Ukraine war: Lessons from the textbook of journalistic error
Western journalists are all but unanimous that negotiating with Russia would equal forgiving its aggression. Nothing short of a crushing victory for Ukraine is conscionable. The risk of escalation is rarely mentioned.
Serge Halimi & Pierre Rimbert
July 3, 2023
This is from Le Monde Diplomatique a few months ago. It’s one of the most succinct and comprehensive analyses we’ve come across of the deep malaise called Western mainstream media and their coverage/promotion of NATO wars. And a scathing critique of the larger part of the so-called Left.
Jan Oberg, editor
Eulogies, hugs, gushing questions: the Western press’s veneration of this president in khaki fatigues suggests media in thrall to political leaders. But that impression is misleading. Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and particularly since Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, ‘journalism’ in the United States and also in Europe has increasingly behaved like an autonomous political force with its own ideological agenda. Unlike traditional political parties, the media are simultaneously bringing to life and feeding rival tendencies that form two branches of the market for news: one on the hard right (Fox News, The Sun, CNews etc), the other liberal (the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Guardian, Le Monde etc). With these two audiences, both of which demand their own partisan reading of events, ‘journalism’ is careful not to alienate the faithful by ever making them doubt the bewitching story it serves up. Media in combat mode have polarised the US around fictitious issues (‘Trump is the Kremlin’s puppet’, ‘Joe Biden’s election victory was rigged’). Since the invasion of Ukraine, they have involved the West in a war against Russia by suppressing any public debate on the risks of military escalation.
There isn’t much you can do about bad journalism except change the channel, write a comment to a faceless person that may or may not get addressed, or toss the newspaper in the trashJeff Gerth
This undertaking has been aided by instincts inherited from the cold war: (much-replayed) archive footage of American schoolchildren learning how to protect themselves from a Soviet nuclear attack; a long-standing obsession with communist subversion in the US; and recurrent paranoia about the ‘enemy within’. It was conceivable, though, that the demise of the Soviet Union and the election of a president who enjoyed strong support in the West, and was almost servile towards it — Boris Yeltsin — would call for more cordial relations between the two former protagonists in a confrontation that had become futile. The Russian people longed for this just as much as their leaders: in the early 1990s, when former Soviet citizens were asked about their favourite international partner, 74% of them picked the US (1).
To ensure US hegemony
This enthusiasm was not mutual. US politicians and media treated Russia as a defeated country, whose role was to not only bend to the rules of then-triumphant neoliberal capitalism, but also to remain strategically weak so that no hostile power could ever again threaten US hegemony. In 1992, only a few weeks after the end of the Soviet Union, the leaked draft Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), better known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, a Pentagon document that the press published immediately, already had Russia in its sights. It stated that Washington would henceforth need to ‘refocus on precluding the emergence of any future global competitor’. The power of American ‘conviction’ would be all the more compelling because the Pentagon promised to back it up with a military capable of ‘preclud[ing] hostile competitors from challenging our critical interests’ (2). However, ‘the master of the Kremlin’ was then Boris Yeltsin, not Vladimir Putin.