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July 03, 2010

I Happen to Have Marshall McLuhan Right Here

This is long and involved, but it may be my favorite post in the history of this blot.


Alex Perry, Africa bureau chief for Time, wrote a recent article about Congo that begins like this:

If you want to see what's wrong with Africa, take a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The size of Western Europe, with almost no paved roads, Congo is the sucking vortex where Africa's heart should be. Independent Congo gave the world Mobutu Sese Seko, who for 32 years impoverished his people while traveling the world in a chartered Concorde. His death in 1997 ushered in a civil war that killed 5.4 million people and unleashed a hurricane of rape on tens of thousands more.


Julie Hollar of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting pointed out:

...if you're going to charge Congo with being "what's wrong with Africa," you'd better give credit where credit is due. Independent Congo didn't give the world Mobutu; that gift belongs to the U.S. and Belgium, who supported the overthrow and assassination of democratically-elected Patrice Lumumba and helped prop up the horror that was Mobutu for decades afterward.


Alex Perry showed up in the comments section of Hollar's post and angrily berated her:

The idea that the US created Mobutu and maintained him in power belittles Africans and is typical of the kind of racism that dogs analysis of Africa...The US did not create Mobutu. They certainly did support him...The primary creator of Mobutu was Mobutu...

As for this lame idea that I, and the "mainstream media", are part of some giant conspiracy to lie, cover up, dissemble etc in the name of, I imagine, the "military industrial complex" or perhaps the CIA, what do you think happens here? Do you think I have a controller with a husky voice who directs my coverage by meeting me in badly lit subteranean car parks? Grow up. People who do my job die sometimes. I've known three myself. Do you really think we'd take those risk to tell lies? Your cheap and half-arsed conspiracies are insulting and infantile.

It's really an amazing freak-out by Perry; that's just part of it.


Larry Devlin was the CIA's Station Chief in the Congo during most of the sixties, and just before his 2008 death, wrote a book about his experiences there.

Early in the book, Devlin describes the frustration the U.S. government felt with Patrice Lumumba, who was elected prime minister of the Congo as it gained independence from Belgium. This section, from p. 46, is about a July, 1960 meeting in Paris between Devlin, U.S. Ambassador to France Amory Houghton, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium William Burden, and U.S. Ambassador to the Congo Clare "Tim" Timberlake.

As you see, U.S. government officials straightforwardly told Henry Luce, the owner of Time, how to cover the Congo:

We moved onto Ambassador Houghton's office where we were joined by Ambassador Burden for more detailed talks concerning the Congo and its problems...During our discussions, Tim brought up a delicated matter: "Time magazine plans to do a cover story on Lumumba with his picture on the front of the magazine." He continued, "Celebrity coverage at home will make him even more difficult to deal with. He's a first-class headache as it is."

"Then why don't you get the story killed?" Burden asked. "Or at least modified?"

"I tried to persuade the Time man in Leopoldville until I was blue in the face," Tim replied. "But he said there was nothing he could do about it because the story had already been sent to New York."

"You can't expect much from a journalist at that level," Burden said pulling out his address book and flipping through the pages. He picked up the phone and put a call through to the personal assistant of Henry Luce, Time's owner.

Luce soon returned the call. After a brief, friendly exchange that made clear his personal relationship with Luce, Burden bluntly told him that he would have to change the Lumumba cover story. Luce apparently said that the magazine was about to go to press. "Oh, come on, Henry," Burden said, "you must have other cover stories in the can." They chatted for a few more minutes before Burden hung up.

A few days later in the United States we picked up a copy of the magazine with a new and different cover story. Lumumba had been relegated to the international section.

Devlin writes about another meeting in the U.S. soon afterward with CIA chief Allen Dulles, in which Devlin argued it was critical for the U.S. to maintain power in the Congo because it was one of the world's few sources of cobalt outside the Soviet Union. Devlin says he was "preaching to the converted."


Time has an online archive of every issue they've ever published. Based on other events described by Devlin, the article about Lumumba that was moved to the inside of the magazine was almost certainly "Congo: The Monstrous Hangover" from the July 18, 1960 issue, or "Congo: Jungle Shipwreck" from July 25.

Devlin's story doesn't make clear whether the article's contents were changed or merely its placement. However, for Time's sake, I certainly hope the contents were changed too; both articles might as well be headlined "Crazed Africa Monkeys Rape the White Ladies."


This appears in the July 18, 1960 Time article:

The huge bonfires of joy died down in the cities of the Congo. The drums and tom-toms grew quiet. The last writhing dancers fell exhausted in the dust...

With a primeval howl, a nation of 14 million people reverted to near savagery, plunged backward into the long night of chaos. Tribe turned upon tribe. Blacks turned upon Europeans...

Prime Minister Lumumba gratuitously added new fuel to the flames. He...summoned the Belgian ambassador to make the fantastic charge that he had uncovered a Belgian plot to murder him. "The assassins were discovered and arrested in my residence," cried Lumumba. "They were armed to the teeth."

Lumumba was overthrown and murdered soon afterward by Congolese factions (including Mobutu) funded and supported by Belgium and the U.S.


In 2008, Alex Perry wrote an article for Time headlined "Come Back, Colonialism, All Is Forgiven." It's about a Congolese riverboat captain named Malu-Ebonga Charles who misses the old white masters terribly:

"On this river, all that you see — the buildings, the boats — only whites did that. After the whites left, the Congolese did not work. We did not know how to. For the past 50 years, we've just declined." He pauses. "They took this country by force," he says, with more than a touch of admiration. "If they came back, this time we'd give them the country for free."


None of this changes the fact that Time is a completely trustworthy source for information about Congo, and its edicts must never ever be questioned by the loony conspiracy racists of FAIR.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 3, 2010 10:46 AM

M ilitary I ndustrial C ongressional Fi nancial C orporate media complex.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at July 3, 2010 10:56 AM

It would be funny if it was not so horribly tragic that it is ALWAYS the fault of DRC or for that matter all the so called "Failed States" in the richest continent. MSM has a very short memory ( or a distorted memory ) of the history of the continent.
The following pictures are heart wrenching and no where does one find the mention of real perpetrators who caused these condition!


Posted by: Rupa Shah at July 3, 2010 11:17 AM


Posted by: seth at July 3, 2010 11:43 AM

Killing for a living, and to help out the Congolese---Roland The Headless Thomson Gunner.
(The CIA decided
They wanted Roland dead
So that Son of a Bitch Van Owen
He blew off Roland's head)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 3, 2010 11:58 AM

I wonder who first invented that argument Perry gives--that only a racist would discuss America's role in what has happened in the Congo. It's an old standbye in mainstream circles--you're denying "agency" to the local population if you ever so much as hint that the US made things worse in country X. Maybe some university professor in whatever the appropriate field would be could assign students to trace the history of that particular argument, the way the Kennedy School students traced the history of how waterboarding is treated in the press.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at July 3, 2010 12:11 PM

I'd love to wade through your tedious procession of "facts", Jon, but since I'm sure you've never done any reporting in Congo I really don't see what the point would be.

Posted by: John Caruso at July 3, 2010 12:20 PM


Many of your posts are too cryptic for me to follow (or too far over my head for me to understand) but I almost always enjoy trying... I do remember Marshall McLuhan (Author of Understanding Media) who, with Quentin Fiore in "The Medium is the Massage" (An Inventory of Effects) made the case that "what we know is not necessarily what we think" - and I can see how it relates to your EIGHT PART post about the role of media in the woes of the world (as exemplified by Alex Parry, Julie Hollar, Larry Devlin, Henry Luce, et. al. and the plight of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa).

Depending on who you're listening to, when, the story can come out many different ways, but if we're lucky there does remain a fundamental truth that lends itself to some form of human progress... Liberty, science, and justice (beyond colonialism) is probably harder then I know – and the many parts to this particular saga (in general or in particular) are far too numerous for me to follow and deal with. I do side with Julie Hollar (and you?) in that that “the distinction between ‘gifts’ and ‘deals’ is little more than a semantic game.” If only we could stop playing those games what a wonderful world it could be.

Thank you in any event for reminding me about Marshall McLuhan and (being) “FAIR.”

Posted by: Grandpa Ken at July 3, 2010 12:29 PM

The book, "Lumumba Speaks", publ. by Little, Brown in 1972 is pretty hard to find but worth the trouble. Some of the story is also preserved in 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X', as Malcolm had an important meeting with Lumumba when in Africa, and their assassinations are definitely related. On the history of the Congo, most mainstream sources can't be trusted at all.

Posted by: Justin Parker at July 3, 2010 01:09 PM

This is a total diversion..... but may be not! Wonder how TIME will report this story after 10, 30, 50 yrs i.e. if it is still around!
A stunning video clip....
"Well, Well, Well"

Posted by: Rupa Shah at July 3, 2010 01:43 PM

"I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here" is a quote from the very end of this scene from Woody Allen's film "Annie Hall".

Great post. Thank you for connecting the dots that racism and empire continually erase in plain sight.

Posted by: Steve in L.A. at July 3, 2010 01:46 PM

People like Perry are the ones who say there wouldn't have been any slave trade without African slavers.

Posted by: darrelplant at July 3, 2010 02:12 PM

People like Perry are the ones who say there wouldn't have been any slave trade without African slavers.

He is in good company e.g. Prof Henry Louis Gates Jr!

In the modern times, multinationals of all kinds, arms manufacturers etc pick out a corrupt official/officials of a govt, bribe them to get contracts and when a scandal breaks out, the whole govt gets blamed. May be similar situations existed in the past! I am not a historian so I could be absolutely wrong even in my suggesting the above.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at July 3, 2010 02:44 PM

You damned hippies are always hating on the US. For your information, Sidney Gottlieb was a few days late. Sad waste of poison, that.

Posted by: Happy Jack at July 3, 2010 03:43 PM

Sidney's a few days late? Is he pregnant?

Posted by: M Jacobs at July 3, 2010 04:04 PM

That certainly is a fabulous post. Alex Perry is a young journalist, and I'm sure ignorant of much more than he realizes, as well as blinded some by professional ambitions. Mainstream journalist always howl like hyenas about any hint of conspiracies, and most of them seem to believe what they howl. The Church of Journalism demands much from the faithful, especially if they want to keep getting paid their share of what is tithed by all those corporate advertisers.

Perry's charge of racism was stupid and offensive. I assume his "idea" was that Africans can screw up a country all by themselves so it's racist to contend they didn't. It's too generous to call that an idea. Self-righteous stupidity is tiresome.

One thing this wonderful blot post doesn't mention (though Devlin's book does) is that when Lumumba was murdered Donald Rumsfeld's Princeton college roommate and future Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci was working in the Congo as a foreign service officer and perhaps also covertly for the CIA (where he was later Assistant Director of Operations in the late 70s when Carter was President). See

Alex Perry probably would probably just roll his eyes if asked what it might mean that someone who has been alleged to have been involved in Lumumba's murder, Frank Carlucci, was Rumsfeld's college roomate at Princeton, then later a director of CIA black operations, then US Secretary of Defense, and ulimately ultimately head of the Carlyle Group. He would think the very question suggests a whacky view of shadowy groups running the world, though of course that is NOT what the observation suggests. What Carlucci's career suggests is that we have had a pretty small elite running our foreign affairs for quite a while, and they move from job to job keeping right on doing what they do while Presidents come and go.

The world isn't run by secret societies and cabals and cliques. Only crimes are secret (no matter who perpetrates them). The rest is right out in the open. It's just not in Time.

By the way, Perry's reporting might not be that bad just because he's capable of this kind of idiocy and bad manners. Journalists pretty much all misbehave like this when certain buttons are pushed. Perry has written a book that seems fairly critical of globalization, and he has reported from places that would give him reason to know. (But I bet he didn't say anything that will cause Time to fire him.)

Posted by: N E at July 3, 2010 04:55 PM

Well done, Jon.

Posted by: ethan at July 3, 2010 05:17 PM

I like Chazelle's posts on Bach, but this one rocks ass too.

Posted by: otto at July 3, 2010 07:42 PM

I'd like to point out that the civil war and "hurricane of rape" that took place in the Congo in 1997 isn't exactly due to Mobutu's death, but more directly due to the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda and the conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi of that country. That conflict can be pretty squarely attributed in origin to the Belgians. Again.

Posted by: saurabh at July 3, 2010 10:55 PM

OK. A) Do they come like this, or do they have to be modified? B)Your a great "journalist" Google Operation Mockingbird fuckstick! C) I want to dig up Joseph Conrad's corpse and have him haunt you and or slap the shit outta you. Thank you for your participation.

Posted by: demize! at July 4, 2010 12:42 AM

Over at the original FAIR thread I've belatedly made my usual tiresome point about the corporate media business model, largely because Perry himself seems a tad confused about what "corporate media" means (he apparently thinks it refers to any media organisation where the journalists get paid).

Having done so, it again occurred to me that for all its useful debunking of mass media myths there is a sense in which FAIR's work, and the efforts of other media critics, is misplaced, in the implicit assumption that an advertising-funded media system can be expected to behave in any other way. Telling some MSM content-provider that their work is false, misleading or trivial is a bit like solemnly informing a dope pusher that his product is habit-forming. It would be more useful to concentrate on reminding journalists from the public sector that they and commericial media hacks are not colleagues; they do, or should be doing, very different jobs, and public sector journalists should not be looking to the commercial sector for behaviours and agendas to follow. Not that that is much help to countries where they don't have public media.

Posted by: weaver at July 4, 2010 02:10 AM

I wonder if Bill Keller would complain that it's not like "I have a controller with a husky voice who directs my coverage by meeting me in badly lit subteranean* car parks".

*That's Perry's own quote. Amusingly he later calls out other commenters for bad spelling.

Posted by: weaver at July 4, 2010 02:32 AM

It seems awfully unfair that however hard the media sucks, we never seem to get any orgasms out of it.

Posted by: The Creator at July 4, 2010 08:57 AM

These last few comments are funny. I'm now unable to decide whether the wittiest people stay up late or get up early.

Weaver's point about advertising is very well-taken. Corporate media can do good work if powerful interests support it. For example, corporate media played a big part in ending legal segregation and our racial/apartheid policies. But they didn't do it for altruistic reasons, which helps explain why we have urban ghettos where massive unemployment is perpetual and also have our present barbaric penal system. You won't hear much corporate media reporting on those very real present evils, though there is a lot of self-satisfaction about ending segregation.

We pretend other aspects of our system don't operate exactly as poorly as one would expect in several other ways. I'm always amused when people are SHOCKED that politicians turn out to be corrupt in a system where getting elected or reelected depends almost entirely on how much money people give you. We force politicians to solemnly proclaim with straight faces that their votes are not for sale, but those politicians whose votes weren't for sale wouldn't be in office long.

Posted by: N E at July 4, 2010 10:10 AM

Fucking Awesome! I don't think Perry will show up here.

Posted by: par4 at July 4, 2010 11:02 AM

Alex Perry is a young journalist

Which is, of course, why Time made him bureau chief of the entire fucking continent of Africa. Because they so clearly care.

Posted by: NomadUK at July 4, 2010 11:10 AM

Brilliant post Jon and dead-on.
As Mike Meyer noted above, some us appear to know more about African and world political history than the African Burueau Chief of Time magazine just by getting stoned and listening to Zevon's music for the past the past 30 years.

Posted by: bayville at July 4, 2010 12:41 PM

really great work jon. you should be proud of this one.

but alas, what has been accomplished?

and that's the whole problem.

Posted by: utica at July 4, 2010 12:47 PM

(perry went on to ask why gulf coast fishermen weren't doing more to stop the oil volcano)

Posted by: hapa at July 4, 2010 02:17 PM


Yeah, I know Time doesn't care that Perry doesn't know history. They prefer that. Plus, younger is probably cheaper. But I read a bit of Perry's stuff and reviews of his book, and to me he doesn't seem exceptionally ignorant for a journalist, and his hissy fit definitely isn't at all unusual. Even good journalists act like asses that way.

Perry's ignorance of and even hostility toward history preceding his career is typical, and to me he seems prone to seeing terrorists everywhere too, which is basically a job requirement for him. I don't read Time.

Posted by: N E at July 4, 2010 02:17 PM

"but alas, what has been accomplished?" For one bright shining moment we laughed...oh how we laughed. We danced the dance of unbounded youth, we danced with abandon...oh how we danced. Ya know LULZ!11!

Posted by: demize! at July 4, 2010 02:33 PM

"but alas, what has been accomplished?" For one bright shining moment we laughed...oh how we laughed. We danced the dance of unbounded youth, we danced with abandon...oh how we danced. You know LULZ!11!

Posted by: demize! at July 4, 2010 02:33 PM

(to say that gulf of mexico sea life are victims of a conspiracy beyond their means to address is to deeply insult nay to humiliate these fish and their proud industrial heritage)

Posted by: hapa at July 4, 2010 04:51 PM

But I read a bit of Perry's stuff and reviews of his book

Looking up his Falling Off the Edge I was struck by this bit of the one star review at Amazon (UK):

Other parts, such as the massacre of prisoners near Mazar-i-Sharif (where Perry later admits he "fell in love with war"?) or the account of a U.S. attack on Karbala in 2003 begin to seriously irritate. Outside Mazar-i-Sharif an idiotic-CIA interrogation (in Russian and English!) of several hundred maltreated Taliban prisoners triggers an insurrection in which one of the CIA men is killed. Perry describes the ensuing slaughter of 300 prisoners - "I saw American and British commandos and barefoot Afghani soldiers courageously and skilfully slaughter 300 of their enemies in the single bloodiest battle of the Afghan war." ... Unlike others violence, say Maoists in Nepal or Naxalites in India, all this passes without much comment...

In the end chapter- "Is War Good?" Perry eschews weak analysis for a callous wackiness. He appears to celebrate war and violence as some sort of Darwinian struggle and essentially human if not humane activity? ... ; pontificates on how beautiful your average war zone is for reasons that are not entirely clear to this reader at any rate, before ending with a few hollow platitudes from the Dali-Lama*.

Other reviews there and elsewhere are more positive, though they do tend to use words like "adrenaline" and "breath-taking" which is never a good sign. Or summarize him thus: "Perry spends the whole book depressing you with stories showing how globalization is playing havoc with the poor ... then in the last chapter makes a case for how we need war, violence and chaos in order to lurch forward to the next level of prosperity, innovation and general well-being." And that's from a positive 4-star review at Amazon (US).

Possibly Perry is narked by FAIR's criticism because after writing a book criticising globalisation he was expecting leftists to be nicer to him. Boy, he doesn't know us at all.

*[sic]. My head is now filled with visions of the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism surrounded by burning giraffes while talking on a lobster-shaped telephone. So no change there.

Posted by: weaver at July 4, 2010 09:07 PM

hapa; AGREED, the fishing industry alone will be at a loss and miss them dearly.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 4, 2010 09:12 PM

You're just jealous, just like the FAIRers. All of you. Harrumph.

Posted by: Alex effing Perry at July 5, 2010 12:04 AM


I doubt Perry thinks much of or about 'leftists.' Maybe he was drunk and was trying to be like Hitchens. Or maybe it was PMS. It certainly is ridiculous how routine this is, and that was a very deft and even artistic post by JS.

Posted by: N E at July 5, 2010 01:00 AM

"Grow up. People who do my job die sometimes. I've known three myself. Do you really think we'd take those risk to tell lies?"

What is he saying, only truth-tellers die in conflicts?

Someone needs to grow up alright, and it isn't Ms Hollar.

Posted by: Paul Avery at July 5, 2010 04:10 AM


Now if only Perry would put out quality journalism such as this...

Posted by: Rasmus Xera at July 5, 2010 12:32 PM

Fantastic post. I read the FAIR blog comments section (, which has finally linked to THIS post, and the Circle of Net Punditry is complete.

My only quibble with the Chomskian (is this a word?) interpretation of corporate media--the idea that "social forces" somehow are responsible for the all-too-convenient inaccuracies that often pop up in such publications that just so happen to dovetail with the government's narrative--is that it's far too forgiving. It's not really any more sophisticated than a naive Libertarian arguing "market forces" are responsible for wealth disparities.

What I see in both this post, and far more in the FAIR post, are people debating whether Mr. Perry is a neo-colonial bigot, or is genuinely unaware of these facts. Strangely, everyone seems to be falling all over themselves to dismiss a much simpler explanation: Perry might just be lying. He may know the US\Belgian role in Congo full well, and deliberately avoided it because his bosses asked him to.

In the FAIR blog, there was a post that suggests that reporters really aren't told what to write, they just prove themselves to be reliable party line-towing wurlitzers over the years in order to get a steady paycheck. I don't doubt that. But the Henry Luce incident mentioned above suggests just the opposite--that on some occasions, their editors step in and have them write the story in a different way to make political or financial backers of the publication in question happy.

As I said, I don't dispute that most corporate journalists are willing to do this sort of thing voluntarily. Glenn Greenwald (who linked to this blogpost this morning) mentioned in his blog\column last week that George Orwell lamented how the British press was perfectly content to willfully spread propaganda for the government without being coerced. That being said, I cannot tell what really happened in the halls of Time magazine. None of us can. But I think it's interesting that Mr. Perry's dismissal of the criticism--"Do you think I have a controller with a husky voice who directs my coverage by meeting me in badly lit subteranean[sic] car parks?"--was an obvious invocation of Bob Woodward meeting Mark Felt. Mr. Perry's whole attitude is "You dumb left-wing conspiracy theorists, that kind of sub rosa stuff doesn't happen in the real world". But he uses an example of an event that DID happen in the real world!

And if "conspiracies" don't happen, then who killed Lumumba, Lee Harvey Oswald?

I learn a lot from these kinds of online discussions. I certainly hope that qualifies as an accomplishment. I appreciate all the work you bloggifiers have done, and I am amused at how many times we all keep linking to Glenn Greenwald to back up our arguements :)

Posted by: Zen Quagga at July 5, 2010 02:28 PM

Hmmm - so the punch line is Time's coverage of the Congo sucked in the 1960s, ergo Alex's coverage today should be viewed the same.


Unfortunately, so few people in "the west" or "the east" have had much to help the Congo with since, well, ever.

You can keep shooting the messenagers, but without stories like Alex's africa would disappear completely from the media, but for the well-worn memes of piracy, noble savages, safaris, and that's about it.

Hope I saw some of you @ FIFA, but somehow doubted it.

Posted by: aaa at July 5, 2010 02:28 PM

without stories like Alex's africa would disappear completely from the media

would it that were true. Africa is a large continent with more than a billion people on it, and with many precious things underneath the ground in all forms of matter, far too important a resource for capitalists to ignore. to think that one man, Mr Alex Perry is the ONLY source of information for a large continent only indicates the outsized ego involved here and gives a solid foundation to my theory that the comment above was made by him under a very clever nickname. i wonder if you use 123456 as a password also...

Posted by: almostinfamous at July 5, 2010 02:35 PM

Well, I guess the right thing to say to Mr. Perry is what Lumumba said in reply to President Kasa-Vubu and King Baudouin after their independence day speeches in 1960:

Nous ne sommes plus vos macaques!

At first, I thought, well, before Ludo De Witte's The Assassination of Lumumba, Lumumba's death _was_ a murky conspiracy theory. De Witte put together a pretty convincing case, based on CIA and Belgium state paper work, along with his own gumshoe work. His book lead to a state investigation in Belgium where a bunch more paperwork was released showing, indeed, the Belgians did it, in concert with the CIA. I was thinking that De Witte's book was very recent but, no, it was released in the US in 2001 and then re-released in 2004 to include materials from the Belgian investigation and other sources. It's a pretty through and convincing account of the role of the CIA in the politics of the Congo and, I'd say, in the top two books a reporter might read if he was covering the Congo.

Ten years ago, okay, fine, maybe Time's Congo reporter could relegate CIA involvement in the Congo to the realm of conspiracy but not now, not in 2010. In may be inconvenient history but it's history that it's crucial to any account of the rise of Mobutu.

(Even the CIA's own recent semi-release of the so-called Family Jewels documents admits involvement in the death of Lumumba, something that they had denied in various congressional investigations over the years. For example:

Posted by: paperbagmarlys at July 5, 2010 04:31 PM

Someone please tell Perry far more taxi drivers have dies in the line of duty than journalists but thats all beside the point.

Perry says some journalists have been killed as if that somehow makes his reporting sacred. I would like to tell him that those journalists that were killed were certainly killed because they stood up to the powers that be...not towed the line like he does.

Mr. Perry keep reporting as you have no need to worry that anyone would want to kill are a danger only to the truth.

Posted by: Paul Leslie at July 5, 2010 05:08 PM

Hmmm - so the punch line is Time's coverage of the Congo sucked in the 1960s, ergo Alex's coverage today should be viewed the same.

No; actually, I think the "punch line" was that Perry mocked to scorn the notion that a big-time professional outfit like Time Magazine would alter it's coverage because of government pressure -- only to be confronted with evidence that Time pulled the forelock to the government on the very issue under discussion. I'm not sure where you're getting your interpretation.

Posted by: Steambadger at July 5, 2010 05:35 PM

This is devastating; bravo.

Posted by: Evan Harper at July 5, 2010 07:45 PM

Brilliantly done. Now this is what real journalism should be about.. and it's exactly why Time magazine won't be calling you anytime soon. That's what idiots like Alex Perry don't understand. Quoting from Understanding Power: The Indespensable Chomsky (pg. 23) where Chomsky has a contentious exchange with a reporter who, like Alex Perry, makes the same argument that he does what he wants to and nobody "controls" or "directs" his coverage:

Man: I don't know - I don't take those interests into account at all. I'm the business writer for my county, and I can do what I want.

Chomsky: You think you do what you want; see, Tom Wicker at the New York Times thinks he does what he wants too - and he's right. But what he wants is what power wants.

Posted by: hv at July 5, 2010 08:02 PM


It is precisely crucial history that has to be 'relegated to conspiracy' and thereby dismissed from the realm of possibility. What has been proved or appears provable doesn't matter. Whenever it really counts, the government, the media, and the entire elite in lockstep can and will deny that the sky is blue, and then when people look up at the sky, in their eyes it won't be blue.

Thereafter, those who nonetheless insist that the sky is blue are simply declared crazy, which in the last few decades has been accomplished by classifying them as 'conspiracists.' What can be proved matters not a whit, because those who hold power have learned all too well that all roads to Truth travel through Perception. Even Reason ultimately has to bow to Perception, and it has done so more than a few times already.

That's probably more or less just the fable that The Emperor Wears No Clothes, though updated and abridged and stripped of the happy ending that has an innocent child save the day. No child will be born to save us from this. It's up to us.

Posted by: N E at July 5, 2010 08:19 PM


If Alex Perry claims to write whatever he wants, he's an outrageous liar. After enough beers I bet he'd admit it.

I don't think even Chomsky would make the claim that he can write whatever he want, or at least he is too smart to believe that. Sometimes he speaks for power too, though not because he wants to support it. For anyone with a public voice, it's inescapable.

Posted by: N E at July 5, 2010 09:58 PM

Zen Quagga: My only quibble with the Chomskian (is this a word?) interpretation of corporate media--the idea that "social forces" somehow are responsible for the all-too-convenient inaccuracies that often pop up in such publications that just so happen to dovetail with the government's narrative--is that it's far too forgiving. It would be, except that that's not the Chomsky-Herman interpretation of corporate media.

N E: It is precisely crucial history that has to be 'relegated to conspiracy' and thereby dismissed from the realm of possibility. What has been proved or appears provable doesn't matter. Whenever it really counts, the government, the media, and the entire elite in lockstep can and will deny that the sky is blue ... Except that what you consider "crucial history" has not been proved, and there's a big difference between "proved" and "appears provable," or in your parlance "could conceivably have happened and therefore did."

N E again: I don't think even Chomsky would make the claim that he can write whatever he want, or at least he is too smart to believe that. Sometimes he speaks for power too, though not because he wants to support it. For anyone with a public voice, it's inescapable. First, there's a difference between writing and publishing; second, he has been the first to talk about how difficult it is to break out of conventional ways of thinking; third, you should offer some sort of support for claiming that he "sometimes ... speaks for power too"; finally, you speak for power more than "sometimes."

Posted by: Duncan at July 5, 2010 10:51 PM

Actually, I think Chomsky can and does write whatever he wants--he's truly a free man. If he were anything less, he would be making the teevee tour with Larry King et. al. I don't think he's ever spoken "for" power; perhaps his candid assessments of the way things are (and were) make it seem that way. He's a public intellectual who always points out the foibles of other not-so-public persons and institutions, intellectual and otherwise. He's not afraid to call out mountebanks like Alan Dershowitz, liberals who have strayed far from the pen, as it were. That people like Dershowitz flip out over Chomsky's withering gaze is telling; the sheer amount of vitriol directed at the old professor (unending, and remarkably, consistently virulent even at this late date*) is amazing. Someone once said that Ho Chi Minh was the one man who remained awake while everyone else was asleep. Same goes for Dr.Chomsky.
* You know what? You can go to, say, Borders Books right now and find at least two books written by third-rate hacks and poseurs condemning Guess Who for his assaults on all that is Good and Great in America. Very bad stuff, judging from the quick glance through the books that I every-once-in-a-while give.

Posted by: TimN at July 5, 2010 11:17 PM

But as far as Mr. Perry is concerned: his rant at FAIR's blog was stupifyingly embarrassing. Utter nonsense from the get-go; I still can't believe it--it was beyond self-parody. Though I was unfamiliar with his work, I'll be sure to avoid it in the future. The stuff he wrote quoted in the review above is also quite awful. I think he and Chris Hedges should sit down and have a nice long talk.

Posted by: TimN at July 5, 2010 11:26 PM


What hasn't been proved and what hasn't been proved to you are NOT the same thing. That doesn't mean you can't decide for yourself, of course, whether or not you do it in any principled way.

As for Chomsky speaking for power sometimes too, Duncan, why do you suppose people are invited to give speeches at West Point, as he was? Because West Point is so committed to radicalism? Chomsky and the New York Times AND the rest of the corporate media and the government all take the same side about both Kennedy assassinations and 9/11 and Al Qaeda, so I'd say when he talks about those things, he inevitably speaks for power too, and persuasively to people like you. I didn't say he intended to support power by doing so--I said he can't help it. That has nothing to do with whether he is free to write whatever he wants, which was precisely HIS point about Wicker and the business writer in the passage cited by hv.

Finally, I didn't say that I don't speak for power in that same way. In fact, I said it's inevitable. Either Chomsky has discounted that or he was offering a hypocritical criticism of Wicker.

Posted by: N E at July 6, 2010 12:08 AM

TimN. See my comment to Duncan. It means nothing that Chomsky has been attacked. So has Obama. So has everybody. Like every public figure, or even private figure who for some reason may briefly obtain a public voice, Chomsky can be used by powerful interests--whether because he agrees with their position or because he disagrees with it. The living or dead but certainly fabled Osama bin Laden and other notorious 'evildoers' like Hamas are often used precisely by having them support somebody, with that support becoming an anchor around the neck of whoever received it).

I didn't say and didn't intend to say that Chomsky is a whore. He most obviously is deeply principled, probably a lot more than Tom Wicker was. But what he says about anything can be used to, so he can't easily escape the ricochet of his own criticism.

Posted by: N E at July 6, 2010 12:15 AM

Pretty hilarious that after his orgy of pandering to Americans' racist schadenfreude, HE accuses FAIR of racism.

It's the "soft bigotry of low expectations" all over again.

Posted by: Nancy Irving at July 6, 2010 03:50 AM

I haven't read Time in years (for exactly the reasons this excellent post makes clear), and I hadn't encountered Alex Perry's apparently wretched excuse for reporting before, but I'm especially struck by the quotation from his 2008 article (I can hardly believe the title is real) "Come Back, Colonialism, All Is Forgiven."

Can Perry truly be so oblivious not only to the recent history of Congo but also to the indisputable and horrific facts of the Belgian colonial period? Does he think that finding a few citizens of the region who share his own ignorant view and look back fondly on the white man's rule can possibly justify that position?

What's next, Alex -- you going to take a look at the sad condition of the economy in rural Alabama and tell us poor ignorant folk how maybe the plantation system ought to be brought back? Oh, right: Any suggestion that the poverty of the black population in the area might owe something to the policies of government and business is naive and racist, isn't it?

Posted by: RobKill at July 6, 2010 11:59 AM

Late to the party, but I wanted to make a point.

I was struck by how much Perry focused on whether or not his critics had been to Congo - as though stepping on the soil would suddenly impart a person with knowledge & understanding. I have heard this argument before, & always found it strange. There is so much to be learned from books & journalism and so on. Although I have lived in California my whole life, I am perfectly willing to grant that there are people in this world who know more about Cal. than me who have never been here.

And then I read that previous to being the Africa bureau chief, Perry was South Asia bureau chief. This fact indicates a possible reason why Perry & those like him are obsessed with the physicality of being in a place. It's all they have! These journalists are not experts, they don't know the languages, they don't have a deep background, they haven't spent years studying a country or region. They don't know anything about the subjects they cover. All they have is their physical presence in a place. Anyway, it helps me understand the world a little better.

Posted by: Erik at July 6, 2010 02:59 PM

RobKill: AGREED.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 6, 2010 04:16 PM


I agree entirely with your observation, especially that perceptive bit about why it's probably so important psychologically to these guys to emphasize being on the scene.

And there's more, namely bias. These guys travel in a tight-knit little social circle even if it does span the globe. There's a lot of conformity among the members of that international class, and they hob-nob with other members of the same elite who work in business or government or are just really rich. They are all chummy, and they are quite nice within their circle. But they have some vicious views about the poor and government and how to be tough-minded operators, as elites always seem to. Long ago I met some people with some of the dumbest and most dangerous opinions about Latin American politics you could ever hear smack dab in the middle of Latin America. (Some of them I later came to learn had some blood on their hands too.) Needless to say, I'm sure in the middle of the 1950s a person could hear some pretty dumb opinions about segregation and racism in Alabama. And a person could definitely hear a lot of stupid things about Indians in my boyhood home out in Indian country. Knowing the people in a place creates bias, as do other interests like getting a paycheck. People who can draw a detailed map of the Congo from memory may well also have obnoxious and ignorant opinions (especially if that geographic knowledge came from work associated with oil or mining camps).
People who don't know a damn thing about a place or need to think anything in particular may look at everything with clear eyes.

Posted by: N E at July 6, 2010 05:18 PM

Perry is insane. He yells about how obvious it is that the US was involved in the Congo's disintegration, yet he fails in his responsibility to share that information with his readers. There is absolutely nothing in the Time article that could even be remotely construed to indict the US for Mobutu.

Posted by: Jackrabbit at July 6, 2010 05:35 PM

What I think is particularly interesting about that comment is that Perry, a journalist, is essentially saying that if you don't have firsthand experience of (the) Congo, you can't possibly understand anything about it. If that's the case, then why the fuck are there journalists?

Posted by: Doctorb at July 6, 2010 05:38 PM

"People who do my job die sometimes. ... Do you really think we'd take those risk to tell lies?"

No, I think you're willing to lie in order to not take risks.

Posted by: An Outhouse at July 7, 2010 09:56 AM

Perry gives himself too much credit to suppose we think him a conspirator. We consider him a sycophant. Only vertebrates have the chutzpah to be conspirators.

Posted by: someofparts at July 7, 2010 12:03 PM

Great article.

Posted by: DavidByron at July 7, 2010 05:55 PM

A thorough and totally satisfying deconstruction. I'm incredibly envious of how neatly it was done. Thank you.

Posted by: Mobutu at July 8, 2010 01:07 AM

I'm not sure why everyone keeps talking about how young Perry is. According to his Linked-In profile, he started university in 1989. That makes him late thirties at the youngest.

Not like youth would be much of a defense, anyway. Unless he actually is three years old as this temper tantrum might suggest.

Posted by: Anon at July 9, 2010 06:20 PM

HOLY SHIT! I didn't read the linked article until now. THAT IS AN UNHOLY FREAK OUT! What the hell?

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at July 9, 2010 06:28 PM