New York Times vs. Washington Post – IV – Pakistan-Afghanistan


Recently, Helene Cooper & Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times appeared together on the Chris Mathews show. They presented different outlooks so often that finally Helene Cooper laughed and said that no one at the New York Times agrees with any one else (at the Times).

This simple direct comment brought home to us again the essential difference between the
New York Times & the Washington Post. As we first wrote in June 2008, New York City is a stunningly diverse city with a global outlook. It competes with London, Hong Kong, Singapore every day in finance, media, arts, trade and tourism. Ethnically, you can see the amazing diversity of New York by simply taking a ride in the subway. New York is a builder of its own success.

In contrast, Washington DC is a very parochial city in its power base, ethnicity and outlook. Washington DC does not have to compete for its success because it inherits its standing from the White House and the Congress. Take away the seat of executive and legislative power and we think Washington DC will instantly become an unimportant city. 

The two newspapers seem to derive their own ethos & approach from the characteristics of their home city. As Helene Cooper said, New York Times reporters strive to present new & different outlooks, they disagree with each other as individuals based on their backgrounds or views. They are more likely to travel globally and bring stories that  differ from official consensus. In contrast, Washington Post reporters and opinionators seem to disagree, if they ever do in public, based on their party affiliations or ideology. Their sources are politicians, lobbyists and US or Foreign Government Officials.

We have noticed this difference in the way these two newspapers cover Pakistan-Afghanistan. Consistently, it has been the New York Times that has broken new stories or presented the reality underneath the public facts.

For example, consider the case of Siraj-Ud-Din Haqqani & his Taleban force, the biggest threat to the American forces in Afghanistan and an “asset” of the Pakistani Army-Intelligence. It was Jane Perlez of the New York Times and her colleagues that broke the story of how the Pakistani army has refused to go after the Haqqani network. In her superb article on December 14 titled
Rebuffing U.S., Pakistan Balks at Crackdown, Ms. Perlez broke new ground in American media’s coverage of the Pakistan problem. A couple of excerpts might make our point:

  • It (Pakistan) considers Mr. Haqqani and his control of large areas of Afghan territory vital to Pakistan in the jostling for influence that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran against one another in the post-American Afghan arena, the Pakistani officials said. (see our own article on this aspect – The Battle For Afghanistan, Kashmir & Tibet – A Post-American Withdrawal View Of The Region)
  • For his part, Mr. Haqqani fights in Afghanistan, and is considered more of an asset than a threat by the Pakistanis. But he is the most potent force fighting the United States, American and Pakistani officials agree.
  • The biggest gift of the Pakistanis to the Haqqanis was the use of North Waziristan as their fief, he said.

This was groundbreaking information for American media, a factual analytical article devoid of any loyalty to any party or ideology. That is why it was covered by the Evening News and by the O’Reilly factor.

Washington Post could easily have broken the story. After all, the story of Siraj-ud-Din Haqqani has been known for a few years. But, it was held beneath the radar by the concerted efforts of the Pakistani regime and its lobbyists in Washington DC.

Jane Perlez of the New York Times followed up with another important story on December 16 on 
Pakistan Reported to Be Harassing U.S. DiplomatsIn this article, she described how American efforts are being stymied in Pakistan and how Pakistan is refusing to extend or approve the visas of over 100 American officials. Jane Perlez is not alone. David Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times published the first “between the lines” analysis of the Obama Strategy in their NYT article on December 1. In this analysis, they described the Pakistani government as “weak, divided, suspicious” and the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari “often at odds with the nation’s powerful military and intelligence establishment“.

We read the Washington Post everyday and we did not see this open-minded analysis in any of the Post articles. Instead, we saw Washington Post following the stories after the New York Times broke them. For example,  on December 17, a day after the NYT story, Washington Post published an article by David Alexander of Reuters about Pakistan’s delays of visas for American officials. Six days after the NYT story on Siraj-Ud-Din Haqqani, Washington Post published an analysis on  this subject by Anne Gearan of the Associated Press.

Given their proximity to Governments, Embassies & lobbyists, Washington Post writers tend to reflect the positions of these sources rather than explore the reality on the ground. This is particularly true of the Post articles on Pakistan.

Unlike the NYT, the WashPost articles portray President Zardari as united in approach with the Pakistani Army-Intelligence. For example, compare the Jane Perlez article described above with the article on December 16 by Karen DeYoung & Griff Witte of the Washington Post titled Pakistan’s Zardari resists U.S. timeline for fighting insurgents. These two articles need to be read in entirety to see the clear differences in the approaches of NYT and WashPost. As a taste, compare the excerpts below with the NYT excerpts quoted above:

  • Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.
  • We’re committed to this war, but we’ll fight it on our terms. . . . We will prioritize targets based on our interests. We don’t want them to be dictated to us,” a Pakistani intelligence official said. He added: “The Pakistani Taliban is the clear and present danger. They are what matters most. Once we are done with them, we will go after the Haqqani network.
  • Pakistan, another U.S. defense official said, is “already doing an extraordinary amount.” They are “a sovereign nation,” he said, and “all we can do is keep encouraging them to keep it up.

Jane Perlez of the New York Times described the context of the Pakistani support of the Haqqani network – as an ally in Pakistan’s plans for a post-American Afghanistan. This keen insight is totally missing from the DeYoung-Witte article in the Washington Post. Instead, you see a description of the current views of the Pakistani Military and the American Officials working with them.

This to us tells the real story of the difference between the New York Times & the Washington Post, a clear reflection of the difference between an open, global New York City and a parochial, government-focused Washington DC. 

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