Global Versus Local Violence


In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Charles M. Blow writes: “The violent must find no asylum in the assembly of the righteous, We can and must stand up to injustice and against vigilante justice simultaneously…. To those peaceful protesters who eschew violence as much as the rest of us, we must say: Hold tight…We know the fatigue that builds from feeling that one must always fight. But your efforts are not in vain.” (“Flash Point Ferguson,” NYT, March 16, 2015.) It is interesting to see how Blow generalizes about violence and appropriate responses to it while focusing only on domestic police and protester interactions; that is, on what we may call “local” violence. He just walks past the fact that his country’s long support of Israeli ethnic cleansing has involved “standing up for injustice” and that its drone warfare (along with many other policies) involves “vigilante justice” and violence on a world scale; i.e., “global” violence. Actually, the local injustice that he focuses on is pretty large-scale, but the global injustice carried out by the warfare state wins the injustice and violence race by a good margin.

Charles Blow is one of the NYT’s best journalists, but like the valuable Paul Krugman writing on Russia, he operates within a set of political-ideological truths that limit his intellectual and moral reach. This often takes the form of simply swallowing a firm and institutionalized party line. It also frequently causes the avoidance of relevant facts or context that would disturb that party line. This last often involves a cutting off or rewriting of history. This is dramatically evident in the case of Russian “aggression” in the Ukraine or the alleged Iranian “aggression” in Yemen. An objectively important background fact in analyzing Russian behavior is the advance of NATO to the Russian borders, contrary to the 1990 verbal agreement by Western leaders with Gorbachev, and the de facto U.S. encirclement of Russia with military bases and client-puppet regimes. This blackout is amusingly captured in a cartoon widely circulated in the marginalized media which shows the U.S. base network near Russia, with the sardonic title: “Russia wants war: look how close they put their country to our military bases.”

The New York Times and Washington Post have not picked up this cartoon. They have also not found room for the distinguished academic John Mearsheimer, who stresses that “NATO enlargement” is “the taproot” shaping Russian actions; the Russians have long made it clear that “they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor is turned into a Western bastion” (“Why the Ukrainian Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” Foreign Affairs, Sept.-Oct. 2014). While the print edition of the NYT could not find op-ed room for Mearsheimer, or for the dissident U.S. Russian specialist Stephen Cohen, it did find space for that notable analyst from the Russian Pussy Riot group, Maria Alyokhina (“Sochi Under Siege,” NYT, February 21, 2014), and for an inflammatory anti-Russian effort by that distinguished French spokesperson for each and every U.S. and Israeli military venture, Bernard Henri-Levi (in collaboration with the financial mogul George Soros), “Save the New Ukraine,“ (January 27, 2015). The Times has long found Bernard Henri-Levi a worthy thinker, and each reporter assigned to France interviews him to tap his insights into why U.S. power projection is sound, though possibly lacking in aggressiveness, and lamenting Israel’s victimization by a mindless terror. There is also the mainstream media’s blacking out of the fact that the Kiev government was brought into power by a violent coup. As that coup produced a government that the U.S. wanted and helped engineer into power, here also we have a golden silence. From the moment the new regime was recognized and supported, its legitimacy and right to rule Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea were transformed into unchallengeable patriotic truths for Western politicians and media. It is amusing that the Russian Federation’s absorption of Crimea via an apparently uncoerced election is treated with contempt in the West whereas the coup regime in Kiev, helped into power by the violent actions of Neo-Nazi activists—who were rewarded with four high ministerial posts, including the Department of Defense—is quickly legitimized and even enobled.

This double standard is common politico-media practice. As one relevant illustration, Yeltsin’s corrupt 1996 election victory in Russia was hailed as a triumph of democracy in the dominant media, whereas Putin’s electoral victories have been treated with increasing harshness in parallel with his increasing challenges to U.S. policy. Yeltsin was very accommodating, so that even as he impoverished the Russian populace, manufactured a new oligarchy and put new anti-democratic constraints on Russian political institutions he had Western political and media support.

In the U.S. establishment’s patriotic history of the Ukraine conflict it is also important to black out the fact that the United States, so passionately opposed to Russian “aggression,” committed a vastly more deadly one in Iraq from 2003. Just as Madeleine Albright may well be remembered best by her 1996 TV declaration that the U.S. policy which knowingly caused the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, was “worth it,” so John Kerry may be remembered for his implicit denial that the United States had invaded another country in his lifetime: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext,” (“Face the Nation,” CBS News, March 2, 2015). He is speaking of Russia’s invasion-aggression in Crimea. He has a very effective set of patriotic blinders, although he may be telling this implicit lie quite knowingly, properly confident that he won’t be laughed off the stage by a mainstream media whose members seem to recognize that the truth may hurt the (by-patriotic-definition) just cause.

The mainstream media have also been complicit in the lies spewed forth by the leaders of the Kiev government. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko has regularly claimed that the Russians have been invading Ukraine with substantial forces—over 9,000 alleged in early March 2014; and in an interview in Germany in September 2014 he told an interviewer on the Suddentische Zeitung that Putin had told him in a private conversation that he might invade Poland, Romania and the Baltic states. This is not provably wrong but is sufficiently far-fetched and unlikely to be classified as a lie.

The most striking lie coming from Kiev was that pronounced by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk during an interview on German TV channel ARD in January 2015, where he told the interviewer that “Russian aggression in Ukraine is an attack on world order and order in Europe. All of us still clearly remember the Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany. That has to be avoided. And nobody has the right to rewrite the results of the Second World War. And that is exactly what Russia’s President Putin is trying to do.” Interestingly, the interviewer on this program made no comment and asked no questions about this claim of a Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany in World War II. (See Lena Sokoll, “Ukraine Premier’s Pro-Nazi version of World War II: USSR invade Ukraine, Germany,” WSWs.org, Jan 19, 2015.) It should be recalled that Yatsenuk is the “Yats” who U.S. official Victoria Nuland suggested before the February 22, 2014 coup in Kiev would be an appropriate choice to head the new regime. Birds of a feather flock together.

John Burns’s Pulitzer for Disinformation

There has been an endless stream of lies flowing through the mainstream media over the years as they transmit many provided by their government, some developed on their own but serving state propaganda needs. One of a series concocted during the dismantlement of Yugoslavia from 1990 onward was supplied by New York Times reporter John Burns, a principal Times representative in Sarajevo in the early 1990s, and recently in the news as retiring after 40 years of service. The paper’s note is entitled “John F. Burns, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Ends Acclaimed Run” (March 26, 2015). But his Pulitzer award of 1993, shared with the equally (un)deserving reporter Roy Gutman of Newsday, was based on a fraud. It rested on an extended interview he carried out with Boris Herak, a captured Bosnian Serb, generously made available to him and a George Soros funded film-maker, by the Bosnian Muslims. Herak had confessed to 29 murders including 8 rape-murders, although no corroborative evidence was offered in support of these claims. Burns and the New York Times (and the Soros-funded film) suppressed the fact that Herak had also accused former UNPROFOR commandant, Canadian General Lewis Mackenzie, of having raped young Muslim women at a Serb-run bordello. Burns and the Times editors recognized that including this Herak claim would have reduced his credibility.

But three years later Herak admitted that his very implausible staged confession had been coerced, with the help of repeated beatings, and that he had been forced to memorize many pages of lies. Also, two of his alleged victims turned up alive in a Sarajevo suburb. Herak’s recantation was checked out and confirmed by a Times reporter, but no apology was ever given to Times readers or, apparently, to the Pulitzer prize committee. The editors had pushed for Burns’s award in 1993 and had been proud of his reporting. So they stood by and continue to honor this case of journalistic malpractice. (For a good account, see chapter 10, “A Beating, A Confession, A Pulitzer Prize,” in Peter Brock’s Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting: Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia, GMBooks, 2005.) And we may expect more of the same, and in fact see it daily in the treatment of Iran, Israel, and Ukraine (among others).

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 Edward S. Herman is an author, media critic,  political analyst,  and economist.