Thursday, May 1, 2014

Media on Ukraine: What Happened to Journalism?

By Reginald Johnson

            As the United States continues to ramp up the manufactured “Ukraine Crisis” to gain geopolitical advantage over Russia, mainstream press outlets have once again abandoned their role as impartial purveyors of vital news.

             Major media operations like The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC, have become virtual propaganda machines for the Obama administration as it seeks to paint Russia as the villain in the Ukraine situation. Every outrageous statement or claim by Secretary of State John Kerry or President Barack Obama about Ukraine is dutifully reported by these media, with little attempt to give a countervailing view or put the claims in context. Crititical reporting has basically gone out the window.

   The one-sided reporting has gone on pretty much unabated since a putsch took place in February in which militants, led by neo-Nazis, ousted the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, from power. The American government, whose representatives had openly encouraged protests leading up to coup, quickly recognized the new regime. The new leaders pledged to seek closer ties to the West and join the European Union.

   Coverage of both the rebellion and the establishment of a new government has been decidedly positive. Press reports have largely glossed over the presence of fascists in the uprising and in the new regime. There was wide acceptance in the mainstream press of the claim by the rebels that government snipers had shot and killed Ukrainian citizens participating in the protests, and no investigation of reports that right-wing militants had in fact, done the shooting.

    When Russia moved into Crimea in Ukraine to protect its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol, Russia was denounced by both the Kiev government, the Obama administration and the press for breaking international law and being “expansionist.” It was true that Russia was breaking international law, and that’s wrong. But media reports on this issue rarely brought up, or brought up only sparingly, Russia’s legitimate security interests in taking back Crimea, which had been part of the old Soviet Union until 1954.

   In the 1990s, American leaders promised former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO would not expand its borders to the east. But under the Clinton and Bush administrations, former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Baltic states were asked to join the western alliance, and they did. Now NATO’s borders are much farther east.

    With a potential enemy alliance inching closer to their borders and an anti-Russian government now in control in Ukraine, what were Russian leaders like Vladimir Putin supposed to think? Status quo is fine? No potential military threats?  This is absurd.

   Yet the drumbeat goes on by the administration and key members of the media that Russia is a villain, not to be trusted, and bent on expansion. America has led the way to impose economic sanctions on Russia for their actions in Crimea, and now for allegedly fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, where the Russian-oriented population seeks to break away from Kiev. The U.S. has accused the Russian Federation of secretly sending in military agents to train the east Ukrainian militants, who have taken over government buildings in various cities..

  In an echo of their shoddy reporting prior to the Iraq War, the Times recently ran a front-page piece making the case that Russian military personnel had unlawfully gone into Ukraine to train east Ukrainian rebels. The story came with photographs purportedly showing Russian soldiers training militia. In one case, the story showed a photograph of a group of men previously taken in Russia, and then photos of some of the same men doing training in Ukraine.

   But the story quickly fell apart when the free lance photographer who took the picture of the trainers stepped forward and said the group photo was shot in Ukraine, not Russia. He also said he not given permission for use of his photos, which he had posted on Instagram.

  The Times issued a limited retraction of the story some days later, with a short piece buried inside the paper.

  The Times has had other questionable stories, most recently a lengthy 1500-word Sunday article which mused about Putin’s possible substantial fortune and how it could be hit by sanctions, too. The piece on April 27 enititled “Sanctions Revive Search for Secret Putin Fortune,” offers no hard facts or evidence, just speculation.

   It’s amazing the Times would devote so much space to a piece that’s just speculation, but this fits in with the paper’s consistent portrayal of Putin as the “bad guy” in the Ukraine situation.

  Other press outlets like The Washington Post also have been on the bandwagon running Russia-bashing stories, and adopting the position of the administration and of the Kiev regime on events in Ukraine, without any questioning.

    Robert Parry, the editor of, detailed in an article recently how Washington Post reporter Lally Weymouth, in an interview with Ukrainian internal affairs minister Arsen Avakov on the regime’s efforts to deal with the protesters in east Ukraine, referred to “Russians” in occupied buildings, and at another point called the protesters “terrorists.”

   There has been no proof presented by the U.S. government that there are Russians taking part in the occupations, but here you have a journalist, so-called, adopting the language of the administration which continues to claim that Russians are guiding the protests and Russia is masterminding the secessionist movement.

  In using the word “terrorist,” Weymouth picked up the language of the Kiev regime, which said they have to conduct “anti-terrorist” campaigns against the militants in eastern Ukraine.

   Parry writes:  “For their part, those eastern protesters have said they are resisting the imposition of power from Kiev, which has included the appointment of  billionaire “oligarchs” as regional administrators, and are rejecting a harsh austerity plan from the International Monetary Fund that will make their hard lives even harder.

 “Yet, Official Washington has largely banished those realities to the great memory hole. Many in the U.S. government and the mainstream press corps seem to be licking their lips over the prospect of unleashing hell on the eastern Ukrainians.”

 Other outlets, usually called liberal, seem to be buying into the administration view of “Russia bad, U.S. good” on Ukraine. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC in a recent segment on the sanctions wondered whether the “escalating tactics” short of war by the U.S. against Russia, were working. Then she interviewed former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who referred to Russia “escalating tensions” in Ukraine, and said the sanctions were aimed at stopping “further aggression” by Russia.

    The whole tenor of the interview was that both Maddow and McFaul were in agreement that Russia was at fault in Ukraine, and needed to be punished. Maddow didn’t raise any contrary views, or note that the U.S. had a role in fomenting the February coup, which led to the tensions in the first place.

  To top off the poor reporting and analysis of the events in Ukraine, major media --- following the administration --- have criticized any media (such as RT or alternative media) that has brought up Russian perspectives on Ukraine, for spouting Russian propaganda.

   Parry has done an excellent job in recent weeks spotlighting the media bias on Ukraine.
  In his piece, “Ukraine, Through the U.S. Looking Glass,” he wrote,  “In my four-plus decades in journalism, I have never seen a more thoroughly biased and misleading performance by the major U.S. news media. Even during the days of Ronald Reagan – when much of the government’s modern propaganda structure was created – there was more independence in major news outlets. There were media stampedes off the reality cliff during George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War and George W. Bush’s Iraq War, both of which were marked by demonstrably false claims that were readily swallowed by the big U.S. news outlets.

 “But there is something utterly Orwellian in the current coverage of the Ukraine crisis, including accusing others of “propaganda” when their accounts – though surely not perfect – are much more honest and more accurate than what the U.S. press corps has been producing.”

  As for me, I can’t say for sure what’s going on with some of the media. It may be in some cases top people in certain organizations agree with the “Neo-con” foreign policy of the Obama and Bush administrations and the utterly backwards and arrogant notion of “American exceptionalism.”  If so, reporters and editors below feel obliged to fall in line with the slanted coverage, or else. Probably a few reporters are neo-cons themselves, and write accordingly. In other cases, reporters feel a need, again for the sake of their careers, to play along with the administration they’re covering, otherwise they’ll lose access.

  A really good report on Ukraine would start with this central question: why is the United States so obsessed with something going on in a country that is 8,000 miles away from our borders?

   What are our motives in aiding an unelected, far-right wing regime in Ukraine and constantly demonizing Russia and its leader Mr. Putin? It’s certainly not about preserving the sanctity of international law, since we break it all the time. Stopping expansionism? How many bases do we have around the world?

   Aren’t we trying to undermine Russia, and possibly someday force regime change? And in effecting regime change, aren’t we paving the way for private corporations to gain access to the vast mineral, oil and gas wealth of Eurasia, while at the same time removing a powerful patron of Iran and Syria --- enemies of both the U.S. and Israel?

   That’s the way I see it.

  But I don’t know for sure, I’m just asking.

 I hope some people in the mainstream media, those who haven’t totally sold-out, will finally stand up and start asking similar questions.

 It's critical that they do, because the Ukraine situation --- with two nuclear-armed nations at odds with each other --- is fraught with incredible danger.


   For more in-depth news stories on Ukraine, you can go to a number of good, non-mainstream websites. Among them are:;; and





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