If the Pew Research Center polling is to be believed, a remarkable– perhaps unprecedented– change in US attitudes occurred between January and the end of March. In January, forty-nine percent of the US population thought that Russia was a mere competitor to the US. Another seven percent saw Russia as a partner. Today, seventy percent see Russia as “an enemy”!
Where Republicans have tended in the past to carry over Cold War attitudes to the twenty-first-century Russian Federation, Democrats with a very unfavorable opinion on Russia now surpass Republicans with a similar view. Seventy-two percent of Democrats or those leaning Democrat see Russia unfavorably, with sixty-six percent perceiving Russia as “a major threat to the US.”
Interestingly, those who are older, better educated, and liberal are more likely to “see Russia as an enemy.”
While a shrill, uncritical media have amplified official hysteria over the February 24 invasion, Pew research shows that the negative view of Russia as a “major threat” has trended up for most of the last decade and a half. After the 2016 election, Democrats’ fears of Russia increased sharply and, of course, again now, with the invasion.
Whatever one thinks about the Russian invasion– and one can credibly both deplore the invasion and the ensuing growing risk of escalating war while denouncing the US and NATO provocations and aggressions that preceded it– the manufacturing of hatred for Russia orchestrated by US officialdom and the media demonstrates an enormous power to move public opinion with little regard to reality or responsibility.
Russia has no military bases near US borders and has neither attacked or threatened to attack US personnel or property. Yet, the US government and NATO have portrayed Russia as a potential or actual enemy for most of this century.
Beginning with the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the Democrats have elevated Russia to the source of all their failings or setbacks, leading the charge on damning everything Russian. Russia has become the great meddler: Russia meddled in the elections; it supported Trump; it spread disinformation and peddled influence. For leading Democrats, electoral victory was only denied because of Russia.
Of course, all the charges of Russian meddling proved false or insignificant. From embarrassing leaks of campaign shenanigans, from alleged Internet bot farms to Russian collusion with Trump, the Democratic Party claims were debunked or shown of little consequence. Nonetheless, the media charged ahead, legitimizing, exaggerating, and fabricating. Only those playing close attention or following alternative media would know that Russia-blaming was bogus, unworthy of note.
US rulers, self-anointed as guardians of the capitalist world order, have never forgiven Russia for its decisive role in defeating the US proxies in the Syrian war, prompting another example of a relentless media campaign misrepresenting interests, motives, and facts.
The media not only docilely parrots State Department and Defense Department explanations of Russia’s ill intentions, but dutifully masks the machinations of the new US Cold Warriors. For years, the US has encouraged the expansion of NATO, closing in on Russian borders, and arming hostile anti-Russian states surrounding Russia. The US military has staged war games near Russia and violated its airspace. The cable news commentariat and Sunday morning blowhards have neither noted this trend nor warned of its consequences.
Against the backdrop of this crude, unbalanced propaganda campaign, it should come as no surprise that a Russian invasion– regardless of the history and circumstances– should generate another round of demonization and hysteria. But the dimensions of the current media blitz– a relentless depiction of the noble, heroic Ukrainians versus the brutal, inhuman Russians– transcend all proportion.
Even a doctrinaire liberal obsessed with legalisms, like Professor Richard Falk, is surprised by the extreme, rabid vitriol directed at the Russians: “There have been other horrific events in the period since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, including Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Palestine yet no comparable clamor for criminal justice and punitive action.” While Falk accepts the conventional depiction of “clear criminality” on the part of the Russians, he is equally appalled at the “pure geopolitical hypocrisy on the other side.”
And hypocrisy it is. Writing on the same day (April 8) as Falk, Nick Turse recounts a US bombing of a city in Iraq in 2015 that “killed at least 85 civilians, may have injured 500 or more people, and reportedly damaged 1,200 businesses and 6,000 homes…”
Almost seven years after the attack, Hawija has never recovered, according to the new report. “The airstrike killed breadwinners and destroyed many workplaces and so cost many people their livelihood; because people’s homes had become uninhabitable, they became displaced; damage to the electricity network reduced civilians’ access to clean (and thus safe) drinking water,” it states. “This demonstrates how one single airstrike can cause reverberating civilian harm effects that last years, even generations.”
Both the horrific attack on Hawija– one of countless civilian atrocities inflicted by the US military and its allies over many years and many wars– and the recent FOIA revelations cited by Turse got or get none of the attention brought on by allegations of civilian casualties afflicted in today’s war in Ukraine. The US media has been silent, skeptical, or matter-of-fact over charges of civilian casualties inflicted by US or allied forces, even when the incidents were conceded by the US military!
Any careful reader or viewer of US media accounts of alleged Russian criminality must note that there is no independent investigation of the charges made or welcomed. The word of Ukrainian authorities is simply taken, with no hesitation or attempt made at securing secondary confirmation. The words “alleged,” “claimed,” or purported” — hedge words associated with good journalism– never appear before the reports made by Ukrainian officials.
On the other hand, claims by the Russian Ministry of Defense or other Russian authorities are nearly always followed by something like “Those claims couldn’t be confirmed independently.” Clearly different scales of evidence are being used.
Enormous pressure has been exerted on the more deliberate European leaders who have been hesitant to join the sanctions frenzy stirred by the US, UK, NATO, and Eastern European ultra-nationalists. For Italy, the charges by Zelensky of a massacre in Bucha, Ukraine were, without further substantiation, sufficient to move Italy to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas. Only Germany, Austria, and Hungary in the EU continue to resist imposing further hardships on their people to advance NATO’s militaristic aims.
Ukraine’s president, Zelensky, has attained rock-star status in the West with a tour of venues from parliaments to the Grammys, adding his TV-honed skillful appeals to the politician-concocted, media-transmitted message that Russia is the enemy of mankind. No Western talking head ever casts any doubt on Zelensky’s political legitimacy in the wake of the 2014 coup.
With NATO, Ukraine, and Russia arming at a maddening pace and the threat of an expanding war increasing exponentially, the shameless, truth-bending role of the media is irresponsible, if not criminal.
Yet, it should come as no surprise. In 2003, a similar overwrought, frenzied media campaign behind the US invasion of Iraq rallied a majority with a very thin tissue of lies at its foundation. In retrospect, it is difficult to remember even one journalist, outside of the fringes of the mainstream or with the alternative media, who dared to challenge the official, US government narrative. It should have been a profound refutation of the notion that we have a free and independent press.
And recent Western media coverage of wars in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria show the same slavish obeisance, the same conformity, underscoring the myth that capitalist journalism and objectivity belong in the same room.
Of course, the fusing of the private press and the government opinion-makers reaches its highest stage in the US. Moreover, it is not a new phenomenon, but one that has evolved with the concentration of media assets into complex monopoly-entertainment corporations.
Even farther back, during the Korean War, the flow of war “information” was contaminated with the taken-at-face-value, tainted statements of generals and politicians, as documented by I. F. Stone’s nearly-forgotten classic, The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951. Through a careful reading of news releases, press conferences, and date-lined reports, Stone was able to find the inconsistencies, the exaggerations, and the prevarications that passed for the official account of that war.
As perhaps the US’s foremost and most fearless liberal investigative reporter, Stone continued to puncture the smug, self-satisfied journalism of his and our era. He was one of the very few voices to challenge the Gulf of Tonkin fabrications that led to the massive escalation of the Vietnam War.
In response to a speech by President J. F. Kennedy before the American Newspaper Publishers Association after the Bay of Pigs debacle, Stone wrote:
Now it seems that no truly patriotic American, especially a newspaperman, is supposed to tell the truth once our government has decided that it is more advantageous to tell a lie. This is the real meaning of President Kennedy’s appeal to the American Newspaper Publishers Association for self-censorship in the handling of the news. (When the Government Lies, Must the Press Fib?— May 3, 1961)
If Stone were alive today, he would be sickened by the utter servility of our media to power and wealth.
ML Today, April 14, 2022