the national interest

Taibbi’s ‘Liberal Embrace of War’ Screed Cites Zero Liberals Embracing War

Supporters of Venezuelan President Maduro during a Labor Day rally in Caracas. Photo: Ruben Sevilla Brand/picture alliance via Getty Image

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has taken the brave and lonely stance that William Barr was wise and correct in his presentation of the Mueller report and decision not to charge the president with obstruction. (“It was Mueller, not Barr, who concluded there was no underlying crime,” concluded Taibbi, “so if the next stage of this madness is haggling over an obstruction charge, that would likely entail calling for a prosecution of Trump for obstructing an investigation into what even Mueller deemed non-crime.”) Now Taibbi has taken an even braver and lonelier stance: He is against war in Venezuela.

Taibbi’s latest story, headlined, “The Liberal Embrace of War,” argues that the corporate news media is “in lockstep here. Every article is seen from one angle: Venezuelans under the heel of a dictator who caused the crisis, with the only hope a ‘humanitarian’ intervention by the United States.” Taibbi runs through the history of American-backed coups and invasions, and concludes that Venezulea is yet another example in the pattern, except that liberals are totally complicit: “The cause of empire has been cleverly re-packaged as part of #Resistance to Trump, when in fact it’s just the same old arrogance, destined to lead to the same catastrophes.”

I have read Taibbi’s story carefully, and toted up every example he cites of a liberal endorsing war or any military means to effect regime change in Venezuela. The number is zero.

You might wonder how a story citing zero examples of liberals arguing for war could support a piece headlined “The Liberal Embrace of War.” The actual evidence he musters, when you cut through the dense thicket of verbiage and invective, amounts to precisely two sources of data.

One of them is a brief commentary by Rachel Maddow. Taibbi complains that Maddow “went on TV” — as she tends to do, being the host of a television program — “to embrace John Bolton in a diatribe about how the poor National Security Adviser has been thwarted by Trump in efforts to topple Maduro.”

Maddow’s commentary did not, in fact, endorse Bolton’s policy on Venezuela. She merely noted the irony that Bolton had denounced Russia for bolstering Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, and then was undercut by Trump asserting that Russia had no involvement. Needless to say, nothing Maddow said even implied an endorsement of American military intervention. Her sole offense, in Taibbi’s eyes, was mocking the discomfort Trump created for his adviser.

The second piece of data is a study by the left-wing group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which, like Taibbi, has fiercely attacked the mainstream media for reporting the Russia scandal. The method of the FAIR study is to analyze a selection of commentary on the subject of Venezuela. Every piece that describes Maduro as a strongman or authoritarian is categorized as endorsing “regime change.”

The problem, of course, is that Maduro is considered an authoritarian by the entire human rights community. His regime has been characterized as authoritarian by such sources as Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, WOLA, and the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights.

FAIR complains, “Not a single commentator on the big three Sunday morning talkshows or PBS NewsHour came out against President Nicolás Maduro stepping down from the Venezuelan government.” And so, by this absurdly lax standard, examples of commentary that FAIR includes as supporting regime change include Representative Ro Khanna’s op-ed, headlined, “Why I strongly oppose U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.”

Khanna’s op-ed attacks American jingoism, warns of an invasion, and even criticizes the U.S. for merely recognizing the opposition. But since it contains a “to be sure” sentence criticizing the regime — “To be sure, Maduro is an authoritarian leader who has presided over unfair elections, failed economic policies, extrajudicial killings by police, food shortages and cronyism with military leaders” — it falls into FAIR’s “pro-regime change” bin. And so Taibbi, through the game of telephone, turns an op-ed devoted to denouncing war into another example of “The Liberal Embrace of War.”

If Taibbi wants to denounce the corporate media for failing to publish the voices of people who not only oppose U.S. intervention but also support Maduro’s authoritarianism, he could make that argument. Instead he falsely accusing liberals of promoting war.

Taibbi informs his readers that he is giving them bold truths that others secretly understand but fear expressing. “In the media world,” he writes, “it’s understood that stepping out of line on Venezuela or Syria will result in being removed from TV guest lists, loss of speaking income, and other problems.” And yet despite this, Taibbi is out there, writing wild falsehoods and retaining his job.

‘Liberal Embrace of War’ Screed Cites Zero Liberals