MediaWatch: May 1991

Vol. Five No. 5

New York Times Reporters Attack Reagan Policy


During the 1980s the Reagan Administration assisted democratic forces battling communist movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But new books and articles by three New York Times reporters who covered Central America in the 1980s reveal they still believe the U.S. backed the wrong side.

Writing in the America and the World 1990/91 issue of Foreign Affairs, current Mexico City Bureau Chief Mark Uhlig declared that "hostility toward the Nicaraguan regime" had produced "domestic disaffection and ineffective policies. Moreover, the conflict had driven and distorted American the White House searched for the means to justify and act on its obsession." Communism "had never been sufficient to explain or understand the complex conflicts confronting U.S. policy in Latin America," but, in a familiar refrain of the left, Uhlig argued it had actually obfuscated the real issue: "Social justice had taken second place to mighty clashes of ideology." Uhlig called for a "rethinking of past policies" toward democratic El Salvador, where the U.S. had been "trainer and quartermaster to one of the most demonstrably bloodthirsty regimes in the hemisphere."

Former Nicaragua Bureau Chief Stephen Kinzer, now based in Germany, followed a similar premise in his new book, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. Kinzer charged that Oliver North and Reagan "placed the United States in the role of a cruel bully, waging a dirty war to defend security interests that even its closest allies did not believe were truly threatened." Kinzer found Nicaragua superior to its neighbors: "The Sandinista regime was undemocratic, though it never resorted to the kind of savagery common in nearby countries. But by destroying the repressive apparatus of the Somoza family, the Sandinistas at least provided a basis on which a genuine democracy could be built....Had they done nothing more than that, they would deserve a place of historic honor." Kinzer praised the regime for realizing "that government's greatest responsibility was to the poor and dispossessed," gushing: "Ultimately they showed themselves worthy of the legacy of Nicaragua's heroes."

Clifford Krauss covered the region for UPI and The Wall Street Journal before becoming the Times' State Department reporter last year. In Inside Central America, he complained: "Obsessive, ideological fears clouded Reagan's vision, as was all too often reflected in his apocalyptic public speeches in support of his beloved 'freedom fighters.'" Krauss noted the "happy, liberated feel" of rebel-held areas in El Salvador. Krauss admitted that the Sandinistas are Marxists, but revealed that while covering the 1979 revolution for UPI, "My intention was to cheer on the new Sandinistas and to help stop the next Vietnam."