WHAT does one call a writer who pretends that the life experiences of others are his own, and passes them off as such? A fraud? A poser? A plagiarist? I have not been able to find le mot juste.
Lest there is any mystery over whom one is referring to, I am talking about the diplomatic editor of the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman.
Friedman has been ridiculed by journalists like Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, and rightly so, for his ridiculous use of language and his incoherent writings which appear in what is apparently the greatest newspaper in the US. (That tells us why newspapers are closing down rapidly in that country.)
I’ve always felt that Friedman is an average reporter but a nothing writer. He cannot think straight and comes up with the daftest analogies and ideas to try and convey some meaning about complex situations. He fails, miserably. Maybe, as Taibbi puts it so eloquently, his editors are drinking rubbing alcohol.
But this kind of intellectual dishonesty aside, I never suspected that Friedman was also making up the anecdotes that go into his reporting. That was until I read this great piece by the late Alexander Cockburn.
Cockburn writes of a time in 1984 when his younger brother, Patrick, was in Beirut as the Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times. Friedman was doing the same job, for the New York Times.
One day, the pair returned to the Commodore Hotel, the place where most foreign journalists were staying, after a bloody day in the field – Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war. Friedman went upstairs to write his copy, Patrick found his way to the bar and sat down with a glass of whisky.
A little while later, a Shia gunamn entered the bar and proceeded to smash all the bottles in the premises. He did not spot Patrick, who was, according to Alexander, left with two conclusions: one, that “journalists drinking Scotch were unlikely to be viewed with fondness by the fundamentalist gunman”, and secondly, “he was drinking the last Scotch likely to be consumed in the Commodore for quite a while”.
According to Alexander, when Friedman descended later, Patrick told him about the incident. A few days later, it duly figured in one of Friedman’s despatches. But by the time Friedman wrote his first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, in 1989, the incident had morphed into something that happened to Friedman! I checked it you can find Friedman’s deceit on page 225 of the book as published by Fontana Press. “My first glimpse of Beirut’s real bottom came at the Commodore Hotel bar on February 7, 1984… I was enjoying a ‘quiet’ lunch in the Commodore restaurant that day when…”
Alexander put it down to Friedman’s monumental conceit. He is probably right.
But this is also fraud, pure and simple. It follows in the great American tradition of stealing and then calling something your own.