Thomas Loren Friedman
July 20, 1953
|Alma mater||Brandeis University (BA)|
St Antony's College, Oxford (MPhil)
The American University in Cairo (Arabic Studies)
|Relatives||Matthew Bucksbaum (father-in-law)|
Thomas Loren Friedman (//; born July 20, 1953) is an American political commentator and author. He is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner who is a weekly columnist for The New York Times. He has written extensively on foreign affairs, global trade, the Middle East, globalization, and environmental issues.
Friedman was born on July 20, 1953, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Margaret Blanche (née Phillips) and Harold Abe Friedman. Harold, who was vice president of a ball bearing company, United Bearing, died of a heart attack in 1973 when Tom was nineteen years old. Margaret, who served in the United States Navy during World War II and studied Home Economics at the University of Wisconsin, was a homemaker and a part-time bookkeeper. Margaret was also a Senior Life Master duplicate bridge player, and died in 2008. Friedman has two older sisters, Shelly and Jane.
From an early age, Friedman, whose father often took him to the golf course for a round after work, wanted to be a professional golfer. He played a lot of sports, and became serious about tennis and golf. He caddied at a local country club and in 1970 caddied for professional golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez when the US Open came to town.
Friedman is Jewish. He attended Hebrew school five days a week until his Bar Mitzvah, then St. Louis Park High School, where he wrote articles for his school's newspaper. He became enamored with Israel after a visit there in December 1968, and he spent all three of his high school summers living on Kibbutz HaHotrim, near Haifa. He has characterized his high school years as "one big celebration of Israel's victory in the Six-Day War."
Friedman studied at the University of Minnesota for two years, but later transferred to Brandeis University and graduated summa cum laude in 1975 with a degree in Mediterranean studies. Friedman also pursued Arabic studies at The American University in Cairo, where he graduated in 1974 from its Arabic language unit (ALU). Friedman later taught a class in economics at Brandeis in 2006, and was a commencement speaker there in 2007.
After graduating from Brandeis, he attended St Antony's College at the University of Oxford as a Marshall Scholar, earning an M.Phil. in Middle Eastern studies.
Friedman joined the London bureau of United Press International after completing his master's degree. He was dispatched a year later to Beirut, where he lived from June 1979 to May 1981 while covering the Lebanon Civil War. He was hired by The New York Times as a reporter in 1981 and re-dispatched to Beirut at the start of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. His coverage of the war, particularly the Sabra and Shatila massacre, won him the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting (shared with Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post). Alongside David K. Shipler[clarification needed] he also won the George Polk Award for foreign reporting.
In June 1984, Friedman was transferred to Jerusalem, where he served as the New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief until February 1988. That year he received a second Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, which cited his coverage of the First Palestinian Intifada. He wrote a book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, describing his experiences in the Middle East, which won the 1989 U.S. National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Friedman covered Secretary of State James Baker during the administration of President George H. W. Bush. Following the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Friedman became the White House correspondent for the New York Times. In 1994, he began to write more about foreign policy and economics, and moved to the op-ed page of The New York Times the following year as a foreign affairs columnist. In 2002, Friedman won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his "clarity of vision, based on extensive reporting, in commenting on the worldwide impact of the terrorist threat."
In February 2002, Friedman met Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and encouraged him to make a comprehensive attempt to end the Arab–Israeli conflict by normalizing Arab relations with Israel in exchange for the return of refugees alongside an end to the Israel territorial occupations. Abdullah proposed the Arab Peace Initiative at the Beirut Summit that March, which Friedman has since strongly supported.
Friedman received the 2004 Overseas Press Club Award for lifetime achievement and the same year was named to the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
In May 2011, The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama "has sounded out" Friedman concerning Middle East issues.
Friedman has been criticized for his staunch advocacy of the Iraq War and unregulated trade and his early support of Saudi Royal Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Friedman has publicly expressed his support for the biometrics based Unique Identification program of India. When asked about the privacy concerns raised by the UID program in India he said
I am a huge enthusiast of the UID platform. I feel that is going to be a platform for innovation. Societies require these platforms where people are integrated with a trusted ID. I think concerns about privacy are bogus. The platform doesn't store anything about you except your biometrics. It's not tracking you. Facebook is tracking you much more today. If you are worried about privacy, then you shouldn't be using Google, Facebook, Twitter, any of these things. They are tracking you so much more than the Indian government is tracking you. What's worse is that they are selling it [information about you] for profit. So, I think the privacy concern [around Aadhaar] is bogus.
Friedman first discussed his views on globalization in the book The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999). In 2004, visits to Bangalore, India, and Dalian, China, led Friedman to write a follow-up analysis, The World Is Flat (2005). The book was on the New York Times Best Seller list from its April 2005 publication until May 2007.
Friedman believes that individual countries must sacrifice some degree of economic sovereignty to global institutions (such as capital markets and multinational corporations), a situation he has termed the "golden straitjacket".
In 2000, Friedman championed Free Trade with The People's Republic of China, claiming that Free Trade would make China more democratic.
He has also expressed concern about the United States' lack of energy independence. He has stated, "First rule of oil—addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. We are the addicts, the oil producers are the pushers—we've never had an honest conversation with the Saudis."
In 2007, Friedman viewed American immigration laws as too restrictive and damaging to U.S. economic output: "It is pure idiocy that Congress will not open our borders—as wide as possible—to attract and keep the world's first-round intellectual draft choices in an age when everyone increasingly has the same innovation tools and the key differentiator is human talent."
After visiting the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego, California in early April 2019, Friedman wrote, "The whole day left me more certain than ever that we have a real immigration crisis and that the solution is a high wall with a big gate — but a smart gate."
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Friedman's writing focused more on the threat of terrorism and the Middle East. He was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary "for his clarity of vision, based on extensive reporting, in commenting on the worldwide impact of the terrorist threat". These columns were collected and published in the book Longitudes and Attitudes. For a while, his reporting on post-9/11 topics led him to diverge from his prior interests in technological advances and globalization, until he began to research The World Is Flat.
After the 7/7 London bombings, Friedman called for the U.S. State Department to "shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears", and to create a quarterly "War of Ideas Report, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence against others". Friedman said the governmental speech-monitoring should go beyond those who actually advocate violence, and include also those whom former State Department spokesperson Jamie Rubin calls "excuse makers". In his July 22 column, Friedman wrote against the "excuses" made by terrorists or apologists who blame their actions on third-party influences or pressures. "After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us ... why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed. When you live in an open society like London, where anyone with a grievance can publish an article, run for office or start a political movement, the notion that blowing up a busload of innocent civilians in response to Iraq is somehow "understandable" is outrageous. "It erases the distinction between legitimate dissent and terrorism" Mr. Rubin said, "and an open society needs to maintain a clear wall between them." As part of their response to this column, the editors at FAIR encouraged their readers to contact Friedman and inform him that "opponents of the Iraq War do not deserve to be on a government blacklist-even if they oppose the war because they believe it encourages terrorism".
During the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Friedman wrote the following in The New York Times on April 23, 1999: "Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too." Friedman urged the US to destroy "in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge [and] road", annex Albania and Macedonia as "U.S. protectorates", "occupy the Balkans for years," and "[g]ive war a chance."
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) labeled Friedman's remarks "war-mongering" and "crude race-hatred and war-crime agitation". Steve Chapman, critical of the response taken by NATO, referred to Friedman as "the most fervent supporter of the air war" and ironically asked in the Chicago Tribune: "Why stop at 1389? Why not revive the idea, proposed but never adopted in Vietnam, of bombing the enemy all the way back to the Stone Age?" Norman Solomon asserted in 2007 that "a tone of sadism could be discerned" in Friedman's article.
Friedman supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing that the establishment of a democratic state in the Middle East would force other countries in the region to liberalize and modernize. In his February 9, 2003, column for The Wall Street Journal, Friedman also pointed to the lack of compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction:
The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says Mr. de Villepin, because Saddam has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors. But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam's part, as the French know. The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war.
Nevertheless, he found the incoherence of the American position to be an asset, arguing that "the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through -- but that's what I like about it. (...) There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.
After the invasion, Friedman expressed alarm over the post-invasion conduct of the war by the George W. Bush administration. Nevertheless, until his piece dated August 4, 2006 (see below), his columns remained hopeful to the possibility of a positive conclusion to the Iraq conflict (although his optimism appeared to steadily diminish as the conflict continued). Friedman chided George W. Bush and Tony Blair for "hyping" the evidence, and stated plainly that converting Iraq to democracy "would be a huge undertaking, though, and maybe impossible, given Iraq's fractious history". In January 2004, he participated in a forum on Slate called "Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War", in which he dismisses the justification for war based on Iraq's lack of compliance with the U.N. Resolutions:
The right reason for this war … was to oust Saddam's regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report's prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women's empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification.
In his September 29, 2005, column in The New York Times, Friedman entertained the idea of supporting the Kurds and Shias in a civil war against the Sunnis: "If they [the Sunnis] won't come around, we should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind."
Critics of Friedman's position on the Iraq War have noted his recurrent assertion that "the next six months" will prove critical in determining the outcome of the conflict. A May 2006 study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting cited 14 examples of Friedman's declaring the next "few months" or "six months" as a decisive or critical period, dating from in November 2003, describing it as "a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer".
The blogger Atrios coined the neologism "Friedman Unit" to refer to this unit of time in relation to Iraq, noting its use as a supposedly critical window of opportunity.
In a live television interview aired June 11, 2006, on CNN, Howard Kurtz asked Friedman about the concept: "Now, I want to understand how a columnist's mind works when you take positions, because you were chided recently for writing several times in different occasions 'the next six months are crucial in Iraq.'" Friedman responded: "The fact is that the outcome there is unclear, and I reflected that in my column. And I will continue to reflect." Responding to prodding from Stephen Colbert, Friedman said in 2007: "We've run out of six months. It's really time to set a deadline."
Iran's Great Weakness May Be Its Oil, by Thomas Friedman, challenges and debates conflicts about oil. Friedman states,"The best tool we have for curbing Iran's influence is not containment or engagement, but getting the price of oil down in the long term with conservation and an alternative-energy strategy. Let's exploit Iran's oil addiction by ending ours".
In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, he says that "any car company that gets taxpayer money must demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol".
In a Fresh Dialogues interview, Friedman described his motivations for writing the book: "My concern is about America.... Demand for clean energy, clean fuel and energy efficiency is clearly going to explode; it's going to be the next great global industry. I know that as sure as I know that I'm sitting here at De Anza College talking to you. By being big in the next big thing, we'll be seen by the rest of the world as working on the most important problem in the world."
Some of Friedman's environmental critics question his support of still-undeveloped coal pollution mitigation technology ("clean coal") and coal mining as emblematic of Friedman's less than "green" commitment to renewable energy.
Friedman has been criticized by organizations such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting for defending Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon as a form of "educating" Israel's opponents; according to FAIR, Friedman was explicitly endorsing terrorism by Israel against Lebanese and Palestinians. Journalist Glenn Greenwald and professor Noam Chomsky also accused Friedman of endorsing and encouraging terrorism by Israeli forces.
Political reporter Belen Fernandez heavily critiques Friedman's commentary regarding Israel. Among other criticisms, Fernandez singles out Friedman's suggestion that Israeli forces were unaware that their allied Lebanese militias carried out the Sabra and Shatila massacre while under their guard, contradicting the assessments of other journalists and observers; his encouragement of strong-armed force by the Israeli army against Palestinians; and his opposition to settlements only on the grounds that they are counter-productive, rather than because they violate international law or cause suffering for Palestinians. Fernandez suggests that Friedman is most worried about successfully maintaining Israel's Jewish ethnocracy and actively opposing a "one-man, one-vote" system of democracy.
Friedman has also come under criticism from supporters of Israel. In an op-ed, Yitzhak Benhorin criticized Friedman's alleged suggestion that Israel relinquish territory it had occupied in the 1967 Middle Eastern War.
Friedman sparked criticism for writing that congressional ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were "bought and paid for by the Israel lobby." A letter from the American Jewish Committee objected that "Public opinion polls consistently show a high level of American ... support for and identification with Israel. This indicates that the people's elected representatives are fully reflecting the will of the voters." Friedman responded to criticism by writing: "In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like 'engineered' by the Israel lobby – a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don't subscribe to."
Friedman hailed the Trump-brokered peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as "exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a 'HUGE breakthrough.'"
In September 2009, Friedman wrote an article praising China's one-party autocracy, saying that China's leaders are "boosting gasoline prices" and "overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power." The article was in turn subject to critical analysis: Matt Lewis who wrote, "Friedman's apparent wish for a 'benign' dictator is utopian, inasmuch as it ignores Lord Acton's warning that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely.'" and William Easterly who quotes Friedman's one-party autocracy assertions as part of his academic paper in which he concluded that, "Formal theory and evidence provides little or no basis on which to believe the benevolent autocrat story" and that, "economists should retain their traditional skepticism for stories that have little good theory or empirics to support them." However, in a July 2012 article in the NYT, he also wrote that the current Chinese leadership has not used its surging economic growth to also introduce gradual political reform and that, "Corruption is as bad as ever, institutionalized transparency and rule of law remain weak and consensual politics nonexistent." When asked if he had "China envy" during a Fresh Dialogues interview, Friedman replied, "You detect the envy of someone who wants his own government to act democratically with the same effectiveness that China can do autocratically." Likewise, in a 2011 interview with the BBC Friedman says that he wants his children to live in a world where "there's a strong America counterbalancing a strong and thriving China, and not one where you have a strong and rising China and an America that is uncertain, weak and unable to project power economically and militarily it historically did."
Friedman's work is popular in China. His book The World is Flat was a bestseller in the country, although criticism of China in the book was removed when it was published in the country. A translated version of his article from The New York Times, "China Needs Its Own Dream", has been credited with popularizing the phrase "Chinese Dream" in China, a term that was later adopted as a slogan by Xi Jinping. Friedman, in the magazine Foreign Policy, has attributed the phrase to Peggy Liu and her environmental NGO JUCCCE.
In September 2020, Friedman told CNBC that "Trump is not the American president America deserves, in my opinion. But he definitely is the American president China deserved. We needed to have a president who was going to call the game with China. And Trump has done it, with I would say more grit and toughness than any of his predecessors. I give him credit for that."
As the Iran nuclear deal agreement reached between Iran and a group of world powers (the P5+1). In Friedman's interview, he mentioned that "Our view of the Middle East is deeply colored by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and they all have their own interest. 15 of the 19 hijackers on 911 were from Saudi Arabia, none from Iran! Iranians had a spontaneous demonstration to support Americans on 911." He added, "What strikes you most about Iran (vs. Saudi Arabia) is that Iran has real politics... A country of 85 million people, a great civilization, many educated men and women, if they want to get a bomb they will get it. They have demonstrated they could do it under the most severe sanctions... Show me where Iranians have acted reckless [like Saddam Hussein]. These are survivors."
In the 2010s, Friedman wrote several columns supporting the politics of radical centrism. In one he stated that, if the "radical center wants to be empowered, it can't just whine. It needs its own grass-roots movement". In another column Friedman promoted Americans Elect, an organization trying to field a radical-centrist candidate for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. That column decried "the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life". Friedman's radical-centrist columns received a considerable amount of criticism, particularly from liberals.
See also: Friedman Unit
American journalist Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon on July 25, 2012, commented: "His status among American elites is the single most potent fact for understanding the nation's imperial decline."
John Esposito criticized him in 2014 for writing twice that Muslims do not speak up against terrorism, and yet "his own newspaper has had these denunciations [by Muslims]."
Some critics have derided Friedman's idiosyncratic prose style, with its tendency to use mixed metaphors and analogies. Walter Russell Mead described his prose as being "an occasionally flat Midwestern demotic punctuated by gee-whiz exclamations about just how doggone irresistible globalization is – lacks the steely elegance of a Lippmann, the unobtrusive serviceability of a Scotty Reston or the restless fireworks of a Maureen Dowd and is best taken in small doses." Similarly, journalist Matt Taibbi has said of Friedman's writing that, "Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn't make them up even if you were trying – and when you tried to actually picture the 'illustrative' figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors."
In a column for the New York Press, Alexander Cockburn wrote: "Friedman exhibits on a weekly basis one of the severest cases known to science of Lippmann's condition, named for the legendary journalistic hot-air salesman, Walter Lippmann, and alluding to the inherent tendency of all pundits to swell in self-importance to zeppelin-like dimensions". Cockburn said Friedman's hubris allowed him to pass off another war correspondent's experience in Beirut as his own. In December 2017, Hamid Dabashi wrote about Friedman: "Thomas Friedman is an ignorant fool - and I do not mean that as an insult. I mean it as a clinical diagnosis of an almost-illiterate man who has been cheated out of a proper undergraduate education, sold as a liberal Zionist to the highest bidder, and thus has managed to ramble and blabber his way up as a top-notch New York Times columnist."
In November 2017 Mehdi Hasan criticized "Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last", a column written by Friedman, in which the latter characterized Mohammed bin Salman as a modernizing reformer and a champion of a moderate form of Islam. Hasan described Friedman's article as "nauseating", and suggested that "if the Saudi Arabian government were to set up a Ministry of Truth and Propaganda, they could offer the job of minister to Tom Friedman", critiquing the piece for only mentioning the Yemeni Civil War in passing despite Saudi Arabia and bin Salman's significant involvement in the conflict, and arguing that Friedman's claim that bin Salman was returning Saudi Islam to a state of moderation that existed before the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure in Mecca ignored the long history of ties between the Salafi movement and the House of Saud.
In April 2018, Barrett Brown criticized Friedman for "his serial habit of giving the benefit of the doubt to whoever happens to hold power", such as Friedman's column supporting Vladimir Putin as a modernizing reformer, in which he urged Americans to "keep rootin' for Putin". Brown also used this phrase in the title of his 2014 book "Keep Rootin' for Putin: Establishment Pundits and the Twilight of American Competence".
Friedman has hosted several documentaries for the Discovery Channel from several locations around the world. In Straddling the Fence (2003), he visited the West Bank and spoke to Israelis and Palestinians about the Israeli West Bank barrier and its impact on their lives. Also in 2003, Thomas L. Friedman Reporting: Searching for the Roots of 9/11 aired on the Discovery Times Channel. This program investigated how the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon were viewed in the Muslim world.
In The Other Side of Outsourcing (2004), he visited a call center in Bangalore, interviewing the young Indians working there, and then traveled to an impoverished rural part of India, where he debated the pros and cons of globalization with locals (this trip spawned his later book The World is Flat).
In Does Europe Hate Us? (2005), Friedman traveled through Britain, France and Germany, talking with academics, journalists, Marshall and Rhodes scholars, young Muslims and others about the nature of the strained relationship between Europe and the United States.
Addicted to Oil (2006) premiered at the Silverdocs Documentary Festival at 5:30 PM on June 16, 2006, and aired on June 24, 2006, on the Discovery Times Channel. In it he examined the geopolitical, economic, and environmental consequences of petroleum use and ways that green technologies such as alternative fuels and energy efficiency and conservation can reduce oil dependence.
In Green: The New Red, White and Blue (2007), Friedman elaborates on the green technologies and efforts touched on in Addicted to Oil and in doing so, attempts to redefine green energy as geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. He explores efforts by companies and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint and save money with conservation, efficiency, and technologies such as solar, wind, biomass, nuclear, and clean coal.
In 2014, Friedman served as a correspondent for Years of Living Dangerously, a documentary show about climate change. For the show's first season, he traveled to cover the role climate change has played in conflicts in the region. He also interviewed U.S. President Barack Obama. For the show's second season in 2016, he traveled to Africa.
Friedman's wife, Ann (née Bucksbaum) is a teacher and a native of Marshalltown, Iowa. A graduate of Stanford University and the London School of Economics, she is the daughter of real estate developer Matthew Bucksbaum, whom Friedman describes as his "best friend". They were married in London on Thanksgiving Day 1978 and live in an 11,400-square-foot mansion in Bethesda, Maryland. They have two daughters, Orly (b. 1985) and Natalie (b. 1988).
Friedman supported Hillary Clinton for President of the United States in the 2016 election, and supported Michael Bloomberg in the 2020 primaries. He supported Joe Biden in the 2020 United States presidential election.
Friedman is on the board of directors for Planet Word, a Washington, D.C. based private museum dedicated to language.
Friedman has won the Pulitzer Prize three times:
Additionally, in 2004 he was elected as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, from which he retired in 2013.
In 2003, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society that same year.
Give New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman credit for his admission, rare among the national news media, that President Trump's immigration positions are logical, humane, and morally right.
Awards Council member Neil Sheehan presents Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, with the Academy's Golden Plate Award during the 2003 International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C.
Former Prime Minister of Israel, His Excellency Shimon Peres, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, and New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, address the delegates.