Exclusive: Charles Lane and other Washington Post editorialists defend neocon and neoliberal orthodoxies by demonizing foreign leaders who step out of line and now by making fun of Bernie Sanders for buying a summer home, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Though the competition is stiff, the gold medal for the creepiest Washington Post columnist could go to Charles Lane, who this week mocked Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife for buying a $575,000 vacation home on Vermont’s Lake Champlain – and cited this modest luxury as proof that capitalism is superior to socialism.
“To go with places they already own in Washington and their home town of Burlington, Vt., the Sanders family has purchased a vacation home on an island in Lake Champlain,” Lane wrote, adding: “As a slogan for the political revolution, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need for lakefront property’ doesn’t really cut it.” Ha-ha! Very funny!
Sanders’s wife Jane explained that the house was a replacement for a vacation home that her family had long owned in Maine. But the 74-year-old Sanders and his wife really need no defense for buying a rather modestly priced (certainly by Washington’s standards) lakefront property.
Lane’s column was also a cheap shot because a U.S. senator has little choice but to have domiciles in both Washington and his home state. So, to cite those two properties as further evidence of Sanders’s living a life of hypocritical extravagance is simply unfair.
But Lane is a good example of how a moderately talented journalist can build a prosperous career in Official Washington by sucking up to the powers-that-be and dumping on anyone who even mildly challenges those interests.
I first got to know Lane in 1987 when we both worked at Newsweek. Before Lane arrived at the magazine, Newsweek had distinguished itself with some quality reporting that belied the Reagan administration’s propaganda themes in Central America.
That, however, upset Newsweek’s executive editor Maynard Parker, who was a strong supporter of U.S. interventionism and sympathized with President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive policies in Central America. So, a shake-up was ordered of Newsweek’s Central America staff.
To give Parker the more supportive coverage he wanted, Lane was brought onboard and dispatched to replace experienced reporters in Central America. Lane soon began getting Newsweek’s field coverage in line with Reagan’s propaganda themes.
But I kept messing up the desired harmony by contesting those stories from Washington. This dynamic was unusual since it’s more typical for reporters in the field to challenge the U.S. government’s propaganda while journalists tied to the insular world of Washington tend to be seduced by access and to endorse the official line.
But the situation at Newsweek was reversed. Lane pushed the propaganda themes that he was fed from the U.S. embassies in Central America and I challenged them with my reporting in Washington. The situation led Lane to seek me out during one of his visits to Washington.
We had lunch at Scholl’s cafeteria near Newsweek’s Washington office on Pennsylvania Avenue. As we sat down, Lane turned to me and, rather defensively, accused me of viewing him as “an embassy boy,” i.e. someone who carried propaganda water for the U.S. embassies.
I was a bit nonplussed since I had never exactly put it that way, but it wasn’t far from what I actually thought. I responded by trying to avoid any pejorative phrasing but stressing my concern that we shouldn’t let the Reagan administration get away with misleading the American people and Newsweek’s readers.
As it turned out, however, I was on the losing side of that debate. Lane had the support of executive editor Parker, who favored an aggressive application of U.S. power abroad and didn’t like his reporters undermining those efforts. Like some other young journalists of that era, Lane either shared that world view or knew what was needed to build his career.
Lane did succeed in making a profitable career for himself. He scored high-profile gigs as the editor of the neocon New Republic (though his tenure was tarnished by the Stephen Glass fabrication scandal) and as a regular guest on Fox News. He’s also found steady employment as an editorialist for The Washington Post.
A Neocon to Count On
At the Post, Lane has been a reliable voice for reiterating whatever the neocon “group think” is. For instance, in 2013, when the Obama administration signed the preliminary agreement with Iran to restrain its nuclear program, Lane joined the chorus of naysayers who favored heightened confrontation with Iran in line with neocon hopes for more regional “regime change.”
Lane rhetorically waved the bloody shirt of Neda Agha Soltan, who was killed in 2009 apparently from a stray bullet during violent protests against the outcome of Iran’s presidential election, which was won by then-incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Not that long ago, it seemed the world would never forget Neda Agha Soltan,” Lane wrote. “On June 20, 2009, a government thug fired a bullet through the 26-year-old’s heart as she stood watching protests against the blatant election fraud that had secured victory for a presidential candidate backed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Video of her dying moments went viral, and Neda became a global symbol of the Green Revolution, as the Iranian people called their movement to topple a regime capable of such bloody deeds.”
But nearly everything that Lane asserted as fact was not fact. Iran’s 2009 elections were clearly won by Ahmadinejad, who may have lost among middle-class voters of Tehran but strongly carried the poor and working-class areas of Iran.
The Iranian opposition was unable to prove any significant fraud and the election results were in line with opinion polls conducted both before and after the election, from inside and outside Iran. None of the polls showed the Green movement candidate coming anywhere close to a plurality.
“These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]
Nevertheless, the mainstream U.S. news media, led by neocon outlets like The Washington Post, promoted the myth of a stolen election, all the better to rev up American public support for another “regime change” project against one more of Israel’s adversaries.
In 2013, however, Lane’s propagandistic sophistry had a more immediate goal. He was suggesting that the tragic but apparently accidental shooting death of a young woman in 2009 should prevent the international community from reaching an agreement with Iran on restricting its nuclear program.
Lane wrote: “Iran is once again in the headlines but not because Neda’s murderers are about to be held accountable. Nor has there been fundamental change in the regime that jailed and killed many rank-and-file members of the Green Revolution and continues to confine the movement’s leaders.
“No, we’re talking about the nuclear deal that the world’s great powers, led by the United States, signed … with Khamenei’s representatives amid much smiling and backslapping. No one’s talking about Neda. Maybe we should be.”
No Accountability on Iraq
But the last thing that a Washington Post editorial writer should call for is accountability, since the Post’s editorial pages served as a bulletin board for the many bogus assertions about Iraq’s WMD and thus cleared the way for the aggressive and disastrous war on Iraq.
Lane, not surprisingly, didn’t do much recounting of that human catastrophe, the one that his bosses — the likes of editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt and deputy editor Jackson Diehl — helped inflict on the people of Iraq by cheering on President George W. Bush and his neocon warmongers.
For instance, there was the case at the start of the Iraq War when Bush mistakenly thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein might be eating at a Baghdad restaurant so U.S. warplanes leveled it, killing more than a dozen civilians, including children and a young woman whose headless body was recovered by her mother.
“When the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso first, then her head,” the Associated Press reported, “her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed.” The London Independent cited this restaurant attack as one that represented “a clear breach” of the Geneva Conventions ban on bombing civilian targets.
But such civilian deaths were of little interest to The Washington Post’s editorial page and most of the mainstream U.S. media. “American talking heads … never seemed to give the issue any thought,” wrote Eric Boehlert in a report on the U.S. war coverage for Salon.com. “Certainly they did not linger on images of the hellacious human carnage left in the aftermath.”
Thousands of other civilian deaths were equally horrific. Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded in an American bombing raid, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 who had been the center of his life. “It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14, 2003]
The horror of the Iraq War was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, his pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed. As the armless Ali was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, the boy said he would rather die than live without his hands.
Yet, Ali Ismaeel Abbas and the many other innocent Iraqis who died as a result of the illegal war that Bush and his neocons launched and that The Washington Post’s editorial page cheered have been largely forgotten (at least by the mainstream U.S. media). Meanwhile, the American perpetrators of these war crimes and their apologists have faced virtually no accountability.
By 2013, there were new presidents in both the United States and Iran, Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, respectively, and they were willing to overcome the difficult history between the two countries, which included the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, followed by a brutal U.S-backed dictatorship for the next quarter century.
But Charles Lane apparently wanted to keep the hostilities going, all the better to set the stage for the neocon desire to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran and orchestrate another violent “regime change,” a process that surely would have left many more Iranians maimed and killed.
Lane’s column, however, failed to dissuade Obama and Rouhani from pursuing a permanent nuclear agreement, which was signed in 2015 and which experts say has succeeded in dialing back Iran’s nuclear program.
The Bash-Putin ‘Group Think’
Lane also has joined in Official Washington’s “group think” demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and everything he does, which has included his key role in helping Obama achieve that signature foreign policy success with the Iran nuclear deal.
In 2014, when Putin gave a speech critical of U.S. foreign policy, Lane and a solid phalanx of other Washington Post columnists denounced the Russian president as a madman. In his column, Lane not only denied the reality of modern American interventionism but accused Putin of doing what Lane was actually doing, twisting the truth.
“Putin presented a legal and historical argument so tendentious and so logically tangled so unappealing to anyone but Russian nationalists such as those who packed the Kremlin to applaud him that it seemed intended less to refute contrary arguments than to bury them under a rhetorical avalanche,” Lane wrote.
Lane then suggested that Putin must be delusional. “The biggest problem with this cover story is that Putin may actually believe it,” Lane wrote.
Lane also was offended that when Putin later spoke to a crowd in Red Square, he concluded his remarks by saying “Long live Russia!” But why that is so objectionable coming from a Russian politician is hard to fathom. President Obama and other U.S. politicians routinely close their remarks with the words, “God bless the United States of America!”
Yet, Putin’s speech was really rather insightful, explaining Russia’s not unreasonable view of recent history, recognizing the actual U.S. approach to the world not the fairy-tale one favored by Lane and the Post.
Putin said: “After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet [i.e. the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading. Our Western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.
“They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”
Nothing in that key passage of Putin’s speech is crazy. He is stating the reality of the current era, though one could argue that this U.S. aggressive behavior was occurring during the Cold War as well. Since World War II, Washington has been in the business of routinely subverting troublesome governments (including overthrowing democratically elected leaders) and invading countries (that for some reason got in Washington’s way).
It is a challenge to list all the examples of U.S. interventions abroad, both in America’s “backyard” (Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, etc.) and in far-flung parts of the world (Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Lebanon, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, etc.). These actions — usually outside international law and often in violation of those nations’ sovereignty — have continued into this century to the present day.
It’s also true that the United States has behaved harshly toward Russia during much of the post-Cold War era, reneging on an understanding with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that his concessions to President George H.W. Bush regarding German reunification and Eastern Europe would not be exploited by the U.S. government.
Yet, the U.S. government and corporate America moved aggressively against Russia in the post-Soviet era, helping to plunder Russia’s resources and pushing the frontlines of NATO right up to Russia’s borders. For all his autocratic faults, Putin has moved to put a stop to these encroachments against Russian national interests.
Putin also has acted as a valuable partner to Obama on some sensitive issues, helping to extricate the U.S. president from dangerous situations in Syria (by getting President Bashar al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons in 2013) and in Iran (by facilitating the disposal of much of Iran’s processed nuclear fuel). In both cases, the neocons and The Washington Post’s editorialists were pounding the drums for more confrontation and war.
And, therein may lie the chief problem for Putin. He has become a major impediment to the grand neocon vision of “regime change” across the Middle East in any country considered hostile to Israel. That vision was disrupted by the disastrous outcome of the Iraq War, but the goal remains.
Putin also is an obstacle to the even grander vision of global “full-spectrum dominance,” a concept developed by neocons in the two Bush administrations, the theory that the United States should prevent any geopolitical rival from ever emerging again. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Grim Vision.”]
To demonize Putin and ensure that few Americans will actually examine what he’s said about U.S.-Russian relations, the likes of Lane portray Putin as unstable and delusional.
Now, Lane also appears to view Bernie Sanders and his call for a political “revolution“ along “democratic socialist” lines as a grave threat to the neocon (and neoliberal) status quo. So, Sanders has to be taken down a peg or two for the grievous crime of buying a summer home.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).