Commentary Magazine


Roger Cohen Wins the Walter Duranty Memorial Award

There is nothing more pathetic, more unprofessional as well as more boring to readers than for a newspaper columnist to spend precious space whining about the unfairness of critics of a previously published column.

But, as one of the op-ed gods of the New York Times, Roger Cohen can write about anything he wants, so today’s column was a full-fledged cri de coeur about the mean, wrong and unfair multitude of critics (including this writer) of his column last week. In last week’s piece, Cohen argued that Iran was a nice place for Jews to live and that, by implication, those who worry about it acquiring nuclear weapons or backing terrorism are full of it. It was, as I previously wrote, straight out of the playbook of previous apologists for beastly regimes, such as those of the Nazis or the Soviets, who had gullible or ideologically sympathetic journalists flack for them. Cohen’s belief in the credibility of the few cowed mouthpieces of Iran’s once great Jewish community was a joke. So, too, was his personal plea that he had never been treated so nicely anywhere. Making the latter point was, as I wrote at the time, not merely wrong but unprofessional.

But sufficiently stung by the tidal wave of opinion about his piece, Cohen just couldn’t resist one more bite of this poisoned apple today. The result is just as lame as the first one with the added demerit of being a second helping. His defense was that analogies between Iran and Nazi Germany are absurd and that the notion of Iran being run by a “mad mullah” is a caricature. He argues that the country is a functioning democracy which should not be demonized.

Of course, no one said that Iran was the same thing as Nazi Germany, though if it acquires and uses a nuclear weapon on Israel as it has threatened to do, such analogies would cease being so far-fetched. But if anything is a caricature, it is Roger Cohen’s view of Iran. A democracy? How many candidates not approved by the ayatollahs can run for office? Exactly zero. For all of the words he spends defending himself, he never comes close to the truth about the regime, its support of terrorism, and its repression of religious minorities and political dissenters.

Even worse, he throws a red herring about Israel into the mix again, drawing a moral equivalence between the Jewish State and Iran. His argument is that Avigdor Lieberman is as bad as anything in Iran. As to that, first, Lieberman has killed and oppressed no one which, despite Cohen’s fibs, is not the case with the mullahs. Second, Lieberman is considered a bad guy because he wants to trade Arab regions of pre-1967 Israel for parts of the West Bank where Jews currently live within a putative Palestinian state. That may or not be wise or good (especially for the Israeli Arabs, who though disloyal to Israel, prefer to live comfortably in a majority-Jewish state than to be delivered to the tender mercies of the Palestinian Authority), but it isn’t racism. As for his calls for loyalty pledges from Israeli Arabs (as well as non-Zionist Jews), again I may think such statements are counter-productive and unfair, but it is no worse than a number of things that have not only been proposed but implemented in other democracies at war.

But let’s not be diverted from Cohen’s folly. His defense of Iran is clearly intended to reduce pressure on that country to stop building nukes and to stop oppressing people.

Those who thought that the Walter Duranty school of New York Times journalism was dead (for those who don’t remember, Duranty was the Timesman who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting from Stalin’s Russia, claiming that there was no famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s and that the five-year plan was working just fine) were wrong. To see why, all you have to do is read the work of Roger Cohen. Duranty was a Stalinist dupe and a fraud but at least he, unlike Cohen who is the dupe of the ayatollahs, didn’t waste space whining about his critics.