Why the West is Losing the Information War
“A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.”
— Mark Twain
When I follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis in some of the most respectable mainstream Western media, I have the strange feeling that I am a part of a tour in a natural history museum. Not any kind of natural museum, but a rather unusual one — a creationist museum. For those who may not know a little factoid: there are over 30 in the USA alone and two in the province of Alberta, Canada — the birthplace of the Reform Party, now the Progressive Conservative Party which has been in power since 2006 (although both names are largely misleading).
One of the newest creationist museums in the US is in Petersburg, Kentucky, a 70,000 square-foot (6,500 square meters) “state of the art” facility. A true marvel of robotics, comparable to the best Hollywood could offer: real-size animatronic pterodactyls, realistic sounds of the crying “king of the lizards” — Tyrannosaurus rex — surrounded by the jubilant and carefree robotic children of Adam and Eve. One may be astonished to learn that this $27 million facility is not losing money, on the contrary — it attracted over 715,000 visitors from all over the world willing to pay $30 per ticket for entry. (1)
So where is the parallel with regards to the coverage of Ukraine? First parallel: the facts, the evidence, the exhibit. In general, the impressive display in Petersburg is consistent with the latest findings of modern paleontology, size and shape of the bone fragments and skeletons, as well as rather believable depictions of full size majestic dinosaurs; certainly all of them could be proudly exhibited in any natural science museum. Furthermore, the offspring of Adam and Eve also looks quite realistic and could be a part of any ambitious curator strategy depicting the dawn of early human settlement.
The only problem is that all of that is pure falsification! It is a well known fact that the world is not 5,000 years old, but 13.2 billion years old and humans, amoeba, killer whales and bacteria responsible for dysentery were not created in 6 days before God’s well deserved weekend. So where is Ukraine here?
As some readers may have noticed, a real life exhibition en plein air just opened in downtown Kiev, with tanks, armored vehicles, machine guns and burned/melted vehicles as evidence of the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine. The authenticity of these exhibits is unquestionable — indeed these are real tanks, real armored vehicles, real machine guns and real burned cars. However, just like in a creationist museum, the only missing element is the context.
Yes — we read, saw, heard, and became deeply traumatized by countless facts and evidence in the mainstream Western media coverage of the Ukrainian crisis. We saw pictures of armed men, soldiers, blown-up houses, car wreckage, and tanks as well as a wreckage of a passenger airliner, rows of refugees, starvation, elderly living in basements without food and electricity — many gruesome pictures of dead bodies and separated body parts. All of this is true, and it represents the heartbreaking human tragedy happening right now in Ukraine. However, there is a problem with the presentation of this reality. The general narrative, just like the creationists placing harmless dinosaur’s (presumably vegetarian as babysitters because violence did not exist in the Garden of Eden) the “evidence” found in the Western mainstream media, presents a distorted picture of the real context. Following the logic of the Ukrainian version of “Genesis”, the pro-western liberal democratic regime in Kiev will resolve all economic, political and social issues in the country plagued by corruption. Therefore, according to this narrative, all facts and exhibits should be carefully arranged just as any devoted curator in a creationist museum would do. And just like in the creationist museum, this exhibit presents an insurmountable challenge to basic logic, where most, if not all questions, remain unanswered.
Let’s name a few of them. On February 20th, 2014, why did the Ukrainian Police Forces, known as Berkut, kill its own members? The facts are there — 18 officers were shot dead and over a dozen sustained gunshot wounds.(2) This is a question of little relevance in the meta narrative, along with questions surrounding the “accidental fire” in Odessa on May 2, 2014, where 48 people (other sources claimed much larger numbers) were burnt alive, while those who managed to jump from the inflamed building were clubbed to death by the Maidan activists in front of the police who did nothing. Why has Western media never asked these questions to the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office, even a year later? Why did the Ukrainian Government refuse the International Criminal Court to investigate the matter? Why have these questions never been asked by the bastions of Western journalism?
Not only that, the Western media also preferred not to bother covering facts contradicting the logic of the Ukrainian “Genesis”. Those who authorized and are responsible for the indiscriminate shelling of large urban centers such as Donesk, Luhansk, Mariopol, Kramatorsk, Slovyansk are left unknown. So are those who authorized the use of weapons forbidden by the Geneva Convention, such as white phosphorus and cluster shells. Questions about the nature of the famous ATO (anti-terrorist operation) which use heavy artillery, aviation, and tanks against a sizable (6.8 million) civilian population in Donetsk and Luhansk that surpasses the total population of the three Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania) and seems of little interest to the Western media.(3)
Instead of answers, we were offered dramatic pictures; however, the same technique was applied: the context was missing. The fact that photos of Russian tanks crossing the Ukrainian border were not only published, but discussed on the floor of the US Congress (they were in fact genuine, but depicting Russian tanks crossing the Russian-Georgian border in 2008) as well as the crash of the Netherlands’ passenger airplane, where the face of Putin was placed beside pictures of the victims. Needless to mention, his picture was just as genuine as the pictures of the victims of this tragedy. However, there was complete media apathy about the records of the MH17 black box which was delivered five days after the disaster. To find a solution to all unanswered questions this narrative offered only one option — it is always Putin’s fault.
Indeed Putin became the “darling” of the Western media: 5,771 publications in the US, 8,929 in Germany and 5,209 in the UK in 2,014 alone.(4) This is a lot of coverage. In this biblical script, the newly elected president Poroshenko wears the white hat, the Russian president Putin — the black one. Suddenly Putin developed the worst ever multi-personality syndrome, reincarnating Stalin, Hitler and the notorious ISIS “John Jihad” altogether. (Thanks CNN, the mystery was cleared up. It was indeed Putin) .(5) However, to keep the record straight the unprecedented demonization of the president of the Russian Federation was not an isolated event, it was consistent with the recent effort of the villainization of Saddam Hussein (the Butcher of Baghdad), Muammar Gaddafi (Mad Man, Mad Dog), Slobodan Milosevic (Butcher of the Balkans), which, please note, were all promoted prior to the launch of US military campaigns in Iraq, Libya, and Yugoslavia. Just like the creationists, for the Western media, apologists of the Ukrainian “Genesis”, space, time and logic is of a little consideration — similarly to the Mesozoic era which started 252 million years ago and ended 66 million years later was easily compressed in less than few thousand years. The same technique was applied to a much shorter time period. In 2007, Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” — was Putin. Seven years later in 2014 he became “Hitler”.(6)
What is remarkable in the current “Information War” is how context free Western media is becoming unrelenting in self-disillusioned fable creativity. To cement the myth Putin, the ultimate villain front page titles screaming loudly “Putin killed my son!” may soon not be sufficiently dramatic. Something more spectacular such as “Putin killed God’s Son!” may be totally conceivable evidence in the “creationist media environment”, where time zones are easily compressed, with no questions asked. Indeed Putin may very well travel in time to Palestine in Year 0, ride a friendly pterodactyl to Golgotha, subsequently fatally pierce the dehydrated body of Christ, and on his way back stop in Munich in 1938 to have breakfast with Hitler. Is this farfetched? Of course, but so is the story of pterodactyls being the first babysitters, as well as the curators’ logic of the en plein air museum in Kiev exhibiting “Russian” tanks with current Ukrainian VIN numbers.
The Western media has been reporting half-truths and barefaced lies, depicting the new regime in Kiev as “democratic” and the “rebels” as terrorists. The nature of this “propaganda” resembles more of a televised evangelist preaching from San Antonio, Texas, than a reportage from respectable media outlets, some of which have a renowned tradition in this business. This is one of the reasons why it is rapidly losing credibility and ultimately market share. In contrast, the social media blogosphere “exploded” on the subject of the Ukrainian crisis by offering alternative reporting, videos, frontline testimonials, and most importantly, alternative content analysis and context.
Clearly, there is an appetite for different reporting and “naked” first-hand facts as well as critical analysis contradicting the established meta narrative. Some media outlets such as Russia Today (RT), are specifically targeting this type of rapidly growing audience in the West, Europe and North America. It is not surprising that now RT is the second most-watched foreign news channel in the United States (after BBC World News) and the number one foreign network in the largest metropolis’ such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Its global spread reaches an impressive audience of 700 million viewers.(7)
So why the sudden success of this quite “young” competitor? The explanation lies in the Western propaganda make-up often reaching levels suitable primarily to infantile youngsters or elderly, self-disillusioned evangelicals. Clearly this is not a winning proposition, and things are not looking optimistic for the traditional bastions of journalism in the West. Ratings are plummeting, especially for the generation under 35. Naturally, if one day some of them may become extinguished just like the dinosaurs, the blame should not be attributed to a catastrophic asteroid.
The reason for their demise is obvious. It is a prolonged blatant complacency to a Big Lie and a refusal to apply personal and professional integrity. Let’s not forget the simple fact that Fox News Propaganda Style “Facts could be proven wrong, opinions – not!” could work for many, but definitely not for all. Why? To use one of Bertoldt Brecht famous citations: “Man has one defect: He can think.”
Ivaylo Grouev teaches Political Science at the University of Ottawa.
1. Creation Musuem. org
2. Katchanovski, Ivan. ‘The “Snipers’ Massacre” on the Maidan in Ukraine.‘ February 20, 2015.
3. Rothoct, Andred. Ukraine Used Cluster Bombs, Evidence Indicates, New York Times, October 20, 2014.
4. Khlebnikov, Alexey. Russia is now monitoring the world’s mass media for bias. Russia Direct. February 25, 2015.
5. Jalil, Justin and J.A. Gross. Vlad the beheader: CNN apologizes for Putin gaffe, The Times of Israel, March 1, 2015.
6. Stengel, Richard. Person of the Year 2007: Choosing Order Before Freedom, Time, December 19, 2007.
7. RT reaches 700MN viewers worldwide. Rapid TV News. 11 September 2014.