Don’t feel too ashamed though: you’ve been misled by the most sophisticated propaganda machine that the world has ever seen – one that attacks, undermines and emasculates a key source of information that you may rely on: the Western media. As a small part of that media, I’m partly to blame for your being misled, so I owe it to you to explain as best I can how this happened.
The Kremlin propagandists have achieved this propaganda coup in three ways:
1. Undermining the credibility of Western journalism, or the journalism practiced in democracies. In Russia, and other autocratic regimes, the media serve the purposes of the state. There is no conception of the media as a „Fourth Estate“ that is in effect as separate and equal part of government, performing an overseeing role that protects democracy. Why should the media perform such a role when there is no democracy to protect? Instead, in authoritarian states, the media are an arm of government, a propganda appendage, who pass only the government-approved message. By extension, it is assumed, wrongly, by the people who live under autocratic regimes, that the Western media serve exactly the same role. The reporting of Western journalists is thus undermined, with journalists being equated to agents of their governments, and thought of as nothing better than propagandists or spies. This wooly thinking even infects the well-meaning but naive liberal left in the West, who (rightly) distrust their own governments, but (wrongly) won’t believe their own media. Meanwhile, the „journalists“ of an authoritarian state like Russia can be found in places like Ukraine advancing the goals of their state through their „reporting.“
2. Understanding and expoliting the „Golden Rules“ of journalism. The Kremlin propagandists know very well that Western journalists value their integrity, and that none of them wants to compromise it. None of them wants to make an error that will dent their reputation, and thus their career. The Kremlin propagandists know that Western journalists are risk-averse when it comes to reporting – they know that while each one of them is desperate to get the story FIRST, it must also be CORRECT. Mistakes will haunt you long after the story has broken and the brief glory of the breaking story has faded. This risk-aversion can be expolited by simply tearing off the shoulder patch of a Russian soldier. Western journalists can no longer report „Russian soldiers are in the process of annexing Crimea.“ They can’t identify the soldiers for sure – they can’t risk being wrong, even though it’s completely obvious, even to themselves, who these soldiers are. Ditto unmarked Russian T-72 tanks in Ukraine. They can’t report what they know personally to be the truth.
3. Setting up „alternative media“ that pretend to be paragons of Western media values. The Russian Kremlin propaganda channel RT (formerly Russia Today) has been set up to promote the Russian government’s propaganda in a way soothingly familiar to a Western audience. It employs young, pretty, cash-hungry journalists from Western countries, who are almost entirely lacking in a sense of journalistic ethics, to mouth the word of the Kremlin in a way that sounds acceptable to a Western audience. When presented with a channel like RT, a Westerner might assume that this is a bona fide news organization, that follows the rules of Western journalism, when in fact it is a propaganda machine that will not hesitate to promulgate the most absurd and outrageous lies in the interests of its masters, and will only retract them, in an insincere face-saving exercise, if it steps so far beyond the bounds of the credible that it cannot even convince its own fact-challenged staff that it was reporting accurately.
Absurd though it seems, these are the reasons I cannot tell you on the radio tonight some things that I know personally to be true: There never was a rebellion in Ukraine: it was fomented by Russian intelligence operatives – most people in eastern Ukraine never supported the separatists. The reason the Ukrainian army has suffered reverses in the last two weeks is because Russia sent in massive quantities of men and materiel to stop the „rebels“ from losing. MH17 was almost certainly shot down by a BUK anti-aircraft missile, operated by Russians. And the „ceasefire“ is almost certainly a ruse to wrong foot the West and the Ukrainian government into lowering its guard ahead of further Russian intervention in Ukraine, and then further afield.
I can’t tell you all that because the Kremlin propagandists will assault my every claim with obfuscation, confusion and denial, and their account will be broadcast in the Western media, who „seek the other side of the story,“ and give it equal airtime, as if this other side of the story is not the outright lies and propaganda that it actually is.
That is why Russian propaganda has defeated Western journalism. Now: what are we going to do about it?