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The Press Obituary of McNamara

July 8, 2009

On Monday, July 6, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara died. The Grand Rapids Press ran an obituary from the New York Times with the heading, “Vietnam War architect.” It is interesting to note that the Times used the heading, “Architect of Futile War,” a sharp contrast to what the Press editors decided to use.

In addition to a different heading the Press version gutted most of the New York Times obituary, leaving out information about McNamara’s role in the US firebombing of Japanese cities during WWII.

The Press version mentions McNamara’s role in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, but exclusively about Vietnam. There is no mention of McNamara’s role in the US interventions in Laos, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Iraq and Indonesia, just to name a few.

The obituary article did mention McNamara’s regret over the loss of US soldiers during the Vietnam, but he never apologized for the more than a million Vietnamese deaths as a result of his role in the war, a fact the article never mentions.

The Press version of the obituary also excludes any mention of McNamara as head of the World Bank and what kind of development policies he presided over in that capacity. There are several good independent articles that are worth reading if you want to read a perspective different than that of the mainstream Press. Alexander Cockburn has an excellent piece on Counterpunch and a great discussion on Democracy Now with Marilyn Young, Jonathan Schell and radical historian Howard Zinn.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    July 9, 2009 2:23 pm

    Is it your impression that the GR Press does more heavy editing of stories they pick up than other papers in order to give them a more conservative slant? I know it’s standard practice to edit wire-service stories, but I was amazed when I read the original Times obit and saw what a detailed, individual portrait it offered compared to what the Press ran. And, as you state, the Press edit gave the piece an entirely different spin.

    As an aside, I feel that the Times piece overemphasized McNamara’s “remorse” over his role in world events. In the documentary “The Fog of War,” I was struck and repulsed by how neutral McNamara was in assessing himself. Just because he’d churned over the events of his life doesn’t mean that he profited from that. He seemed, in fact, to have emerged with the conviction that everything he’d done was really more the result of other people’s actions, decisions, or the course of events.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    July 9, 2009 2:32 pm

    Kate, it is difficult to know what all the motivations are for the GR Press when editing wire stories. I think there is an element of conservatism in their editing, but there is also the issue of ad space, which probably carries as much weight if not more than the content aspect.

    I agree with you that the NY Times piece did spend way too much on McNamara’s “moral struggle” over the loss of US troop lives, which is not only not true, but it ultimately acts as a distraction to the larger issue of what motivates US foreign policy, since the murder of innocent civilians is the norm and on a massive scale. Both the NY Times and the GR Press, like most mainstream media, have internalized the notion that US foreign policy is at least benign, but most often completely humanitarian.

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