Media Blog

The Washington Times Owned the Chas Freeman Story

With Chas Freeman withdrawing from consideration for the post of chairman of the National Intelligence Council, it’s interesting to note that this entire story has played out without commanding the attention of the New York Times. So far as I can tell, the Times has not published a single substantive story on the controversy. An online archive search at the Times’s website turns up no reportage.
The other Times — the Washington Times — was very much on the case, with Eli Lake providing the most substantive reporting on Freeman, his history, and his connections to the Chinese and Saudi regimes. National Review, The New Republic, and other opinion journals covered the story, but the newspapers were largely absent. The Washington Post covered the story sparingly, and the Wall Street Journal touched on it, too, but considering the issues at play, it was remarkable that so much of the daily press took a back seat.
“I don’t know what goes on in other newsrooms,” Lake says. “I thought it was newsworthy that there was going to be a new chairman of the National Intelligence Council. It’s a significant position, because they oversee the production of National Intelligence Estimates — the consensus intelligence views that shape our policy. I’d seen blog posts that suggested that he had been in charge of a nonprofit that had received significant money from the Saudis, so I thought that was worth looking into. And that opened up a series of issues that were of interest, both politically and from the perspective of whether this guy, who’d been receiving paychecks from a foreign government, could be an objective analyst.”
The Washington Times has for some time been consciously transforming itself from a conservative alternative into a political-reporting powerhouse, and Lake says that the paper’s conservative associations didn’t seem to affect his interactions with sources one way or the other. His boss, assistant managing editor Barbara Slavin, doesn’t come from the world of conservative opinion journalism – she’s a former USA Today foreign correspondent who worked for The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times — something to keep in mind when the usual suspects try to dismiss this story as another hit from the “right-wing smear machine.”
The Left wants to characterize this as a story about an independent thinker who got blackballed for being insufficiently deferential to what they like to call “the Israel lobby,” but Freeman’s connections with China — and, in particular, his insistence that the authoritarian regime in Beijing was too slow in cracking down on the democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square — were at least as damaging. I was shocked by this quote from him in National Review: “The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than — as would have been both wise and efficacious — to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility.”
Eli Lake deserves credit for being on top of this story. Obama’s admirers in the media hope to dismiss this controversy as ideologically driven, but it is their refusal to do the reporting, not the Washington Times’s straight-arrow journalism, that seems to have its roots in political affiliation.
UPDATE: The boss points out that The Weekly Standard was the first to report on Freeman’s emails, a crucial part of the story. They deserve credit here, too.

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