Edward S. Herman: Mainstream News Coverage of Ukraine Shows Western Propaganda Machine at Work
Media analyst and professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, Edward S. Herman, co-author with Noam Chomsky of the 1988 book Manufacturing Consent, discusses the propaganda embedded in U.S. mainstream media coverage of the Ukraine crisis.
Dan Falcone: What is missing in the U.S. mainstream news coverage of Ukraine? What major elements are being suppressed?
Edward Herman: What is missing, first of all, is a minimum of objectivity. The media are functioning more than ever as a propaganda machine for the State Department. One thing missing -- and being suppressed -- is the important role of neo-Nazi elements both in the Kiev government and in the forces they have fielded in their war against East Ukraine. The media are eager to find Russians in Ukraine, but will not even recognize neo-fascists staring them in the face, but working on our side. They had earlier virtually suppressed the very important role of these right-wing elements in the Maidan protests and the accompanying violence and overthrow of the elected government in Kiev. The media regularly called those forces "protesters," whereas they called the East Ukraine rebels "pro-Russian militants" and "separatists" rather than "protesters" and "federalists." The double standards here are dramatic and the sign of a propaganda system at work.
So also is the different treatment of casualties. In the Maidan street protests and fighting before the coup, the media were very sensitive to violence against the protesters, although less attentive to violence by the protesters; whereas the thousands of civilian casualties in the Kiev war against the East have been of little interest to the media, again following the party line and paralleling the attention of [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry and [U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha] Power. They buried the story of the Odessa massacre, which was surely of greater scope than the Racak massacre in Kosovo, which so aroused U.S. officials and the ever-so-amenable media.
While continually stressing Russian alleged interventions, the media essentially suppress the U.S. role in the "coup" of February 2014 and its aid to the coup government (advice, trainers, military supplies, diplomatic backing and encouragement of the IMF to aid the government). They failed to give any deeper context to Russian behavior, most notably the NATO advance toward the Russian borders and virtual encirclement of Russia and the threat this embodies to Russian national security. These suppressions are the work of a very efficient and aggressive propaganda system.
Who is Victoria Nuland, what is the significance of her leaked phone call and how does she exemplify our actual motives in European and Eurasian affairs?
She is a neo-con brought into the State Department by Hillary Clinton and put in charge of the desk dealing with the Ukraine. Her leaked phone call made it clear that she was actively working for regime change, resented the EU [European Union] attempts to arrange a negotiated settlement and helped to scuttle it. She succeeded in her task of "f***[ing] the EU" by helping the ouster of the elected government by violence and getting her preferred choice ("Yats") as prime minister in the coup government. The call was one important piece of evidence of U.S. intervention with a highly political purpose -- and one that seriously threatened Russian national interests and national security. But the U.S. media ignore this evidence and take the coup-installed Kiev government as completely legitimate and completely independent. The New York Times has barely mentioned this phone call, which is a strong piece of evidence of the paper's bias and propaganda service.
Andrew Kramer and Andrew Roth just recently wrote in The New York Times that, "On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. 'She kills our children,' it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved." What do you think of a news story contextualized in this fashion?
The factual claims may be true, although the New York Times reporters are hugely biased, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was some falsification here, but the main bias here is selecting this set of facts for emphasis. One feature of The New York Times coverage is the almost complete failure to provide stories, interviews and pictures of the thousands of civilians who have been killed, wounded or terrorized by Kiev bombs and artillery fire. Omitting that context makes this terrible action by anti-Kiev rebels look like inexplicable cruelty rather than monstrous behavior in reaction to monstrous Kiev behavior (supported by U.S. policy, hence decontextualized in The New York Times).
David Frum writes for The Atlantic, "On Friday, Russia sent a supply column of more than 200 trucks rumbling into Ukraine and then, the next day, back out again. Since the Ukraine crisis began, Moscow has done many dangerous and deadly things. But this convoy ranks as one of the oddest. Until now, Russia has discreetly supplied the pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine with tanks, rockets, and other heavy equipment. This time, however, Russia invited reporters to view a fleet of vehicles violating the border. Why? The question becomes even more perplexing when you consider that, according to the BBC, many of the trucks were 'mostly empty.'" The article goes on to read like a recycled, Reaganite, anti-Soviet style, propaganda piece. Am I correct to assume this?
Yes, the news-propaganda flow has been remarkable. It is also a disinformation flow. Kiev claims the Russians have supplied tanks, but the rebels and Russians claim that any rebel held tanks were captured, which may well be true, but Frum cannot even consider this as a possibility. Has the United States "discretely" supplied Kiev with military equipment? The question doesn't arise for Frum, because the Western-recognized and supported government in Kiev has a right to pacify, whereas the rebels don't have a right to rebel and get assistance from their neighboring state.
The Russians are "violating the border," a sacred border for the Western propaganda machine. This is claimed by a Western client government doing a "wee bit" of pacification, killing and ethnic cleansing. The United States violates borders (Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan) on a daily basis, but the media are prepared to overlook this. The Russians invaded with many trucks containing humanitarian supplies, but for Frum and Western propagandists, this also is intolerable, challenging the sovereignty of the Kiev government. (When we know from the Iraq experience how precious sovereignty and international law are to the U.S. and NATO) That inflow of humanitarian supplies is one of those "dangerous and deadly" things the Russians have done, "odd" too, as it was openly violating the border -- which is a "no-no" when not done under the proper auspices. Frum, of course, doesn't mention that those trucks with humanitarian supplies had been waiting quite a while for inspection and approval -- that the Kiev authorities seemed unable to get around to doing [it]. Hence the nefarious invasion!
Do you read The Guardian and its coverage of the Ukraine crisis, or could you recommend some reliable or trustworthy news organizations covering the situation?
I don't think The Guardian is doing a good job on this, nor any Western, mainstream news outlet. The demonization process has been as great as with Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, so the official party line is firm and holds the mainstream media in thrall. One has to go to sources like Robert Parry's ConsortiumNews.com, Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept website or magazines like Z Magazine or The Nation. RT.com, sponsored by Russia, is also better than the U.S. mainstream media on Ukraine. In part, because to be at all credible to English-speaking audiences, RT has to lean over backwards to avoid straight out pro-Russian propaganda. But it welcomes Western experts like Stephen Cohen and Ray McGovern who barely make it to The New York Times or U.S. television. I'm also fond of the websiteStopNato and the dissident voices put into circulation by the Institute for Public Accuracy. There are lots of other blogs by Col. Patrick Lang, Ronald Thomas and writings of the Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen, that open vistas kept closed by the mainstream media.
What can you tell me about the U.S. media treatment of the destruction of the civilian airliner Malaysia Airlines Flight 17? What were the specific distortions of the matter and the purpose of the distortions? How did the shooting down of Flight 17 succeed as a case in Western propaganda? What was the immediate payoff for the United States?
This is an amazing story, with Obama, Kerry, Power and The New York Times and company, immediately and indignantly accusing the rebels and Russia of responsibility for downing the plane before any investigation had been carried out. And this was accompanied with furious accusations and with a quick retreat to silence without the presentation of any evidence supporting the US-Kiev-NATO party line by either Kiev or the United States. The Russians did quickly provide radar evidence that a Ukraine fighter plane had been in the vicinity of MH17, and that the plane had moved course into the fighting zone, but the United States gave no public evidence of satellite sightings of the target environment and apparently none to the Dutch.
Their Preliminary Report on "Crash Involving Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 flight MH17," published on September 9, 2014, almost two months after the crash, mentions no specific U.S. input. Putin and the Russians from the beginning called for a full international investigation of the episode, but this is not going to happen: The Dutch are members of NATO, and they entered into an agreement with Kiev and several other countries to allow any of the signatories to veto any report on the subject; thus if Kiev was involved in the destruction of the plane, whether deliberately or by mishap, this will never show up in an international inquiry. The media have of course ignored this agreement and Samantha Power was indignant that the Russians did not find the ongoing investigative process all that could be desired.
The rebels and Russians had absolutely no interest in destroying MH17. The Kiev government and the U.S. did have an interest, if it could be turned into a successful "false flag" operation with blame successfully placed on the enemy. It has been so treated, with the help of the Western propaganda system, which made the enemy guilty based on no evidence, and protects the likely real killers with protracted silence.
The preliminary report is a joke -- an apologetic joke -- which gives the dazzling conclusion that the plane "was penetrated by a large number of high energy objects from outside the aircraft." But that's it. This left open the question of whether those objects came from ground or aerial firing. The NATO governments and media filled in the gap here: ground fire by a missile, no doubt fired by the rebels -- not ground fire by Kiev forces, and no mention of the Russian radar and non-Russian ground observer claim of a Kiev fighter in the vicinity. A German expert who examined the site shortly after the crash claimed that MH17 showed definite signs that it was shot down by machine gun and other aerial projectiles, not by a ground-based missile. He found the Dutch report worthless (See: Peter Haisenko, "Camouflage and Cover-up: The Dutch Commission Report on the Malaysia MH17 Crash Is 'Not Worth the Paper It's Written On,'" Global Research, Sept. 11, 2014).
I think it is obvious that if there were any evidence demonstrating rebel or Russian guilt in this shoot down, there would have been no delay and obfuscation in publicizing such information. The silence, evasion, delays and agreement to give Kiev a veto power over any findings is telling evidence of Kiev and possibly U.S. responsibility. This conclusion is also compatible with the matter of who benefits from this tragedy. The United States and Kiev have taken advantage of it to vilify the rebels, Putin and Russia. Whether the shoot down was deliberate or an error, it has paid off well. The rebels and Russia had no potential benefit from the shoot down, and it has been costly to them. And the power of the Western propaganda system has guaranteed that they would be public relations losers.
You have written about the Soviet shooting down of Korean airliner KAL-007 on August 31, 1983, when the Reagan administration was in an arms buildup versus the "evil empire." I spoke with Noam Chomsky recently about the 1983 incident in which he indicated that "Reagan lied blatantly, and Shultz more carefully. It turns out they knew at once that the Russians mistook the plane for one of the U.S. reconnaissance planes in their airspace." Could you shed some more light on the incident?
The mainstream media took the initial lying claims about Russia's knowingly shooting down a civilian plane with total gullibility and ran wild with the story back in 1983, devoting massive space to this "barbarian" behavior by the "evil empire." It seems like an upside-down version of the MH17, with the roles reversed, but with the same propaganda service. Instead of the Russians shooting down the plane and being vilified, with MH17, you have the Kiev-US combine probably doing the shoot down, but successfully blaming the Russians - and getting away with it once again! This is a superb propaganda system!
What do you see as the main attraction for the United States' "political opportunism" in the media, especially with Ukrainian affairs?
They are pathetically chauvinistic, so that when their government has defined who are the "good guys" and "bad guys", the media lose their integrity and become one of the team. The drift to the right with Fox-Murdoch in the lead, and the steadily growing power of the war party have contributed to this degeneration.
Why do our elected officials and media continually use terms such as "separatists? Do you also believe that Putin is committing international crimes?
They use separatists because it has a derogatory touch. Many or most of the Eastern Ukrainians, and Putin, have claimed to want a federal system rather than a total separation of the East from Ukraine. But "federalist" sounds more innocuous and less menacing than "separatist" and "pro-Russian militant," so the usage flows with propaganda preference.
Every head of major states commits international crimes, but compare Putin's crimes of taking over Crimea and aiding the "separatists" with the crimes of the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the U.S. drone bombings of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc. The U.S.-U.K. invasion-occupation was of a distant country that certainly didn't pose any threat to U.S. or U.K. national security, and resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqis. Putin's crime in Crimea resulted in fewer than 10 deaths and followed the coup in Kiev that arguably involved international crimes and also seriously threatened Russian national security. We are dealing here, once again, with monumental double standards.
Dan Falcone is an educator with more than 10 years of experience in both the public and private setting. He has a master's degree in Modern American History from LaSalle University in Philadelphia and currently teaches secondary education history near Washington, D.C. He has previously interviewed Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk and Lawrence Davidson.
Interview by Dan Falcone with Edward S. Herman, published in Truthout, October 10, 2014