Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Having retired from the mainstream media, and having, I think I may claim, swum for 50-plus years within it, more or less finding my own currents, I wonder that I have so much agita about some of the recent attacks on it for coverage of Ukraine.  

I was first set off by a series of provocative, to me often provoking, articles by the formidable investigative reporter Robert Parry, who is full of rage at the alleged complicity of the American news media in official Washington’s undeniable falsification of the crisis in Crimea and Ukraine.

The articles include these:





What first got me riled up was Parry’s repeated labeling of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as “democratically elected,” as if he were Allende or Aristide, and his repeated echoing of the Russians' self-interested assertion that the Ukrainian opposition is dominated, even defined by the presence of neo-Nazis.   

His description of "the independent-minded and strong-willed Putin," set off another Rolaids roller-coaster.  Such language is disingenuous at best, willfully ignorant at worst.  Putin is a totalitarian who, in his desperation as the leader of a failing state, -- life expectancy in Russia continues to fall, industrial productivity levels are third-world, unemployment is huge, the economy is barely holding on, with the dropping global price of natural gas an "existential threat,” -- he is busy creating external enemies and manufacturing distracting international crises. Acting as if a new regime in Kiev might attack Mama Rus may boost his rating in short term, both declaring war on Iraq and claiming “success” did for George W. Bush.  In the short-term this hyper-nationalist nonsense, backed by the radical suppression of dissident voices from Russia's intelligencia and mass media, seems to be working right now.  But the Russian stock market is falling, and the threat of economic isolation may, in the long-run, prove to be much more dangerous to Putin's survival, than the now suppressed, shouted down, democratic opposition.  By 2020, Putin may be gone, and Pussy Riot still major celebrities.

Parry is correct that Ukraine’s "interim" government is an important and undercovered story, unfortunately completely buried by coverage of the conflict on the eastern fringe of the country.  But is the loony right influence the hart of that story, as Parry asserts?  I don’t think so, any more than the alleged American neocon influence on the Kiev opposition movement.  Both are, I would say, “White herrings.”  It is true the right has been given (with American approval) some important posts in the temporary government, while only a few "new oppositionists" have been placed in fringe Cabinet seats -- tourism, culture sport, etc etc.  But the real story is whether this hapless and nasty interim group is the future for Ukraine, of just the last gasp of the completely discredited old regime. This is the story I want followed, and the media story that I wish I had a better sense of is what kind of news are Ukrainians getting.  I do know that whole new generation of internet-based news media are active there and support the progressive opposition.  Have they continued their popular ascendancy at the expense of old and old regime dominated media?

Parry's attempts to discredit many of the Ukrainian oppo NGOs because they took American money is exactly how Putin outlawed many of the most valuable NGOs in Russian, attacking them for taking "foreign money," ignoring how they were using it.

And crying neocon this, neocon that is just sticks and stones, as long Parry shirks the hard work of reporting what the NGOs and their American backers have been up to, and how they have been received by their target audiences.

As Simon Orlovsky's brilliant reporting for the internet-based Vice News has showed, Russia has been infiltrating provocateurs and thugs into Ukraine to stir Russophile emotions and bully Ukrainian nationalists (who are for the most part in no way Hyper-nationalists or neo-Nazis).  Orlovsky showed video of how Russia had by the middle of last week, crossed into "mainland" Ukraine, well beyond the provincial borders of Crimea, and had set up not only heavily armed checkpoints but minefields on Ukrainian territory.  I guess Parry doesn't watch Vice News, because Russian military and paramilitary aggression simply don't appear in his copy.

I loathe the neocon politics of the Kagan brothers, and have for years, but so f--ing what?  Their influence in Ukraine, like the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman's is small.  This is, I keep repeating, a Ukrainian story, and American kibitzing, whether helpful or obstructive is just kibitizing.  The important decisions and the important upcoming votes will be taken by Ukrainians, not neocons.

One key to Ukraine's future, I believe, is some form of debt forgiveness.  The lenders demanding their money back knew the crooks they were dealing were crooks, so when crooks do what crooks do....no one should bail their willing business partners out.  Anyone heard this idea in either the mainstream or progressive media.  It ain’t in Parry either.

Nobody elected the anti-Semitic temps in the interim government that Parry and Steve Weissman are so worried about, and it is possible, even likely, few will vote for them in the May elections to reconstitute the government.  The story in Ukraine is not whether change there is good for the Jews or the neocons, but for the Ukrainians.  These guys haven't even talked to one between 'em.

In another Parry piece, he proposes parallel "invasions" of Ukraine by the US and Russia. His charge against the US is that Blackwater (now known as Academi) mercenaries are patrolling the streets of Donetsk.

Where did he get this from?  His recommended source "For a thorough account of the uprising” is “’The Ukrainian Pendulum’ by Israeli journalist Israel Shamir."
Shamir's is a brand as authentic and multi-nonymous as Blackwater/Xe/Academi.  He is an ex-Israeli, living in Sweden and publishing under several aliases who, according to his many doubters, specializes in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.  

The main source for "Shamir" and Parry's American mercenary charge is a pair of anonymous short videos posted on YouTube by someone writing in Russian.  Although "Shamir" talks about hundreds of  Academi mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, the video shows fewer than 10, and aside from saying that people in the Donetsk crowd called them "Blackwater, Blackwater," there seems to be no verification anywhere Googleable that they are indeed from Academi or the US.
The most mainstream source to pick up the story, the right-wing UK newspaper the Daily Mail cites an "expert," Nafeez Ahmed, who is, oddly enough, a writer for The Mail’s despised rival The Guardian, who specializes in environmental issues.

Nevertheless, the Mail went to him and: "Asked whether the soldiers seen in the videos could be from Academi, Dr Nafeez Ahmed, a security expert with the Institute for Policy Research & Development, said: ‘Difficult to say really. It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility - Academi have been deployed in all sorts of theatres. 
'I think the question is whether the evidence available warrants at least reasonable speculation.

"‘On the face of it, the uniforms of the people in the videos are consistent with US mercs - they don't look like Russian soldiers mercs. On the other hand, why run around in public making a show of it?’

"He added: ‘Of course the other possibility is it's all Russian propaganda.’
This is not a possibility Parry addresses.  And doesn't Parry have an obligation to try to identify and explain his sources?  I think he does, and I think his choice not to when they are so shaky, is telling.

But even if Parry and Shamir have hit the covert jackpot here, a dozen, or even 300 mercenaries are not equal to a combination -- whose existence and actions are well described and widely sourced -- of Russian Army troops and equipment and Russian, Serbian Chetnik, and local Crimean "Cossack" paramilitaries occupying several cities, manning armed checkpoints all over Crimea and crossing the border to set up military posts and minefields inside "mainland" Ukraine.  Parallel "invasions", my ass.
I agree with Parry's assessment of the stupid and malign "diplomacy" of John Kerry, and loathe poor old John McCain's doddering war-mongering.  There are lots of arguments to be made against both, but Parry goes way beyond or beneath that to brand his alleged neocon conspiracy.

And still, has he talked to any Ukrainians?  Not on his own evidence.
Another good example of foolish and intellectually dishonest media-baiting is this recent piece from i24 news and University of Maryland scholar Leon Hadar: Analysis: The Good Guy, Bad Guy media narrative in Ukraine

Hadar acts like he's uncovering a secret that there are and have been right-wing, hyper-nationalist “bad guys” in the Ukrainian opposition.  But, this has never been a secret, even from "top 3 paragraph" readers of the conventional media.

Actually this has gotten more coverage than the "moderate, centrist, technocrat" old regime remnant “bad guys” who actually run the so-called government in Kiev.  This is because conventional media sources, most of them in government, don't like to talk about the kinds of criminals and boobs they are comfortable seeing in other people's governments. 

Conventional Western politics is to "play the cards you’re dealt” (no matter how bad they may be), rather than risk seeing in power people you do not know, and may not be able to control.

But the key word missing from Hadar's piece (and to me it is a damnable absence) is "interim."  The guys we gave the nod to are just holding the keys till May.  It is true they, and the real neo-fascist rats alongside them -- also tolerated by our "realists -- will have all the advantages of incumbency when elections are held in May, and in a place where "democratically elected" has always been enclosed in the quotation marks of endemic fraud and frequent intimidation and universal corruption, that may be decisive.

So, Ukraine may wind up with another government it is hard to condemn anyone (even the neo-soviet Russians of Crimea) for fleeing.  And the Times, the Post, the Guardian and the TV guys will all say, "democratically elected."

Of course they should say –quote-- "'democratically elected'" and wink or look faux-nauseous, but they won't.  And everyone from Obama and Kerry to Cameron and Hague and Rasmussen and Ashton will solemnly approve.

Or, Ukraine might do better, might use the electoral opportunity to replace the whole rotten lot with people who, if not guaranteed to be better, will at least be new, different, and indebted to voters rather than mafias, oligarchs or party hacks.

This is the big failure of our media, not reporting on what’s happening in the run-up to elections.  Are Ukrainian democrats organizing, or are they fading away, as they did in Egypt (though not in Tunisia)?  Have the parties of the right gathered strength among the people?  Those questions are as unasked and unanswered as the basic one – how much and what kind of governing is the interim government providing, and how is this playing with Ukrainian voters?

To smaller points:  Leon, why is it mandatory now to give Marine LePen a pass on the right-wing nationalist nutball, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic party her father raised her to run, even should she actually have a chance at power in France, but a failure not to sound the alarm about analogous rightist/nativist pols in Ukraine, who have every chance to be marginalized and out of their temporary power in May?  Le Pen has Jews in the FN?  Well Svoboda is in bed with a temporary government and an opposition movement which includes several Jews presently more powerful than their guys (or M LeP is in France).  

And the Croatian government has frequently contained people, even leaders like the noxious Fanjo Tudjman, the US' wartime and post-war ally as Prime Minister, with long ties to organized crime, the right-wing and Croatia's notably vicious anti-Semitic organizations. Slovakia, I dunno about, but the former Nazis in Croatian politics I reported on 20 years ago, and others did too and have since.

Hadar's assertions about media coverage of Egypt, that it failed "to recognize the ethnic, religious, and tribal forces driving events in the Arab Middle East," and paid too little "attention to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak," is just plain horse-spit.  
In the first place, neither ethnic, nor tribal issues have been important in Egypt (he must be thinking of Syria and Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, in all which those issues have been prominently covered).  In Egypt the Islamist roots and continuing religious identification of the MB was covered frequently, in the months between the revolution and the coup.  

Perhaps the media gave too much credit to the MB narrative that it had become more secular, pragmatic, and political in the democratic sense, but then so did Barack Obama, the leadership of Europe, and a sizable portion of the MB's own, now betrayed, rank and file.
The crucial fact, that the MB was the best organized group in post-Mubarak Egypt, and likely destined for success in elections, and that this might not work out to America’s or Egypt's benefit, was prominent in most mainstream coverage.

Finally, says Hadar, "in Syria" the media portrayed anti-Assad forces “as ‘freedom fighters’ without acknowledging that many of them were reactionary Muslim fundamentalists."  This is much too simple, and mostly flat wrong.  It was as the fighting went on, after mass protests had demonstrated that many, if not most, Syrians wanted their own “Arab Spring,” -- Assad gone and a new government more lawful and democratic, -- after it became obvious that without direct aid from outside which was not forthcoming, the tyrant could not be displaced, that the fundamentalist militias started to rise in power.  This shift from Tahrir Square to Fallujah III was well and frequently reported.  Papers from Europe to the Americas to Asia were reporting on the rising power of the Al-Qaeda affilliated Al Nusra front by 2012.

And this guy calls the media "intellectually lazy."

One final rantish thought...why are Crimea and Kosovo bracketed as if their secessions were matched pieces on some kind of global chessboard?  Who, knowing anything about the last 1000 years, much less the previous dozen, of vicious and unrelenting persecution and brutalization of the 90% majority Kosovars by the 8% Serbs, would not approve of a political liberation?  Pretty much, only the Serbs themselves and their cynical allies in Moscow.
Frankly, given that Crimea has long been a military concession of Russia, granted by Ukraine, and that the Russian military not only dominates the place, but is the heart of its economy and employment, and that Russian (especially military Russia) is the majority culture, it is just posturing to pretend to be surprised at the secession.  Not only does Crimea have its reasons, but as I said above, anyone in his right mind would have doubts about continuing an association with the governments that have always, always, run things from Kiev.  

And, other than a pain in its pride, there nothing about the loss of Crimea which does great existential damage to Ukraine.
Donetsk, Kharkiv, etc –that’s another story.  But let’s hope we, and Putin, can avoid going there.

But this shadow-play of mutually falsified morality and emotion, this blustering and club-waving on both sides over Crimea, amplified on all sides by irresponsible media simply selling papers of clicks, is doing more and more serious damage to the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment