Posts Tagged ‘Fareed Zakaria’

Fareeding between the lines in Zakaria flap

August 23, 2012

CNN host and Time columnist Fareed Zakaria’s admitted plagiarism is sadly unsurprising. Zakaria’s apology and wrist slaps notwithstanding, the incident is unlikely to spur the formerly interesting celebrity journalist to change his ways.

Initially, I was a big fan of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, but this incident is not the first time the host has disappointed nor even the second time Zakaria fell short in his work on the show.

Underlying those failures are some key facts about Zakaria and the league where he plays that make further disappointments likely. The cult of the celebrity journalist/public intellectual makes shortcuts inevitable and militates against serious work. Hence, writing about guns in the US – that week’s hot topic and thus required for the hot columnist – even though it ranged far from Zakaria’s foreign affairs expertise.

The shoddy Newsweek cover story Hit the Road, Barrack by Zakaria cohort and frequent guest Niall Ferguson making waves this week illustrates the level of pap players at this level deliver that serve as advertising for their speaking gigs that pay huge multiples of what they make for writing. Editors are complicit in this game, suspending standards to suit celebrities and cut jobs for the likes of fact checkers.

Zakaria’s other sin is that he’s become a shill for the establishment. His CNN show is a safe haven for Robert Rubin and his ilk, the way Fox News is for John Bolton. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the GPS wet kiss for Singapore that was my first disappointment came while Yale University, where Zakaria earned his BA and served until this week on its governing board, was laying groundwork for its Singapore branch campus, offering liberal arts in an illiberal place.

Zakaria is an inspired choice to promote, defend and extend the establishment. He’s earned his bones in the group, but given his outsider origins, he at once broadens the tent and is a reliable bet to slavishly toe the line. Zakaria has been lightly tapped for his plagiarism; he wouldn’t have gotten off so lightly if he’d asked Rubin during their interview, “Why was it okay for you to leave the government for a $15 million a year job at a bank that directly benefited from decisions you made as Treasury Secretary and policies you advocated in that position?”

Zakaria’s CNN show is also a platform for establishment celebrity journalists/public intellectuals to promote themselves and reinforce their perceived importance. Without such vehicles for mutual back scratching, people like Ferguson or Thomas Friedman might be forced to continue the more rigorous work that earned them their places at the table instead of drafting on each others’ Sunday morning hot air.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Paul Wolfowitz shouldn’t be seen or heard

March 6, 2011

In the late 1980s, automaker Isuzu began a series of commercials featuring Joe Isuzu, a pitchman congenitally incapable of telling the truth. “I used my new Isuzu pickup truck to carry a 2,000 pound cheeseburger,” Joe Isuzu, played by actor David Leisure, declared. He claimed one Isuzu had “more seats than the Astrodome,” and that another was faster than a speeding bullet that he caught – in mid-sentence – between his teeth.

Paul Wolfowitz is the Joe Isuzu of US foreign policy. Whatever Wolfowitz says is untrue, simply wrong if not an outright lie. Therefore, it’s little short of astounding that CNN programs Fareed Zakaria GPS and Anderson Cooper 360 put Wolfowitz on the air as an expert on the situation in Libya. Perhaps CNN, a network I was proud to have worked for, no longer wants to be seen as a credible news organization.

In case you’ve forgotten, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, Wolfowitz wasn’t just a leading architect of the George W Bush administration’s ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. His mulish conviction, shared by his boss Donald Rumsfeld, that reality would conform to his beliefs, and utter dismissal of opinions differing from his own, transformed the Iraq misadventure into an unmitigated disaster. After failing to secure Afghanistan following the overthrow of its Taliban rulers because the Bush administration was stingy with reconstruction funding and troops, Wolfowitz helped ensure those errors were repeated in Iraq.

Wolfowitz forecast Iraqis would greet US troops with flowers as liberators; instead, more than 4,000 Americans have been killed by insurgents. He scoffed at suggestions it would require more than 100,000 troops to bring security to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; in reality, US troop strength in Iraq didn’t drop below 100,000 until 2009. Wolfowitz insisted that the war and the occupation would pay for itself; US direct costs for the war and its aftermath have so far exceeded $850 billion, and long term costs will surpass $2.5 trillion. The Center for Public Integrity flagged Wolfowitz for 85 Iraq-related lies through 2007, a higher total than his fellow Bush administration pillar of integrity Condoleezza Rice.

Like Rice, Wolfowitz adopts the air of an intellectual but he’s strictly a partisan hack, a shameless ideologue who’ll say anything to promote his side. After the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202, Wolfowitz blamed the fall for the Suharto regime that Wolfowitz coddled as US Ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989 for allowing terrorists to gain ground. But last week he decried the Obama administration for not doing more to topple Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as if anti-government protesters – unlike US-dependent autocrats – in Egypt are ripe for US influence. Rest assured, though, should any future Egyptian government take a harder line on Israel, Wolfowitz will be the first to criticize the Obama administration for failing to prop up Mubarak.

Moreover, 202 deaths from outlaw terrorists in Bali made it a mistake for the US not to intervene against an organic, homegrown movement that ousted Suharto. But an official death count in excess of 100,000, estimated true casualties of more than 500,000, plus huge falls in Iraqi living standards and US global prestige, didn’t make it wrong for the US to invade Iraq on false pretenses.

By the way, let’s not forget that in addition to his errors in the foreign policy field, Wolfowitz added personal dishonesty after failing up to the World Bank presidency. He secured excessive pay hikes for his girlfriend at the bank, then lied about it.

Yet Zakaria and Cooper put Wolfowitz on the air, as if he’s not a congenital liar and hasn’t been wrong about every major foreign policy question he’s faced as a public official. Rather than question him about his catalogue of failures that have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, they listened to him as if he knows something. When he urged the US to take military action in Libya to oust Moammar Gaddafi, no one reminded Wolfowitz that the invasion of Iraq has made it impossible for the US to intervene in the Middle East without being suspected of the worst possible motives and breeding greater anti-Americanism worldwide, even if, unlike the Iraq fiasco, it’s undertaken with the best intentions.

Perhaps less surprisingly, Wolfowitz has the gall to appear on mainstream television rather than hiding out in rightwing sinecures. Cooper and Zakaria are, like Wolfowitz, card carrying members of the elite that transcends ideology and common decency among its own and runs on self-congratulatory fellowship.

When Wolfowitz talks to them, he has no reason to fear that anyone will note his colossal errors in judgment and make him pay some price, even if it’s merely a small measure of humiliation, for his mistakes. The next person who puts Wolfowitz on the air needs to accept that responsibility and make Wolfowitz start to do the same.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Singapore casino revenue remains a gamble

November 19, 2010

I’m a big fan of Fareed Zakaria, and Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN is must-see TV for me. That’s why I was so disappointed last week when he touted Singapore as the “top-ranked innovator on the globe” during his cyber-guided of a government-sponsored high tech research center. I told him so in an email with the subject line “Singa-puffery” that read:

Shame on you (and CNN, where I worked as a producer) for broadcasting this propaganda. I wish you’d instead used your considerable skill and clout to report on Singapore’s suppression of freedom, its nepotism, and its economic shenanigans at home and abroad. As a reporter attempting to cover Singapore, I know the kinds of obstacles you’d face. But, yes, the cyber-guides and the trains do indeed run on time.

Highlighting the sunny side of Singapore reinforces the government’s mythology that creativity can flourish under its particular brand of political, economic and social repression. Despite sky high white collar wages and living standards, housing subsidies, and international crossroads status, one of Singapore’s biggest challenges is keeping its best and brightest from migrating overseas.

Fallout from Singapore’s suppression and its “we’ll tell you what we want, when we want” approach spreads far and wide. Casinos, the latest big thing in Singapore, don’t escape.

Thanks to the government’s low priority on transparency, casino operators’ third quarter reports leave investors guessing about the size of Singapore’s gambling market. Analysts and investors also must guess about the split of the market between visitors and local residents. As I wrote in Asia Times, Singaporeans may face further restrictions on gambling if the government thinks they’re spending too much at the casinos, so the local market share number really matters. Singapore’s government has data that could shed light on this critical statistic, but it chooses not to reveal it. In fact, the government has not released any gambling statistics, except for a few random scraps mainly in response to questions in Parliament, since the first bet was placed in February.

Macau provides a full range of monthly and quarterly gambling statistics so that investors can make informed choices about its casino operators and build businesses to complement the gambling trade. Seeing Macau, no paragon of information freedom, beating it on a matter of transparency and openness should help Singapore realize it has a serious problem – and fix it.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

All Ahmadinejad, all the time

June 14, 2009

The most thoughtful and thought provoking show on CNN International in Asia these days is Fareed Zakaria GPS, airing Sunday night at 8pm Hong Kong time, a few hours before it’s shown in the US. This week, Zakaria’s program featured a segment on the Iranian election with a pair of Iran-born scholars and former top US Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross.

Rather than let us hear these smart people’s insights on Iran, CNN chose to continue its live feed of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s press conference complete with sycophantic questions and polemic replies – long after even Al Jazeera International dropped it. The network finally relented about 15 minutes into GPS’s scheduled broadcast time, so viewers enjoyed some of the panel’s intelligent analysis.

But after about 30 minutes, CNN decided we’d seen enough. It interrupted the program again, under the banner of “Breaking News,” not for more of the news conference or live pictures of protests by those disputing Ahmadinejad’s reported win. No, CNN interrupted GPS to bring us Christian Amanpour, who was at Ahmadinejad’s news conference, complete with snazzy red head scarf, to summarize what CNN International viewers had been forced to watch for most of the past two hours.

It wasn’t enough to see it once, we had to suffer through Amanpour blathering about this non-event. The insult to CNNI’s Asian viewers is multiplied because here, unlike other regions, GPS doesn’t have a reasonable rebroadcast time for us to see what we missed. Shame on CNN.

Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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