A Philosopher's Blog

Chemical Weapons & Ethics

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 2, 2013
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While the Syrian government has been condemned for killing people with conventional weapons, the “red line’ drawn by President Obama was the use of weapons of mass destruction, specifically chemical weapons. Those more cynical than I might suggest that this amounted to saying “we do not like that you are slaughtering people, but as long as you use conventional weapons…well, we will not do much beyond condemning you.”

While the Syrian government seemed content with conventional weapons, it has been claimed that government forces used chemical weapons. Fortunately, Secretary of State John Kerry did not use the phrase “slam dunk” when describing the matter.  As this is being written, President Obama has stated that he wants to launch an attack on Syria, but he has decided to let congress make the decision. While this raises some interesting issues, I will focus on the question of whether chemical weapons change the ethics of the situation. In more general terms, the issue is whether or not chemical weapons are morally worse than conventional weapons.

In terms of general perception, chemical weapons are often regarded with more fear and disgust than conventional weapons. Part of this is historical in nature. World War I one saw the first large scale deployment of chemical weapons (primarily gas launched via artillery shells). While conventional artillery and machine guns did the bulk of the killing, gas attacks were regarded with a special horror. One reason was that the effects of gas tended to be rather awful, even compared to the wounds that could be inflicted by conventional weapons. This history of chemical weapons still seems to influence us today.

Another historically based reason, I suspect, is the ancient view that the use of poison is inherently evil or at least cowardly. In both history and literature, poisoners are rarely praised and are typically cast as villains. Even in games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, the use of poison is regarded as an inherently evil act. In contrast, killing someone with a sword or gun can be acceptable (and even heroic).

A third historically based reason is, of course, the use of poison gas by the Nazis in their attempt to implement their final solution. This would obviously provide the use of poison gas with a rather evil connection.

Of course, these historical explanations are just that—explanations. They provide reasons as to why people psychologically regard such weapons as worse than conventional weapons. What is needed is evidence for one side or the other.

Another part of this is that chemical weapons (as mentioned above) often have awful effects. That is, they do not merely kill—they inflict terrible suffering. This, then, does provide an actual reason as to why chemical weapons might be morally worse than conventional weapons. The gist of the reasoning is that while killing is generally bad, the method of killing does matter. As such, the greater suffering inflicted by chemical weapons makes them morally worse than conventional weapons.

There are three obvious replies to this. The first is that conventional weapons, such as bombs and artillery, can inflict horrific wounds that can rival the suffering inflicted by chemical weapons. The second is that chemical weapons can be designed so that they kill quickly and with minimal suffering. If the moral distinction is based on the suffering of the targets, then such chemical weapons would be morally superior to conventional weapons. However, it is worth noting that horrific chemical weapons would thus be worse than less horrific conventional (or chemical) weapons.

The third is that wrongfully killing and wounding people with conventional weapons would still be evil. Even if it is assumed that chemical weapons are somewhat worse in the suffering they inflict, it would seem that the moral red line should be the killing of people rather than killing them with chemical weapons. After all, the distinction between not killing people and killing them seems far greater than the distinction between killing people with conventional weapons and killing them with chemical weapons. For example, having soldiers machine gun everyone in a village seems to be morally as bad as having soldiers fire gas shells onto the village until everyone is dead. After all, the results are the same.

Another aspect of chemical weapons that supposedly makes them worse than conventional weapons is that they are claimed to be indiscriminate. For example, a chemical weapon is typically deployed as a gas and the gas can drift and spread into areas outside of the desired target. As another example, some chemical agents are persistent—they remain dangerous for some time after the initial attack and thus can harm and kill those who were not the intended targets. This factor certainly seems morally relevant.

The obvious reply is that conventional weapons can also be indiscriminate in this way. Bombs and shells can fall outside of the intended target area to kill and maim people. Unexploded ordinance can lie about until triggered by someone. As such, chemical weapons do not seem to necessarily worse than conventional weapons—rather it is the discrimination and persistence of the weapon that seem more important than the composition. For example, landmines certainly give chemical weapons strong competition in regards to being indiscriminate and persistent.

Thus, while a specific chemical weapon could be morally worse than a specific conventional weapon, chemical weapons are not inherently morally worse than conventional weapons.


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43 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on September 2, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Yes, the obvious reply is what Hillary Clinton would say, what difference does it make how they died? Is poison gas really any worse than not providing free breast cancer screening to unwed mothers? It is good that with nearly 20 years of education, and another 20 years or more of sits and thinkin in the ivory tower one can easily dispense with thousands of years of moral observation and come to the simple, fully thought out conclusion that chemical weapons are not inherently morally worse than conventional weapons. Bravo, esteemed intellectual person. I’ll notify the Nobel committee just as soon as I can discern under which category this would fall. Sadly, I think the Peace Prizes have already been allocated. I could be wrong.

  2. Chemical weapons | Civil Commotion said, on September 2, 2013 at 8:38 am

    […] I’ve been intending these past few days to write a post taking-up the ethics of chemical weapons, but philosopher Michael LaBossiere published this morning a piece that is almost identical to my notes, right down to mentioning the use of gas by the Nazis; worth a read. […]

  3. roguekish said, on September 2, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I think while you are largely correct in your assesment (that a weapon being chemical does not warrant it to be morally worse than a conventional one) there is still one thing left to consider that can make a difference on whether weapon a (in this case chemical ones) are wrose than weapon b (e.g. conventional ones) and that is the question of efficiency (as in how many deaths one use of a unit of the weapon (1 gas shell, 1 bullet, 1 bomb etc.) causes).
    Because if you launch a weapon that kills 2000 persons/ use, even if all of these died without suffering and are were valid targets (soldiers), you have just killed 2000 persons and that is an unrevocable consequence.
    Were you to use a weapon though that only kills 200 persons/ use and all of them died similarly to the above and were valid targets, you give the opponent a chance to surrender and spare further killing.

    As such I think there at this time still a difference between weapons in that regard as far as morality is concerned. And since chemical weapons usually are more efficent than conventional weapons the difference should be maintained (not because they are chemical but because they are more efficient). Were you to develop a conventional weapon that was as “efficient” as chemical ones I would say that that weapon should be treated equal to other weapons of such efficiency e.g. chemical weapons and vice versa.

    Thanks for an interesting
    and thought-provoking article!


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

      True-the extent of the damage done by the weapon is relevant. After all, killing more people is worse than killing less (in general). That said, even if a gas shell kills more people than a conventional shell, an attack by conventional shells could kill as many people as a gas attack simply by increasing the number of shells used. If a town was wiped out with 50 gas shells or 500 conventional shells (to make up numbers), the result would still seem to be the same.

    • WTP said, on September 2, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Were you to use a weapon though that only kills 200 persons/ use and all of them died similarly to the above and were valid targets, you give the opponent a chance to surrender and spare further killing.

      I don’t think you understand how war is waged and how it is won. The objective is to kill as many of the enemy as possible in the most strategic manner possible. You are assuming here, that you can read the enemy’s mind as to how many he is willing to sacrifice short of himself. You are assuming that the 1800 enemy lives you (possibly just temporarily save) will not do damage to your side. You think that you can do some sort of calculus to determine to kill as few as possible. This is a common hindsight fallacy in regard to war. All wars are wars of attrition. They are won by convincing the enemy that he will suffer less if he stops fighting than if he continues.

      • roguekish said, on September 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

        To Mrs/ Mr WTP:
        True I simplified the example somewhat and true wars are generally not fought with such things as moral and the value of life (this includes that the opposing soldiers have lives that are of equal value to your own soldiers’) in mind.
        But you yourself wrote “All wars are wars of attrition. They are won by convincing the enemy he will suffer less if he stops fighting than if he continues.” This means there is a point when the enemy has suffered enough. What is meant by suffering? As I understand it loss of life, maybe sometimes loss of key personal or industry. But in general there is always a calculus you can make and say “here is the breaking point.”. The reason why this is not practical is that we can’t read the enemies mind, so we have to make assumptions. If you would not takethe “breaking point” into account, you would say it is of equal moral value to whipe out the entire opposing army with acceptable losses to your own side (with for instance one push of a button in the most extreme case) everytime you can because that guarantees victory, as it is to strive to win with minimal loss of life. To me that is not the case (see above why) and I don’t think that would be morally “ok” with you either? To me that sounds more like “overkill”.

        To Mr. LaBossiere:

        I would argue that while one can scale any weapon’s damage to be equal to another more efficient weapon, a situation where loss of life is guaranteed (war), demands of someone who beliefs that life is valuable that the loss of life be as limited as possible. Thus waging war with two forces only wielding sticks and stones would be the more moral choice over weapons of mass destruction as the damage can be more easily contained, even if it can reach similar levels or more, while only using sticks and stones. The fact that life was lost makes the act of war immoral; yes, but I believe there are degrees to even immoral acts. War could be measured by excess loss of life for instance.

        And yes it is still not practical or propable that in the case of war we manage to reach the most moral outcome possble according to the parameters I outlined. But then moral codes describe how things should be and what to strive for, and thus seldom are practical or use very realistic examples as they often deal with principles.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 2, 2013 at 1:14 pm

          I do agree that the ease (or lack of ease) of containment is relevant to the ethics of the matter. So, precision bombs that can be used to hit a military target are morally preferable to using a huge stupid bomb that might get the military target but will also kill civilians in the blocks around the target.

        • WTP said, on September 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

          It’s Mr., TYVM.

          As for suffering enough, again that is the enemy’s decision. I refer you to a somewhat recent conflict with Japan. Pushing one button like dropping one bomb? We wiped out an entire city. You’d think that would be enough. But in the Emperor’s mind, after a day of consideration, nope. It actually took two. And even then many wanted to fight on. There was even a coup attempt aimed at keeping the war going.

          And no, I do not equate the lives of the enemy to the lives of my countrymen or solid allies. Those who believe in the values most prominent in western civilization make this very discussion possible. Those who oppose, not so much.

  4. Douglas Moore said, on September 2, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Kerry’s words are hardly less forceful than George Tenet’s. But like a true Democrat, he has mastered sophistry and leaves wriggle room:

    “Bashar Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein [who] have used these weapons in time of war,” he said. ”

    “The word “slam-dunk” should be retired from American national security issues,” he said. “We are saying that the high confidence that the intelligence community has expressed and the case that I laid out the other day is growing stronger by the day.”

    “This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons,” he said. “This is what Assad did to his own people.”


    • WTP said, on September 2, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Question, in the above conventional vs chemical, relative to diplomatic sophistry, which is “slam dunk” and which is “high confidence”?

  5. T. J. Babson said, on September 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Everything the Dems said against George Bush is now coming back to haunt them.

    • WTP said, on September 3, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Not really. The media will cover for them. They’re already treating obambi’s last minute decision to consult congress as something awesomely historic. It’s absurd the degree of hero worship involved. Its almost like they belong to a cult. They’re all-in.

  6. T. J. Babson said, on September 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    The Diplomad nails it:

    Congress: Vote NO on Syria Attack

    There is no simple, clean, consequence-free exit from the box into which the horribly inept Obama misadministration has placed the US vis-a-vis Syria. Every egress plan has downsides. In sum, US national interests have been damaged by Obama’s Syria fiasco; US interests will be damaged by ending the fiasco.

    The “handling” of Syria by the incompetent boobs running our government shows, once again, how liberals do not understand a basic fact of international life: the word of the US president on foreign affairs must be akin to an IOU note backed by gold coin. The president should issue such a note sparingly and only when sure he has that coin. For reasons known only to Obama and whomever he has as foreign affairs advisors–and that remains murky–this misadministration decided to say, I repeat to say, a couple of years ago that any use by the murdering Assad regime of chemical weapons was unacceptable and a threat to the United States. Some time back I noted that,

    If you want a clue on dealing with Arab states, don’t look to the State Department or the NSC–especially under Susan “It’s YouTube’s fault” Rice. Look to the Israelis. For them it is literally a matter of life or death who runs the corrupt Arab regimes in the neighborhood. The Israelis detest the Assad regime and have fought a continuous war with it since 1970. They also detested Arafat, and any number of other Arab dictators. They, however, were and are very cautious about promoting regime change. Despite numerous opportunities, for example, they never killed Arafat; they dropped people all around him, but never him. Who would replace him? Nobody knew, so better stick with the disgusting but inept known devil than risk getting someone or something much worse. The Israeli military and intel services, likewise, repeatedly have demonstrated an ability to strike deep into Syria and successfully take out major targets. They, however, have not targeted Assad, father or son. The assumption being that the Assad clan knows where to draw the line and not cross it for fear of engendering a regime-killing Israeli response.

    It has never been clear to me, as I have noted, why the death by gas of 1400 Syrians is more threatening to the US than the death of 100,000 Syrians by more conventional weapons, and continue to note the uneasy silence from the Israelis. All that, however, now is one giant “never-mind.” The President of the United States has said chemical weapon use by Assad would pose a threat to core US interests. Our rodeo-clown SecState, furthermore, has stated that Assad, indeed, has used these weapons and, he said, that requires an immediate response by the United States, with or without the UN or our traditional allies. The British, of course, have said “No, thanks,” and the French are looking for a way out of their initial support for Obama.


  7. Douglas Moore said, on September 2, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Not to mention the fact that there were indeed WMD in Iraq. And we found them. Many times.


    • Douglas Moore said, on September 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      And these were not just random shells with nerve agent flitting around. Iraq was a police state. WMD locations were well logged and the expelled baathists looted the arsenals.

  8. Patrick Lin said, on September 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Nice discussion, as always, Michael. I’ve raised similar concerns — that is, why the categorical ban on chemical and biological weapons, if some can be more humane than conventional weapons? — in my stuff, e.g., http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/could-human-enhancement-turn-soldiers-into-weapons-that-violate-international-law-yes/266732/

    In working with the DoD as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, their response to the question usually involves a slippery-slope argument: If we allow for one chemical weapon, say an incapacitant or calmative agent that is totally safe (note: none exists today), that opens the door for abuse. A military might use that chemical in concentrations that are indiscriminately lethal or have horrific side effects. Or it might feel that it could use a similar chemical but that has such lethal or horrific effects. Or a military could use a chemical gas to, say, flush enemies from a bunker in order to shoot them, or simply shoot them while knocked out. Some experts have cited the “Martens Clause”, that bio and chemical weapons violate “the laws of humanity and the requirements of the public conscience.”

    I’m not necessarily defending this explanation, since pragmatic reasons aren’t necessarily moral reasons. As others have pointed out, a slippery-slope argument may just be an argument for caution, not a debate stopper. Further, the “laws of humanity” and other such language are far too vague for practical guidance…

    Anyway, a conversation about the ethics of chemical and biological weapons is long overdue. This has implications for all kinds of new military technologies, from “nonlethal” weapons (such as pain rays) to drones to cyberattacks.

  9. Douglas Moore said, on September 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Listening to Sec State Kerry right now, testifying before Congress. You could transpose Dick Cheney’s face on the screen and 90% or America would believe it was Cheney. The argument is the exact same as the Iraq War. And yes…Code Pink was even there! A woman stood up and started ranting something about cruise missiles. Then she was led from the premise by security while reaching for her Estroven.

    This is surreal. Of course, the media’s response is different. They are somewhat stunned.

  10. Douglas Moore said, on September 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    And then TJ, listening to your Senator, Bob Corker, he sounds like Charlie Wilson arguing support for the mujaheddin. He’s already talking about building capacity in the rebels for opposition government. Here goes some nation building again. It’s worked so well for us.

    • T. J. Babson said, on September 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      Some Tennessee see the light.

      Duncan Statement on Syria
      Aug 27, 2013 Issues: Defense

      WASHINGTON–Congressman Duncan released the following statement regarding the civil war in Syria:

      “I am opposed to us getting involved in another war in the Middle East. We do not have the authority under our Constitution or even under international law to get involved in a civil war in another country.

      While what is going on in Syria is very sad, if we keep getting into situations like this, we will be in a state of almost permanent war.

      We spent and will be spending several trillion dollars that we could not afford in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Even so called limited wars have usually led to much greater involvement later on, and I simply do not want to see any young Americans killed in Syria.

      We need to start taking care of our own people, and stop trying to run the whole world.”

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

        Should read “Some Tennessee pols see the light.”

  11. Douglas Moore said, on September 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Ever notice how conspicuously silent the media’s been on the situation in Libya? Here’s why.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 4, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      NPR has had some coverage of Libya, but you are right that the media eye has moved on. As it always does. When Bush was in office, the eye drifted away from Afghanistan and Iraq as well. So, it is not a Dem/Rep thing, but a media folk thing.

      • WTP said, on September 4, 2013 at 6:28 pm


      • T. J. Babson said, on September 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm

        “So, it is not a Dem/Rep thing, but a media folk thing.”

        A truly snort-worthy statement. The NYT had Abu Ghraib on page 1 for 32 straight days, and nobody died at Abu Ghraib.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 5, 2013 at 1:25 pm

          So, one example shows that the media does not generally tend to let formerly big stories drift away as public attention weakens?

          • Anonymous said, on September 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm

            “Are reporters biased? There is no doubt that — I’ve worked at the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and worked here at Politico. If I had to guess, if you put all of the reporters that I’ve ever worked with on truth serum, most of them vote Democratic.”
            — Politico’s Jim VandeHei during C-SPAN’s coverage of the GOP primaries, March 13, 2012.

            “No person with eyes in his head in 2008 could have failed to see the way that soft coverage helped to propel Obama first to the Democratic nomination and then into the White House.”
            — New York Magazine political reporter John Heilemann, January 27, 2012.

            “When Newsweek was owned by the Washington Post, it was predictably left-wing, but it was accurate. Under Tina Brown, it is an inaccurate and unfair left-wing propaganda machine.”
            — USA Today founder Al Neuharth in his August 19, 2011 column.

            “If the 2012 election were held in the newsrooms of America and pitted Sarah Palin against Barack Obama, I doubt Palin would get 10 percent of the vote. However tempting the newsworthy havoc of a Palin presidency, I’m pretty sure most journalists would recoil in horror from the idea.”
            — New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller in a column for the paper’s June 19, 2011 Sunday Magazine.

            “You guys talk about her [Sarah Palin] a lot, we write about her a lot, yet if you talk to any single reporter at any media organization that we’re aware of, I don’t think that anyone thinks she can be President or should be President.”
            — Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei, a former Washington Post political reporter, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, June 14, 2011.

            “The mainstream press is liberal….Since the civil rights and women’s movements, the culture wars and Watergate, the press corps at such institutions as the Washington Post, ABC-NBC-CBS News, the NYT, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, etc. is composed in large part of ‘new’ or ‘creative’ class members of the liberal elite — well-educated men and women who tend to favor abortion rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights. In the main, they find such figures as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell beneath contempt….If reporters were the only ones allowed to vote, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry would have won the White House by landslide margins.”
            — Longtime Washington Post political reporter Thomas Edsall in an October 8, 2009 essay for the Columbia Journalism Review, ‘Journalism Should Own Its Liberalism.’

            “I’ll bet that most Post journalists voted for [Barack] Obama. I did. There are centrists at the Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don’t even want to be quoted by name in a memo.”
            — Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell in her November 16, 2008 column.

            MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: “The media has been really, really biased this campaign, I think….Is the media just in love with history here, Mark, do you think?”…
            Time’s Mark Halperin: “I think mistakes have been made and people will regret it….If Obama wins and goes on to become a hugely successful President, I think, still, people will look back and say it just wasn’t done the right way.”
            — MSNBC’s Morning Joe, October 28, 2008.

            “If you were going to events during the primaries, what you saw was that the executive editors and the top people at the networks were all rushing to Obama events, bringing their children, celebrating it, saying they were, there’s this part of history….The American people are smart, they can see this. That’s why Obama’s on every magazine cover…. There’s no question in my mind the media has been more supportive of Senator Obama.”
            — NPR’s Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday, October 26, 2008.

            “Many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama’s distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights…. We hear a lot less about Democratic sins such as President Clinton’s distortions of Bob Dole’s position on Medicare in 1996 and the NAACP’s stunningly scurrilous ad campaign in 2000 associating George W. Bush’s opposition to a hate crimes bill with the racist murderers who dragged James Byrd behind a truck.”
            — National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, September 20, 2008.

            Host Howard Kurtz: “Are journalists rooting for the Obama story?”
            The Politico’s John Harris, referring to when he worked at the Washington Post: “It wouldn’t surprise me that there’s some of that….A couple years ago, you would send a reporter out with Obama, and it was like they needed to go through detox when they came back — ‘Oh, he’s so impressive, he’s so charismatic,’ and we’re kind of like, ‘Down, boy.'”
            — Exchange on CNN’s Reliable Sources, January 13, 2008.

            “From a reporter’s point of view, it’s almost hard to remain objective because it’s infectious, the energy, I think. It sort of goes against your core to say that as a reporter, but the crowds have gotten so much bigger, his energy has gotten stronger. He feeds off that.”
            — NBC reporter Lee Cowan in an MSNBC.com video about the Obama campaign posted January 7, 2008.

            “If we wore our politics on our sleeves in here, I have no doubt that in this and in most other mainstream newsrooms in America, the majority of those sleeves would be of the same color: blue. Survey after survey over the years have demonstrated that most of the people who go into this business tend to vote Democratic, at least in national elections. That is not particularly surprising, given how people make career decisions and that social service and activism is a primary driver for many journalists.”
            — Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman in an August 15, 2007 e-mail to his staff, posted by Poynter.org.

            “I don’t know if it’s 95 percent…[but] there are enough [liberals] in the old media, not just in ABC, but in old media generally, that it tilts the coverage quite frequently, in many issues, in a liberal direction….It’s an endemic problem. And again, it’s the reason why for 40 years, conservatives have rightly felt that we did not give them a fair shake.”
            — ABC News political director Mark Halperin appearing on The Hugh Hewitt Show, October 30, 2006.

            “The elephant in the newsroom is our narrowness. Too often, we wear liberalism on our sleeve and are intolerant of other lifestyles and opinions….We’re not very subtle about it at this paper: If you work here, you must be one of us. You must be liberal, progressive, a Democrat. I’ve been in communal gatherings in The Post, watching election returns, and have been flabbergasted to see my colleagues cheer unabashedly for the Democrats.”
            — Washington Post “Book World” editor Marie Arana in a contribution to the Post’s “daily in-house electronic critiques,” as quoted by Post media reporter Howard Kurtz in an October 3, 2005 article.

            “There is, Hugh, I agree with you, a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it’s very dangerous. That’s different from the media doing it’s job of challenging the exercise of power without fear or favor.”
            — ABC News White House correspondent Terry Moran talking with Los Angeles-based national radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, May 17, 2005.

            “I believe it is true that a significant chunk of the press believes that Democrats are incompetent but good-hearted, and Republicans are very efficient but evil.”
            — Wall Street Journal political editor John Harwood on the April 23, 2005 Inside Washington.

            “I worked for the New York Times for 25 years. I could probably count on one hand, in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, people who would describe themselves as people of faith….I think one of the real built-in biases in the media is towards secularism….You want diversity in the newsroom, not because of some quota, but because you have to have diversity to cover the story well and cover all aspects of a society. And you don’t have religious people making the decisions about where coverage is focused. And I think that’s one of the faults.”
            — Former New York Times reporter Steve Roberts, now a journalism professor at George Washington University, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, March 27, 2005.

            “Personally, I have a great affection for CBS News….But I stopped watching it some time ago. The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me. I still check in, but less and less frequently. I increasingly drift to NBC News and Fox and MSNBC.”
            — Former CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter in an op-ed published January 13, 2005 in the Los Angeles Times.

            “Does anybody really think there wouldn’t have been more scrutiny if this [CBS’s bogus 60 Minutes National Guard story] had been about John Kerry?”
            — Former 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt at a January 10, 2005 meeting at CBS, as quoted by Chris Matthews later that day on MSNBC’s Hardball.

            “I know a lot of you believe that most people in the news business are liberal. Let me tell you, I know a lot of them, and they were almost evenly divided this time. Half of them liked Senator Kerry; the other half hated President Bush.”
            — CBS’s Andy Rooney on the November 7, 2004 60 Minutes.

            “The media, I think, wants Kerry to win. And I think they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards …as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all, there’s going to be this glow about them that some, is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them, that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.”
            — Newsweek’s Evan Thomas on Inside Washington, July 10, 2004.

            The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz: “You’ve said on the program Inside Washington that because of the portrayal of Kerry and Edwards as ‘young and dynamic and optimistic,’ that that’s worth maybe 15 points.”
            Newsweek’s Evan Thomas: “Stupid thing to say. It was completely wrong. But I do think that, I do think that the mainstream press, I’m not talking about the blogs and Rush and all that, but the mainstream press favors Kerry. I don’t think it’s worth 15 points. That was just a stupid thing to say.”
            Kurtz: “Is it worth five points?”
            Thomas: “Maybe, maybe.”
            — Exchange on CNN’s Reliable Sources, October 17, 2004.

            Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham: “The work of the evening, obviously, is to connect George W. Bush to the great war leaders of the modern era. You’re going to hear about Churchill projecting power against public opinion….”
            MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “But Iraq was a popular cause when he first started it. It wasn’t like Churchill speaking against the Nazis.”
            Meacham: “That’s not the way the Republican Party sees it. They think that all of us and the New York Times are against them.”
            Matthews: “Well, they’re right about the New York Times, and they may be right about all of us.”
            — Exchange shortly after 8:30pm EDT during MSNBC’s live coverage of the Republican National Convention, August 30, 2004.

          • Anonymous said, on September 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

            “Of course it is….These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think the Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.”
            — New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent in a July 25, 2004 column asking, “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?”

            “Like every other institution, the Washington and political press corps operate with a good number of biases and predilections. They include, but are not limited to, a near-universal shared sense that liberal political positions on social issues like gun control, homosexuality, abortion, and religion are the default, while more conservative positions are ‘conservative positions.’…”
            “The press, by and large, does not accept President Bush’s justifications for the Iraq war….It does not accept the proposition that the Bush tax cuts helped the economy….It remains fixated on the unemployment rate….The worldview of the dominant media can be seen in every frame of video and every print word choice that is currently being produced about the presidential race.”
            — From the February 10, 2004 edition of ABCNews.com’s ‘The Note,’ a daily political memo assembled by ABC News political director Mark Halperin and his staff.

            Jack Cafferty: “The liberal talk radio station Air America debuts today….Does America need additional ‘liberal’ media outlet?…”
            Bill Hemmer: “Why hasn’t a liberal radio station or TV network never taken off before?”
            Cafferty: “We have them. Are you — did you just get off a vegetable truck from the South Bronx? They’re everywhere…. What do they call this joint? The Clinton News Network.”
            — CNN’s American Morning, March 31, 2004.

            “I think most claims of liberal media bias are overblown. At the same time, I do think that reporters often let their cultural predilections drive their coverage of social issues, and the coverage of the gay marriage amendment offers a perfect example….Why do reporters assume that the amendment is a fringe concern? Perhaps because nearly all live in big cities, among educated, relatively affluent peers, who hold liberal views on social matters. In Washington and New York, gay marriage is an utterly mainstream proposition. Unfortunately, in most of the country, it’s not.”
            — New Republic Senior Editor Jonathan Chait, CBSNews.com, March 1, 2004.

            “At ABC, people say ‘conservative’ the way people say ‘child molester.'”
            — ABC 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel to CNSNews.com reporter Robert Bluey, in a January 28, 2004 story.

            “There is just no question that I, among others, have a liberal bias. I mean, I’m consistently liberal in my opinions. And I think some of the, I think Dan [Rather] is transparently liberal. Now, he may not like to hear me say that. I always agree with him, too, but I think he should be more careful.”
            — CBS’s Andy Rooney discussing Bernard Goldberg’s book, Bias, CNN’s Larry King Live, June 5, 2002.

            “Most of the time I really think responsible journalists, of which I hope I’m counted as one, leave our bias at the side of the table. Now it is true, historically in the media, it has been more of a liberal persuasion for many years. It has taken us a long time, too long in my view, to have vigorous conservative voices heard as widely in the media as they now are. And so I think yes, on occasion, there is a liberal instinct in the media which we need to keep our eye on, if you will.”
            — ABC anchor Peter Jennings on CNN’s Larry King Live, April 10, 2002.

            “There is a liberal bias. It’s demonstrable. You look at some statistics. About 85 percent of the reporters who cover the White House vote Democratic, they have for a long time. There is a, particularly at the networks, at the lower levels, among the editors and the so-called infrastructure, there is a liberal bias….[Then-ABC White House reporter] Brit Hume’s bosses are liberal and they’re always quietly denouncing him as being a right-wing nut.”
            — Newsweek’s Evan Thomas on Inside Washington, May 12, 1996.

            “Everybody knows that there’s a liberal, that there’s a heavy liberal persuasion among correspondents…..Anybody who has to live with the people, who covers police stations, covers county courts, brought up that way, has to have a degree of humanity that people who do not have that exposure don’t have, and some people interpret that to be liberal. It’s not a liberal, it’s humanitarian and that’s a vastly different thing.”
            — Former CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite at the March 21, 1996 Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner.

            “The old argument that the networks and other ‘media elites’ have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it’s hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.”
            — Then-CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg in a February 13, 1996 Wall Street Journal op-ed.

            “As much as we try to think otherwise, when you’re covering someone like yourself, and your position in life is insecure, she’s your mascot. Something in you roots for her. You’re rooting for your team. I try to get that bias out, but for many of us it’s there.”
            — Time Senior Writer Margaret Carlson talking about covering First Lady Hillary Clinton, as quoted in the Washington Post, March 7, 1994.

            “I think liberalism lives — the notion that we don’t have to stay where we are as a society, we have promises to keep, and it is liberalism, whether people like it or not, which has animated all the years of my life. What on Earth did conservatism ever accomplish for our country? It was people who wanted to change things for the better.”
            — Charles Kuralt talking with Morley Safer on the CBS special, One for the Road with Charles Kuralt, May 5, 1994.

            “I won’t make any pretense that the ‘American Agenda’ [segments on World News Tonight] is totally neutral. We do take a position. And I think the public wants us now to take a position. If you give both sides and ‘Well, on the one hand this and on the other that’ — I think people kind of really want you to help direct their thinking on some issues.”
            — ABC News reporter Carole Simpson on CNBC’s Equal Time, August 9, 1994.

            “The group of people I’ll call The Press — by which I mean several dozen political journalists of my acquaintance…— was of one mind as the season’s first primary campaign shuddered toward its finish. I asked each of them, one after another, this question: If you were a New Hampshire Democrat, whom would you vote for? The answer was always the same; and the answer was always Clinton. In this group, in my experience, such unanimity is unprecedented…. Several told me they were convinced that Clinton is the most talented presidential candidate they have ever encountered, JFK included.”
            — New Republic Senior Editor Hendrik Hertzberg, March 9, 1992 issue.

            “Coverage of the [1992] campaign vindicated exactly what conservatives have been saying for years about liberal bias in the media. In their defense, journalists say that though they may have their personal opinions, as professionals they are able to correct for them when they write. Sounds nice, but I’m not buying any.”
            — Former Newsweek reporter Jacob Weisberg in The New Republic, November 23, 1992.

            “We’re unpopular because the press tends to be liberal, and I don’t think we can run away from that. And I think we’re unpopular with a lot of conservatives and Republicans this time because the White House press corps by and large detested George Bush, probably for good and sufficient reason, they certainly can cite chapter and verse. But their real contempt for him showed through in their reporting in a way that I think got up the nose of the American people.”
            — Time writer William A. Henry III on the PBS November 4, 1992 election-night special The Finish Line.

            “There are things written about Bill Clinton and Al Gore that I’ve never seen written [about other politicians before], even by opinion reporters. I think there has been a double standard.”
            — ABC News reporter Brit Hume talking about coverage of the 1992 presidential campaign, as quoted by The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, September 1, 1992.

            “There is no such thing as objective reporting…I’ve become even more crafty about finding the voices to say the things I think are true. That’s my subversive mission.”
            — Boston Globe environmental reporter Dianne Dumanoski at an Utne Reader symposium, quoted by Micah Morrison in the July 1990 American Spectator.

            “I do have an axe to grind…I want to be the little subversive person in television.”
            — Barbara Pyle, CNN Environmental Editor and Turner Broadcasting Vice President for Environmental Policy, as quoted by David Brooks in the July 1990 American Spectator.

            “As the science editor at Time I would freely admit that on this issue we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy.”
            — Time Science Editor Charles Alexander at a September 16, 1989 global warming conference, as quoted by David Brooks in an October 5, 1989 Wall Street Journal column.

            I am tired now. I must rest.

          • Anonymous said, on September 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm

            OK, one more…but I really must stop.

            In the most actively cited example of the Republican nominee’s foresight, Romneyites point to the candidate’s hardline rhetoric last year against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration. During the campaign, Romney frequently criticized Obama for foolishly attempting to make common cause with the Kremlin, and repeatedly referred to Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe.”
            Many observers found this fixation strange, and Democrats tried to turn it into a punchline. A New York Times editorial in March of last year said Romney’s assertions regarding Russia represented either “a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics.” And in an October debate, Obama sarcastically mocked his opponent’s Russia rhetoric. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” the president quipped at the time.

            That line still chafes Robert O’Brien, a Los Angeles lawyer and friend of Romney’s who served as a foreign policy adviser.

            “Everyone thought, Oh my goodness that is so clever and Mitt’s caught in the Cold War and doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” O’Brien said. “Well guess what. With all of these foreign policy initiatives — Syria, Iran, [Edward] Snowden — who’s out there causing problems for America? It’s Putin and the Russians.”


    • WTP said, on September 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      You want news on Benghazi? Try Fox…or Al-Jazeera:

      The U.S. Department of State has known for decades that inadequate security at embassies and consulates worldwide could lead to tragedy, but senior officials ignored the warnings and left some of America’s most dangerous diplomatic posts vulnerable to attack, according to an internal government report obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

      The report by an independent panel of five security and intelligence experts describes how the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, which left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, exploited the State Department’s failure to address serious security concerns at diplomatic facilities in high-risk areas.

      Among the most damning assessments, the panel concluded that the State Department’s failure to identify worsening conditions in Libya and exemptions from security regulations at the U.S. Special Mission contributed to the tragedy in Benghazi. Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy approved using Benghazi as a temporary post despite its significant vulnerabilities, according to an internal State Department document included with the report.

      The panel cataloged a series of failures by State Department officials to address security issues and concluded that many Foreign Service officers are unclear about who is in charge of security.


  12. T. J. Babson said, on September 4, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Democrats at work.

    From the article you linked:

    As world attention focused on the coup in Egypt and the poison gas attack in Syria over the past two months, Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Gaddafi two years ago. Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that Nato’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention which should be repeated in Syria.

    In an escalating crisis little regarded hitherto outside the oil markets, output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now. Despite threats to use military force to retake the oil ports, the government in Tripoli has been unable to move effectively against striking guards and mutinous military units that are linked to secessionist forces in the east of the country.

    Libyans are increasingly at the mercy of militias which act outside the law. Popular protests against militiamen have been met with gunfire; 31 demonstrators were shot dead and many others wounded as they protested outside the barracks of “the Libyan Shield Brigade” in the eastern capital Benghazi in June.

    Though the Nato intervention against Gaddafi was justified as a humanitarian response to the threat that Gaddafi’s tanks would slaughter dissidents in Benghazi, the international community has ignored the escalating violence. The foreign media, which once filled the hotels of Benghazi and Tripoli, have likewise paid little attention to the near collapse of the central government.

    • Douglas Moore said, on September 4, 2013 at 7:02 am

      Mikes’s still convinced the Republicans are worse. This administration is a disaster. The ineptitude and hypocrisy are mind-boggling.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

        Republicans are bad, but Dems are worse. Mike somehow does not see the damage caused by Dem policies. I think it all boils down to dividing the world into the oppressors and the oppressed. As you pointed out in your link to “Life at the Bottom,” people mostly bring misery on themselves through poor choices. Mike seems the same picture and thinks the misery is brought on by the oppression of others.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

        Not a disaster yet-at least not by the Bush II standards. But, there is still time to hit the bottom and dig.

        • T. J. Babson said, on September 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm

          You are not seeing the big picture. Obama’s disaster is far worse than Bush II.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm

            How so? Bush presided over the start of two wars, the construction of the security state, and the last economic collapse.

  13. magus71 said, on September 5, 2013 at 5:06 am

    This is another example of America losing the all-important information war. We tried to use a form of propaganda and it backfired. Notice that the Israelis barely say anything, yet they struck Syria in July, possibly destroying some of their advanced missiles. That’s the way you handle this. “Huh. Assad’s lead chemical expert died in an explosion. Wonder how that happened.” Cyber attacks, assassinations, sabotage, not grandstanding that forces your hand into undesirable situations.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 5, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Israel has a clear, but limited, strategic interest in Syria. We seem to lack a clear interest that can be well served by a strike.

  14. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

    “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.” ~ Winston Churchill (1919)

    Alleged British use of chemical weapons in Mesopotamia in 1920 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alleged_British_use_of_chemical_weapons_in_Mesopotamia_in_1920

    U.S. Depleted Uranium as Malicious as Syrian Chemical Weapons

    Although Iraqi civilians have born the brunt of this awful weapon, American soldiers that served in the Gulf and Iraq War are also suffering from the fallout of depleted uranium.

    This issue is discussed in-depth by the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, which campaigns to “ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons and weapon systems and for monitoring, health care, compensation and environmental remediation for communities affected by their use.”

    U.S. Depleted Uranium as Malicious as Syrian Chemical Weapons – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-considine/us-depleted-uranium-as-ma_b_3812888.html


    Facing a frozen image of a child born without limbs, Hadidi says parents’ feelings usually range between shame and guilt. “They think it’s their fault, that there’s something wrong with them. And it doesn’t help at all when some elder tells them it’s been ‘god’s punishment’.”

    The pictures are difficult to look at. And, those responsible for all this have closed their eyes.

    “In 2004 the Americans tested all kinds of chemicals and explosive devices on us: thermobaric weapons, white phosphorous, depleted uranium…we have all been laboratory mice for them,” says Hadidi, turning off the projector.

    The months that followed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw persistent demonstrations against the occupation forces. But it wasn’t until 2004 when this city by the Euphrates river to the west of Baghdad saw its worst.

    AMERICA’S FALLUJAH LEGACY: WHITE PHOSPHOROUS, DEPLETED URANIUM: THE FATE OF IRAQ’S CHILDREN – http://www.globalresearch.ca/america-s-fallujah-legacy-white-phosphorous-depleted-uranium-the-fate-of-iraq-s-children/30372

    US Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas

    During World War II and the years following, the Pine Bluff Arsenal’ s manufacturing capabilities continued to expand to manufacture, load and store war gases; and to fill smoke and white phosphorus munitions. The expansion included facilities to manufacture and store various types of chemical-filled weapons. Arsenal-produced conventional munitions were used in the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the war years, the arsenal produced millions of grenades, bombs, and shells as well as millions of pounds of mustard and Lewisite. While the arsenal manufactured these agents during World War II and remains a storage site for a portion of the US chemical defense stockpile.
    Pine Bluff Arsenal – Stockpiled chemical agents scheduled for incineration

    HT-Blister Ton Containers 3,591 6,249,100
    HD-Blister Ton Containers 107 188,400
    GB-Nerve M55 Rockets 90,231 965,480
    GB-Nerve M56 Rocket Warheads 178 1,900
    VX-Nerve M55 Rockets 19,582 195,820
    VX-Nerve M56 Rocket Warheads 26 260
    VX-Nerve Mines 9,378 98,460

    As the only manufacturer of white phosphorus munitions in the western hemisphere, Pine Bluff Arsenal is modernizing the WP plant originally constructed in the 1940s. In late September 2005, officials signed a $20 million contract for the modernization project with Shaw Environmental, Inc., headquartered in Stoughton, Mass. This is the contract largest project undertaken on the industrial side. The modernization effort will improve the safety, environmental performance, flexibility of the operations, and efficiency of the filling of the munitions. The entire project – from design to contract – has been a joint effort with PBA, the Chemical Materiel Command and PEO Ammunition Office.

    One of the largest investments in PBA’s industrial capacity since the early 1980s, this modernization will be key component of posturing the Arsenal for future workload. It will add state-of-the-art safety features and greatly improve production efficiency.

    PBA is the only facility that uses the raw materials, which are extracted from phosphorus rocks, and is a by-product. The form used by the military is highly energetic (active) and ignites once it is exposed to oxygen. This makes it absolutely essential to keep it in an environment that is away from oxygen – either inside an inert atmosphere or under a layer of water. In a heated format, it is extremely dangerous and can create damaging burns.

    Pine Bluff Arsenal – http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/pine_bluff.htm

    Following the white phosphorus trail – 16 Jan 09

  15. Douglas Moore said, on September 5, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I feel very dismayed that I believe the Russian assessment more than I believe some of my of country’s government officials’ testimony before Congress.

    “According to the statement, the report said the shell “was not regular Syrian army ammunition but was an artisan-type similar to unguided rocket projectiles produced in the north of Syria by the so-called gang ‘Bashair An-Nasr.’ ”

    In addition, Russian investigators determined that the burst charge was RDX, which is “not used in military chemical munitions.”

    There is video of the rebels eating human hearts. They are torturing people. They are overrunning villages because of the Christian population. They are al-Qaeda. The sworn enemy of the country I’m sworn to protect.

    Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/09/05/201268/russia-releases-100-page-report.html#storylink=cpy

  16. Douglas Moore said, on September 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    This is a video of Syrian rebels loading what is allegedly a chemical warhead onto an artillery piece. I am not an artillery or chem warfare expert, but this is unlike any conventional munition I’ve ever seen.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Given that there are numerous groups fighting against Assad and some of these are extremists, it would hardly be a shock that some of them used chemical weapons.

  17. […] I wrote in 2013, this red line policy involving chemical weapons seems to amounted to saying “we do not like that […]

  18. […] I wrote in 2013, this red line policy involving chemical weapons seems to amounted to saying “we do not like that […]

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