Within the past two weeks, two of the most prestigious American newspapers published op-eds of enemies of the United States.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an op-ed by Vladimir Putin of Russia arguing that the United States would make matters worse by attacking Syria and (among other things) denying that it was the Syrian government that used chemical weapons. Putin’s op-ed also offered Russia’s support for a negotiated agreement to end the Syrian civil war.

Later we learned that the op-ed was placed with the assistance of an American PR firm.

Putin Op Ed NY Times headline

The public editor of the New York Times later defended the placement of the op-ed. In the course of her defense, she quoted editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal:

“There is no ideological litmus test” for an Op-Ed article, he said. In addition, he said, it is not the purpose of the Op-Ed pages to help or hurt the American government. It is to present a variety of interesting and newsworthy points of view, at least some of which will be contrary to The Times’s own point of view, expressed in its editorials.

The Times has published very few Op-Ed pieces by heads of state, Mr. Rosenthal said, partly because they have their own ways of getting their messages out. …

I asked him about Mr. Putin’s statement that there is “every reason to believe” that the poison gas has been used by opposition forces, not the Syrian government – which many now do not believe to be true. Mr. Rosenthal said that “falls into the category of opinion.”

The “ideological litmus test” argument is misdirection.  The Times has not hesitated to refuse Op-Eds from political figures seeking to set the record straight, including John McCain and Scott Walker.

NY Times McCain Op Ed Refusal

The goal of Putin’s op-ed was to solidify American public opinion against an attack on Syria. Assuming that that was President Obama’s intent, Putin’s main goal was to undermine the public position of the American president. (Admittedly, even without the op-ed, the American public was against such a strike. Furthermore, once President Obama chose to ask Congress for the authorization of force, it pretty much eliminated any chance that he would use attack Syria.)

Rosenthal’s odd assertion that a false statement could be excused as an “opinion,” is beyond ridiculous. (More on this later.)

A subsequent new article, As Obama Pauses Action, Putin Takes Center Stage, highlighted Putin’s role in protecting Syria at America’s expense.

In an Op-Ed article in The New York Times released on Wednesday, Mr. Putin laid down a strong challenge to Mr. Obama’s vision of how to address the turmoil, arguing that a military strike risked “spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders” and would violate international law, undermining postwar stability.

“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States,” Mr. Putin wrote. “Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it.” …

Now he appears to be relishing a role as a statesman. His spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said in an interview that the Russian president was not seeking “ownership of the initiative,” but wanted only to promote a political solution to head off a wider military conflict in the Middle East.

By mentioning the op-ed in the course of a news article, the Times gave the op-ed an extra boost of credibility. Now it wasn’t just an opinion, but a news item promoted by the New York Times. True, the report later acknowledged that Putin’s claim about chemical weapons was dubious. But by writing an article about how President Putin was becoming a statesman (at America’s expense) and citing the op-ed they had just published as proof of that, they elevated an opinion article into news.

Rosenthal, this past week added Putin’s Dubious Opinion:

Now, given the U.N. inspectors’ report from Syria and some incredible reporting by C.J. Chivers and others on our front page today, it seems even less supportable. …

It’s pretty amazing, by the way, that Kremlin propagandists use Twitter and cite YouTube videos. If Mr. Putin starts Snap Chatting meetings in which he orders the imprisonment of political opponents, or the re-branded KGB puts assassinations of journalists on its Pinterest page, we will have reached a new stage of evolution.

The Russians will go on saying the Syrian government didn’t carry out the chemical weapons attack, even as they work on a plan to make the government surrender its chemical weapons.

The excellent reporting at the New York Times confirmed that it was the Syrian government that used the chemical weapons. But read Rosenthal and how he dismisses “Kremlin propagandists.” As he and his own paper behaved, they too served as a Kremlin propagandists, elevating Putin’s dishonest op-ed into news.

Astonishingly, Rosenthal can’t quite internalize the implications of what he wrote. Does he really believe that Russia, which even he acknowledges is lying about Syria, is working on a credible plan to make Syria surrender its chemical weapons?

The Washington Post’s entry into “let’s promote a tyrant” is Why Iran seeks constructive engagement, President Hassan Rouhani.

Like Putin, Rouhani takes a conciliatory tone. But he makes it clear where he’s coming from:

More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. Syria, a jewel of civilization, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn. In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.

The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues we all face, such as terrorism and extremism. I say all because nobody is immune to extremist-fueled violence, even though it might rage thousands of miles away. Americans woke up to this reality 12 years ago.

Putin, made a similar argument. It is American intervention that breeds violence; not the nature of radical Islam.

Funny that Rouhani would make this argument the same time that it’s reported that there is significant evidence that Iran’s Republican Guards are fully involved in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime.

But what’s really interesting about Rouhani’s article are two paragraphs.

Three months ago, my platform of “prudence and hope” gained a broad, popular mandate. Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue. I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world. …

Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches. Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. Syria, a jewel of civilization, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn. In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.

The five links in these two paragraphs all link back to Washington Post articles. Buzzfeed reported that the Washington Post dealt directly with the Iranian government. This begs the question, who put those links in?

I don’t believe that the Iranians would have done so. (Had the Iranian government been savvy enough to put in the links they wouldn’t have linked to a single news source.) I have to believe that the Washington Post in the course of its editing added the links.

Even if one believes that there is value in publishing the propaganda of enemies (which I don’t), that would only apply if what’s presented is the unvarnished opinion of the enemy without any outside enhancement so readers can judge . The New York Times, by working with a PR firm as an intermediary and making Putin’s op-ed into news elevated Putin’s op-ed from propaganda into something of substance. The Washington Post did the same thing by buttressing Rouhani’s op-ed with its own reporting.