Shame on NPR: Elliot Abrams Is Not a Trustworthy Authority

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Have you noticed the rightward drift of National Public Radio? I think it’s unmistakable. That hasn’t caused me to adopt Mitt Romney’s position on the station’s defunding. However NPR’s validation of spurious right wing commentators has led me to petition my local station (WEKU) to replace “All Things Considered” with Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” After all, the right has enough air space with its nearly absolute domination of AM radio.

Case in point: On yesterdays “All Things Considered,” Melissa Block interviewed Elliot Abrams about the pending appointment of Chuck Hegel, the former senator from Nebraska, as Secretary of Defense. Though a Republican, Hegel has been tapped by President Obama for this important cabinet post. His Republican credentials however have not prevented him from being opposed by neo-conservatives like Abrams who see him as “anti-Semitic.”

Abrams’ charge is based on Hegel’s criticism of “the Jewish lobby.” Apparently, the ex-senator is suspect not only for his use of that somehow objectionable phrase, but for pointing out that he had been elected a senator from Nebraska, not from Israel.
Additionally Abrams contests Hegel’s appointment because of the former Vietnam veteran’s seeming reluctance to endorse possible military action against Iran over its alleged nuclear ambitions. Hegel is suspect because he sees diplomacy and dialog as less destructive and more productive than yet another war in the Middle East.

Before voicing such opinions, Abrams was introduced as a former advisor to Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, and as Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. What the NPR interviewer didn’t say was that Abrams himself is part of “the Jewish lobby.” He is also a convicted felon. Abrams, you’ll recall, was found guilty of criminal activity for his role in the Iran-Contra affair and was later pardoned by George W. Bush.

Also unmentioned was Abrams’ role as point-man in Reagan’s wider illegal U.S. policy in Nicaragua costing the lives of nearly 100,000 Nicaraguan peasants at the hands of U.S.-supported terrorists. I remember quite well his interviews during the 1980s when he endorsed Reagan’s ridiculous characterization of the vicious Contras as “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.” He also repeatedly (and falsely) described the Sandinistas as “totalitarian, Communist dictators.”

Despite such discredits, Block treated Abrams as a trustworthy objective authority from just another Washington think-tank. In reality, she might just as well have been interviewing Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy or Rush Limbaugh.

That NPR should validate Abrams’ commentary without reminding its audience of such important elements of Abrams’ biography is inexcusable. Similarly unpardonable is Ms. Block’s failure to ask the obvious: (1) Is there a “Jewish lobby” or not? (2) Might Abrams be considered part of that lobby? (3) Was Hegel wrong in identifying himself as primarily responsible to his Nebraskan constituents rather than to Israel? (4) Why has Israel (unlike Iran) not signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? (5) If Iran should be sanctioned and threatened for its alleged nuclear ambitions, why not Israel for its de facto possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons?

NPR habitually ignores such obvious questions. “Democracy Now!” never does. That’s why I tune in more often to the latter than the former.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

10 thoughts on “Shame on NPR: Elliot Abrams Is Not a Trustworthy Authority”

  1. Mike, I thought I was the only one noticing NPR’s rightward drift. It is still what I tune my radio to most often, but I find that I listen to less radio than I used to these days.

    Another point that Mr. Abrams failed to bring up was Chuck Hegel’s voting record. As far as I have found, he does not have any votes contrary to Israel’s interests. Thus, Mr. Abrams is talking about rhetoric only.

    We can be truthful about what is going on here. Two things: First, Sen. Hegel had some seriously critical words for the Republican party several years back. I remember vividly because my stepfather (a lifelong Republican, but not a social conservative) wrote to him asking him to consider working toward reclaiming the Republican party. Second, President Obama has nominated this man. For the right wing, that means he must be opposed. Illustration: John McCain said in 2006 (or 2008) that he would be “honored” to have Sen. Hegel be a part of his cabinet, going so far as to say that he would make a great Secretary of State. John McCain in 2013 says that he’s got serious concerns about Sen. Hegel’s grasp of foreign policy.

    The opposition to a cabinet appointment for Chuck Hegel has nothing to do with the former Senator’s qualifications, and everything to do with party politics.

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    1. Beth, thanks for the elaboration here. That idea of reclaiming the Republican Party seems necessary to implement if the Republicans want to avoid the dustbin of history. And all this talk of “unconditional support of Israel” is astounding. “Unconditional support? — can we give that to any state or person?

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  2. If you had a good case against Elliot Abrams, you could have used the truth.

    You wrote, ”What the NPR interviewer didn’t say was that Abrams himself is part of “the Jewish lobby. He is also a convicted felon. Abrams, you’ll recall, was found guilty of criminal activity for his role in the Iran-Contra affair”.

    In fact Mr. Abrams is not a convicted felon.

    He pled guilty to two misdemeanors after a long, bankrupting, and cruel inquisition by the Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh. These two misdemeanor charges were without any solid foundation. They were so tissue thin and politically motivated that even a reviewer for the New York Times, an institution that is no friend of Abrams’ brand of patriotic anti-communism, found them to be more motivated by political differences than any real cause.

    I offer excerpts from Joseph Finder’s NYT review of Abrams’ book, “UNDUE PROCESS A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned Into Crimes. By Elliott Abrams. 243 pp. New York: The Free Press.

    Abrams “… asserted, he knew that Lieut. Col. Oliver L. North of the White House National Security Council was “somehow connected with” the private network aiding the contras — though he did not know exactly how. Not involved, but somehow connected? Mr. Abrams maintains that he meant he thought Colonel North had no operational involvement. A lie, or an innocent matter of semantics?”

    Whether this was a lie or semantics, or as I believe, an honest statement, was never proven, indeed would be almost impossible to prove. Manufacturing a misdemeanor charge out of Abram’s statement was an act of unethical face-saving by Lawrence Walsh.

    Joseph Finder went on to express his uneasiness with the inquisition against Abrams in the following words.

    “There are well-defined laws on contempt, perjury and obstruction that protect Congress’s right to the truth. But not until Mr. Walsh and the office of the special prosecutor came along were unsworn false statements by executive branch officials to Congress prosecuted as criminal. It hadn’t ever been done before.

    For many, it may be unpalatable to hear such an argument from an ideologue like Elliott Abrams. Still, whether one feels any sympathy for Mr. Abrams’s plight or not, it is difficult to dismiss his contention that the boundaries of criminality are supposed to be determined in advance by lawmakers, not ex post facto by prosecutors.

    The special prosecutor’s office, …is a noble product of the Watergate era and no doubt a worthy institution. But it will leave behind a legal train wreck. Will executive branch testimony to Congress henceforth be considered the legal equivalent of testimony given in a court of law? It is no longer clear. It seems to depend on who is doing the judging.

    Letting the special prosecutor change the legal boundary markers may have been appealing to anti-Reagan Democrats when the matter at hand was the Iran-contra debacle. But they are likely to feel a good bit less enthusiastic about the ambiguity of the law now that the White House is theirs.”

    How prophetic !

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    1. Bartolomeo, I really appreciate your comment and correction. Reading Stone and Kuznick’s “The Untold Story of American History” has reminded me of Abrams’ identity as a pathological liar — and of Reagan’s hipocrisy in appointing him Undersecretary of State for Human Rights. I was also reminded of the great care that administration took (with all the key players in the Iran-Contra affair) to preserve the kind of deniability Abrams claimed before the investigations of the Tower Commission and Special Prosecutor. Reagan too claimed he wasn’t aware of what North and the others were doing. But it’s clear he was in it from the beginning.

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  3. Outrageous. I hope you sent them this blog post! One hopes NPR is not just trying to save its own skin by taking the “right” stand for the sake of the funding. If so, it will truly be a terrible loss.

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  4. Hi Mike

    The NPR has always been on the right when it came to “the real Issues”. I know you will be familiar with the bible on this matter of Manufacturing Consent…or is it Content!(Herman/Chomsky) The man who pays the piper always, all the time calls the tune. In the case of NPR below are the sponsors….the big payers and players are all corporate or corporate related. Amy Goodman like Chomsky like all historical “false prophets” are “enemies of the state” and listened only by “left-wing” nuts like you and me.

    Quote :Stations receive support from several sources, including: listener contributions,corporate sponsorship,in-kind and direct support from universities (for those licensed to a college or university),foundation grants and major gifts,grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and in some cases, state and local governments. End Quote

    I also noticed in a related matter that the son of a Roscommon man, John Brennan, who considered the priesthood before he joined the CIA has also a splendid record of the Jesus teaching on the poor and weak you dealt with so consistently in your blog – on behalf of Obama…he is tipped to take over the CIA. He shud have no problem with receiving the sacraments. If approved first stop Rome.

    Quote: The drone attack in Pakistan comes as CIA nominee John Brennan continues to come under scrutiny for his role in the Obama administration’s drone warfare overseas. New evidence has emerged casting doubts on Brennan’s claims that he was unaware of concerns over civilian casualties prior to a major June 2011 speech defending the strikes. In his remarks at the time, Brennan had said there was not “a single collateral death” in the previous year of drone attacks. Brennan later qualified his remarks by saying he had no information to the contrary at the time. But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed that the U.S. ambassador at the time, Cameron Munter, conveyed Pakistani concerns directly to the “highest levels” of the Obama White House. The concerns centered around a March 2011 strike that killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians.ends from Demnow.org

    Ireland will no doubt honor him at the St. Patricks Day parade …to make sure the Old Country does not get droned God forbid!
    PS Do you plan to cc our formers site in all your blogs?

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    1. Jim, isn’t it amazing how Catholics like Brennan end up being such champions of the state and its violent policies. Is this a throwback to what we’ve been exchanging thoughts about — the effectiveness of Rome’s hijacking of Christianity?

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