, and I was taken there. Except I wasn’t, really. Keraterm had a lot of buildings, and the group I was with — about a half-dozen journalists — was taken to just one building. Our guide – a brute of a man named Simo Drljaca, who was killed when NATO troops tried to arrest him after the war — walked us into the building, which was mostly empty and had a thin layer of dust on the ground and not a human smudge mark on its floors or walls.

“See, no blood,” Drljaca smiled at us.

His ruse was transparently ridiculous — the building had never held prisoners. We demanded to see the building that we knew had housed prisoners; it was a brick warehouse less than 50 yards from where we stood. Prisoners had been tortured and executed there, and as we later learned, the survivors were moved out shortly before we arrived. No, Drljaca said, it’s a military facility, you can’t go inside or take pictures of it. He instructed us to get back into the minibus we were traveling in. But there were no military vehicles or soldiers in sight. The factory grounds were deserted.

The lesson is quite obvious and simple: You must go to the exact location where abuse has occurred. If you are prevented from going there and seeing what you need to see — a quasi-admission that a forbidden crime scene exists — demand to know why. The lies offered by prison officials can be nearly as revealing as the incriminating evidence kept out of view. Often that’s the only evidence of guilt you might get — the absurdity of the deception.

We were taken to two detention centers that held actual detainees. One of them was called Omarska, which has become infamous over time as the site of the greatest number of killings, and the other was called Trnopolje, which didn’t have as many killings but was nonetheless a location of immense fear and deprivation. Both camps were somewhat cleaned up for our visit, but terror can’t be erased so easily. These visits introduced us to the ethical dilemmas of interviewing detainees who feared repercussions for talking with us, though it also revealed ways to get around those repercussions.

If prisoners are afraid — as all of them were at these camps — you know it instantly. It is in their faces, their voices, their postures, the words they are afraid to speak to you. One of the most chilling moments occurred as I watched a prisoner at Omarska shiver in terror as a television reporter asked, with a camera running, whether he had been abused. The prisoner didn’t know what to do; the truth could’ve gotten him killed by the guards. His inability to say what he wanted to say was a silent form of testimony about crimes that were, at that moment, literally unspeakable.

It’s not a stretch to think that some kids at the camps run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection might be hesitant to complain about abusive conditions, assuming they are even allowed to speak to reporters (so far, apparently not). They might have the same sort of fear as the prisoners in Bosnia — could they be punished for what they say? A workaround to this quandary emerged during my visit to Omarska. One of the prisoners slipped a note to one of the other journalists, who shared it with me. “About 500 people have been killed here with sticks, hammers and knives,” the note said. “Until August 6, there were 2,500 people. We were sleeping on the concrete floor, eating only once a day, in a rush, and we were beaten while we were eating. We have been here for 75 days. Please help us. ”

The lesson from this — beyond the fact, now amply proved by war crimes trials, that Serbs committed genocide in Bosnia — was that it can be far easier for detainees to write something down and surreptitiously hand it to a journalist than to take the more intrusive route of talking to you. I wish I had been armed with pencils and pieces of paper and handed them out, as discreetly as possible, to prisoners who indicated any inclination to write notes, or just left these things in a corner for any prisoner to write a message that might later be given to other sympathetic visitors.

Another suggestion for journalists who might be visiting the CBP camps: Pay close attention to the CBP officials, and not just the polished spokespeople. What is the expression on their faces? Will they answer questions, even banal ones? The pursed lips of guards or supervisors can itself be evocative manifestations of power. They can withhold everything, whether it’s toothpaste, blankets, or words. It’s worth your time to persist with questions until the end. At Omarska, I tried to strike up a conversation with a guard who was nonresponsive until I gave up hope and provocatively blurted out what I wanted to know: “Is it true that you torture the prisoners?”

He glanced down at me — he was huge and had pistols on both hips in addition to an AK-47 slung over a shoulder — and his face lurched into a smile that was intentionally and sardonically grim. “Why would we want to beat them?” he said.

Indeed, it appears that U.S. officials are beginning to follow the footsteps of Serb authorities in Bosnia. Just read this chilling story by Simon Romero, who yesterday visited a CPB camp for children in Clint, Texas. The tour for journalists, Romero wrote for the New York Times, was conducted after the number of kids at the facility was greatly reduced. The tour was brief and “highly controlled,” with CPB officials pointing out food and sanitary supplies that they said were being provided to the children — but the journalists were not allowed to enter the cells where the children lived, talk to any of them, or take pictures (their cameras and phones were not allowed inside). When a reporter saw a young girl crying, a CPB agent quickly warned, “Don’t talk to her,” adding, “If you ask her anything you’ll be thrown out.”

A final lesson from Bosnia: The full truth of what happened at the camps did not emerge as a result of journalists visiting them after the worst crimes had been committed. There is a limit to what you can learn at a crime scene that has been cleaned up, and of course there’s a huge limit to what witnesses can tell you in the presence of their tormentors. The truth emerged from later interviews that journalists and investigators conducted with survivors who were able to speak freely in safe locations, usually refugee camps. Tracking down these survivors and taking the time to hear their grim truths was hard work, but it made the difference. Find the families who were kept in abusive conditions at the CBP camps. They know what happened.

I could go on — and it is horrifying that I could go on. How could genocidal events a quarter-century ago have any relevance to America today? That is where we are. That is what we have become.

What the Horror of “Chernobyl” Reveals About the Deceit of the Trump Era

The Intercept  |  June 5, 2019

IMAGINE THIS SCENE: A guilt-stricken official who worked for President Donald Trump sits down late at night to confess his agony. “What is the cost of lies?” the weary official says into a tape recorder, sitting in his dark kitchen. “It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then?’’

This confession is not an artifact of the Trump era, however — it is the opening of “Chernobyl,” a masterful HBO drama that turns history into prophecy. The five-part series begins with a Soviet scientist, played by Jared Harris, describing his dismay about the culture of secrecy and lies that led to the near meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in 1986, followed by the ensuing cover-up of the full consequences of the catastrophe. After taping his confession, the scientist, Valery Legasov, feeds his cat, stubs out his cigarette, steps onto a chair, and hangs himself.

The theme of lies — the destruction of truth by a regime devoted to self-preservation — pervades “Chernobyl” in a way that is wildly relevant to America in the age of birtherism, Sarah Sanders, and “very fine people” who are neo-Nazis. The corollary is unmistakable. At one point, an engineer who is partly culpable for the nuclear accident tells an investigator that her search for honesty, and his desire to avoid a firing squad, are futile. “You think the right question will get you the truth?” he says. “There is no truth. Ask the bosses whatever you want. You will get the lie, and I will get the bullet.”

“Chernobyl” can be considered the best political film of our times because it illuminates a core problem of the Trump era: the nonstop jackhammer of falsehoods that are drowning out what’s true. The risk is that Americans who are inundated with moral rubbish from the White House and Fox News may lose the will to care about the difference between right and wrong, echoing what happened in the Soviet Union. When everything becomes gray and sluggish, there is no battle worth fighting.

The craft behind “Chernobyl” is transporting — the dialogue, the visuals, the acting, the music. It excels as a horror movie, action film, political thriller, documentary, and fable. You hardly notice the show’s gutting message up to the finale, which is like a dagger you don’t sense until it pierces your heart and you gasp. But the creator and writer of the show, Craig Mazin, has been, like his central character, explicit in saying what it means. “We are now living in a global war on the truth,” Mazin told the Los Angeles Times. “We look at this president who lies, not little ones but outstandingly absurd lies. The truth isn’t even in the conversation. It’s just forgotten or obscured to the point where we can’t see it. That’s what Chernobyl is about.”

The right-wing reaction to “Chernobyl” has proved the point Mazin is making about America and denial. Conservatives complimented the series at first, for what they believed was its portrait of the mendacity of “leftism.” But things quickly changed.

@KurtSchlichter
You should watch CHERNOBYL.
It’s remarkable and its lessons are absolutely relevant today.
Leftism is contamination.
4:27 PM - May 15, 2019

When Mazin noted that “Chernobyl” was also about the contamination of Trump, they replied that Mazin didn’t know what he was talking about, even though he created the program they had just been celebrating. There was a particularly bizarre exchange that started with Stephen King. “It’s impossible to watch HBO’s Chernobyl without thinking of Donald Trump,” the novelist tweeted.

@StephenKing
It’s impossible to watch HBO’s CHERNOBYL without thinking of Donald Trump; like those in charge of the doomed Russian reactor, he’s a man of mediocre intelligence in charge of great power—economic, global—that he does not understand.
9:11 AM - May 30, 2019

Then Dan Bongino, a Fox News contributor who has run for Congress three times and lost each time, insisted the “Hollywood elitists” were wrong, very wrong.

@dbongino
Why do Hollywood elitists continue to publicly humiliate themselves on twitter? Chernobyl was a failure of socialism (where the govt controls the means of production), the exact opposite of the Trump deregulation and tax cut agenda.
7:17 PM - May 30, 2019

Mazin, who has a hearty 130,000 followers on Twitter, didn’t hesitate to correct the record. “Chernobyl was a failure of humans whose loyalty to (or fear of) a broken governing party overruled their sense of decency and rationality,” he replied.

@clmazin
Chernobyl was a failure of humans whose loyalty to (or fear of) a broken governing party overruled their sense of decency and rationality.
You’re the old man with the cane. You just worship a different man’s portrait.
8:31 PM - May 30, 2019

To the right-wing critics, it didn’t matter that Mazin had devoted years of his life to researching the disaster and making the miniseries, which has received an immense amount of praise. Even though his detractors would probably have a hard time locating Chernobyl on a map, Mazin had no standing, in their opinion, to make any claims about its meaning. The truth was what they said it was. The Federalist even ran a story that congratulated the program for warning about the evil of China and North Korea; the headline was “HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ Drives Home the Deadly Perils of Statism.”

In the end, “Chernobyl” is about more than the cost of political lies: It is about climate change and the fact that we cannot deceive our way out of the laws of science. That’s what happened in the Soviet Union: A design flaw in the reactor at Chernobyl had been identified by some researchers, but their findings were treated as a state secret that could not be shared with the people who operated the plant. Today, scientists have proven that our planet is heating up and that a catastrophe lies ahead if we don’t reduce emissions. But most of the people who are in charge of operating the planet — our political leaders — are ignoring the warnings, particularly in America. Just last week, the Energy Department described fossil fuels as “molecules of U.S. freedom,” and of course President Trump plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

“To be a scientist is to be naive,” notes Legasov, the hero of the show, in his final recording. “We are so focused on our search for truth, we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there, whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. … It will lie in wait for all time.”

Being Rupert Murdoch: How the Founder of Fox News Spreads His Brand of Destruction

The Intercept  |  April 25, 2019

RUPERT MURDOCH HOLDS a knife in his hand. He sits in a posh restaurant, praising the virtues of doing as he pleases.
“I like moving around, never in one place long enough,” he says, a napkin tucked into his collar to catch the drippings from a nearly raw steak he consumes. There is a flash of steel from the knife, which he points with menace at a dining companion. “Isn’t that the joy of a hotel? You can check in, turn it over, spill a glass of wine, take a shit in the toilet, fuck in the bed, make a mess, and then leave. And someone else cleans it up after; isn’t that wonderful?”
This conversation is taking place 40 feet from where I sit, though I should clarify that an actor is playing Murdoch, and another actor is playing the editor of one of his British tabloids, The Sun. The relationship between the two — the powerful master and his willing surrogate — is explored in a play called “Ink” that opens this week on Broadway. If you want to understand the mentality of the multibillionaire who has done more than any other person to spread far-right extremism in America, you should see this play, though it stumbles before the considerable task of exposing in its fullness the harm machine that is Keith Rupert Murdoch.
How, after all, does one capture in a play or a movie — or even a book that doesn’t gallop past 500 pages — the long life and dismal work of this 88-year-old mogul? At the age of 21, when his father died, Murdoch inherited two small newspapers in Australia and spun them into a media empire in his native land. He then moved to England and acquired more assets there, including the flower of the establishment, the Times of London, while creating from scratch a satellite television network. His media properties were instrumental in the rise and fall of several prime ministers, and they played a key role in fomenting the nationalist ire that led to Britain voting to leave the European Union. One of his newspapers, the News of the World, also engaged in a criminal campaign of hacking into the voicemails of celebrities, members of the royal family, and ordinary citizens; this led to a parliamentary committee declaring Murdoch unfit to run a major corporation.
And we haven’t even gotten to America and Fox News, which Murdoch founded in 1996.
The strength of “Ink” is that it reveals a key tactic of Murdoch’s: disruption by proxy. The play’s main character isn’t really Murdoch but Larry Lamb, the chip-on-his-shoulder journalist hired to turn the boring Sun into a sensationalist tabloid. Although Murdoch enjoys visiting his newsrooms, he is not the editor-in-chief of any of his publications; he appoints the people who are, in essence, his shock troops. “Find people like you,” Murdoch instructs Lamb, who is building a new staff for The Sun. “The spurned, the spited, the overlooked; gather ’em up, throw ’em in. A ship of undesirables.”
This tactic is magical for Murdoch because the “undesirables” are tagged with calumny, not him. When we think of Fox News and its toxic impact, we think of its headliners: Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs. The man whose fortune started the network, who appointed the executives who made Fox an engine of right-wing hate, who has made a good deal of money from all of this and could turn it around in an instant if he wished — would you recognize Rupert Murdoch if he shuffled past you on the street? Two films are being released this year about Fox News but both focus on Roger Ailes, the former chief executive of the network who was forced to resign in 2016 in a sexual harassment scandal. Ailes, who died in 2017, casts a longer cinematic shadow in death than his boss casts in life.
We want our villains to behave like villains, and Ailes is perfect for the role: He was physically unattractive, he was known before his downfall to berate his underlings, and he said foul things in public, as well as private. Murdoch’s advantage is that he stayed in the bleachers of his most odious project, letting Ailes, Hannity & Co. take the heat, while pursuing respectable ventures that gained the approval of his peers in the business world, such as turning 21st Century Fox into an entertainment juggernaut that Disney Corp. just bought for $71.3 billion. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in plutocratic America, a man’s reputation is measured by the size of his fortune rather than the depravity of his politics.
“Ink” — written by British playwright James Graham, who in 2016 wrote another political play that was a Snowden-esque look at privacy — focuses on a single year in Murdoch’s life, when he bought The Sun in 1969 and turned its focus to crime, sex, and anything else that would sell copies. The play opens with an idea: Lamb tells Murdoch that asking why something happens is unhelpful; it suggests that there is a plan or a point to things, whereas often there is not. The only thing worth asking, Lamb continues, is: “What next?” Murdoch listens and smiles; he recognizes his purpose in these words.
Murdoch’s politics are notoriously conservative, but there’s always been an aura of incoherence to what he’s sought and what he’s wrought. He mocked Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations until it became clear that Trump was going to be the Republican nominee, and then he fell in line. Murdoch now regularly advises the president, and Fox News is state TV. He was famously a crucial supporter of U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a leader of the Tory Party, but he later supported, crucially again, Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leader of the Labour Party. A recent investigative epic by the New York Times Magazine (“How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World”) suggested that it’s been all about the Benjamins, and that Murdoch sought political influence to gain the sorts of regulatory favors that turn millionaires into billionaires and billionaires into multibillionaires (he’s now worth more than $7 billion, and his six children have about $12 billion between themselves).
“Ink” presents Murdoch as a rascally narcissist, a proponent of destruction for destruction’s sake. In one of the play’s best scenes, Murdoch tells Lamb that he wants to burn down the established newspapers, to which Lamb warns, “There’ll be a lot of blood.” Murdoch’s reply is growled with hunger: “God, I hope so.”

How Lachlan Murdoch Went From Studying Philosophy to Exploiting White Nationalism at Fox News

The Intercept  |  March 30, 2019

In 1994, a philosophy student at Princeton University submitted a senior thesis that began with a famous passage from Lord Byron, the romantic poet. The passage reflected the student’s apparent uncertainty about who he was and what he would become after college.

Between two worlds life hovers like a star,
’Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.
How little do we know that which we are!
How less what we may be!

The thesis was written by Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch. In the 57-page thesis, Lachlan tried to develop a system, rooted in German philosophy, for leading a life guided by morality and love. His thesis was titled, “A Study of Freedom and Morality in Kant’s Practical Philosophy,” and he salted it with spiritual inquiries. It even concluded with a striking Sanskrit line about yearning for the purity of infinity.

A quarter-century later, this document is strangely relevant because its author has become one of the most important yet least-known purveyors of white nationalism.

Until recently, the Murdoch who most dominated Fox News was Rupert, the craggy billionaire who created the network in 1996. But with Rupert nearing his ninth decade, the Murdoch who now oversees the network — who in the past year has presided over some of the most racist and conspiratorial programming it has ever broadcast — is Lachlan. The tattoo-flecked chair and chief executive of the parent company of Fox News is now 47 years old and lives in a mansion in Los Angeles with his wife and children.

Lachlan Murdoch represents an archetype of extremism that often escapes scrutiny, because he is not an on-the-barricades provocateur. Instead, he is a behind-the-scenes proprietor. He doesn’t publicize his views — there is even a polite guessing game about them. At a recent conference, he had to be asked whether he agreed with the ideas on Fox News. “I’m not embarrassed by what they do at all,” Lachlan replied. His general practice of gilded silence stretches across the decades and has been the opposite of the foot-in-mouth bluntness of his infamous father.

Lachlan’s emergence as the Murdoch in charge of Fox offers an opportunity to assess the family for what it truly is. In America, the Murdochs are usually treated as a financial success, not as a political plague. Rupert and his sons, Lachlan and James, regularly attend exclusive business conferences where they are celebrated like royalty; media coverage tends to be congenial. The anger that exists toward Fox News is mostly directed at the network’s on-air barkers, notably Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro. But these far-right shouters wouldn’t be on our screens without the approval of the Murdochs. Just as the Sackler family owns the pharmaceutical firm that created and marketed OxyContin, at the center of the opioid epidemic, the Murdoch family is behind Fox News and the far-right sludge that has been injected into America’s political bloodstream.

The friendly narrative is showing signs of fraying. Earlier this month, Jane Mayer wrote an investigative story for the New Yorker, “The Making of the Fox News White House,” that detailed the network’s conspiracy-mongering and the connections between Rupert Murdoch and President Donald Trump. As Mayer noted, “A direct pipeline has been established between the Oval Office and the office of Rupert Murdoch.” Fox is not just a trumpet for Trump, though. A recent book co-authored by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts examined the spread of extremist ideas in America and identified Fox News as “the central node of the online right-wing media ecosystem.” The authors wrote, “Repeatedly we found Fox News accrediting and amplifying the excesses of the radical sites.”

Lachlan Murdoch has become the new boss of this far-right node. As with most tales about men in power, there is an interesting twist to his life. Unlike Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh or Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Lachlan does not appear to be an upstanding citizen hiding a terrible secret in a sordid past. His trajectory has been the opposite of the usual corruption arc — the decency was in his early years, before he slid into dishonor as a loyal son laboring for the approval of an imperious and reactionary father. The tale is so ripe with intrigue and pathology that it seems stolen from Shakespeare.

LACHLAN MURDOCH, from an early age, benefitted from the easy pathways that are a recurring feature of ruling-class privilege.

His father is Australian by birth and began his media empire there but moved to the U.S. in the 1970s to expand his holdings. Lachlan was enrolled in a series of private schools: Allen-Stevenson School and Trinity School in Manhattan, then Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and he graduated from Aspen Country Day School. According to a book by Neil Chenoweth, Lachlan, as well as his sister, had disciplinary issues at their East Coast schools — a “drinking episode” in Lachlan’s case — prompting their mother to move with them to the family’s winter vacation home in Aspen, Colorado. (Hope Hicks, the chief communications officer for the parent company of Fox News, described Chenoweth’s book as “not accurate” on these points. Lachlan declined to be interviewed for this story, and Hicks declined to respond to a list of additional questions.)

Despite bouncing from school to school and graduating from a tiny one in a winter ski resort (there were just six students in his Aspen graduating class), Lachlan, like his siblings, landed quite well in college. While he was accepted to Princeton, his sister Elisabeth got into Vassar and his brother James went to Harvard. These Murdochs were either remarkable students or, as can happen in families of wealth, remarkably fortunate. The doors to elite universities often have magical openings for the offspring of the rich and famous.

Trinity holds a clue to the political bent that would set Lachlan apart from his siblings, who are not believed to share their father’s arch-conservative views. In 1987, Lachlan was a member of Trinity’s “Conservative Society,” a club that, according to the school yearbook, was created to respond to “a definite imbalance of political ideology in the school community” and was open to “those with a clear conservative conscience.” A club photograph shows five students, all of them boys dressed in jackets standing side by side, with Lachlan wearing a tie, his head tilted, the makings of a slight grin on his face.

It seems notable that he’s at the margin of the photo, away from the center, which is occupied by Harrison LeFrak, an heir to a billion-dollar real estate fortune. While enjoying the privileges of his station, Lachlan seems to have tried to avoid the attention that usually goes with it.

At Princeton, it was easy for a billionaire’s son to blend in, because even by Ivy League standards, Princeton is known for its high quotient of 1 percenters. There were princes from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in Lachlan’s class, as well as real estate heirs from Hong Kong and New York. I reached out to dozens of his classmates, including some who lived in Wilson College, his residential college, during their freshman and sophomore years, and others who studied in the philosophy department. Most of those who responded could not remember him.

“I frankly don’t recall that he was in the class,” said Neil Weber, a president of Lachlan’s class.

“Wow,” wrote a Wilson College student after I sent her a yearbook photo of Lachlan, “he does not look familiar at all.”

“Didn’t know Lachlan at Princeton,” replied another student who was a philosophy major.

John Fleming, the faculty head of Wilson College, had no recollection of him.

Princeton was known for its clubby culture, and Lachlan was the type of scion who would easily be at its apex, but he steered clear of it. After living in residential colleges for their first two years, as required, most juniors and seniors moved into campus dorms and ate meals in social organizations known as eating clubs. Lachlan lived in an off-campus apartment on his own and did not join an eating club, according to classmates and records obtained by The Intercept.

One of his lecture courses, which used the concept of time travel to investigate key ideas in metaphysics, involved study sessions known as “precepts” that were led by graduate students. Lachlan’s precept was headed by an Australian, Alan Hajek, and because of Lachlan’s roots in Australia, they became friendly and occasionally met for cappuccinos. Hajek told me that Lachlan never indicated his father was one of the most famous Australians in the world.

“It was only three years later when I saw him on TV, there was a documentary on him, and the penny dropped,” Hajek said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s who he was.’”

In retrospect, there had been hints, but not intended to give away the secret. Lachlan had mentioned that his family had a vacation home in Yass and had invited Hajek to visit in the summer. It was only after Hajek figured out Murdoch’s identity that he understood his missed opportunity: He had been invited to one of the most legendary estates in Australia, the Cavan Station, which is owned by the Murdoch clan.

“I want to stress that he was a really likable, modest guy,” Hajek said, adding, “I shouldn’t speak to his grade, but he was a good student.”

IN 1993, BÉATRICE LONGUENESSE began teaching philosophy at Princeton, and her first course delved into German idealism. Exploring Kant and Hegel, the class was rigorous but didn’t scare away a polite student who asked whether Longuenesse might agree to serve as his thesis adviser. Longuenesse, new to Princeton, told a colleague about the inquiry she had received from a senior named Lachlan Murdoch.
“Do you know who that is?” the colleague asked.

Longuenesse guessed that he was related to Iris Murdoch, the British novelist.

This was not correct.

The real-world pedigree of her soon-to-be protégé didn’t matter to Longuenesse. She thought Lachlan was earnest and bright, and she agreed to his request, working closely with him for the rest of the year. Princeton has its share of spoiled kids, and while Lachlan was rich, he wasn’t arrogant. He quietly told Longuenesse about his affection for nature and rock climbing, and he worked hard on his thesis. During graduation week, she even attended a celebratory dinner in New York City with his father and other family members.

“It was quite clear that he wanted to be a decent person,” Longuenesse told me. “And he was a decent person.”

The thesis he completed under her tutelage follows along the lines of what a diligent, soul-searching senior would produce. As Lachlan wrote, “What is morality if not a human ideal by which we can measure our human actions?” For a close reading of his thesis, I interviewed Longuenesse a few months ago as she waited to perform jury duty at a Manhattan courthouse. I brought a copy of the manuscript and sat quietly as she paged through it for the first time since she had graded it more than two decades ago (she wouldn’t disclose the grade). As she began reading, she nodded her head and said, “I had forgotten how good this is.”

Longuenesse looked at the epigraph from Byron, which seemed to have less to do with German philosophy and more to do with Lachlan’s state of mind on the cusp of leaving college and doing whatever he would end up doing in the world. “That’s interesting,” she said. “I had forgotten that at that time, he was kind of a poetic character, because of his interest in the outdoors.”

The thesis starts by examining Immanuel Kant, then moves to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Lachlan found Kant’s views of morality to ultimately be limiting and preferred Hegel’s openness to human agency. “Hegel’s notion of the will allows for a much fuller, and ultimately rewarding, moral theory than Kant’s,” he wrote. His thesis finished with a nod to Harry Frankfurt, a Princeton philosophy professor who, as Lachlan noted, argued that “love can be valued as a motivator under Kant’s strict definition of freedom and morality.”

The thesis does not make for light reading. “A certain effect follows a certain cause, bound to it by the apparent laws of nature,” Lachlan writes at one point, in a passage that is not the most impenetrable. “A ball drops, as an effect of the cause of gravity, by law. Causes cause effects, just as my will wills the effect of an impulse to act. But what causes my will? As a free will, it must cause itself. If I am hungry for a snack, I may or may not will to eat one. The choice is mine and the cause of my ultimate action originates with me.”

Yet the document is, in places, accessible and, it seems, revealing. In both the introduction and conclusion, Lachlan wrote about the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Sanskrit scripture generally understood as a call for living selflessly. With its grounding in Hindu mythology and metaphysics, the Bhagavad Gita is a staple on college campuses. Lachlan, in his introduction, evoked the differences between the Bhagavad Gita’s exploration of the ideas of renunciation and discipline, writing that the debate “has raged throughout the history of ethical study.” His final paragraph returned to the Bhagavad Gita. In what seems a prescription for his own life, or the life he hoped would be his, Lachlan ends with one of the sacred text’s most famous passages: “The man of discipline has joy, delight, and light within; becoming the infinite spirit, he finds the pure calm of infinity.”

Longuenesse read these final lines closely.

“It’s a young man struggling with questions that are clearly his own questions, but working on them through major issues in philosophy,” she noted.

Longuenesse had hoped that Lachlan might follow his romantic muses — as she put it, “disappearing into nature” — but she was well-aware of the expectations, forces, and rewards that he would face after Princeton. “He was not going to rock the boat of the world he was in,” she said, a bit sadly. “He was the son of Rupert Murdoch, after all.”

MUCH MORE THAN his father, Lachlan has an innate ability to cover his tracks. His thesis reveals, for instance, the curious story of a friend who had a major influence on Lachlan, even though, as it turns out, the friend had no idea of his influence and still isn’t sure what it was.

The story begins in the two-sentence acknowledgements of the thesis, in which Lachlan wrote, “I also should thank Peter Hunt for the example he set for me, which led to the two most happy and fulfilled years of my adult life.” There is no further mention of Hunt — who he was or how Lachlan knew him — but it didn’t take long, thanks to Google, to figure it out.

In 1990, Peter Hunt, then a Stanford graduate student, spent a year taking seminars at Princeton. A decade older than Lachlan, Hunt was an experienced climber and became Lachlan’s climbing partner. Hunt, now a classics professor at the University of Colorado, told me that in the beginning, he had no idea who Murdoch was and referred to his new friend as “Loughlin” without being corrected. Hunt’s girlfriend figured things out and informed Hunt that his young climbing partner was not like most others.

The hub of climbing at Princeton was an artificial wall in a warehouse-like building known as the Armory. By today’s standards, the wall was primitive — on one occasion, Hunt remembers a climber falling a few feet to the ground after a piece of webbing failed. He said Murdoch was a decent climber who improved rapidly once they began training in an intentionally harsh regimen.

The wall’s limited height, about two stories, meant that it wasn’t much of a workout to get to the top. They made things more difficult by wearing 20-pound weighted vests and doing laps up the wall. One of them would climb to the top, then belay down, then climb back up again, and repeat until exhaustion, when they would switch positions and the belayer would become the climber. “He pushed very hard,” Hunt recalled.

Lachlan and Hunt went on road trips together, driving to a climbing mecca in upstate New York, the Gunks, and in the summer they climbed in the Colorado Rockies at Shelf Road (at the time, Murdoch was staying in Aspen, while Hunt was in Boulder). Their conversations focused on climbing. “From pretty early, I figured that we had different political views,” Hunt recalled. “I don’t think we talked about politics, [but] I saw no sign in any active way of reactionary or far-right views. He was a very pleasant person. … I thought of him as being very soft spoken.”

Hunt was surprised when I told him that Murdoch had thanked him prominently in his thesis. He had no idea about it.

“That’s very nice of him,” Hunt said, but added that he didn’t know he had set any example that impressed the younger man. “I’m very flattered, but I don’t know. We climbed together. Yeah, I really don’t know.”

I prodded a bit more and Hunt remembered a call years ago from an Australian reporter writing about Lachlan. The reporter said Lachlan had mentioned Hunt as a model of intensity. This made some sense to Hunt — not only was he a rigorous climber, he was a classics scholar, which isn’t that far from philosophy in its rigor and paucity of direct applications to the modern world.

“He considered himself a philosophy nerd at Princeton and he was really into it,” Hunt recalled. “A theory about what led to his happiness [at Princeton] is that he saw someone else who was doing something impractical and difficult and enjoyed it.”

Just as Lachlan had brought Longuenesse to a graduation dinner with his father, he had extended a friendly invitation to Hunt, asking him to an engagement party for his sister. Hunt regrets not attending. “It would have definitely been the most posh thing I’d been to,” he said.

LACHLAN HAD A UNIQUE distraction during his Princeton years: his father’s business.

At the start of the 1990s, Rupert Murdoch still had his principal assets, and his greatest notoriety, in Britain. In the 1980s, he had incurred the ire of the British establishment by buying the Times of London and other publications and turning their politics further to the right, while also crushing a yearlong printers strike. Britain’s left, in particular, despised Murdoch. Then, in 1990, his empire was threatened by a liquidity crisis that Lachlan was drawn into.

Rupert had always involved his children in his business affairs. A profile of Lachlan in 1998, by the writer Geraldine Brooks, noted that as a child, he was woken by his mother to have pre-dawn breakfasts with Rupert before he flew off for business meetings. At breakfasts that weren’t pre-dawn, Rupert and his children would read the morning papers and discuss what was in them. Lachlan told Brooks that he would also stay up late at night “listening to his father at the dinner table hashing out strategies with famous guests.”

During the first semester of his freshman year, as creditors circled around the family business, Lachlan was summoned by his father to attend tense meetings in London, according to the Brooks article. It described the two Murdochs walking home late at night on Fleet Street, with Lachlan wanting to put his arms around his dispirited and unsteady father. As Brooks wrote, “Some sons bond with their fathers through baseball, some through fishing. But for Lachlan Murdoch and his father, Rupert, there has only ever been the Business.”

The crisis passed and Lachlan returned to Princeton. But his devotion to German philosophy and the spiritual questions of the Bhagavad Gita did not dominate the next phase of his life. Princeton, like other top universities, tends to function as an incubator of the status quo. After four years of apparently sincere immersion in history, philosophy, or literature, a large number of students from Princeton and other elite universities glide to the highest reaches of the business world, which they do not tend to disrupt with the lofty ideas they explored as undergraduates. A poll at the fifth reunion of Lachlan’s class showed that at least half of them had become bankers, lawyers, managers, or consultants.

After Princeton, Lachlan started working for his father in Australia, where he oversaw the family’s media properties, though at least one part of his college life followed him there. In the garage of his $5 million home in Sydney, he built a fiberglass climbing wall. Another bit of continuity: Some accounts from those years describe him as courteous and modest, though he was no longer the semi-anonymous figure he had been at Princeton. He gave speeches, attended parties, and married a model.

Lachlan began to manifest, quietly, the inclinations he had gestured toward as a member of the Trinity Conservative Society. Speaking with Brooks, he described himself as “economically conservative but libertarian on people’s individual rights.” He offered an example. “I don’t smoke,” he said. “But I think taxes on cigarettes are the most outrageous example of the nanny state. It would be one thing if every penny went to researching lung cancer, but in fact it’s greedy politicians using the money to pork-barrel roads or put into the welfare state. People who want to smoke shouldn’t be burdened because of the political correctness of our times.”

Unlike his father, who is not shy about expressing the problematic ideas that have found their xenophobic expression on Fox News, Lachlan has tipped his political hand mostly behind closed doors, and even then, infrequently. The existence of his hardening views has mostly emerged in little-known accounts from former insiders of the Murdoch empire. One of those is Chris Mitchell, a longtime editor-in-chief of The Australian, the country’s largest newspaper.

In an obscure memoir, Mitchell described a Pebble Beach retreat at which Al Gore debated a vocal skeptic of climate change. Lachlan, according to Mitchell, was “almost cheering” at the challenges to the former vice president. Mitchell also wrote about a private dinner at which Lachlan urged the prime minister of Australia not to object to Indonesia’s plans to execute two Australians on drug smuggling charges. The Australians, Lachlan argued, were getting what they deserved. Mitchell wrote, “As with his views on gun control in the United States, Lachlan’s conservatism is more vigorous than that of any Australian politician, [Tony] Abbott included, and usually to the right of his father’s ideas.” (Mitchell, contacted by The Intercept, declined to comment further.)

Of course, it’s difficult to know whether Lachlan developed right-wing views on his own, whether he embraced them to please his father, or whether it is both. But what’s clear is that father and son engaged in an intergenerational transfer of an extreme ideology.

FAMILIES ARE CRUCIBLES, and the Murdochs are no exception. Rupert Murdoch has put the three children he had with his second wife, Anna, through a public competition to succeed him. For a while, Lachlan was assumed to be ahead, then James and Elisabeth, then Lachlan once more. In its emotional intensity, the succession saga mixes Freud, Hobbes, and Marquis de Sade. The father loves and punishes his children to gain their obedience — and to discern which of them is most devoted.

How did Lachlan, whose senior thesis ended with a line about seeking the pure calm of the infinite, wind up overseeing the impure hysteria of Fox? An answer may lie in the one occasion he broke from his father, in 2005.

At the time, Lachlan was the deputy chief operating officer of News Corp, and he was living in New York. He was constantly jousting against two of his father’s most trusted lieutenants, Peter Chernin, who was president of News Corp, and Roger Ailes, then the chief executive of Fox News. Chernin and Ailes were notoriously sharp-elbowed and not averse to undermining the young prince. After Rupert gave Ailes (subsequently fired for sexual harassment) a green light to ignore a directive from Lachlan, the jilted son decided he’d had enough.

That rupture was just one twist in several decades of Murdoch-on-Murdoch warfare that has been documented in shelves of books and articles, and even informed the HBO drama “Succession,” about a megalomaniac media billionaire and his squabbling adult children. One of the chroniclers, the writer Michael Wolff, has described an emotional tension that others have noticed too — Rupert’s humiliation of Lachlan, whom Wolff interviewed for his 2008 book on the family. “The point he wants to make is about being infantilized,” Wolff wrote, referring to Lachlan.

He makes it without obvious recrimination but with a sense of great burden, weariness almost. Lachlan, whose career has, in a sense, yet to start, has already experienced a great rollercoaster ride in his professional life. He has been tutored, elevated, anointed, then thwarted by his father’s courtiers — and finally turned his back on it all. … The father in small but constant ways humiliated the son, which made him a joke to everybody else. In every meeting the father was the impatient, domineering, fussing presence. He couldn’t stop calling attention to himself and away from the son. At the same time, the son, stamping his foot, was trying to call attention to himself.

Wolff is a controversial figure in media circles, regarded as prone to flourishes with the truth, but his psychological assessment tracks closely with what appears to be Lachlan’s own account of the rupture. An emotionally complex story of the father-son breakup was told years ago in a lengthy article by Steve Fishman, who described the events from Lachlan’s point of view. The article detailed the thoughts that were running through Lachlan’s head at various times, as well as his confidential remarks to friends and his father. While Lachlan was never described in the story as being its source, there is no other explanation for Fishman’s information, and he has coyly hinted at it.

“He loved his father,” Fishman wrote, “but he felt undercut, maybe humiliated. The feeling mushroomed. Lachlan began to brood … about his identity, in the company and out. Where was the respect due a successor, a deputy COO, a son? … ‘You don’t want to wake up in ten years’ time and feel your soul has been destroyed,’ Lachlan thought. ‘For what? One day you might run the company?’”

Lachlan met his father for lunch in Los Angeles to break the news to him.

“As their talk progressed,” Fishman continued, “both became emotional. Lachlan hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking of himself apart from the company, or apart from his dad. It seemed to shake him. It’s just difficult to sort of uncouple your life and your identity from the company, he thought. But that’s what he now proposed. ‘I have to do my own thing,’ Lachlan told his dad. ‘I have to be my own man.’ Then the heir apparent walked away.”

It is one of the ironies of the succession battle that walking away from it was a demonstration of strength rather than weakness. By participating in the competition, the Murdoch offspring had to bend to their father’s will and wishes. They enriched themselves, of course, while also debasing themselves by managing their father’s noxious newspapers and TV stations.

Lachlan was 34 when he stepped away. He was still a rock climber, but he had moved along in life and was not about to return to college for another degree in philosophy or in some other way unplug himself from the business world. He remained in close touch with his father, continuing to serve on the board of News Corp, but he relocated to Australia, eventually upgrading to a $21 million mansion in Sydney, and set up his own media company (it was called Illyria and would have mixed results).

THE MOST SURPRISING transformation involved James, who is a year younger than Lachlan. James is decidedly liberal. At Harvard University, he worked at the Harvard Lampoon, a humor magazine that skews sarcastically left. He has donated to Democratic Party candidates and causes. After a woman in Charlottesville was killed by a neo-Nazi who in 2017 drove his car into a peaceful crowd, James and his wife Kathryn gave $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League, writing in an email to friends that “standing up to Nazis is essential.”

James might not seem a likely candidate for running or aspiring to run a far-right media entity, yet for a number of years, he led the succession contest. In 2007, after Lachlan had gone to the sidelines of sibling competition, James was placed in charge of the Murdoch papers in Britain, including the right-wing News of the World and The Sun. They were among the most retrograde tabloids in the U.K., and they didn’t waver while James was in charge. Before he took over, the News of the World had even gained an unusual measure of infamy for illegally hacking the cellphones of British royalty, politicians, and celebrities.

The paper’s hacking method was deviously simple, taking advantage of famous people who did not change the factory settings for accessing their voicemail. Employees of News of the World called their targets’ cellphones and used default codes, such as 0000 or 1234, to listen to their messages. This practice, first exposed in the mid-2000s, caused a far larger scandal when Guardian reporters Nick Davies and Amelia Hill revealed in 2011 that the voicemails of a murdered 13-year old girl had been hacked by News of the World, impeding the police effort to find her killer. Voicemails of the relatives of fallen British soldiers had also been accessed illegally, and the paper was additionally revealed to have bribed police officers.

Although these crimes occurred before James assumed his position, he was the boss when the full extent came to light, and was accused of overseeing a cover-up. He has claimed that he was not aware of the scope of the hacking, but evidence emerged, in the form of an email to him, that he had been updated on it. When that email’s existence was made public, James claimed that he hadn’t read through it. He also claimed, during implausible testimony to a parliamentary committee in 2011, that he had approved large hush payments to a hacking victim but didn’t fully realize what they were for.
Phone hacking claims.

A Conservative member of the committee, Philip Davies, could not withhold his withering skepticism.

“I find it incredible, absolutely incredible, that you didn’t say, ‘A quarter of a million? Let me look at that,” Davies began. “I can’t begin to believe that that is the action that any self-respecting chief operating officer would take, when so much of the company’s money and reputation is at stake.”

Another member of the committee, Labour’s Tom Watson, went many steps further.

“You’re familiar with the word Mafia?” he asked James.

“Yes, Mr. Watson,” James replied.

“Have you ever heard the term omertà, the Mafia term they use for the code of silence?”

“I’m not an aficionado of such things.”

“Would you agree it means a group of people who are bound together by secrecy, who together pursue that group’s business objectives with no regard for the law, using intimidation, corruption, and general criminality?” Watson asked.

“Again, I’m not familiar with the term particularly,” James replied.

“Would you agree with me that this is an accurate description of News International in the U.K.?”

“Absolutely not,” James responded. “I frankly think that’s offensive and not true.”

Watson was not done.

“Mr. Murdoch, you must be the first Mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”

During those hearings, Rupert Murdoch, seated next to James, even had a pie thrown at him by a protester. (Rupert’s wife at the time, Wendi Deng, famously lunged at the pie-thrower.) In the committee’s final report, Rupert was described as “not a fit person” to run a major corporation, and James was criticized for “willful ignorance” and a “lack of curiosity” in finding out what had happened. Deflecting attention from calls for his father to resign, James fell on his sword, shedding his post in London and relocating to New York, where he assumed different duties in his father’s empire. With the aura of disgrace, James was sidelined in the competition to succeed his father.

Around this time, attention focused on Elisabeth Murdoch, who had worked for her father before establishing her own television company, which was called Shine. Her company, which had an early infusion of capital from a satellite broadcaster partly owned by News Corp, expanded quickly and after a few years was bought by News Corp for an amount that struck some observers as generous. One newspaper even ran a front-page headline that read, “Murdoch’s Daughter To Get £370M From Daddy.” Payouts of this sort have been one of the incentives Rupert Murdoch used to keep his children in his orbit. In 1995, James dropped out of Harvard and established his own hip-hop label, Rawkus, which was later bought by News Corp. Last year, James and Lachlan each received more than $50 million in compensation for their work.

Elisabeth did not go far in the competition, reportedly because Rupert believed her gender was not appropriate for the task. In a 2012 article in the New Yorker, Elisabeth spoke elliptically about her decision to pursue a career outside her father’s empire. “Each time I tried to work in his company, he wasn’t impressed,” Elisabeth said. “I realized I had to just go and be myself.” A family friend who spoke far more bluntly was quoted as saying, “She loves her father, but she’s the wrong sex.”

FOR NEARLY A DECADE, Lachlan refused his father’s requests to return to the family business, especially after the hacking debacle in 2011.

But then, suddenly, Lachlan changed his mind. On March 26, 2014, News Corp issued a celebratory press release that Lachlan had been named nonexecutive co-chair of the company, and quoted his father as saying, “In this elevated role, Lachlan will help us lead News Corp forward as we expand our reach.” It was, as a Reuters article described it, “the return of the prodigal son.” Although James was still in the picture — he had a senior role at 21st Century Fox, which was the entertainment part of the family’s holdings — it was a clear sign that Lachlan was not just back, but in the lead.

Four years later, in 2018, Rupert Murdoch agreed to sell Disney most of his entertainment assets for $71 billion; the Murdochs got about $12 billion of the total when the deal closed earlier this month, with shareholders getting the rest. The still-considerable holdings that remain under family control include a new company called Fox Corp. that has Lachlan as its chair and chief executive, with Fox News as its political heart. The epigraph from Byron that was on his 1994 thesis — “How little do we know that which we are!” — found its answer more than two decades later. Lachlan was the victor of a survival contest in which it was not necessarily the strongest who prevailed, but the most malleable.

BÉATRICE LONGUENESSE LOST touch with her protégé. She saw Lachlan at a Princeton reunion a few years after his graduation, and she encouraged him to visit again, even offering to host him at her home. But she laughed, as she waited for jury duty, at the hopes and ideas she once had of him. Lachlan Murdoch would never need to crash at her place in Princeton, and he was never going to become the citizen she wished he might become.

Now a professor at New York University, Longuenesse recalled listening to a recent interview in which Lachlan defended Fox News. It left her disappointed but not surprised. The lures and pressures that create ruling-class conformity — what she described as “social determinism” — are difficult to resist. Even his voice had changed, becoming harder. Little remained of the Lachlan she once knew.

Fox News Is Poisoning America. Rupert Murdoch and His Heirs Should Be Shunned.

The Intercept  |  November 4, 2018

IN THE EARLY 1990s, some of the smartest people resisting Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic worked out of a chaotic office in the center of Belgrade. The office was filled with a haze of cigarette smoke, ringing phones answered with shouts, off-kilter desks scarred by abuse, and half-empty bottles of liquor. This was the nerve center of Vreme, an opposition magazine presided over by the wise-cracking Milos Vasic.

A cross between Seymour Hersh and Ida Tarbell, Vasic saw beneath the surface of things. He realized that his small magazine made little difference to Milosevic, who had instigated and fueled the brutal wars in neighboring Bosnia and Croatia. There was just one media platform that mattered, state-controlled Radio Television Serbia, which was a relentless promoter of the Serbian strongman and his eliminationist agenda.

Vasic had a sharp analysis of how Serbs, in their susceptibility to indoctrination, were not unique. “All it took was a few years of fierce, reckless, chauvinist, intolerant, expansionist, war-mongering propaganda to create enough hate to start the fighting among people who had lived together peacefully for forty-five years,” Vasic said. “You must imagine a United States with every little TV station everywhere taking exactly the same editorial line — a line dictated by David Duke. You, too, would have war in five years.”

Instead of a former grand wizard of the KKK, we have Rupert Murdoch as the founder of Fox News, which for years – starting long before Trump’s presidency — injected racist, anti-Semitic and anti-liberal tropes into the American mainstream (remember the war on Christmas?). Fox isn’t watched by everyone, but for those who do watch, Fox is everything. As my colleague Jon Schwarz wrote the other day, it’s possible to imagine the political violence of the past weeks occurring even if Hillary Clinton had been elected president — we can take Donald Trump out of the equation and we still might have crazed Americans trying to kill other Americans because of their religion, skin color or party affiliation. But it’s impossible to imagine these attacks occurring without years of Fox News spreading the ideology of white nationalism. The network promotes conspiracy theories that begin in the bowels of the internet, and it feeds into those bowels an army of converts willing to go further than Fox & Friends dares.

The latest terror attacks in America have provoked a new wave of indignation against the network, culminating in a widely-noted call by the U.S. editor of the Financial Times, Edward Luce, for an advertiser boycott. “The most effective thing Americans can do is boycott companies that advertise on Fox,” Luce tweeted. “They bankroll the poison that goes from the studio into Trump’s head.” It’s a worthwhile idea but its impact will be limited, because as a Bloomberg article pointed out, the network’s main source of revenue is from cable subscribers, not advertisers. Some sponsors, heeding public pressure, have withdrawn from Laura Ingraham’s show after she mocked a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but the show’s ratings have surged since then – a condition that can lead, theoretically, to more subscriber revenue.

How can Fox News be pressured?

The Murdoch family is absolutely central — without their support, and particularly Rupert Murdoch’s support, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson would be off the air. The curious and condemnable thing, however, is that whereas Steve Bannon became persona non-grata in polite society for his role in spreading far-right ideas, Rupert Murdoch and his heirs are welcomed into the halls of power and money even though their network has done irreparably more damage to America than Breitbart News, the media platform Bannon once controlled. Few doors (if any) are closed to the Murdochs, with little questioning of whether they should be shunned rather than solicited by the various non-profit organizations they patronize and support.

This point was highlighted in a recent exchange in which NBC reporter Ben Collins pointed out that “extremist talking points may get workshopped on fringe sites, but they’re platformed on and reach the most dupes on Fox News. Never forget that Sean Hannity was literally tying Hillary Clinton to actual Satanism three days before the 2016 election.” Bill Grueskin, a journalism professor at Columbia University, aptly responded on Twitter, “As so often, it returns to the toxicity of Rupert Murdoch, and the complicity of his heirs.”

The key heirs are Murdoch’s sons, Lachlan and James. Each of them have held senior positions in the Murdoch empire in recent years, though James has been edged aside in a restructuring that leaves Lachlan with direct control over the news side, albeit under his father’s eye. The other Murdoch children — Prue, Elisabeth, Grace, Chloe — are not involved in managing the empire (Grace and Chloe are minors), though they are beneficiaries of a family trust that holds an estimated $12 billion in Murdoch assets.

Media coverage of the Murdoch sons has been inexcusably indulgent. Lachlan was a featured guest at the New York Times DealBook conference in New York on Thursday, where he was welcomed with applause and had a generally amiable chat with Andrew Ross Sorkin. This is in contrast to what happened when it was merely announced that Steve Bannon would appear at the New Yorker Festival not long ago – after a surge of protests, editor David Remnick was forced to withdraw the invitation.

In a lengthy article in 2017, the Times reported that while Rupert Murdoch remained in control, the sons “seem determined to rid the company of its roguish, old-guard internal culture and tilt operations toward the digital future. They are working to make the family empire their own, not the one the elder Murdoch created to suit his sensibilities.” This friendly narrative bends reality. While shedding itself of Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes due to their sexual harassment of women, Fox News has not throttled back its xenophobic content. Indeed, it’s actually gotten worse (just watch Tucker Carlson’s show). Lachlan Murdoch even refuted the Times’s reformist narrative when he was asked at the DealBook conference — held in the Times headquarters — whether he was embarrassed by Fox News. “I’m not embarrassed by what they do at all,” he replied.

Moreover, the don’t-worry-we’ve-got-this narrative hinges on the notion that the elder Murdoch, now 87, won’t be around much longer – that his sons will be in charge soon and things will get better. But guess what, Rupert Murdoch’s mother lived until she was 103 years old. If he lasts that long — and he appears to be in good health right now — he’ll be calling the shots until 2034. We can’t wait until then for the younger Murdochs to make their move, if they even want to make a move. The emergency, and the time for action, is now.

What would ostracism of the Murdochs look like? To begin with, it would probably involve the rescinding of invitations to all the conferences and galas they regularly attend. They would become as toxic to business-as-usual as Bannon has become. Their presence and their money would not be accepted by any organization that aspires to stand against the poison that Fox News continues to unleash on the country, including the Democratic Party, which has reportedly received a number of contributions from James Murdoch and his wife, Kathryn.

Here’s one potential scenario.

After neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville last year and one of them drove a car into a crowd of pro-democracy protesters, killing Heather Heyer, James Murdoch wrote in an email to a group of friends that “vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation … I can’t believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis.” He announced that he and his wife would donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL confirmed that it received the donation.

But should organizations dedicated to fighting hatred accept money from the owners of a company uniquely guilty of spreading hatred?

Here’s another potential scenario for ostracism.

Kathryn and James Murdoch have established a foundation, Quadrivium, that provides funding to organizations that are involved in, among other issues, environmental protection. Kathryn Murdoch is also on the board of trustees of the Environmental Defense Fund, which fights climate change. Yet Fox News is the only major media institution that regularly expresses skepticism about the science of climate change (it told one guest, an editor from Scientific American, to not discuss it), and the network cheered the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

Should organizations dedicated to fighting climate change accept money from the owners of a company that’s uniquely devoted to lying about it?

James and Kathryn Murdoch are akin to the Javanka of the Murdoch family – the supposedly reasonable (or not reactionary) ones who do what they can to quietly rein in their bigoted patriarch. Kathryn Murdoch, in fact, has a Twitter account that is decidedly liberal. “Literally the only consistency that Trump has shown is to be against all forms of evidence-based or even rational thinking,” she tweeted last year, just before Trump’s inauguration. Earlier this year, she shared an anti-Trump story from the New York Times and wrote, “Worth reading.”

But there are only two tweets in her account that mention the word “Fox,” and they date from 2016. In both, she shared Fox stories that were abnormal for the network – one that admitted climate change posed a big risk, and an opinion piece arguing for Hillary Clinton’s election. It does not appear that she or her husband or any other member of the Murdoch family has publicly criticized the 800-pound gorilla of hate that has helped turn them into billionaires.

The question now is whether America’s great and good, having deplored the rising tide of far-right violence, are willing to confront the family that controls the largest platform of intolerance.

Max Boot Is Very Sorry for Backing the GOP and the Iraq Invasion. Why Is He Being Praised for This?

The Intercept  |  October 13, 2018

THERE IS AN unforgettable passage in Graham Greene’s classic “The Quiet American” in which the title character, a CIA agent named Alden Pyle, admits that Vietnam is much more complicated than he’d imagined. “I had not realized how tribal politics was and how divorced it could be from principles or conviction,” Pyle says. Surveying the wreckage of the American war effort, he adds, “Looking back with greater introspection and humility after the passage of more than fifteen years, I can finally acknowledge the obvious: it was all a big mistake.”

Greene’s admirers will recognize that these lines do not actually come from his 1955 novel. They are from Max Boot’s new book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right.” Boot, a leading intellectual in the conservative movement for the past two decades, is now apologizing for nearly everything he has done and abided. He is denouncing not just Donald Trump, but the Republican Party as a whole. “Upon closer examination,” he writes in his 260-page atonement, “it’s obvious that the whole history of modern conservatism is permeated with racism, extremism, conspiracy-mongering, ignorance, isolationism, and know-nothingism.”

The temptation is to say, Bravo, here at last is a Republican willing to admit the emperor has no clothes. That’s the reaction of lots of journalists and pundits who have flipped through Boot’s book. Jacob Heilbrunn wrote in the Washington Monthly that Boot’s “readiness to reexamine his old convictions is admirable.” Adam Serwer, writer at The Atlantic, tweeted, “You don’t want to punish people for getting the right answer.” Boot is no longer a Republican (he quit the party after Trump’s election) but he is hardly an outcast in the political world — he is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a CNN analyst. Such is the sweet life of a born-again intellectual.

It’s easy to understand why a penitent like Boot appeals to liberals and other members of the Trump resistance. He ratifies their sense of having been correct from the start, and his confession is enunciated in perfect sound bites, with just the right dose of abasement. Boot is an irresistible spectacle — the sinner with tears running down his cheeks dropping to his knees at the altar of all that is good, proclaiming that he has seen the light and wants to join the army of righteousness. But here’s the thing: Boot is only half-apologizing. And because he’s been wrong so many times and with so many ill consequences, he should be provided with nothing more than a polite handshake as he’s led out of the sanctuary of politics, forever.

WHEN I SAY wrong, I mean Guinness World Records wrong. In his first book, “Out of Order,” Boot argued that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation violated the Constitution (“I am not proud of ‘Out of Order,’” he now says); he was a key proponent of the invasion of Iraq (“Once we have deposed Saddam, we can impose an American-led, international regency in Baghdad, to go along with the one in Kabul,” he proclaimed in 2001); he thought John Bolton was treated unfairly when Democrats opposed his 2005 nomination for ambassador to the United Nations (“He seems like a good choice to help drain the U.N. cesspool of corrupt bureaucrats and self-serving tyrants”); he thought Ahmed Chalabi was “the most unfairly maligned man on the planet” long after the Iraqi exile’s dissembling was apparent to everyone except the staff of Commentary magazine; and as Boot notes in his mea culpa, he totally failed to notice the dark side of the GOP. “It’s amazing how little you can see when your eyes are closed,” he squeaks.

That’s a lot of wrong. It’s so much wrong that I can’t imagine how or why anyone could look at Boot and think, “Ah, here’s a man we should listen to.” I can pre-empt Boot’s response to this — in his book, he complains that “doctrinaire leftists” will be satisfied with nothing less than his “ritual suicide” for the war crimes he’s committed. I’ve exchanged a few cordial emails with Boot (we both graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, a few years apart, and worked at its student newspaper, the Daily Californian), and I can honestly say he seems a nice and bright enough fellow to whom I wish no physical harm. But like Alden Pyle, he has helped create so much havoc, he has been wrong so completely, that it would be the definition of insanity to treat his ideas as fodder for anything other than a shredder. Here’s a real line from “The Quiet American,” spoken about Pyle by the novel’s weary narrator, that suits Boot perfectly: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.” Pyle’s innocence, the book explains, “is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

The problem here isn’t really Boot. It’s the eternal forgiveness that journalists and intellectuals bestow upon colleagues who should be cast out for errors of immense and tragic consequence. Boot is a perfect example, because he has been wrong so many times in such major ways and is actually willing to admit it. But there are vast numbers of pundits, masters of spin, and alleged intellectuals who have been wrong enough on enough big things (not just war, but climate change and more) to merit laughter rather than praise. Yet there they are, stroking their chins on our finest op-ed pages and cable news channels. Mutual forgiveness is a necessity among pundits who are stuffed with nonsense much of the time; without mercy on demand, they might all be out of jobs. It’s no surprise that Boot’s book arrives with admiring blurbs from D.C. heavyweights James Fallows, Jon Meacham, and David Corn, among others.

IT’S TIME TO return to the thing that everyone congratulates Boot for doing — apologizing for his mistakes. There’s a problem here. His apologies are not honest.

Iraq is a good place to start. He apologizes for being wrong about invading the country but denies playing a role of any import. For instance, he innocently proclaims that his pro-war views did not “set me apart from most Americans in 2003. The war had the support of 72 percent of the public initially, and it was authorized by both houses of Congress.” This is disingenuous, because it was a handful of conservative intellectuals like Boot who for years (starting well before 9/11) made the argument for invading Iraq. They were not alone, but they were key. Boot is pulling a Pied Piper trick — seducing everyone with a terrible idea and then saying, when it all goes haywire, “Gee whiz, you guys were just as wrong as me!”

His apology is for errors in judgement, not their consequences. “I regret advocating the invasion and feel guilty about all the lives lost,” he writes. “It was a chastening lesson in the limits of American power.” He doesn’t dwell on the lives lost, so let’s do that for him. More than 500,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war that Boot advocated. Many hundreds of thousands were maimed. Millions were driven from their homes. The country has been brutalized and traumatized. ISIS grew out of the chaos. And more than 4,500 Americans were killed, too. The guilt that Max Boot feels — he dwells on it for less than a sentence in the entire book — does not appear to be difficult to bear. Either he doesn’t feel all that guilty for what happened, or he doesn’t realize what happened. Whichever it is, it doesn’t reflect terribly well on him.

Boot’s book bears an eerie resemblance to the memoir of Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Sanchez looked back on the disaster and took only a modest amount of blame. He faulted both President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for making terrible decisions that undermined the occupation effort — a correct argument that Boot also makes in his book. When the Washington Post published a review of Sanchez’s memoir, “Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story,” it pointed out, however, that Sanchez was ducking responsibility for a disaster in which he was an important actor, too. “The general’s denunciations of others would be more convincing if he were prepared to admit the painful truth about himself,” stated the review, which was written by Max Boot.

Frightfully, Boot is hardly done with giving us terrible advice. Look at what his book says about the way forward. The GOP, Boot says, needs to be punished: “I am now convinced that the Republican Party must suffer repeated and devastating defeats … only if the GOP as currently constituted is burned to the ground will there be any chance to build a reasonable center-right political party.” That’s reasonable. So what does he propose as future scenarios? His epilogue glows about President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is a prelude to this: “We don’t necessarily need a president to be a retired general officer, although there are potential candidates such as former Admirals William McRaven and James Stavridis and former Generals Stanley McChrystal and Jim Mattis.” I understand the Eisenhower nostalgia, but to propose, after Gens. Michael Flynn and John Kelly, that America needs a general to lead us out of our mess — well, as the kids say, what could possibly go wrong?

Boot also expresses the hope that a centrist figure like France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, might emerge and appeal to what he describes as “the forgotten middle.” He offers, as a possibility, Sen. Jeff Flake, who just distinguished himself in the battle over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh by rising in meek protest for about 15 seconds before going along with the rest of the savage GOP (except for Sen. Lisa Murkowski), voting onto the nation’s highest court a man who has been credibly accused of attempted rape and sexual assault. Boot also writes approvingly of Sen. Lindsey Graham for occasionally standing up to Trump. Yet Graham, as we know, was Trump’s blunt spear on the Senate Judiciary Committee, ramming through the Kavanaugh nomination. Before it even hit the stores, “The Corrosion of Conservatism” was proven wrong about the men who Boot thinks might save us.

WHAT’S MOST REMARKABLE is that Boot is being praised for showing courage to call out the conservative movement — but his callout, if that’s what it is, lacks actual people. On a few occasions, Boot tosses out the names of well-known villains of the horror show that has been the American conservative movement in the last few decades — a reference to Lee Atwater here, Rush Limbaugh there — but that’s pretty much it. There was racism and sexism in the GOP but apparently there were no racists or sexists, in Boot’s telling. It’s the immaculate conception of evil in the Republican Party.

Boot belonged to a subset of the right — the neoconservatives who gravitated around Commentary and the Weekly Standard (Boot wrote for both publications, as well as the Wall Street Journal). You might think Boot would have a critical word or two about his higher-level neocon comrades, such as William Kristol, the founder of the Weekly Standard and a constant presence on cable news shows. While less rabid than other right-wingers on social issues, Kristol gladly went along with their project and spared little energy when it came to engaging in the lower recesses of, for instance, baiting Bill and Hillary Clinton. Yet Boot does not criticize him. It’s the opposite. He refers to Kristol as “a mentor and good friend, whose genial, wisecracking company I regularly sought out,” and thanks him for reading an early version of his manuscript and improving it. Kristol blurbed the book, too.

All of this raises the question of whether Boot is really making the clean break with the GOP that liberals are giving him so much credit for making. When Nikki Haley announced earlier this week that she was leaving her post as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Boot was quick to describe her departure as a “sad moment” and urged her to make a run against Trump in 2020. “Sad to see @nikkihaley, one of the administration grown ups, leaving,” he tweeted. “Would be great if this is a prelude to a primary challenge! We definitely need a mainstream conservative to challenge Trump and she is eminently qualified.” He pledges in the last line of his book that, “I will fight for my principles wherever they may lead me” — and it seems this could be back to the GOP before the softcover edition is published.

What should be done with Max Boot and his kind? I can think of one example of a correct exit for men with irredeemable records of his sort. Paul Bremer was the civilian overseer of the American occupation of Iraq in 2003 and 2004, during which he made a number of monumental mistakes. He went on to write a self-exculpatory memoir in 2006, “My Year in Iraq,” and it received the tepid reviews it deserved. Bremer didn’t try to stay in the spotlight after that. He turned to painting and became a ski instructor in Vermont. The world would probably be a better and safer place if Boot’s liberal fans counseled him to follow Bremer’s tracks. The timing is right. Winter is coming.

Dear Senators: Opposition to Brett Kavanaugh Includes Churches, Professors—Even His Own Friends

The Intercept  |  October 5, 2018

THE OPPOSITION TO Brett Kavanaugh that has gotten the most attention is, naturally, the Senate Democrats who are voting against his Supreme Court nomination, and members of the #MeToo movement who believe Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez when they say Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted them in high school and college, respectively.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Across the country, a diverse array of prominent individuals and organizations has come out against Kavanaugh, quite publicly and quite surprisingly. That even includes friends of his. Unlike the political divide on Capitol Hill, which is predictably stark with the exception of a few wavering senators, the national opposition to Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court includes a startling number of church groups, including Mormons and Christians. Conservative scholars and legal figures — such as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a lifelong Republican appointed to the court by a Republican president, Gerald Ford — have also spoken out against the nominee.

“I think that his performance during the hearings caused me to change my mind,” Stevens said on Thursday.

Stevens, who retired from the high court in 2010, was referring to Kavanaugh’s bitter and tearful attacks during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. In his prepared remarks, Kavanaugh railed against the Democrats who had vocally opposed his nomination. He even invoked a plot for revenge by supporters of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who resent his previous work for Ken Starr, the special prosecutor who led the campaign to impeach Bill Clinton in the 1990s. “He has demonstrated a potential bias involving enough potential litigants before the court that he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities,” Stevens told retirees in Boca Raton, Florida. “For the good of the court, it’s not healthy to get a new justice that can only do a part-time job.”

While Kavanaugh’s nomination had initially moved forward with broad support from religious organizations, that’s changed as a result of the sexual assault allegations, as well as the widespread impression that he lied during his testimony about having received stolen Democratic emails while working in the Bush White House, and that he misrepresented his drinking habits and the meanings of what appeared to be problematic remarks he made in his 1983 senior yearbook. Shortly after Kavanaugh’s testimony last week, a major Catholic magazine issued a surprising call for his nomination to be withdrawn.

“For the good of the country and the future credibility of the Supreme Court in a world that is finally learning to take reports of harassment, assault and abuse seriously,” the editors of America Magazine wrote in an editorial, “it is time to find a nominee whose confirmation will not repudiate that lesson.” On Thursday, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, which has dozens of offices across the country, issued a statement that, while not explicitly calling for Kavanaugh’s nomination to be voted down, called on the Senate to only seat judges “of the highest character and caliber who respect the law both professionally and personally.”

The National Council of Churches, which represents 100,000 congregations and 45 million church-goers, issued a blunt demand for Kavanaugh to step aside after his testimony. “Judge Kavanaugh exhibited extreme partisan bias and disrespect towards certain members of the committee and thereby demonstrated that he possesses neither the temperament nor the character essential for a member of the highest court in our nation,” the NCC statement said. It continued, “We are deeply disturbed by the multiple allegations of sexual assault and call for a full and unhindered investigation of these accusations.”

After initially expressing strong support for him, three of Kavanaugh’s former law clerks unexpectedly moved toward opposition to his nomination after the allegations of sexual assault emerged. In a Monday letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the three clerks wrote that “we have been deeply troubled by those allegations and the events surrounding them and were encouraged by the initiation of a formal FBI investigation.” They submitted their letter before the FBI completed its investigation on Thursday. Though Republican senators applauded the FBI’s efforts, Democratic senators who read the investigation sharply criticized it because a large number of people who wanted to talk to the FBI, including Ford, were not contacted.

Kavanaugh’s nomination initially received widespread support from his former high school classmates at Georgetown Preparatory School, and from former classmates at Yale University, where he was an undergraduate, as well as a law student. But in the wake of the assault allegations and his testimony, that support began to crumble, too. More than 125 alumni of Georgetown Prep have signed a petition of support for Ford, calling on other alumni to come forward with information about sexual assaults Kavanaugh was involved in. “Our silence serves no one,” the petition states.

Former students and professors at Yale have also spoken out. Three of Kavanaugh’s close friends from Yale wrote a startling op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday, with the headline, “We Were Brett Kavanaugh’s Drinking Buddies. We Don’t Think He Should Be Confirmed.” They argued that Kavanaugh flat-out lied in his testimony about not drinking heavily at Yale. “We felt it our civic duty to speak the truth and say that Brett lied under oath while seeking to become a Supreme Court justice,” they wrote. “That is our one and only message, but it is a significant one. For we each believe that telling the truth, no matter how difficult, is a moral obligation for our nation’s leaders. No one should be able to lie their way onto the Supreme Court. Honesty is the glue that holds together a society of laws. Lies are the solvent that dissolves those bonds.”

More broadly, several thousand law professors across the country signed a letter against his nomination, stating about his testimony, “Judge Brett Kavanaugh displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court, and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land.” And just today, the American Bar Association notified the Senate that it was re-opening its evaluation of Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve as a result, again, of his testimony last week.

What follows is a list of people and organizations that have opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Letter signed by 2,400+ law professors
40 Harvard law professors
900 female law school faculty members
160 Maine lawyers and law professors
Alaskan female attorneys
47 Yale faculty
Yale Law School alumni and students
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens
Three former Kavanaugh clerks
88 Maine writers
The National Council of Churches
Mormon Women for Ethical Government
America Magazine
Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe
Alumni of Georgetown Prep
Benjamin Wittes — “I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him”
1,600 men in a full-page New York Times ad
Evangelical minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Why Brett Kavanaugh’s High School Friends Try to Protect His Reputation—and Theirs

The Intercept  |  October 4, 2018

Co-written with Alice Speri

THERE IS AN underappreciated reason that explains why, apart from Christine Blasey Ford’s remarkable testimony about her summer of 1982 and what a drunken 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh did to her, almost nothing has been heard about his after-hours conduct from the people who knew Kavanaugh best at Georgetown Preparatory School. The reason for this silence emerges in a little-noticed article written by one of his closest friends from those long-ago days: Mark Judge.

Judge’s article from 2011 starts by recounting a party where he saw many of his old friends from high school. At the time, their graduation was two decades behind them. A woman with whom he left the party observed how close they still were. “She was amazed at the humor, camaraderie and brotherhood of the Prep family,” Judge wrote of his proverbial kin. His companion saw that he loved the lifelong friends that Georgetown Prep had bequeathed him. Their bonds were so strong that when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, the first 10 phone calls and emails he received were from Georgetown Prep friends and teachers, he said.

“The place is truly a community and a family,” Judge continued. “The guys become like brothers.”

Judge is witness No. 1 in the FBI’s reopened investigation into whether Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford, who has accused Judge of being in the room while the assault happened, watching and laughing. But as senators read the hastily prepared FBI report today, it’s probably naive to expect that Judge or any of the boys-who-are-now-men that really knew Kavanaugh in his alcohol-infused years at Georgetown Prep will divulge information that does not portray him in a glowing light. They have spoken quite publicly about how wonderful he is and how close they are, with the kind of unbreakable bond that is similar to soldiers who have gone to war together. “Academically, athletically and socially, we all became literally almost like brothers,” said Don Urgo Jr. in a July interview with the New York Times. “We had a particular esprit de corps, a zest for life, as a group.”

That’s why the classmate interviews with the FBI will likely not tell the senators as much as the ongoing disclosures coming from journalists doing around-the-clock digging of the sort that Republican leadership has made clear it does not want the FBI to do. The latest revelation came from the Times, which on Tuesday reprinted a 1983 letter Kavanaugh wrote to his high school friends about the house they were renting for “beach week,” suggesting that whoever arrived first should “warn the neighbors that we’re loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific pukers among us.” This directly contradicts the narrative pushed by Kavanaugh and his supporters that he was not a remarkable drinker, and that the drunken sexual assault he’s been accused of could not possibly have happened that way. Echoing this refrain in his Senate testimony last week, Kavanaugh angrily claimed under oath that he never drank to excess and didn’t pass out or forget things he said or did while inebriated.

THE OFFICIAL STORYLINE always had a contradiction that was consistently chipped away at by the strangest of hammers: the 1983 yearbook for Kavanaugh’s class, which was published Wednesday by the Internet Archive. The senior pages for both Kavanaugh and Judge were the first to elicit attention. Their pages had adolescent callouts to each other, such as “Have you boofed yet?” — which Kavanaugh in his testimony contended, unpersuasively, referred to flatulence (it seems far more likely to refer to anal sex or ingesting alcohol or drugs anally). They both also referenced 100 kegs, which Judge described, in a 1997 memoir titled “Wasted,” as the target for their annual beer consumption. Additionally, they both described themselves as alumni of the “Renate” club, which Kavanaugh pretended, in his sworn testimony, was an effort to honor a wonderful female friend of theirs.

Pretty much everyone who has looked at those entries, and at least a dozen other “Renate” references in the yearbook, has concluded it’s a claim by the seniors of some sort of sexual conquest. The woman in question, Renate Schroeder, described it as “horrible, hurtful” when made aware of it by the Times. The yearbook connections between Judge and Kavanaugh provided confirmation that the excessive drinking and sexism of Judge’s social group, as described in “Wasted,” was very much Kavanaugh’s world. (Judge’s book even has a passage in which a “Bart O’Kavanaugh” is described as vomiting and passing out from too much alcohol.)

Kavanaugh’s attempts to portray his high school years as untouched by inappropriate encounters with girls or alcohol, despite what’s suggested in the yearbook and in Judge’s memoir, depend on confirmation — or silence — from the people who would be in a position to know for sure. His closest friends at Georgetown Prep were his fellow football players, including Judge, Urgo, Michael Bidwill, and Phillip Merkle. Just like Kavanaugh, their yearbook pages are sprinkled with references to abundant drinking or sexual conquest. Merkle’s page describes him as “Chairman of the Board” of the Renate club and a member of “Alcoholics Unanimous,” while Bidwill’s and Urgo’s pages include the salutation “100 Kegs or Bust.”

This has been a problem for Kavanaugh. While he insists he didn’t drink to excess, his accusers — in addition to Ford, the FBI is looking into at least one other accusation of sexual assault that is said to have taken place when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University — contend he was staggering drunk when he attacked them. This is why his high school social life is so relevant: Was his behavior back then consistent with the sort of drunken and misogynistic assaults that have been ascribed to him?

IN 2015, KAVANAUGH made a joke about his time at Georgetown Prep that got little notice at the time, but has taken on a haunting amount of resonance in the wake of his nomination to the Supreme Court. He was giving a speech at Catholic University’s law school, reflecting back on his high school years, and he mentioned that, fortunately, they had a good motto: “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.” The joke was prefaced by Kavanaugh noting that three of his best friends from high school were attending the speech — Urgo, Bidwill, and Merkle. Kavanaugh expressed happiness with their unofficial motto. “I think that’s been a good thing for all of us,” he said. Video of the event does not show the reaction, in their seats, of his friends.

Kavanaugh didn’t define the scope of “all of us,” but it is apparent — based on Judge’s memoir and yearbook, acting as a Rosetta Stone, as well as calendars for the summer of 1982 that Kavanaugh presented to the Senate — that the football team was the nucleus of his social world and the school’s party scene. “At Prep, football was held in divine reverence,” Judge noted in his memoir, which also described parties where the boys and girls were so inebriated that “if you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up with someone.” Virtually every student who is mentioned on Kavanaugh’s calendars for the summer of 1982 was a member of his football team. (The names of some of them, like Tobin and Squi, have even become cultural touchstones mocked on “Saturday Night Live.”) And many of the senior pages that contain references to what seems to be aggressive partying, even by the standards of their day — including 100 kegs; beach week; throwing up; blackout drinking; Renate; and Ridge Klux Klan, which may be a mashup of a nearby all-girls school, Stone Ridge, and the Ku Klux Klan — belong to members of the varsity football team. As it turns out, the two boys whom Ford recalls being present at the small house party where Kavanaugh allegedly attacked her were also members of the team — Judge and Patrick J. Smyth. (Ford has said that whereas Judge was in the locked room, Smyth was downstairs and unaware of the attack.)

The irony, if that’s the right word, is that the football players who were Kavanaugh’s partners-in-partying have emerged among the most high-profile protectors of his adolescent reputation. On July 9, more than 100 Georgetown Prep alumni, including more than a dozen members of the football team, signed a widely cited letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that described Kavanaugh as “a good man … eminently qualified to serve as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.” These are not ordinary character witnesses – many are wealthy and prominent, including Bidwill, the president of the Arizona Cardinals whose name appears first on the list of signers. (At Georgetown Prep, Bidwill described himself, on his senior page, as “Kegmobile operator.”) Merkle, a senior civil servant in the Justice Department, also signed the letter. Another signatory is Urgo, the president and chief executive of a company that owns and manages dozens of hotels in the U.S. and Canada; his name is on the first page of signatories.

A figure, Denny O’Neal, who bears many of the same characteristics as Urgo, is featured prominently in Judge’s book, “Wasted,” which is described in its first pages as a book about real experiences with some details and names changed. The figure has nine siblings, the same as Urgo, and lived in a mansion with a pool in Potomac, the same as Urgo. O’Neal is portrayed as a prominent member of the close-knit group of football players, and whose family mansion was a frequent assembly point for the boys. “They had a pool, a patio as big as some people’s houses, and a backyard the size of a football field,” Judge wrote. “Their house was so big that ten of us could stay over after a night out. After we got up, Mr. O’Neal would fix a huge bacon and egg breakfast, and we would lounge around exchanging war stories — who got lucky, who didn’t.”

In Judge’s account, O’Neal figured out a way to create fake IDs that were so convincing and so popular that he distributed them to Catholic school students across the Washington area, and he got a job as a bartender in Georgetown by fibbing about his age. But O’Neal, according to Judge’s memoir, “often became violent and antisocial, getting into fights or raging against his uptight parents before passing out.” Judge also describes the boys learning that the school would require them to do community service, with him and O’Neal assigned to a soup kitchen in Washington that echoes Kavanaugh’s statements about his own volunteering. “They know we go out and get tanked every weekend,” O’Neal is quoted as saying in the book, “and they want to make getting up on Sundays hell.” (Jim McCarthy, a public relations expert Urgo has hired to manage press queries relating to Kavanaugh’s nomination, did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, except to question the objectivity of one of the reporters of this story.)

OF COURSE, IT’S not extraordinary that a group of high school friends remain close later in their lives; it happens all the time, everywhere, in all social classes. But the kind of private school that Kavanaugh attended is known for creating bonds that are particularly strong. The students are drawn from a narrow sector of society — in the case of Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep, from generally wealthy families that are also, mostly, Catholic — and they are consciously instilled by their school with the belief that they are recipients of particular gifts and privileges that most others do not have. “That we are elite, we cannot deny,” the president of Georgetown Prep, the Rev. James Van Dyke, wrote to the school community after the Kavanaugh scandal began. “There is no one here by default.”

Shamus Khan, a sociology professor at Columbia University who wrote the book “Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School” about one of these socio-political hothouses, noted in a recent opinion piece that “to attend these schools is to be told constantly: You’re special, you’re a member of the elect, you have been chosen because of your outstanding qualities and accomplishments.” The formation of this sensibility is intentional and strong, and it has a sort of cousin in the armed forces, with special operations troops who have a similar message of election drummed into them, and who are nonetheless (or as a result) prone to acting beyond the law.

An article by Meagan Day in Jacobin put a finger on one of the secrets that the camaraderie of such groups might serve to protect. She noted that Kavanaugh, in his testimony, did not come off as a particularly brilliant individual; he seemed an angry bully who got most choked up when discussing his high school calendars and talking about his friends back then. He gave the impression, she wrote, “of an unremarkable guy who was born on a conveyor belt to power, without much obligation to distinguish himself from his peers.” She continued, “The powerful aren’t sages, you realize. What they know that the rest don’t know is how to appreciate money and influence. And, most importantly, they know each other.” Day guillotined their brand of loyalty: “The reason these guys cling so tight is because they’re each other’s ticket to the top, and each other’s insurance policy once they get there. Their fidelity, their solidarity, is how they run the world in the absence of remarkable personal qualities.”

Another insight into the difficulty privileged students face when they might break from their adolescent herd, was provided by Leo Marks, who wrote on Facebook about going to a prep school and then to Yale. Marks noted that elite schools honestly try to instill a sense of decency and service, but that they are, “first and foremost, charged with catapulting as many of their graduates as possible into the American power elite.” He added, “I think it’s fair to say that if you’re an alum of such a place, and you’re on the expected path, then you’re either in some degree of agony about the tension between them, or you’ve given up.” When the conflict between those things is most acute — the wish to truly serve the public good contrasting with a desire to remain in the elite group — there is nothing in your expensive education that has prepared you for doing the brave and right thing.

“What I wish these places taught you to think about was the beautiful possibility of throwing it all away,” Marks wrote. “They show you how to build a reputation, but they don’t understand what it’s for. It’s for a moment like this, for fuck’s sake.”

The Internet Archive Publishes Brett Kavanaugh’s 1983 Yearbook, a Key Document in Nomination Battle

The Intercept  |  October 3, 2018

Co-written with Alice Speri

AS SCRUTINY OF Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s high school years intensifies amid accusations of sexual assault, much has been written about a series of allusive references to alcohol and girls that Kavanaugh and his classmates made in their 1983 yearbook at Georgetown Preparatory School. Now, the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital archive, has published the “Cupola” yearbook — only a few pages of which had been made public before.

The yearbook has been pivotal in raising questions about Kavanaugh’s truthfulness when he described his high school years as largely filled with church, studying, and football practice. “I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, a Jesuit high school, where I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship,” Kavanaugh told Fox News. Although he later admitted, during dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, to some drinking, he insisted he did not drink so much that he would forget what he did or lose control. But the picture that emerges from the yearbook is that of a student who aggressively drank and partied, and was at the center of a social group whose crude inside jokes stand in sharp contrast with the altar boy image Kavanaugh has attempted to portray.

Before today, only some of the yearbook pages — like Kavanaugh’s and that of his close friend Mark Judge — were published by a small number of news organizations, including The Intercept and the New York Times. “By providing access to the 1983 Georgetown Prep yearbook, the Internet Archive is serving its mission as a library, helping people more fully understand the context of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court,” said Mark Graham, the director of the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive, which provided a statement to The Intercept to explain the decision to publish the yearbook (which is unredacted, but not a complete copy — some pages relating to faculty and lower classes are missing).

Kavanaugh has sought to downplay the yearbook’s relevance to his nomination, denouncing the public’s interest in it as “absurd.” But journalists and politicians have suggested the yearbook paints a more frank picture of Kavanaugh’s high school years than his testimony, or even his calendars, do.

During last week’s hearing, an aide for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., held up a printout of the judge’s yearbook page as the senator asked Kavanaugh, “Does this yearbook reflect your focus on academics and your respect for women?” Kavanaugh replied, “If we want to sit here and talk about how a Supreme Court nomination should be based on a high school yearbook page, I think that’s taking us to a new level of absurdity.”

“Have at it, if you want to go through my yearbook,” he later told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who also quizzed him on his yearbook references. “If you are worried about my yearbook, have at it.”

The yearbook has been at the center of what many news articles have pointed out appears to be untruthful testimony by Kavanaugh. The New York Times reported on Kavanaugh’s reference to himself as a “Renate Alumnius” and pointed to several other people who shared a similar reference. Kavanaugh implausibly said during the hearing that the reference meant “she was a great friend of ours.” However, Renate Schroeder, the woman in question, told the Times that the references were “horrible” and “hurtful.”

Much has also been made of references on Kavanaugh and Judge’s pages to “boofing” (which Kavanaugh claimed related to flatulence), “beach week” parties, drinking games, and a challenge Kavanaugh and his friends had set for themselves to drink 100 kegs of beer before the end of the school year. The Intercept found that more than three dozen Georgetown Prep alumni who signed a letter in support of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate Judiciary Committee also listed themselves in the yearbook as partaking in some of Kavanaugh’s “extracurriculars,” like the 100 kegs challenge. While not on Kavanaugh’s senior page, references among some in his circle of friends to a “Ridge Klux Klan” and “Killer Q’s” have also raised questions, many of which remain unanswered.

Is Brett Kavanaugh’s High School Ditching Him? More Than 100 Alumni Sign Petition Against Him

The Intercept  |  October 3, 2018

A PETITION THAT was started just a few days ago by two alumni of Brett Kavanaugh’s high school to encourage other graduates to come forward with information about any sexual assaults he committed there has picked up 96 signatures, the petition organizers announced late Tuesday night. The petition, which states that “our silence will serve no one,” describes its signers from the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School as “standing in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and in solidarity with women everywhere who have endured sexual assault, violence, and harassment.”

“We are alumni of Georgetown Prep standing in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and in solidarity with women everywhere who have endured sexual assault, violence, and harassment.”

Two members of Georgetown Prep’s Class of 1986, Fikri Yucel and Bill Barbot, launched the petition on Saturday. Neither Yucel nor Barbot knew Kavanaugh back then — they were several years behind his Class of 1983 — but after watching the dramatic Senate testimony of both Ford and the Supreme Court nominee last week, they came to believe that Ford was telling the truth. “We believe her,” their petition states. It adds, “Whether it is knowledge of specific events in these allegations, or just background to those events, please do not remain silent, even if speaking out comes at some personal cost.”

The petition, which is posted on Medium, now has 51 named signers, 18 signers who confirmed their support and identities but “have asked to have their names withheld for professional or personal reasons,” according to the petition. An additional 27 Prep alumni submitted their names but are not yet sure whether they want to have their signatures go public. That makes 96, plus the two originators of the petition, which in just a few days has reached more than half the number of alumni who signed a widely circulated letter of support for Kavanaugh on July 9, when his nomination was unveiled.

The rapid emergence of the anti-Kavanaugh Georgetown Prep petition comes as a variety of voices and institutions that had supported the conservative jurist have withdrawn their support in the wake of several sexual assault allegations against him — particularly the one from Ford, who says Kavanaugh drunkenly groped her and tried to tear off her clothes as he put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams, and another accusation from Deborah Ramirez, who says that in the 1983-1984 academic year at Yale University, an inebriated Kavanaugh exposed himself and forced her to touch his penis against her will as she was trying to move away.

The American Bar Association withdrew its support for Kavanaugh, as has Yale Law School, which is Kavanaugh’s legal alma mater and had quickly and enthusiastically embraced him when his nomination was announced. Additionally, three former law clerks for Kavanaugh who previously supported him have pulled back, saying they are “deeply troubled” by the allegations against him. And a prominent conservative legal writer, Benjamin Wittes, published an article on Tuesday with the devastating headline, “I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him.”

“Our Silence Will Serve No One”—Alumni of Brett Kavanaugh’s School Urge Sharing of Information

The Intercept  |  September 29, 2018

Co-written with Liliana Segura

A GROUP OF alumni from Brett Kavanaugh’s high school is calling on fellow graduates to come forward if they have information about any sexual assaults the Supreme Court nominee committed, stating in a new petition, “Please do not remain silent, even if speaking out comes at some personal cost.”

There have been petitions in support of Kavanaugh from alumni of Georgetown Prep. But in the wake of both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, some alumni of the all-male school are voicing support for Dr. Ford and asking others to come forward with any information that has been held back.

“We are alumni of Georgetown Prep standing in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and in solidarity with women everywhere who have endured sexual assault, violence, and harassment,” the petition begins. “We have heard Dr. Blasey Ford’s courageous and indelible sworn testimony in open hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and we believe her.” It goes on to state:

Georgetown Prep calls on its graduates to serve others. Principles of ethics, virtue, and justice constitute the foundation of a Prep education. These principles are but empty words unless we act on them. So we are calling on our fellow alumni to put the best of what Prep stands for into action. The Senate has called for an FBI investigation. If you know anything surrounding the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, now is the time to come forward. Whether it is knowledge of specific events in these allegations, or just background to those events, please do not remain silent, even if speaking out comes at some personal cost. If you do not have any knowledge of these events, please join us: add your name and your voice to this call to action. Reach out to other alumni personally. Ask questions, start conversations. Our silence will serve no one.

The petition was posted on Medium today by two graduates of the class of 1986, Fikri Yucel and Bill Barbot. In an interview with The Intercept, Yucel said that when Ford’s allegation first surfaced, he was inclined to believe it, because it is rare for women to come forward with false accusations of sexual assault. “Knowing what I know about sexual assault in general, and putting that together with what I know about that time and place, the student body of Georgetown Prep back in the middle 80s, it was plausible,” he said. “There was certainly a strong streak of sexism and sexual objectification that lots of people just ascribed to boys will be boys.”

Yucel, who is a public health researcher in North Carolina, watched as much as he could of the Senate hearing on Thursday. It was a clarifying event for him. “I was utterly taken with the credibility of Dr. Blasey Ford, and just struck time and again by Brett’s demeanor,” Yucel said. “It just seemed clearer and clearer to me that she’s telling the truth. So when yesterday there was the announcement that the Senate was going to call for further FBI investigations … I think that was the precipitating event.”

Yucel was several years behind Kavanaugh at Georgetown Prep and did not know him and did not attend any parties where he was present. Yucel said he was not part of the school’s party culture, but in his four years at the school he attended several large, alcohol-laden parties similar to those frequented by Kavanaugh and his friends.

“Alcohol was readily available,” Yucel said. “You could go to these parties and not only was it available but among at least a hard core of the partyers, [there was] a great deal of celebration of drinking to excess…The most notable thing about it is a tremendous lack of any parental supervision at these parties. Just kids showing up from all over and no real supervision of any kind. So you can well imagine that when there is a whole bunch of kids and a whole lot of alcohol [and] you have some guys who are both drunk and also looking for some kind of sexual exploit, you know there is some trouble that is going to happen.”

Yucel said that yesterday he drafted the petition and shared it with Barbot, a friend of his from Georgetown Prep. They posted it online this morning, hoping that it will reach and encourage alumni far and wide. “My reach among the alumni community is only so far after all these years,” Yucel said. “I’m in touch with only a relatively small number of Prep graduates. If I got the ball rolling, it might start making its way to other grads I’ve lost contact with or never knew at all. This could be a vehicle for them to add their voices to the conversation. I’m just trying to encourage anybody who has been thinking about this to speak up and let their thoughts be known.”

YUCEL’S FIRST PUBLIC statement on Kavanaugh came on the evening of September 18, in a long post on his Facebook page. It bothered him that he kept hearing the same refrain about Ford – “why come forward now” – while seeing widespread praise and support of Kavanaugh among Prep alumni.

“We have her allegation and his denial,” Yucel wrote. “If we were to know nothing more than that, statistics alone would overwhelmingly suggest that she’s the one telling the truth.” But we do know more than that, he went on. We know what Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, who Ford alleged to be in the room when she was assaulted, wrote on their senior pages in the 1983 yearbook. “Beyond the sports and extracurriculars, there are references to a lot of drinking, partying, and some casual misogyny to boot.”

Yucel’s post echoed much of what the #MeToo movement has brought forward – a recasting of decades-old events in a startling and more sinister light. He said he was “taken aback” remembering the sexism he once took for granted as a teenager, although he also recalled that some things disturbed him even then, such as “hearing a classmate refer to his date as his ‘walking, talking sperm receptacle.’”

Yucel made clear in his Facebook post that he loved his years at Georgetown Prep, “but, holy fuck, man, is it ever the goddamn patriarchy.” He hoped more corroborating information would come to light. “In the meantime, though, I feel completely comfortable saying: I am an alumnus of Georgetown Prep, Class of 1986, and I stand with Christine Blasey Ford.”

On September 19, Barbot responded on Twitter to people he felt were unfairly characterizing the school and its code, “Men for Others.” To Barbot, the code meant taking responsibility for one’s actions and holding each other accountable. “That’s what I got from my Catholic education – not ‘what happens at Prep stays at Prep,’” he tweeted, in a reference to Kavanaugh’s widely-quoted joking remark from 2015. “It’s a shameful mischaracterization on Brett’s part, but betrays his character, I fear.”

Barbot, a musician and the cofounder and president of Threespot, a digital agency, quickly caught the attention of reporters. He was quoted by the New York Times in its story about Renate Dolphin and by the Washington Post about the drinking culture at Prep. “A lot of us didn’t really have a proper education in how to manage yourself in situations that were complicated to manage as a teenager, but in­cred­ibly complicated to manage as an inebriated teenager,” he told the Post, making clear that this was “in no way an excuse.”

But like Yucel, Barbot stepped up his actions after the Senate hearing on Thursday. On Twitter, he expressed anger at Trump’s reaction, including the president describing #MeToo as “very dangerous.” On Friday morning Barbot posted the video of sexual assault survivors confronting Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator and described “simmering rage” at Flake’s refusal to look them in the eye. “This is all very close to home for me,” Barbot wrote.

On Saturday afternoon he posted the call to action, tweeting, “An open letter to the Prep community.”

By 6 pm tonight, according to Yucel, 26 people who said they are graduates of Georgetown Prep had asked that their names be added to the petition.

Here Are 5 Questions the FBI Should Ask Mark Judge About Brett Kavanaugh

The Intercept  |  September 29, 2018

Co-written with Akela Lacy

A LAWYER FOR Mark Judge has said that Judge will talk with agents from the FBI, which is reopening a background check of Brett Kavanaugh — so the question of the moment is, what information can the FBI get out of him?

Judge is in a position to know pretty much everything there is to know about whether — and how and when — Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in the summer of 1982. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly trying to tear off her clothes while groping her and covering her mouth to stifle her screams during a house party in the Maryland suburbs. She has testified that Judge was also in the locked bedroom, watching and laughing as Kavanaugh attacked her. She was 15 years old at the time, and Kavanaugh and Judge were two years older.

Several other sexual assault accusations have been leveled against the Supreme Court nominee, including an account from a woman who was a student at Yale with him and told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh drunkenly exposed himself to her and forced her to touch his penis without her consent during their freshman year. But the accusation from Ford was the centerpiece of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s extraordinary hearing on Thursday, when both Ford and Kavanaugh gave their accounts (Kavanaugh strongly denied assaulting Ford or anyone). It seems likely that the FBI will focus on Ford’s story in the coming week.

That’s why Judge is so crucial — he was allegedly there. He was a close friend of Kavanaugh’s during their years together at Georgetown Preparatory School, and in a 1997 memoir of those times, Judge wrote extensively about blackout drinking, house parties, and aggressive sexual contact with girls from other schools (Georgetown Prep is an all-boys Catholic school). Judge has stated in two letters to the Senate committee that he does not recall an event of the sort that Ford has described, but that is hardly the end of the story, as far as the FBI should be concerned.

Here are some of the questions the FBI should ask him.

Did You See Brett Kavanaugh Assault Christine Blasey Ford?

This is an obvious question, and Judge has already provided an answer of sorts — that he can’t recall anything. In his second letter to the committee, submitted after Ford testified on Thursday, Judge wrote to the senators, “I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today. I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”

Judge wrote about his blackout drinking in his memoir, so his lack of recall, if that’s what it really is, does not mean everything. In the memoir, “Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk,” Judge acknowledged that “for years I did little else but drink, and slowly my brain and body deteriorated.” He recalled that on one occasion, waking up after a night of heavy drinking that he couldn’t remember, “I started to panic, terrified of what I could have done during the blackout. I could have done anything and not know it — I could have murdered somebody.”

So the obvious question is just the beginning of things.

Where Were You on the Night of July 1, 1982?

This has emerged as an unexpectedly key question. Earlier this month, Kavanaugh released copies of his calendars from the summer of 1982, to show that he was away for much of the time and did not have a lot of nights on which he might have attended a gathering of the sort described by Ford. But a slightly offhand remark by Ford has turned the calendars from exculpatory to potentially incriminating.

The date of the assault is a matter of controversy. The fact that Ford hasn’t been able to pinpoint it — she has said it was sometime in the summer of 1982 — has given weight to suggestions that her memory is unreliable or the attack didn’t happen. But in her testimony to the Senate, Ford mentioned that about six to eight weeks after the assault, she ran into Judge at the Potomac Village Safeway where he was working. “I could be more helpful to everyone if I knew the date [Mark Judge] worked at the Safeway,” she said.

As it happens, Judge wrote in his book that in the summer of 1982, he worked for a few weeks at a supermarket to earn money for football camp. Camp started on August 22, according to Kavanaugh’s calendar. That would put Judge’s supermarket work in early to mid-August. As it turns out, there’s an entry on Kavanaugh’s calendar for July 1 — about six weeks before Ford saw Judge in the Safeway — in which Kavanaugh noted an outing with several of his male friends. “Go to Timmy’s for skis w/ Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi,” it says. Kavanaugh said in his testimony that “skis” was short for “brewskis” — beer — and he gave the full names for that evening’s participants.

Ford has testified that at the small party where she was assaulted, four boys were present — “Brett Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, a boy named P.J., and one other boy whose name I cannot recall.” The July 1 entry on Kavanaugh’s calendar shows that he intended to go out with Judge, P.J. (whose full name is Patrick J. Smyth), and two others. That largely overlaps with Ford’s description of who was present during the assault.

At the dramatic Judiciary Committee meeting on Friday, during which the divided committee voted to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the floor of the Senate, albeit with the demand, from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, that the FBI reopen its background check, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., held up a blowup of the calendar and asked a key question. “This may, may be powerful corroborating evidence that the assault happened, that it happened that day, and that it happened in that place,” Whitehouse said. “But with no FBI investigation, we can’t tell.”

As it happens, July 1 was a Thursday, the start of a long weekend for Independence Day. Both Kavanaugh and Judge’s pages in their 1983 yearbook reference surviving July 4. The year wasn’t specified, but 1982 would have been the most recent one. It would appear that the long weekend of July 1-4, 1982, was remarkable for them. That’s why the FBI might well want to ask Judge what happened during this weekend.

When Brett Kavanaugh Drank a Lot, Did He Lose Control?

Kavanaugh has insisted that he has never blacked out or passed out from drinking, and that he never engaged in inappropriate behavior with girls. But if the accusations against him are to be believed — and there are several — he displayed a pattern in his youth of inebriated and wrong conduct. Judge would know if there was such a pattern.

Nearly the entirety of Judge’s book is about excessive drinking with his adolescent buddies. There is no mention of Brett Kavanaugh in the book — Judge did not use real names — but there is a passage where a “Bart O’Kavanaugh” is described as passing out in the back of a car after vomiting from drinking too much. (Kavanaugh, asked at the hearing whether this was him, said the question should be directed to Judge.) Kavanaugh acknowledged that he was friendly with Judge in high school, and their yearbook pages indicate no shortage of familiarity, containing several shoutouts to each other — for instance, they both mention “100 kegs,” which Judge described, in his book, as an annual beer-drinking target.

Judge wrote of a constant mixing with girls from nearby private schools at alcohol-laden parties. He described their “beach week” getaways at the end of the school year as a “week-long bacchanalia of drinking and sex, or at least attempts at sex.” It was during a beach week in the summer of 1981 that he referenced the passed-out “Bart O’Kavanaugh.” Judged added in the book, “Most of the time, everyone, including the girls, was drunk. If you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up with someone. This did not mean going all the way — for the most part, these girls held to the beliefs of their very conservative families but after a year spent in school without girls, heavy petting was a virtual orgy.” He also described, in another passage, how he threw a party at his house when his parents were away and found, after nearly everyone had left, a drunken girl sobbing in an upstairs bathroom behind a locked door.

One of the accusations against Kavanaugh — when he was a freshman at Yale — represents a criminal extension of the kind of partying and behavior that Judge wrote about during their high school years. According to the New Yorker, a woman named Deborah Ramirez told Senate investigators that during their freshman year, at a party in their dormitory, Kavanaugh “had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.” Ramirez told the New Yorker that she was “embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.” The magazine reported that she remembered Kavanaugh’s behavior as the episode came to an end. “Brett was laughing,” she said. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.”

What Does “Boofed” Mean?

This sounds like a ridiculous question, but it’s not entirely. On their yearbook pages, Kavanaugh and Judge asked whether the other had, as they put it, “boofed.” There has been a lot of discussion about what this might mean, with suggestions that it might not be an activity that would be flattering for a prospective Supreme Court justice to have engaged in, even in his teenage years. The New Yorker has asked, for instance, whether it might refer to “the practice of anally ingesting alcohol or drugs.” There have been other suggestions. In the hearing on Thursday, Kavanaugh said “boofed” was a reference to farting. “If we want to talk about flatulence at age 16 on a yearbook page, I’m game,” he said, disapprovingly.

There has been a lot of skepticism over whether Kavanaugh was telling the truth about this. As Vox put it, “He says ‘boofing’ is about farting and ‘Devil’s Triangle’ is a drinking game. Many people don’t believe him.” Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be a big deal if someone fibbed in a job interview about embarrassing entries in their high school yearbook. But Kavanaugh was testifying under oath, and he is seeking a job that is extraordinary — and that ordinarily requires a high degree of public faith that the holder’s honesty can be trusted on matters small and large. Even about boofing. What’s truly perverse here is that Kavanaugh could be undone not by the allegation that he tried to rape a 15-year-old girl, but that he lied about idiotic things on his yearbook page.

Did You Know Christine Blasey Ford? Did Kavanaugh?

Ford has consistently said she knew Kavanaugh, though not well. “In my freshman and sophomore school years, when I was 14 and 15 years old, my group of friends intersected with Brett and his friends for a short period of time,” she told the committee on Thursday. “I had been friendly with a classmate of Brett’s for a short time during my freshman year, and it was through that connection that I attended a number of parties that Brett also attended. We did not know each other well, but I knew him and he knew me.”

Kavanaugh has sidestepped a direct response to this. In an interview with Fox News last week, he stated, “I may have met her, we did not travel in the same social circle, she was not a friend, not someone I knew.”

But Ford’s version of events was bolstered at the hearing on Thursday when she was asked how she knew Kavanaugh. She mentioned that a boy she went out with for a few months was a friend of Kavanaugh’s. She was reluctant to give his name, not wanting to draw more public scrutiny to him, but the identifying information she provided made clear that she was referring to Chris Garrett, a friend of Kavanaugh’s who went by the nickname “Squi.” Kavanaugh and Garrett were on the football team together, and there are 13 references to Garrett (as “Squi”) on Kavanaugh’s calendars.

Judge was also on the football team, and his name appears on Kavanaugh’s calendar next to Squi’s on several occasions, so Judge knew Squi too, probably quite well. This means that Judge would potentially be in a position to confirm Ford’s account that she indeed socialized with Kavanaugh.

The Closer You Look, the Worse Brett Kavanaugh’s Relationship with Mark Judge Appears

The Intercept  |  September 25, 2018

A QUESTION THAT sounds innocuous — did Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge drink and party together at Georgetown Preparatory School? — has become key to figuring out whether an inebriated Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl as Judge watched and laughed in 1982. The short answer is that a number of data points connect Judge and Kavanaugh (now a Supreme Court nominee), as not just friends but as partners in binge drinking at raucous house parties attended by girls from other private schools.

The connections include a reference to Kavanaugh in a memoir Judge wrote, mutual shout-outs on their yearbook pages, a football team they played on together, and mentions by both of blackout levels of drinking at Georgetown Prep, their all-boys Catholic school in Bethesda, Maryland. Other than denying the assault allegation from Christine Blasey Ford, neither Judge nor Kavanaugh has said much about their after-school activities. Judge, tracked down to a beach house in Delaware, merely said to a Washington Post reporter, “How did you find me?” Kavanaugh, in an interview with Fox News, said, “I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship with my fellow classmates and friendship with girls from the local all-girls Catholic schools.”

The relationship between the two men is crucial because while little is known for sure about Kavanaugh’s behavior at Georgetown Prep, quite a bit is known about Judge’s. Not only has Judge written two memoirs about his early years, but people who know his conduct have also begun talking about it. The latest information comes from a former girlfriend who told the New Yorker that Judge confessed to her that while in high school, he and other boys took turns having sex with a drunk woman.

One of Judge’s books, “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” describes his carousing and troublemaking as communal; he was always with his high school buddies. His evident closeness with Kavanaugh would suggest a likelihood that Kavanaugh indulged in some of the behavior that Judge has admitted to — a pattern of aggressive and drunken conduct, especially toward girls in their social circle, that’s consistent with Ford’s description of an inebriated sexual assault at a house party, as well as a new allegation of sexual assault from one of Kavanaugh’s classmates at Yale.

Putting aside the assault accusations, while high school and college partying by no means disqualifies one from public or professional life, Kavanaugh’s approach to it appears to have been far more aggressive than was normal at the time, and in complete contrast with the virtuous, studious, church-going image he has presented publicly. That contradiction goes directly to his credibility, which is the central question facing his and any nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Yearbook
On their respective senior pages in the 1983 Georgetown Prep yearbook, Kavanaugh and Judge make several references to each other and to conjoined activities. They were on the football team together, and both reference “100 kegs,” which Judge in “Wasted” described as the target for the senior class’s drinking total. Other references are more cryptic. Each asks the other the same question — “Have you boofed yet?” — and each reference surviving “FFFFFFFourth of July” or “FFFFFourth of July” (a different number of Fs in each). And both refer on their pages to not knowing the final result of the same basketball game, in the context of apparently being too inebriated to recall; as Kavanaugh wrote on his page, “Georgetown vs. Louisville — Who Won That Game Anyway?”

Kavanaugh and Judge also make references to the Rehoboth Beach Police Department. Judge wrote in “Wasted” that at the end of the school year, students from private schools in their neighborhood would convene for a week of partying in beach towns like Ocean City and Rehoboth, and that it was routine for police to confront the students. Beach week, Judge wrote, was a “bacchanalia of drinking and sex, or at least attempts at sex.” During one of the parties, he continued, “Guys began slam dancing, tackling each other, and drowning themselves in beer. … We lit each other’s underwear on fire, had beer fights, and barfed in the sink. A couple of guys took pictures of their penises.” Kavanaugh, on his page, referenced “Beach Week Ralph Club” — an apparent reference to throwing up — and described himself as “Biggest Contributor.”

While Kavanaugh and his supporters have portrayed the allegations against him as not just false, but out of sync with his personality, Judge painted a general portrait of boys in his circle treating girls as objects. One of the cryptic joint references on their pages — describing themselves as alumni of “Renate”— turns out to underscore how Kavanaugh and Judge degraded girls they knew. The New York Times recently revealed that “Renate” referred to a girl, Renate Schroeder, who attended a nearby Catholic girls school and who told the Times that the references to her (there were at least 14 throughout the yearbook) had insinuated relations with the boys that weren’t true. A lawyer for Kavanaugh said his reference was due to a kiss they shared after an event, but Schroeder responded that they had never kissed.

“I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue,” she told the Times. “I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”

Kavanaugh’s page also includes an altered quote from Benjamin Franklin that appeared to be a play on Judge’s last name, and it seemed to suggest that these two friends had secrets they should not share with others. The altered quote was this: “He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows, nor JUDGE all he sees.”

The Book
There is at least one apparent reference to Kavanaugh in Judge’s book, and it involves excessive drinking.

The passage takes place in the summer of their sophomore year. Judge had joined his first beach week, in Ocean City, Maryland, where one of his classmates had rented an oceanfront house. The houses on either side were occupied by girls from Catholic schools. During a party one night, while playing a drinking game called quarters, Judge struck up a conversation with a girl named Mary.
“So how do you like Prep?” Mary asked.

“It’s cool.”

“Do you know Bart O’Kavanaugh?”

“Yeah. He’s around here somewhere.”

“I heard he puked in someone’s car the other night.”

“Yeah. He passed out on his way back from a party.”

Judge wrote that he used pseudonyms for people in his book to protect their privacy. Bart is a nickname that Judge appeared to use for Brett Kavanaugh on his yearbook page.

Judge and Aggression
Judge has been linked to a variety of aggressions against women. In “Wasted,” he described how friends told him he had drunkenly lunged at a bridesmaid during a wedding, and he worried afterward that he might have hurt her. He wrote about being concerned, after blacking out following a drinking binge with a woman at a bar, that he might have murdered her in his inebriated state. He also wrote about his reaction to learning a former girlfriend was getting married — he shouted at her on the phone, “Goddammit you bitch, fuck you and your fucking husband.”

As the Washington Post reported, Judge delivered a bitterly homophobic wish to an editor who turned down stories he wanted to write about swing dancing. It was 1998, when Judge was freelancing for Washington City Paper, and the editor was Brad McKee. According to the Post, Judge “blew up at him after the rejections. McKee, who is gay, said Judge sent a vituperative email wishing him the same fate as Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten and left to die in Wyoming in 1998.” The Post quoted McKee as saying, “He shows signs of true hatred.”

The list of Judge’s aggressions is not short. On his yearbook page, Judge reprinted a line from playwright Noël Coward: “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.” The Washington Post quoted one of his classmates, Maryland state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., as describing Judge as “an unhappy person who was happy to make other people unhappy. ‘Bully’ may be an overused term, but he regularly belittled people he perceived as being lower on the high school hierarchy.”

New Allegation Against Kavanaugh
The latest allegation against Kavanaugh appears to be in line with the kind of offensive behavior that Judge has been connected to. According to the New Yorker, Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh, has told Senate investigators that during their freshman year in New Haven, Kavanaugh “had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.”

Kavanaugh’s Yale roommate in the fall of 1983, James Roche, has backed up Ramirez. In a statement posted on Twitter, Roche said that “although Brett was normally reserved, he was a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time, and … he became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk. I did not observe the specific incident in question, but I do remember Brett frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk.” Roche described Ramirez as “unusually honest and straightforward and I cannot imagine her making this up. Based on my time with Brett, I believe that he and his social circle were capable of the actions that Debbie described.”

Last night, Kavanaugh declared his complete innocence in a televised interview on Fox News, saying, “I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect. … I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise.” And in a statement to the New Yorker, he said, “I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name — and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building — against these last-minute allegations.”

Memoir About Brett Kavanaugh’s High School Portrays Culture of Aggression and Excessive Drinking

The Intercept  |  September 22, 2018

NOT LONG AFTER Mark Judge graduated from Catholic University, he attended the rehearsal dinner for a close friend’s wedding in Washington, D.C. The dinner was in a private room above an Irish bar, and as soon as Judge arrived, he downed a shot of bourbon — and another and another.

The next thing he knew, it was the morning and he was in a friend’s house. He woke up in his disheveled suit from the night before. His head ached, and he could barely open his eyes.

“I had blacked out again,” Judge recalled in a memoir about his troubled youth. “I didn’t remember anything after doing the shots.”

He asked his friend, Denny, what had happened.

“You put on quite a show,” Denny said. “After doing all those shots, you tried to get up on the table and started taking your clothes off, but Shane and I pulled you down. You also tried to make it with one of the bridesmaids.”

Judge was surprised.

“I tried to make it with a bridesmaid?” he said. “Please tell me I didn’t hurt her.”

Denny reassured Judge that he hadn’t harmed the bridesmaid, though he had made a “serious lunge” at her and started kissing her toes. His friends had pulled him off and got him out of the bar and took him to Denny’s home a few blocks away.

This passage from Judge’s long-forgotten memoir is newly relevant in light of the accusation that Judge was in the room when Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in 1982, when she was 15 years old. Kavanaugh and Judge were about 17 years old at the time, classmates at the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School. Ford, now a professor in clinical psychology in California, has accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly locking her in a room at a house party and trying to tear off her clothes while holding his hand over her mouth as she screamed in protest. According to Ford, a drunken Judge was also in the room, watching and laughing. Kavanaugh has denied the accusation, and so has Judge, who stated in a letter that “I have no memory of the alleged incident. … I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”

But the wedding scene in Judge’s 1997 book, titled “Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk,” amounts to a clear acknowledgement from Judge that he engaged in drunken acts he could not remember afterward, and that those acts involved aggression toward women, if not outright violence. The wedding scene is not the only one of its sort in his book, which is out of print and extremely hard to find.

Judge also wrote that about a week before the wedding, he went to his favorite bar, ordered a shot and a beer, and struck up a conversation with a woman who was there. “We bought each other several rounds of drinks, and when I looked at the clock it was after midnight,” he wrote. “Then, in what seemed like an instant, it was suddenly the next morning. … I couldn’t remember a thing after I had looked at the clock. I had blacked out.”

When he came to, he was back in his apartment, still dressed in the clothes he wore at the bar. “I started to panic, terrified of what I could have done during the blackout,” Judge wrote. “I could have done anything and not know it — I could have murdered somebody.”

Judge does not explain why, in that instance and after the wedding dinner, he was concerned about committing violence against a woman while he was inebriated. Did he have a history of that? While the wedding and the bar scenes are the only blackouts described in his book, he writes about verbally assaulting a woman he knew well.

During the Christmas break of his fourth year at college, he went to his favorite bar to drink with friends. One of them informed Judge that his high school girlfriend had gotten engaged. Even though Judge and the woman were no longer going out — they were attending different colleges —he wrote in his book that he viewed her engagement as “the most egregious betrayal imaginable.” He went to a pay phone in the bar and called her.

“Mary, what are you trying to do to me?” he asked.

“What?” she replied.

“I thought we were going to get married,” he said.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “You’re drunk. Are you at O’Rourke’s?”

She told him to go home and go to sleep. They could talk when he sobered up. But Judge wouldn’t have it; she was betraying him. His anger took over.

“Goddammit you bitch, fuck you and your fucking husband,” he snarled.

He wrote in “Wasted” that he understood what was happening – the alcohol had flipped a switch that led to him acting in a way that he wouldn’t if he were sober. As he wrote, “It was as though there was a different version of myself — Mr. Hyde — who had taken over my body, and I couldn’t stop him.”

His former girlfriend said he was an alcoholic and needed help. He replied that he hated her. He hung up and left the bar. Outside, police were arresting drunken revelers. Judge called the cops Nazis, and after one of them tried to warn him off, Judge replied, “Eat my shorts.” He fought as they arrested him, swearing and spitting at their shoes.

CAN THE DENIALS of Kavanaugh and Judge be trusted over the credible account from Ford, who in 2012 told her therapist and her husband about the assault, six years before Kavanaugh became a household name with his nomination to the Supreme Court? Judge’s credibility has come under particular scrutiny because he is an author and journalist who has flaunted his incendiary right-wing views, which his critics regard as sexist and racist (for instance, he described Barack Obama as “the first female president” in a 2013 article for the Daily Caller). In a recent story about Judge, the Washington Post noted that he had renounced his drunken past and repositioned himself as a conservative moralist, “albeit one who has written about ‘the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion.’”

The Post was referring to a 2015 article Judge wrote in support of aggressive male behavior toward women. “Of course, a man must be able to read a woman’s signals, and it’s a good thing that feminism is teaching young men that no means no and yes means yes,” he wrote. “But there’s also that ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her. And if that man is any kind of man, he’ll allow himself to feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty, of uncontrollable male passion.” This theme has been consistent in Judge’s life. On his 1983 Georgetown Prep yearbook page, he included a quote from playwright Noël Coward that condoned violence toward women — “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”

Until the sexual assault accusation, virtually no attention was paid to Kavanaugh’s early years at Georgetown Prep, from which both he and Judge graduated in 1983. But an enormous amount of interest is now focused on his conduct at the exclusive Catholic school, located in Bethesda, a wealthy Maryland suburb. A key piece of evidence that has gotten dissected in the past week is their senior yearbook, “Cupola,” in which the pages for Kavanaugh and Judge include shoutouts to each other and their connected lives. For instance, they each ask the same question of each other — “Have you boofed yet?” and they both mention “100 kegs,” which Judge’s book describes as the target for the senior class’s cumulative beer consumption.

While the yearbook pages are somewhat cryptic — there is now a cottage industry trying to figure out what Kavanaugh meant with the phrase “devil’s triangle” on his page — Judge’s book is explicit and provides a large amount of information about the booze-drenched life of male students at Georgetown Prep and their sexist attitudes toward women (for instance, the book refers to all-girls schools as “virgin vaults”). The book is not just a memoir of Judge’s early life, but also of other students in his social circle, which clearly included Kavanaugh. Although Judge has explained that names were changed in his book to protect privacy — Georgetown Prep is referred to as Loyola Prep — there is a reference in the book to a drunken “Bart O’Kavanaugh” vomiting and passing out in a car. On his yearbook page, Judge apparently refers to Kavanaugh as Bart.

The allegation against Kavanaugh is that he sexually assaulted Ford during a drunken house party while in high school. Is this a realistic scenario? According to Judge’s book, house parties were a central component of mixing between boys and girls who attended private schools in the well-to-do Maryland suburbs (Ford attended Holton-Arms School, about five miles from Georgetown Prep). These parties were uncontrolled.

“We took turns having parties,” Judge wrote. “The word would get out that someone’s parents were going away, and the other guys would pressure them into ‘popping,’ promising to help them keep things under control. This, of course, was a joke. I had seen houses destroyed by rampaging hordes of drunken teenagers.”

Some of the parties described by Judge took place during “beach week,” when school got out for summer and students went to resort towns on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware, such as Ocean City and Rehoboth. Judge describes his first “beach week,” in the summer of his sophomore year, as a “bacchanalia of drinking and sex, or at least attempts at sex.” He wrote that during one of the parties, “guys began slam dancing, tackling each other, and drowning themselves in beer. … We lit each other’s underwear on fire, had beer fights, and barfed in the sink. A couple of guys took pictures of their penises.”

Judge’s description of the chaos and aggression of beach week appears to solve a riddle on Kavanaugh’s yearbook page, where the future Supreme Court nominee cryptically wrote “Rehobeth Police Fan Club.” Judge made clear in his book that beach weeks took place at Rehoboth, and that beach interactions with the police were regular. “Growing up with Prep boys, I had grown accustomed to dealing with cops, whether they were trying to bust up a loud keg party or were kicking us off the beach,” Judge wrote. “Most of my friends had been hauled in at one time or another.”

There appeared to be an expectation that at these alcohol-filled parties, girls’ bodies were available to the boys.

“Most of the time, everyone, including the girls, was drunk. If you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up with someone. This did not mean going all the way — for the most part, these girls held to the beliefs of their very conservative families but after a year spent in school without girls, heavy petting was a virtual orgy.”

By the time he was a senior, his drinking — and the drinking of his friends — was nearly limitless.

“I had reached the point where once I had the first beer, I found it impossible to stop until I was completely annihilated,” Judge wrote. “That first magical cold one seemed to set off a physiological need for more, like a morsel of food offered to a starving man. Once I felt the first lilting rise of buzz, I had to keep drinking until I could hardly walk. Many of the other guys were the same way … to us, being members of what I called ‘alcoholics unanimous’ was as natural as a swan drifting into the water.”

It is not clear how much of the Georgetown Prep experience described by Judge was shared by Kavanaugh. Other than his yearbook page, Kavanaugh has said and written very little about his time there. That cryptic page, however, mirrors Judge’s in consistent ways, mostly dedicated to celebrating a culture of partying that leads to blacking out, vomiting and, hopefully, surviving. Twice on Kavanaugh’s yearbook page, he wonders about the final scores of sports contests — “Georgetown vs. Louisville — Who Won That Game Anyway? … Orioles vs. Red Sox — Who Won, Anyway?” What’s known about Kavanaugh’s undergraduate years at Yale is also consistent with the scenes portrayed in Judge’s book — at Yale, Kavanaugh belonged to a fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, which the Yale Daily News described in a recent article as “notorious for disrespecting women.” The paper published a 1985 photo of the fraternity’s pledges marching with a flag woven of women’s underwear and bras; Kavanaugh was a sophomore in the fraternity at the time.

There has been at least one telling remark from Kavanaugh about his high school years. It came during a 2015 speech he gave at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law. “Fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to,” Kavanaugh said. “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.” There was a smattering of laughter as Kavanaugh continued, “That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”

America’s War Narrative Focuses on Its Soldiers. Afghans and Iraqis Are Brushed Aside

The Intercept  |  September 2, 2018

The young newspaper reporter wanted to write a book about the war he was covering. But the editors who read his proposal turned it down, all of them. They said the book wouldn’t sell because Americans were tired of reading about these violent foreigners and their centuries-old grudges. The reporter asked for advice from a colleague who had far more experience with these things. Focus the book on someone your readers will connect with, he was told.

The young reporter followed the advice. He took a break from his newspaper job and wrote the book as a first-person memoir. He knew that readers would be more interested if they had an American to identify with. While the book was mostly about the foreigners who suffered through the war, the book’s narrator, from California, was always present, usually at the margins of the narrative though sometimes in the middle. It worked; the book was acquired by a major publisher and received positive reviews when it came out.

I was the young reporter, and that experience a quarter century ago brought home a painful truth. It can be excruciatingly hard to get Americans to care about a war unless an American is at the center of the story. I was in a bind because at the time I covered the war in Bosnia, there were no American troops involved; a belated U.S. bombing campaign came in the war’s final year. The only American whose war experience I could write about was the one I saw in the mirror every day.

America has been at war in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003, and one of the byproducts of these cataclysms is a vibrant shelf of literature from the generations of Americans who experienced these conflicts firsthand. The books, most of them written by journalists and soldiers and CIA officers, range from embarrassing to surpassing.

The latest, from New York Times war reporter C.J. Chivers, is one of the best. His book is called “The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,” and it transports you into the violent lives of ordinary soldiers and airmen; you smell the sand and the diesel and the blood. But his book’s strength is also the fatal weakness of nearly two decades of war stories Americans have told each other: in the cumulative historical narrative we create with these books, we are relegating to the margins the millions of Iraqis and Afghans who were the primary victims of the wars we chose to fight in their villages and homes. We are appropriating to ourselves alone the roles of victims and heroes.

HARDLY A WEEK goes by without a new book about American soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. A lot of them are jingoistic and terrible, but it’s nonetheless encouraging that we live in a time when more and more people who want to write a book on war can actually do so. And some of these books, like the one by Chivers, are quite good. Earlier this year, there was a widely-praised memoir, “Eat the Apple,” by former Marine Matt Young. The latest fictional offering that’s getting attention is “Cherry” by Nico Walker, an Iraq veteran currently serving a prison sentence for bank robbery. As the New York Times noted, Walker’s book is part of a “growing body” of high-quality war novels by veterans-turned-writers.

Yet there’s a maddening thing about this trend – almost all of the war books that cross my desk are about American soldiers and their experiences of combat and post-combat. None of this is surprising. What country at war isn’t more interested in its own people than the other side’s? What country at war, for that matter, doesn’t demonize the other or take interest mainly in the others who are demons? This is how national emotions work, it’s instinctual. Look at the cultural products created in America about the Vietnam war. The narratives are generally about the grim suffering of American soldiers and the miscalculations of the generals who led them. With the notable exception of atrocities like the My Lai massacre and the napalming of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the focus is rarely on the millions of Vietnamese who perished or were otherwise ruined in that conflict. We cleanse our consciences in a solution of guilt that leaves no stain. In our own minds, we made a mistake and we paid the price.

We are fostering a “memory industry,” as Viet Thanh Nguyen has written, that neglects or erases the most important parts of what happened. “A just memory constantly tries to recall what might be forgotten, accidentally or deliberately, through self-serving interests, the debilitating effects of trauma, or the distraction offered by excessively remembering something else, such as the heroism of the nation’s soldiers,” Nguyen wrote in “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,” published in 2016. A professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Nguyen precisely outed the problem of how America selectively remembers its wars:

When we say always remember and never forget, we usually mean to always remember and never forget what was done to us or to our friends and allies. Of the terrible things that we have done or condoned, the less said and the less remembered the better. More than this, what we really wish to remember and never forget is our humanity and the inhumanity of others.

This is not just lamentable or dishonest. It hurts us and consigns us to more wars.

THERE MAY BE no finer war correspondent today, in the classic sense of Ernie Pyle, than C.J. Chivers. He not only knows the tactics and weapons of war better than most journalists (he wrote a previous book about the AK-47 assault rifle), he has an unusually clear understanding of the men and women who enlist in the armed forces, because he was a Marine infantry officer before going to work as a reporter for The New York Times. He sympathizes with his subjects and portrays them as honorable fighters for a country that is careless with their lives. An epigraph at the start of “The Fighters” comes from a note on a wall at an Iraqi compound occupied by Marines in Ramadi: “America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall.”

The book primarily tells the stories of six soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of those continuing conflicts. Chivers was under fire with some of the fighters he writes about, and he assembled the stories of others from interviews with them or their contemporaries. His prose is taut, like the combat itself, and Chivers has the restraint to avoid inserting himself into the story; this is not a book in which the narrator makes sure you know how he slept or what he ate. The men he profiles include a Green Beret, a fighter pilot, a medic, an Army grunt, and a helicopter pilot, all of whom followed the rules and tried to fight with decency. One was killed in battle, and another was shot in the face and disfigured for life. At the end of the book, Chivers asks a haunting question: “How many lives had these wars wrecked?”

In the genre of nonfiction about Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, “The Fighters” excels because it plainly describes what happened to these men as well as among them. Its main weakness is that its protagonists are all good soldiers – there’s apparently not a sloppy or abusive molecule in their bodies. I don’t doubt that Chivers is right about these men, but their probity and discipline does not represent the flawed spectrum of Americans who fought (and continue to fight) these wars. I also reported from Iraq and Afghanistan, and while I met some good soldiers, I also met many who were not. For a broader, more profane chronicle of recent American soldiering and its insane consequences, Dexter Filkins’s “The Forever War” is the pinnacle. And if you want to see the indecent flipside of Chivers’s decent men, you must read Jim Frederick’s intricately reported “Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent Into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death,” or watch the Haditha documentary “House Two” and read Adam Linehan’s longform article about that massacre, in which Marines executed women and children at point blank range and tried to cover it up.

There’s not one book or film that must be read or seen about any of these wars; there are many. A society’s collective memory is rarely shaped by a single work. How could one work encompass everything and command everyone’s attention? It’s the chorus of books, the cumulative narrative that comes out of the collective, that shapes what we know and don’t know, what we learn and don’t learn. And that’s why our lopsided production of G.I. narratives is quietly problematic. The other side of things, the non-American stories, face a double handicap. They are infrequently told and when they are told, American readers tend to turn away.

ONE OF THE best books by a U.S. journalist about “the other side” is Anand Gopal’s “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes.” Gopal’s superlative book received enthusiastic critical acclaim and was a finalist for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. But in terms of sales, it has been no match for “Lone Survivor” or “American Sniper,” the blockbuster soldier books. Gopal’s book was published in 2014 and its Amazon ranking, when I checked for this story, was 78,524; in the category of books about the Afghan war, it ranked 94th (the just-published Chivers book was number 2). Revealingly, that category’s top 50 books were all about American soldiers or spies. Well ahead of Gopal’s book, number 70 was “The Arabs” by Eugene Rogan, which is actually a mis-categorization by Amazon, because Afghanistan is not an Arab country.

I asked Gopal about the difficulty of breaking through with a book that focuses on the other side, and he emphasized that the problem is more complicated than us and them.

“There have been books focusing on Afghans that have done well (such as ‘The Dressmaker of Khair Khana’) but that’s because they don’t challenge American foreign policy assumptions (if anything, they reinforce them),” Gopal wrote to me. He noted that readers flocked to Katherine Boo’s award-winning book on impoverished Indians, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” “I think these examples show that readers are interested in the stories of foreign civilians if they are told well, but that when a book is harshly critical of American wars or American policy in general, it is sometimes difficult to get a major hearing on the types of [media] outlets that can move lots of copies.”

The situation is particularly precarious for books written by Iraqis and Afghans. Helen Benedict, a journalism professor at Columbia University and the author of two novels about Iraq, has noted the struggle of finding Iraqi narratives of Iraq. Benedict wrote in an article last year that when she began her own research, “I discovered how difficult it is to find Iraqi literature in translation, at least in America — a fact I consider shameful, given that our war killed some half a million Iraqis and displaced a fifth of the country.” She poked around and found a few books that, as she wrote, “managed to filter through the barriers of American suspicion and indifference.” Those include Ahmed Saadawi’s “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” an acclaimed novel about a junk peddler in American-occupied Baghdad who brings home body parts from explosions. He stitches them together into a corpse that walks off and begins terrorizing the city.

The merit of a book like Saadawi’s is not just that it comes from an Iraqi who lives in Iraq, but that it focuses on ordinary people who suffer from the American invasion of their country (albeit in a surreal way). Another book about the tragic plight of noncombatants is “The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq,” by the Iraqi-American writer Dunya Mikhail. And Elliot Ackerman, an American war veteran, wrote about an Afghan orphan in his novel “Green on Blue.” These civilian narratives are pivotal. Nguyen, the author of “Nothing Ever Dies,” argues that books and movies that focus only on soldiers end up warping and narrowing our understanding of war. “Many people in many places think of soldiers and shooting when they think of war stories, but that is too narrow a definition,” he writes. “Thinking of war as an isolated action carried out by soldiers transforms the soldier into the face and body of war, when in truth he is only its appendage.”

Our interest in ourselves, though understandable from a psychological and sociological perspective, also makes it more likely that we will continue embarking on these destructive follies. Look where we are, after all. We tend to think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the one in Vietnam, as regrettable but well-intentioned mistakes. We would feel differently if we immersed ourselves in the narratives of the hundreds of thousands of civilians we have killed, the several million we have injured, and the scores of millions we have doomed to perpetual anguish over the loss of loved ones, often before their very eyes. Narratives of this sort would recast these wars in their true forms: as grave crimes that demand a national reckoning.

This brings me back to the conundrum I faced when I tried to write about the war in Bosnia. How do you get Americans to grapple with narratives they don’t care to grapple with? I can think of only two previous war-making nations that ultimately accepted narratives grounded in the millions of deaths they caused: Germany and Japan, which were forced after World War II to abandon the stories that had birthed and sustained their militarism.

Nguyen made a crucial observation — “all wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.” By whatever measure you might use, we have lost the battlefield portions of our 17-year war in Afghanistan and our 15-year war in Iraq. With our preference for stories about our soldiers, we are creating a false memory of what we did.

Before Snowden, an NSA Spy Incited Change from the Inside. He Called Himself a “Curmudgeon.”

The Intercept  |  Aug. 15, 2018

You know the type.

Middle-aged, male, tired of his job. He’s been around for ages and moans about how things were done 10 times better back in the day. Every so often, he snaps pointlessly at a co-worker. He’s the office curmudgeon. It’s time for him to go, and he probably realizes it.

Workplace grouches are usually ignored or fired, but the National Security Agency gave a unique platform to one of its own. In the mid-aughts, in an internal newsletter, the NSA published a series of articles by Rahe Clancy, an eavesdropper disillusioned with what the agency had become and what he was doing there. It’s not that Clancy disliked spying on people or governments — he supported the collection of signals intelligence, or SIGINT — but he felt that the NSA had lost its way.

After 30 years on the job, he wrote, “I found myself turning into a SIGINT Curmudgeon.” In 2005, he published his coming-out article for the newsletter, SIDtoday, which was targeted at the agency’s core Signals Intelligence Directorate. Clancy wrote that he was particularly worried about the future of his area of expertise, known as “collection,” through which the NSA intercepts and downloads a variety of transmissions, both earthbound and from satellites. “I was convinced,” he continued, “that collection was a dying career field and that NSA management was hastening its demise through neglect.” Clancy was writing for a distinctive audience — the thousands of eavesdroppers, hackers, and analysts who worked for the NSA. His articles for SIDtoday, posted on a secure computer network, were provided to The Intercept by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Clancy had a theory about what was going wrong: The NSA was being run like a corporation, not a spy agency. It emphasized managers, clients, products, and customer satisfaction. There were substantial pay-and-perk gaps between leadership and the workforce. And the lingo was maddening, a daily hailstorm of “paradigm,” “synergy,” “enterprise,” and “teaming.” It was all driving him nuts — literally. One day, he broke down and had a loud disagreement with his bosses in the middle of the office. He considered early retirement, but had to stick it out because he needed his full benefits.

“I fail to see how running a Cryptologic Intelligence Agency bears more than a superficial resemblance to running a corporation,” he wrote in his final column. “If we had a product to sell, and competition selling that product, I would gladly embrace the corporate model for NSA. But we don’t have competition.”

A strange thing happened on his grumbling way out the door. Clancy’s final column, published as he retired in 2006, was an unexpected hit. Titled “The SIGINT Curmudgeon’s Last Shot!,” it made bitter fun of what he defined as the “Corp-speak” that had overtaken the agency (“SYNERGISTIC: Isn’t that from ‘Mary Poppins’?”). In a follow-up article, the editors of SIDtoday said they received an “unprecedented amount of feedback” and published a sampling of it. “Spot on!” a staffer wrote. “Too many think it’s more important to ‘get ahead’ than get things done!” Another eavesdropper remarked, “Wonderful and to the point. Too much is spent on hype and pointless nonsense.” A longtime veteran added, “I have often mourned the NSA that I joined in 1982. … If anyone knows where it went, please send me a map.”

With his last shot, the curmudgeon became a hero.

A Bookworm and a Collector

In the style of tabloids, SIDtoday had a rotating cast of columnists drawn from the agency’s workforce. There was the “SIGINT Philosopher” who wrote about ethical issues of surveillance; there was a column called “Ask Zelda!” that was akin to “Dear Abby” for spies; and there was “Signal v. Noise,” which explored the intricacies of data collection. Clancy, as the “SIGINT Curmudgeon,” cast a critical eye on the internal discourse at the world’s largest eavesdropping agency. He was, in his cranky way, an amateur anthropologist of modern surveillance culture.

In retirement, Clancy continues his curmudgeonly ways, in the sense of being a bit grumpy about talking with a reporter. He eventually came around to discussing, in an exchange of emails, his critique of the agency, though he kept to generalities. “The numerous oaths I have taken to protect classified information and the Constitution are still very much real to me,” he told The Intercept. “If that leads to me being ‘overcautious,’ so be it.”

My attempts to contact Clancy began several years ago, when I was able to get an email address and phone number for his wife. The first time I spoke with her, in 2015, she said the NSA told her husband not to talk with me. The next time I spoke with her, in early July as I began writing this article, she gave me his phone number. I left several voicemails over several days and emailed his wife again; there was no response. However, about a week later, Clancy emailed me. “Apologies for ignoring your attempts to communicate for so long,” he wrote. “I was not anxious to discuss any of the leaked documents nor was I eager to have my name made public. I’m still not thrilled about it!”

I had sent a few general questions, and he answered some of them. He said he’s an avid reader — the genres he likes include alternative history, westerns, war novels, historical novels, Egyptology, and sci-fi, specifically space opera. He has 1,000 books in his home library and 500 in his digital collection. He does not consider himself a writer. “I wrote for work and sometimes for fun,” he said. “If I have any talent in that arena it’s because of dedicated teachers and a very small high school. There were never more than 100 students in grades 9-12.”

A few minutes on Google helped fill in the blanks about that high school and other parts of Clancy’s biography. He comes from salt-of-the-earth America. He was born in 1948, and his father was a North Dakota farmer and World War II veteran who served in the Guadalcanal campaign. He was raised in a small town, Buffalo, and after graduating from the local high school, he attended the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He left after a year to enlist in the Army and apparently served in military intelligence during the Vietnam War. But he lasted only three years — he acknowledged in one of his articles that “I’ve never been very good with authority, especially the military type.” After returning to North Dakota and getting married in 1974, he took a civilian job in England with the Department of Defense; this was the start of his career at the NSA, which is under the aegis of the DOD. His three children were born in England, and in 1990 they moved back to the U.S., settling in Maryland, not far from the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade.

Like pretty much everyone else at the NSA, Clancy’s work was classified. He described a bit of it in one of his articles, however, referencing “20 years of FORNSAT experience and 10 years of HF collection.” His reference to FORNSAT indicates satellite collection, which involves targeting the streams of data coming from satellites down to receivers on earth. His reference to “HF collection” seems to mean the collection of “High Frequency” radio signals, a traditional backbone of the NSA’s eavesdropping. In the last stretch of his career, Clancy served for 17 months as a senior collection officer at the NSA’s National Security Operation’s Center, where he was involved in responding to events as they happened across the globe. It was a job he loved, and it softened his curmudgeonly edges.

“I supported Afghan military operations, Iraqi military operations, numerous CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) missions, downed aircraft, hostage situations, and a myriad of other tasks,” he wrote in SIDtoday. “I helped track Al Qaeda operatives, Taliban members, members of the former Iraqi regime, and aircraft and ships carrying weapons to/from proscribed nations. Sometimes all at once! I was on duty the night we went into Iraq and I went home that night feeling wrung-out, but with a feeling of accomplishment. When I think back on all of the history to which I had a ringside seat during that tour, it’s almost overwhelming!”

Clancy had a different kind of ringside seat throughout his career: He saw the NSA metastasize.

“Corp-speak” Divides the NSA

When Clancy started in the 1970s, the NSA focused primarily on intercepting the pre-digital murmurings of foreign governments and armies. It was, for sure, a secretive organization and engaged in its share of legally dubious spying, but it wasn’t the hyper-controversial behemoth it later became. The advent of the web in the 1990s changed the scope of the NSA’s work. As the world’s communications broadened to the digital sphere, the NSA widened its eavesdropping beyond satellites, phone lines, and telegraph cables to include the new infrastructure for online communications used by governments, non-state actors, and regular people. After 9/11, the NSA took on new duties and resources in a huge rush, engaging in vast eavesdropping activities that, in many cases, again likely violated the law.

By 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, thanks to documents leaked by Snowden, the NSA’s budget was $10.8 billion. It had become a massive bureaucracy and adopted the techniques of large corporations, to the chagrin of Clancy and others. You don’t have to take the curmudgeon’s word for it. The archive of documents leaked by Snowden includes a large number of files that extoll a business school approach to managing the NSA, using a type of language that almost seems to parody corporate communications. For instance, one SIDtoday article was titled “The Customer Scorecard,” and here’s its first paragraph:

One of the key initiatives for the Customer Relationships Directorate for 2004 is to update and improve the customer Support Plans (CSPs) for each customer of the Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID). The main element required in making the CSPs better is feedback from the customer. To obtain this feedback, the CRD began a pilot program called the ‘customer scorecard’. This scorecard will be used to determine how the Signals Intelligence Directorate is meeting its customers’ product and service needs.

Intentionally or not, the NSA was draping its life-and-death activities in corporate jargon, offering its staff a layer of semantic insulation that distanced them from the lethal nature of what they were doing. After all, their “customers” are not customers in the usual sense of the term. They are military services, intelligence agencies, the White House, State Department, and other parts of the U.S. government. The “products” of the NSA are, similarly, unlike the products most companies make. They are intelligence reports that include, for instance, electronic surveillance used to locate people for drone assassination and find targets in foreign countries to bomb.

Another SIDtoday document, titled “Making Customer Feedback Work for Everyone,” is a mind-bending exercise in funneling lethal activities through the blender of corporate pablum. “Today,” the document states, “our vision is providing the right information to the right customer at the right time — within their information space — completely focused on our customers’ successful outcomes.” It continues:

Toward that end, we are embracing processes and technology that will make available the intended outcomes of customer Information Needs, customer feedback, observed customer behavior and preferences, outright customer complaints and their resolution across the SIGINT enterprise at the touch of a button. We have been developing the business processes for this technology for the past 18 months and are now ready to prototype the technology that will lead us to trending and analysis of customer feedback and behavior. We expect this to result in improved one-to-one customer relationships that benefit many customers across the board.

Clancy was mystified by language of this sort.

“The lure of the ‘lingo’ is very strong,” he wrote in his last column. “To listen to someone speak ‘Corp-speak’ fluently is like listening to a Bushman speaking a Khoisan ‘click’ language. It’s absolutely fascinating, but, except for some of the hand waving, it’s totally incomprehensible to outsiders! A few months ago I was in a meeting that was attended by a couple of seniors who were not technical people. They were staff or HR types and they spoke ‘Corp-speak.’ One of them did a lot of talking during the hour meeting, but I have no idea what he said. I’m not a stupid person (really!) but I was clueless. I mean, I recognized the words: ‘Leverage,’ ‘paradigm,’ ‘synergy,’ ‘synergistic,’ ‘enterprise,’ ‘extended enterprise,’ ‘teaming,’ ‘corporateness,’ etc., but they didn’t fit together in a way that I understood.”

In response to Clancy’s column, the editors of SIDtoday published nine comments from NSA staffers. The final comment summed up the general reaction. “I laughed and cried,” the comment began. “It became a part of me. But seriously, Clancy hit the nail on the head for me. We spend so much time in this agency talking about unique product, as if it’s the greatest cleanser or whitener to hit the market, that we forget that as a government agency we are not in a ‘for profit’ business. … Our job, first and foremost, is to get intelligence out to the people who need it, period. Words such as ‘actionable’ or slogans like ‘Ahead with SIGINT that counts’ don’t really mean anything.”

The NSA, contacted by The Intercept, declined to comment on the accusations that the agency had become too corporate.

Life After the Agency

Clancy still lives in Maryland and, in his retirement, worked for a while as a dog trainer at PetSmart. He and his wife raise Alaskan klee kais, a smaller version of Siberian huskies. “About two litters each year for the love of our dogs,” he wrote me. “Our dogs are our family.” He has a Facebook page where he posts pictures and videos of their puppies, which are indeed very cute. He occasionally takes them on outings to a local Starbucks.

Some of his Facebook posts are exactly what you’d expect from a self-described curmudgeon. Last year, he posted a graphic that said, “The fact that Jellyfish have survived for 650 million years despite not having brains gives hope to many people.” He also shared a video that began with this notice: “Just because you went to college doesn’t make you smarter than anyone else. … Common sense doesn’t come with a degree.” He even looks a bit like a curmudgeon — bald head, long, gray beard, a few extra pounds at his girth — though in most pictures, he has a broad smile.

His parting with the NSA has the hallmarks of being quietly triumphant. I asked, in one of my emails, whether he was aware that his final SIDtoday article had elicited such a strong and positive response inside the agency. He didn’t reply directly, though he wrote, “I have been approached by current employees who found out who I am and just wanted to shake my hand, so I know that at least some people remember me.”

In his grouchy way, was the SIGINT Curmudgeon a whistleblower of some sort? Certainly not in the way of Snowden or Chelsea Manning — they took their critiques to the public by leaking vast amounts of classified documents, hoping that their actions would spur greater awareness of secret government abuses. Clancy was hardly a rebel of that type. Last year, he posted onto his Facebook page a graphic that said, “President Trump is focused on ‘America First’! Democrats are focused on stopping Trump! Think about that.” He also gave a five-star review to a pro-Trump outlet, One America News Network, and shared several posts from the Convention of States, which seeks to hold a constitutional convention that would greatly restrict the powers of the federal government.

These posts raise some interesting questions. In his nostalgia for returning the NSA to its cultural roots, does Clancy think the government should throttle back its post-9/11 spying activity? One of the most controversial aspects of the NSA’s work is that, in its efforts to vacuum up the worldwide communications of foreigners, it also acquires immense quantities of American citizens’ emails, texts, and phone records — what it calls “incidental” collection. Although conservatives tend to support NSA surveillance as an anti-terrorism matter, the scope of the agency’s spying has attracted deep criticism from, among others, libertarian lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul.

I asked Clancy about this.

“My personal political views had no bearing on my job performance,” he replied. “I am politically conservative and believe governance should be as close to the people as possible. Privacy must be protected but so must our intelligence gathering capability to protect the country.”

His aims were apparently modest: He sought to incite quiet changes from the inside. “I wrote these articles not only to voice my personal concerns (and frustration) about the state of the Agency but to get people talking and thinking,” he told me. “I had hoped to encourage the ‘worker bees’ to become more vocal and involved. Get ideas rolling uphill if possible.”

I asked for a bit of detail about the reforms he wanted to encourage, but he shied away from explaining more. In any event, he doesn’t appear to believe that his curmudgeonly dissent reached the people who matter the most. As he noted in one of his emails to me, “If I influenced Agency seniors in any way, I would be pleasantly surprised.”


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