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Egypt: The Epic Fail of the New York Times' Op-Ed Page

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Remarkably, the New York Times still (as of Jan. 30) has not run a single regular column or guest column focused on Egypt since the protests against the Mubarak dictatorship arose over the past week. This epic negligence and evasiveness speaks volumes about the poverty of public discourse in America. As the free will of editors and columnists from our national paper coincides with Mubarak's censorship, we are witnessing further confirmation of what Chris Hedges has called "the death of the liberal class."

The Obama administration appears to have been caught totally flat-footed by Tunisia and Egypt. It has struggled to articulate a coherent position: first remarking that the Egyptian government is stable and that Mubarak is not a dictator; then urging restraint on all sides before finally advocating democracy and free and fair elections -- though refusing to point out that this cannot be achieved until Mubarak and hand-picked successors leave the scene.

The result is that the U.S. government again looks sadly out of step with the democratic aspirations of people around the world. And WikiLeaks has further revealed how administration officials refrained from sharp criticism of Mubarak in hopes of regaining his trust. That strategy appears to have been incredibly miscalculated. But regardless of one's assessment of past events, we need to focus on how time is quickly running out for our government to atone for three decades of backing a repressive dictator so long as he backed American corporate and military interests

Harsh realities and tough choices lie ahead. But readers of the NYT op-ed page would never suspect this. You can read pontifications about Michelle Bachmann and the First Lady's clothes. Yet, you won't find anything about one of the most game-changing events in our lifetimes and how it has thrown U.S. foreign policy into a state of disarray.

To be fair, the paper's reporting has been decent, though largely tailing the work of Al Jazeera. And a couple NYT editorials have criticized Mubarak, though these have largely echoed the tepid line of the U.S. administration by comparison with the Washington Post's call for the U.S. to break with his regime immediately.

Even the blog section of the NYT, where one would hope to find more timely dialogue, is less than buzzing. Paul Krugman sums it up well: "Egypt: I don't know anything, have no expertise, haven't even ever looked at the economic situation. Hence, no posting." Maybe Krugman could write about the consequences of his own ignorance and how badly that limits his analysis of global economics and politics.

Just like our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world, we will need new voices, perspectives, and modes of communication to rethink our nation's values, its policies, and its relationship to the global community at this crossroads moment in American and world history. The age of relying on expert opinion is coming to a spectacular demise.

Update: The first two op-eds just appeared online after this was first posted--a moving first-person account by Mansoura Ez-Eldin and a relatively critical discussion of blowback by conservative Ross Douthat. This is better late than never but doesn't change how out of touch the op-ed page and columnists looked.