The media are called the fourth estate because they are meant to hold government to account but it is failing to question the drive to a new Cold War, notes Kara Byran
The British government has announced it will send 800 troops with armoured support to Estonia and RAF Typhoons to Romania in the Spring, as part of a strategic Nato deployment of four new battalions consisting of 4,000 troops in Eastern Europe.
This is the largest deployment since the Cold War. Tensions escalating to levels previously unthinkable in the post-Cold War era are being exacerbated by media coverage that all too often faithfully parrots Washington’s anti-Russian rhetoric. The fourth estate’s function should be applying the brakes by scrutinising the official narrative not repeating state propaganda.
When Hillary Clinton’s campaign Chair and Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff, John Podesta’s email account was hacked, thousands of Democratic National Council (DNC) emails were turned over to Wikileaks. Their publication resulted in the resignations of five of the DNC’s top brass including the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz and CEO Amy Dacey.
Clinton, ironically outraged by this invasion of privacy after condemning whistle-blower Edward Snowden, accused the Russian government of the hack and claimed that Wikileaks was part of an elaborate Kremlin conspiracy to skewer the election in favour of Donald Trump. The New York Times seized on the story with one contributor claiming that ‘Mr Putin had recruited Mr Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.’ Conveniently, the spotlight was moved so that three of Clinton’s main adversaries were in the frame without a shred of collaborative evidence, despite the Washington Post citing an intelligence official as saying, ‘We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and Wikileaks – none.’
The Department of Homeland Security released a statement last month officially blaming the Kremlin for the hack. When asked, a White House spokesman said the evidence ‘could not be discussed in public.’ Nevertheless the Obama administration has threatened a counter offensive against Russia with Joe Biden publicly announcing a ‘covert’ cyber attack. The Kremlin has denied involvement but the media has dutifully echoed the Clinton camp’s allegations without question or due investigation.
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story, points out that denouncing critics and adversaries as Russia sympathisers is not a new tactic in US political discourse. Greenwald said the smear tactic is being used to ‘vilify anyone perceived to be an impediment to Clinton’s victory.’ The ‘conspiracy’ conveniently discredits all three of Clinton’s major opponents and deflects attention from the content of the leaks.
And the leaks are significant. Not least excerpts of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall St which contradict her oratory on the campaign trail, and details of how the Clinton camp broke their own regulations to undermine Bernie Sanders, but because they reveal collusion between prominent western journalists and the Clinton campaign. No less than 65 journalists were named in the leaks. Including, notably, Donna Brazille, former chair of the DNC who was quietly dropped by CNN after it emerged she had been leaking debate questions to the Clinton campaign. Those journalist named in the leaks work for major corporate news organisations. The same organisations waging the anti-Russian propaganda war.
The Russophobic media narrative bears similar hallmarks to the media frenzy over Weapons of Mass Destruction in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and the ‘just 45 minutes from attack’ narrative. And the rhetoric isn’t limited to the United States.
These are just some of the British headlines in the last month ramping up the Russian scare:
‘The Threat From Russia’ ~ The Economist, Oct 20
‘Russia Is Preparing For Nuclear War’ ~ Business Insider, Oct 26
‘Russia Reveals Photos Of New ‘Super Nuke’’ ~ The Independent, Oct 25
‘Russia Is Conducting Nuclear War Survival Drills’ ~ Indy100, Oct 26
‘Britain, U.S., Sendind Planes, Troops To Deter Russia’ ~ Reuters, Oct 26
‘Russian War Ships Head For British Waters’ ~ The Express, Oct 18
‘Russia Taunts U.S. With Biggest Military Offensive Since The Cold War’ ~ Telegraph, Oct 19
Of particular significance, are articles in The Economist, ‘The Threat From Russia’, in which an accompanying image of Putin as a dark, sinister figure featuring demonic red eyes leaves little to the imagination and The Independent’s ‘Super Nuke’, in which Russia’s shiny new nuclear weapons are ‘capable of almost wiping out New York state.’ Nor is the rhetoric confined to the media, with Andrew Mitchell calling for a no-fly zone over Syria, advocating blowing Russian jets to smithereens and the bumbling Boris Johnson calling for protests outside the Russian Embassy.
The British government is extremely selective on human rights. No such calls were made to protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy for their atrocities against the Yemeni people or for beheading homosexuals. But it’s alright because they buy our weapons, and by Johnson’s logic, if we didn’t sell them, someone else would.
Critics of our arms sales to tyrannical governments and western foreign policy in general, are met with considerable hostility in some sections of the media, which by their logic, amounts to veiled support for Assad and Putin. In an article The Guardian, ‘If They Really Wanted To Stop The War in Syria, They’d Target Russia’ Oct 14, Jonathan Freeland attacked STWC for refusing to answer Boris Johnson’s call for protests outside the Russian Embassy. Notably, Freedland described the proposal for a no-fly zone in Syria as ‘reckless’ and said that it would lead to confrontation with Russia. In an article in the International Business Times, October 13, STWC came under fire again and were accused of ‘Stalinism.’ The author went on to assert that an unnamed ‘leading member’ of STWC and Counterfire (which he described as a ‘cult-like splinter group’) serves as an aid to Jeremy Corbyn. The inference being that Jeremy Corbyn is a useful idiot under the influence of a Russian sympathiser.
Chris Nineham, deputy chair of STWC couldn’t have been any clearer when he said, ‘We oppose all foreign intervention in Syria’ and that protesting the Russian air strikes on Aleppo outside the Russian embassy, ‘would increase the level of demonization of Russia, the hysteria and jingoism which is being whipped up against Russia and it would therefore make western intervention more likely. We are the Stop The War Coalition. Not the Start The War Coalition.’
There is no doubt the Russian bombing of Aleppo should be, as it has been, widely condemned, but when comparing the news coverage of the Russian ‘bombardment of Aleppo’ with the US ‘liberation of Mosul’ there is an obvious disparity. The operation in Mosul is expected to create hundreds of thousands of refugees according to UNHCR and the Red Cross yet there has been little coverage of this incidental fact because it doesn’t fit the ‘US good/Russia bad’ narrative.
Russia Today (RT), who recently had their bank accounts frozen by the largely state-owned NatWest are no doubt waging a propaganda war of their own, with their own pro-Putin agenda, critical of western foreign policy but comparatively, no more than the BBC in the UK, or NBC or CNN in the US parrots the Washington line. RT, albeit obviously sympathetic to the Kremlin, offers a different perspective on global events not always covered by the western media such as the plight of Palestinians living in the occupied territories and sometimes reveals a truth the West would prefer to remain hidden. Though the Treasury officially denied any involvement, the old adage ‘Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied’ springs immediately to mind, perhaps validated by Theresa May’s ill-considered comment, ‘Do we want to make sure that misinformation is not being spread? Of course we do.’ Freezing RT’s accounts, widely cheered by the western media, is a concerning attack on free speech by the very people who only last year claimed #JeSuisCharlie.
The rhetoric surrounding the discord between Russia and the West is alarming considering relations are at their worst in forty years. Particularly in light of the fact President-in-waiting Hillary Clinton is advocating a no-fly zone in Syria, which would escalate the conflict to potentially catastrophic levels, leading to direct confrontation with Russia and civilian casualties on the ground. Clinton herself was quoted as saying ‘To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defence, many of which are located in populated areas, so our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we are not putting our pilots at risk – you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.’
General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking to the U.S. Senate last month, warned against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria and said that in order to control the air space in Syria ‘would require us to go to war with Russian and Syria.’ If this is more than mere political posturing, Clinton’s proposal will ignite a fire she will be unable to extinguish. Even lunatic Donald Trump can see this has the potential to provoke World War III. Russia is not another Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan. It is a major player on the world stage with a massive operational nuclear arsenal and sophisticated S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft systems already deployed in Syria. Retired USAF Lieutenant General David Deptula who commanded no-fly zones over Iraq described it as ‘a solution in search of a problem.’
You’d have to have slept through the last few months not to have noticed it's open season on Russia. Media coverage has been debased to a steady onslaught of anti-Russian propaganda. The fourth estate, which once acted as vociferous watchdog, has been reduced to an overfed poodle, sitting on command, waiting ardently to lap up and regurgitate the establishment line. The build-up of Nato forces on Russian borders and the proposals for a no-fly zone in Syria are provocative and reckless. Détente is rapidly becoming just a distant memory. The escalation in tensions between the two countries should serve as a wake-up call to proponents of nuclear weapons. Its not the Russian Federation we should fear, but the nuclear capabilities of East and West… and the lack of a credible fourth estate.
Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War
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