Category Archives: RT

Is the Washington Post Biased?

The mind of the mass media: Email exchange between myself and a leading Washington Post foreign policy reporter:

July 18, 2018

Dear Mr. Birnbaum,

You write Trump “made no mention of Russia’s adventures in Ukraine”. Well, neither he nor Putin nor you made any mention of America’s adventures in the Ukraine, which resulted in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014, which led to the justified Russian adventure. Therefore …?

If Russia overthrew the Mexican government would you blame the US for taking some action in Mexico?

William Blum

Dear Mr. Blum,

Thanks for your note. “America’s adventures in the Ukraine”: what are you talking about? Last time I checked, it was Ukrainians in the streets of Kiev who caused Yanukovych to turn tail and run. Whether or not that was a good thing, we can leave aside, but it wasn’t the Americans who did it.

It is, however, Russian special forces who fanned out across Crimea in February and March 2014, according to Putin, and Russians who came down from Moscow who stoked conflict in eastern Ukraine in the months after, according to their own accounts.

Best, Michael Birnbaum

To MB,

I can scarcely believe your reply. Do you read nothing but the Post? Do you not know of high State Dept official Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador in Ukraine in Maidan Square to encourage the protesters? She spoke of 5 billion (sic) dollars given to aid the protesters who were soon to overthrow the govt. She and the US Amb. spoke openly of who to choose as the next president. And he’s the one who became president. This is all on tape. I guess you never watch Russia Today (RT). God forbid! I read the Post every day. You should watch RT once in a while.

William Blum

To WB,

I was the Moscow bureau chief of the newspaper; I reported extensively in Ukraine in the months and years following the protests. My observations are not based on reading. RT is not a credible news outlet, but I certainly do read far beyond our own pages, and of course I talk to the actual actors on the ground myself – that’s my job.

And: yes, of course Nuland was in the Maidan – but encouraging the protests, as she clearly did, is not the same as sparking them or directing them, nor is playing favorites with potential successors, as she clearly did, the same as being directly responsible for overthrowing the government. I’m not saying the United States wasn’t involved in trying to shape events. So were Russia and the European Union. But Ukrainians were in the driver’s seat the whole way through. I know the guy who posted the first Facebook call to protest Yanukovych in November 2013; he’s not an American agent. RT, meanwhile, reports fabrications and terrible falsehoods all the time. By all means consume a healthy and varied media diet – don’t stop at the US mainstream media. But ask yourself how often RT reports critically on the Russian government, and consider how that lacuna shapes the rest of their reporting. You will find plenty of reporting in the Washington Post that is critical of the US government and US foreign policy in general, and decisions in Ukraine and the Ukrainian government in specific. Our aim is to be fair, without picking sides.

Best, Michael Birnbaum

========= end of exchange =========

Right, the United States doesn’t play indispensable roles in changes of foreign governments; never has, never will; even when they offer billions of dollars; even when they pick the new president, which, apparently, is not the same as picking sides. It should be noticed that Mr Birnbaum offers not a single example to back up his extremist claim that RT “reports fabrications and terrible falsehoods all the time.” “All the time”, no less! That should make it easy to give some examples.

For the record, I think RT is much less biased than the Post on international affairs. And, yes, it’s bias, not “fake news” that’s the main problem – Cold-War/anti-Communist/anti-Russian bias that Americans have been raised with for a full century. RT defends Russia against the countless mindless attacks from the West. Who else is there to do that? Should not the Western media be held accountable for what they broadcast? Americans are so unaccustomed to hearing the Russian side defended, or hearing it at all, that when they do it can seem rather weird.

To the casual observer, THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA indictments on July 14 of Russian intelligence agents (GRU) reinforced the argument that the Russian government interfered in the US 2016 presidential election. Regard these indictments in proper perspective and we find that election interference is only listed as a supposed objective, with charges actually being for unlawful cyber operations, identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money by American individuals unconnected to the Russian government. So … we’re still waiting for some evidence of actual Russian interference in the election aimed at determining the winner.

The Russians did it (cont.)

Each day I spend about three hours reading the Washington Post. Amongst other things I’m looking for evidence – real, legal, courtroom-quality evidence, or at least something logical and rational – to pin down those awful Russkis for their many recent crimes, from influencing the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election to use of a nerve agent in the UK. But I do not find such evidence.

Each day brings headlines like these:

“U.S. to add economic sanctions on Russia: Attack with nerve agent on former spy in England forces White House to act”

“Is Russia exploiting new Facebook goal?”

“Experts: Trump team lacks urgency on Russian threat”

These are all from the same day, August 9, which led me to thinking of doing this article, but similar stories can be found any day in the Post and in major newspapers anywhere in America. None of the articles begins to explain how Russia did these things, or even WHY. Motivation appears to have become a lost pursuit in the American mass media. The one thing sometimes mentioned, which I think may have some credibility, is Russia’s preference of Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this doesn’t begin to explain how Russia could pull off any of the electoral magic it’s accused of, which would be feasible only if the United States were a backward, Third World, Banana Republic.

There’s the Facebook ads, as well as all the other ads … The people who are influenced by this story – have they read many of the actual ads? Many are pro-Clinton or anti-Trump; many are both; many are neither. It’s one big mess, the only rational explanation of this which I’ve read is that they come from money-making websites, “click-bait” sites as they’re known, which earn money simply by attracting visitors.

As to the nerve agents, it makes more sense if the UK or the CIA did it to make the Russians look bad, because the anti-Russian scandal which followed was totally predictable. Why would Russia choose the time of the World Cup in Moscow – of which all of Russia was immensely proud – to bring such notoriety down upon their head? But that would have been an ideal time for their enemies to want to embarrass them.

However, I have no doubt that the great majority of Americans who follow the news each day believe the official stories about the Russians. They’re particularly impressed with the fact that every US intelligence agency supports the official stories. They would not be impressed at all if told that a dozen Russian intelligence agencies all disputed the charges. Group-think is alive and well all over the world. As is Cold War II.

But we’re the Good Guys, ain’t we?

For a defender of US foreign policy there’s very little that causes extreme heartburn more than someone implying a “moral equivalence” between American behavior and that of Russia. That was the case during Cold War I and it’s the same now in Cold War II. It just drives them up the wall.

After the United States passed a law last year requiring TV station RT (Russia Today) to register as a “foreign agent”, the Russians passed their own law allowing authorities to require foreign media to register as a “foreign agent”. Senator John McCain denounced the new Russian law, saying there is “no equivalence” between RT and networks such as Voice of America, CNN and the BBC, whose journalists “seek the truth, debunk lies, and hold governments accountable.” By contrast, he said, “RT’s propagandists debunk the truth, spread lies, and seek to undermine democratic governments in order to further Vladimir Putin’s agenda.”1

And here is Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor (2014-2017): last year he reported that Putin had “charged that the U.S. government had interfered ‘aggressively’ in Russia’s 2012 presidential vote,” claiming that Washington had “gathered opposition forces and financed them.” Putin, wrote Malinowski, “apparently got President Trump to agree to a mutual commitment that neither country would interfere in the other’s elections.”

“Is this moral equivalence fair?” Malinowski asked and answered: “In short, no. Russia’s interference in the United States’ 2016 election could not have been more different from what the United States does to promote democracy in other countries.”2

How do you satirize such officials and such high-school beliefs?

We also have the case of the US government agency, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has interfered in more elections than the CIA or God. Indeed, the man who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, Allen Weinstein, declared in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”3 On April 12, 2018 the presidents of two of NED’s wings wrote: “A specious narrative has come back into circulation: that Moscow’s campaign of political warfare is no different from U.S.-supported democracy assistance.”

“Democracy assistance”, you see, is what they call NED’s election-interferences and government-overthrows.4 The authors continue: “This narrative is churned out by propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik [radio station]. … it is deployed by isolationists who propound a U.S. retreat from global leadership.”5

“Isolationists” is what conservatives call critics of US foreign policy whose arguments they can’t easily dismiss, so they imply that such people just don’t want the US to be involved in anything abroad.

And “global leadership” is what they call being first in election-interferences and government-overthrows.

What God giveth, Trump taketh away?

The White House sends out a newsletter, “1600 daily”, each day to subscribers about what’s new in the marvelous world inhabited by Donald J. Trump. On July 25 it reported about the president’s talk before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Missouri: “We don’t apologize for America anymore. We stand up for America. And we stand up for our National Anthem,” the President said to “a thundering ovation”.

At the same time, the newsletter informed us that the State Department is bringing together religious leaders and others for the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. “The goal is simple,” we are told, “to promote the God-given human right to believe what you choose.”

Aha! I see. But what about those who believe that standing for the National Anthem implies support for America’s racism or police brutality? Is it not a God-given human right to believe such a thing and “take a knee” in protest?

Or is it the devil that puts such evil ideas into our heads?

The weather all over is not just extreme … It’s downright freakish.

The argument I like to use when speaking to those who don’t accept the idea that extreme weather phenomena are largely man-made is this:

Well, we can proceed in one of two ways:

  1. We can do our best to limit the greenhouse effect by curtailing greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere, and if it turns out that these emissions were not in fact a significant cause of the widespread extreme weather phenomena, then we’ve wasted a lot of time, effort and money (although other benefits to the ecosystem would still accrue).
  2. We can do nothing at all to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and if it turns out that these emissions were in fact the leading cause of all the extreme weather phenomena, then we’ve lost the earth and life as we know it.

So, are you a gambler?

Irony of ironies … Misfortune of misfortunes … We have a leader who has zero interest in such things; indeed, the man is unequivocally contemptuous of the very idea of the need to modify individual or social behavior for the sake of the environment. And one after another he’s appointed his soulmates to head government agencies concerned with the environment.

What is it that motivates such people? I think it’s mainly that they realize that blame for much of environmental damage can be traced, directly or indirectly, to corporate profit-seeking behavior, an ideology to which they are firmly committed.

  1. Washington Post, November 16, 2017.
  2. Washington Post, July 23, 2017.
  3. Washington Post, September 22, 1991.
  4. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 19 on NED.
  5. Washington Post, April 2, 2018.

American Propagandist Warns of Russian Propaganda

After President Donald Trump’s detestable performance at the United Nations General Assembly last week, the New York Times had an opportunity to counter the president’s heedless belligerence with a message of diplomacy and dialogue. What it did instead was publish an op-ed from discredited former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Obama’s unforgivable appointment and one of the principal arm-twisters that convinced an irresolute president to get behind an invasion of a sovereign state (Libya) on the basis of manufactured lies too incredulous to believe. This unrepentant jackanape had the temerity to pen an article calling on Americans to heed George Washington’s ancient warning to be “constantly awake” to the specter of foreign influence, a prelude to the establishment goal of outlawing foreign media and exerting a stronger grip on the information flow in the digital space.

With any Power essay, her smart media handlers make sure that her photo is always a central element of her pose. She perpetually appears in a posture of earnestness, her face displaying a kind of inveterate sadness born of too much knowledge of humanity’s dark side. Her somewhat emaciated cheeks, particularly in black and white photographs, lend her the self-abnegating glow of an ascetic or religious eremite. Having absorbed the image of this saintly spirit, readers then move to her missive.

Shuttering Dissent

Power, whose presence in the UN was a carmine monument to hypocrisy, quickly summons the hysterical phantom of Russian election interference as her theme. As any good paid propagandist would do, Power tells us we can focus on the technical details of the hacking, influencing, meddling, and manipulating, but we shouldn’t overlook other vile means by which foreign powers ruin our democracy by “aiming falsehoods at ripe subsets of our population–and not only during elections.”

Here Power reveals her multiple goals. First, she aims to shift the narrative away from the collapsing scenery of the Russian hacking allegation, since the technical facts now show that DNC emails were leaked by an insider, not hacked by a foreign agent. This is what the mainstream press has been slowly doing for months now, moving the debate from the phantom hack itself to the influence of so-called propaganda platforms funded by Russian government, namely RT and Sputnik, and several thousands bots of unknown provenance on social media. In truth, the majority of the intelligence community’s report on the hacking was forced to point fingers at RT and other sources, which proved nothing but adequately deflected attention from the false claims of hacking. The narrative thus moves from hacking to influencing, a softer accusation but one that will be enthusiastically peddled by the likes of Power.

The influence narrative is also easier to sustain, since it is quite possible that RT influenced some voters, though its impact on the outcome itself was likely benign given the extraordinary weight of domestic propaganda that overwhelmed the American mediascape through the electoral season. But RT provides a much-needed counterpoint to Washington media, which all peddle the same caricatures of the world at large, in which America is a shining city on a hill, the envy of nations, noble in intent, a just arbiter of disputes, ever hopeful, yet ever disappointed by the chronic recidivism of ‘developing’ nations.

Second, Power seems to support the false dichotomy that some of us are vulnerable and others are not. Those in power have the full knowledge required to separate the wheat from the chaff, while average citizens haven’t got the requisite toolset to the do the job themselves. Not only is this false, as progressive independent media outlets demonstrate daily, but it is deeply elitist. It is also the foreground of her third and ultimate aim: to outlaw foreign news media in the United States that doesn’t parrot the State Department’s shapeshifting of reality.

Demonizing the Ruskies

Power provides some tasty bits about former USSR leader Yuri Andropov’s ‘active measures’ (as opposed to static measures) in the Eighties. Had Andropov, a smart Soviet who lasted only 15 months in power due to illness, survived in power, the Soviet Union might still stand. But he was up against the tidal force of Ronald Reagan, a vicious anti-communist who declared the USSR an “evil empire” (points for phrasing if nothing else), launched a Star Wars initiative, and explored first-strike options as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) dissolved in the cold past.

Having dutifully dissed the Soviets, she assumes that Russia information aimed at American audiences is de facto propaganda because she assumes that Russia is an adversary. She sadly relates that citizens get their news from social media more than ever, and concludes that they probably can’t decipher real from fake news without the assistance of “umpires” that, ostensibly, would not teach them to separate fact from fiction, but would simply elide what they judged factitious from the news stream altogether.

Power then seconds the Facebook claim that Russia may have spent $50-100,000 in paid media to spread anti-Clinton stories, although the social network offered no evidence. She makes similar claims about Russian activity in Europe. “Russia “appears” to be using the same tactics abroad and is “believed” to have committed cyber attacks and has been “accused” of fabricating stories.

The Bane of Partyism

The former ambassador, who once rightly called Hillary Clinton “a monster”, comically laments the loss of “mainstream consensus” of the sort that existed during the McCarthy era, when groupthink had its firmest grip on the American conscience. She blames “partyism”, apparently an inelegant replacement for “partisanship” as another cause of our fractured corporate narrative. (Note that ‘partisanship’ is consistently derided and is a pejorative term in the corporate press. Lockstep is preferred.) One can see Power’s fingers trembling as she hammers out the incredulous news that Republican voters’ esteem of Vladimir Putin rose 20 percent in the last two years. (Perhaps here she hurled her wireless Apple keyboard at the wall of her well-appointed DC loft). She finds it “worrisome” that a majority of citizens now question the veracity of corporate-sponsored mainstream news.

To her credit, Ms. Power does call out the fact that, in their brief and scurrilous prime, ISIS produced 38 pieces of media a day. All governments and would-be governments will produce pro-government propaganda, Russia included. But they will also report facts. Michael Parenti, in his book Blackshirts & Reds, has a chapter detailing the terrible collapse of social supports in Eastern Europe that immediately followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the happy introduction of cutthroat free-market capitalism. Nearly every source he uses comes from American mainstream media. The question is how the facts are spun, what facts are omitted, and what falsehoods are introduced. For much of the mainstream media, the collapse of social infrastructure and the violent suppression of communist organizations after the fall of the Wall were presented as forms of “democratization” by the west.

A look at RT will quickly demonstrate that it is comprised primarily of principled Americans exposing the lies of their own corporate media, and providing much-needed facts and insight into the actions of the U.S. government. This is necessary and useful counter-check on the false narrative constructs of the corporate-owned media, which citizens rightly distrust. The channel may be funded by the Russian government, but that doesn’t mean all of its content is propaganda. It should be cautiously approached, just as a corporate-owned venue like the Washington Post should be cautiously approached. But each claim should be received on its merits. The New York Times and Washington Post have truthful articles all the time, but they also produce enormously influential propaganda. We have to take an evidentiary approach to what we read, noting its source, its sponsors, and its context. This is the essence of democratic ideal–people deciding for themselves. But Power thinks we need umpires to make these decisions for us.

The Virtue of Skepticism

Unsurprisingly, Power proposes what social philosopher John Stuart Mill warned us to question. He said the freethinking mind should be characterized by, “…an extreme skepticism about the right of any authority to determine which opinions are noxious or abhorrent.” We have lacked this skepticism for decades, but it is finally on the rise. Still, we are still often guilty of placing our complacent, lazy faith in the op-eds of mainstream publishers, largely because we think they are independent. The Russian-created RT, formerly Russia Today, is considered to be an alarming propagandist front for Kremlin mischief mainly because it is openly funded by the Russian state, an undisguised concession to the likely slant of its coverage. But all our corporate media need do is peddle its dogmatic rubbish under some private masthead for the masses to buy in. This is the astonishingly low bar one needs to cross to convince the public of one’s autonomy. But nominal independence from the state does not mean genuine independence from capital. It is the corporate sector that controls the narrative in the United States.

Power calls out the “bipartisan” nature of the new Alliance for Securing Democracy, a thought-cleansing front established as an unconvincing nonpartisan defender of democracy. The Intercept calls it a well-funded national security advocacy group” that further concretizes the Democratic Party’s alliance with “extreme and discredited neocons” from the Bush era. The group is led by Clinton and Rubio advisors Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly, respectively, and sulphurous spin doctors like Bill Kristol and establishment hawks like Michael Morrell, Michael Chertoff, and the noxious Mike Rogers. This formation is a good indication of how corporate parties react when pushed from the left: they try to discredit the left-wing and secure right-wing support.

In sum, the former ambassador’s perspective distills to this: social media and partyism have created narrative gaps through which foreign media may slip. This is bad. We need umpires to decide what we read in order to re-establish mainstream consensus. It is bad when people lose faith in the corporate news. We must all be vigilant against foreign powers practicing “the arts of seduction.” This sounds like a lot like censorship and a subtle effort to undermine the first amendment, which few, if any, people in positions of power truly support, Rand Paul excepted.

Obama, who oversaw spying on the Republican presidential campaign, prosecuted whistleblowers with a vengeance, sanctioned mass surveillance of Americans and outsourced it when it violated standing laws, was perhaps the most anti-free speech president of the last 100 years. In fact, this alliance is a natural outgrowth of the dissembling Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act built into the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and signed by President Obama. Power is a vestige of this regime of control and, ironically for a supposed feminist, shares its paternalistic ideology. She ought to be laughed off the op-ed page. Unfortunately, the papers she writes for are peddling the very imperial falsehoods she pretends to care about.