After weeks of uncritically passing along completely unevidenced claims about an endlessly imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mass media have suddenly remembered basic journalistic ethics when reporting on claims that Ukraine is plotting an attack on Russia-backed separatists.
I’ve highlighted a key repeating phrase we’ve been seeing in a few quotes to help you spot the difference between the way the western media cover unevidenced claims about a future attack by Moscow and unevidenced claims about a future attack by Kyiv:
- “Russian-backed separatists, who have been fighting the Ukrainian government for years, have asserted, without evidence, that Ukraine was planning a large-scale attack on territory they control.”
~ The New York Times, February 19
- “Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic,’ announced the evacuation in a video posted on social media. He claimed without evidence that Kyiv was planning its own military assault on the region in the country’s east where the Moscow-supported separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014.”
~ NBC, February 18
- “Dmitry Peskov, the top Kremlin spokesperson, then commented that ‘the situation near the borders of Russia can ignite at any moment,’ insisting without evidence that Ukraine’s forces had taken “provocative actions that have only intensified in the last day or several days.”
~ Politico, February 17
- “Price said the United States was particularly concerned by Russian President Vladimir Putin saying, without evidence, that ‘genocide’ was taking place in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region.”
~ Reuters, February 17
- “On Friday, the Tass news agency reported, without evidence, that the head of the self-proclaimed separatist territory of Donetsk had announced the discovery of 130 mass graves of “victims of Ukrainian aggression.”
~ The Washington Post, February 11
- “While massing troops around Ukraine, Russian officials have made repeated claims, without evidence, that Kyiv was planning to attack Russia or Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine rather than the other way round.”
~ The Guardian, February 4
David Martin of @CBSNews, a superb reporter I’ve known for decades and worked with at the original Newsweek for many years—and whom I trust totally—says #Putin has just ordered #Russian forces to invade #Ukraine in its entirety, with reserve units following to run an occupation.
— howardfineman (@howardfineman) February 21, 2022
See if you can spot the difference between the above examples and the way CBS News reports an anonymous government official’s claim that Putin has ordered the invasion of Ukraine to proceed:
The U.S. has intelligence that Russian commanders have received orders to proceed with an invasion of Ukraine, with commanders on the ground making specific plans for how they would maneuver in their sectors of the battlefield, a U.S. official told CBS News.
Or the way The Guardian reports on the claim CBS aired:
US intelligence has detected evidence that Russian troops amassed close to the border with Ukraine have received actual orders to proceed with an invasion, according to news reports.
Or if those examples are too subtle, how about the way The New York Times reports on the alleged intelligence which prompted Biden’s recent announcement that he is convinced a Russian invasion is imminent:
U.S. intelligence learned last week that the Kremlin had given the order for Russian military units to proceed with an invasion of Ukraine, information that prompted President Biden to announce that President Vladimir V. Putin had made the decision to attack, U.S. officials said.
Officials declined to describe the intelligence in any detail, anxious to keep secret their method of collecting the information. But intelligence officials have told the administration they have a high level of confidence in the intelligence they have collected in recent months about Russian military planning, as well as about plots by Moscow’s intelligence agencies to try and create a pretext for war.
The administration’s trust in the intelligence has only grown as the world watched the Russian military take steps that American spy agencies had predicted.
— Scott Horton (@scotthortonshow) February 21, 2022
This is super subtle stuff, I know, but see if you can detect the ever-so-slight difference in tone between the way mass media outlets are reporting on claims that Kyiv is about to attack Moscow-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine and the way The Washington Post reports that Putin is plotting to round up journalists and LGBT persons to have them tortured, murdered and disappeared after invading the entire country:
The United States has informed the United Nations it has credible information showing that Moscow is compiling lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation,” according to a letter to the U.N.’s human rights chief obtained by The Washington Post on Sunday night.
The letter alleges that Moscow’s post-invasion planning would involve torture, forced disappearances and “widespread human suffering.” It does not describe the nature of the intelligence that undergirds its assessment.
Crocker says the Russian military’s targets would include Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and “vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.”
Yep. So subtle you almost need an electron microscope to see it.
NYT suddenly remembers to put this disclaimer on unproven claims about an imminent large-scale attack. pic.twitter.com/ZMDLVRrIYT
— Caitlin Johnstone ⏳ (@caitoz) February 20, 2022
None of these claims being reported by the obedient mass media have any evidence. They’re just government assertions being passed on to the audiences of these media institutions. It’s possible that there’s real intelligence behind them, but if the public can’t see it and verify it it’s the same as there being no evidence. Secret, invisible evidence is not evidence.
And of course completely unspoken in all this straight-shooting news reporting is that the actual evidence seems to suggest that the separatist factions in Ukraine are indeed under attack with a sharp spike in aggression, as explained here by Moon of Alabama.
None of these discrepancies would be worth pointing out if the mass media in the western world did not uphold itself as a free and impartial press whose only job is to report the truth about what’s happening in the world. If the western mass media were openly owned and controlled by the United States government for the explicitly stated purpose of distributing imperial propaganda, there would be nothing odd about brazen one-sided reporting which uncritically accepts unevidenced claims by secretive government agencies with an extensive history of lies. The discrepancy is only noteworthy because it highlights another one: the discrepancy between what the western mass media purport to be, and what they actually are.
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