New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is considered by the Washington, D.C. media and political establishment to be the leading authority on trade policy. Friedman has aggressively pushed corporate-written "free" trade deals, devoting column after column after column shilling for these deals - and spending almost no time actually exploring how these deals undermine wages, job security, environmental standards and workplace rights both in America and abroad. Now, in a little-noticed interview caught on film, Friedman actually went on record admitting he advocates for specific trade deals without knowing anything about what's in the trade deals he is writing about.
In a CNBC interview with Tim Russert this weekend, Friedman said:
"We got this free market, and I admit, I was speaking out in Minnesota--my hometown, in fact, and guy stood up in the audience, said, `Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you'd oppose?' I said, `No, absolutely not.' I said, `You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn't even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade."
Not surprisingly, Russert didn't challenge Friedman, or even ask a follow-up question. He didn't ask how Tom Friedman, the deity whom D.C. bows down to on trade, could be so uninformed he would call the Central American Free Trade Agreement the "Carribbean" Free Trade Agreement? He didn't ask Friedman why he didn't even bother to consider the widespread concerns about the pact's lack of labor, human rights, environmental provisions. Similarly, he didn't ask Friedman whether, if he's such an advocate for truly "free" trade, why Friedman didn't bother to protest the brazenly protectionist provisions in the deal that make sure the drug industry is allowed to artificially inflate drug prices in Central American countries. He didn't ask Friedman why, if the deal was so good for Central America, some Central American governments and a massive amount of Central American citizens vigorously protested the deal. He didn't ask Friedman what kind of nerve it takes to go to a state like Minnesota that has been devastated by "free" trade deals and tell people that he happily advocates for their economic destruction, even though he is uninterested in even glancing at the policies he is pushing.
But beyond Russert's (deliberate?) negligence, what's truly astonishing is that Tom Friedman, the person who the media most relies on to interpret trade policy, now publicly runs around admitting he actually knows nothing at all about the trade pacts he pushes in his New York Times column. This is the equivalent of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke bragging to an interviewer he never actually looks at economic data, or like a political "expert" admitting to not reading any political news. It is the reason why a growing number of books, such as Sen. Byron Dorgan's and mine, are exposing Friedman as the blind corporate mouthpiece he is. It is, in sum, an admission that Friedman is so out of touch and so arrogant that he thinks it is perfectly acceptable to pollute the political debate with propaganda based on facts he doesn't even bother to investigate.