Ukraine, the U.S. and the Fairfax press

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The supposedly 'independent always' Fairfax press has shown itself to be an arm of American foreign policy by its skewed reporting of the Ukrainian conflict, writes Dr Evan Jones.

THERE’S NOT MUCH GOOD NEWS these days but, with recent events in the Ukraine, things are looking up. A mass uprising of peaceful protestors has toppled tyranny, albeit with some martyrs to the cause of democracy. The nasties running Venezuela are reeling. Right will win out in the end.

Well that’s what we right-thinking people read in the Fairfax press — we who disdain to go near Murdoch’s hysterical Australian and his reactionary populist tabloids.

Fairfax media ended its broadsheet tradition in March 2013. From tabloid in form, it has long been tempted into tabloid in substance. Its reporting of world events already puts it in that category.

After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and his murder, we were reminded several times in Fairfax that he masterminded the Lockerbie bombing. A throwaway line, as part of a larger narrative of yet another embodiment of evil incarnate who has met his just deserts.

Yet it isn’t true.

Ah well, who cares; it doesn’t matter. He could have, that’s what matters, and it saves us the trouble of digging up the unsavoury saga that surrounds the Lockerbie tragedy.

The chaos now engulfing post-Gaddafi Libya is not a subject of interest to Fairfax. The caravan has moved on to the next hot spot of multi-coloured revolutions.

On 21 February, we had Will Dobson, reproduced from Slate, referring to the Venezuelan regime. Peculiarly, this is a ‘regime’ that has consistently won unimpeachably run elections, unlike Dobson’s own country, where George W. Bush Jr had both his electoral ‘victories’ stolen for him.

But Dobson is an esteemed journalistic expert on dictatorships and authoritarianism (at least of those that U.S. administrations don’t favour), so he must be right.

Then to the Ukraine, on 22 February, we had David Blair from the UK Telegraph,in Grimms’ fairy tale-style prose, describing the carnage caused by the heinous government-backed snipers. But he gives us a fairy-tale happy ending:

'Yet, after the security forces had gone to such lengths to terrorise and break their enemies, the result was that the protesters were still the masters of the Maidan. They regained every inch of ground lost on Wednesday.'

There is no account of the escalation of riots immediately after President Viktor Yanukovych had agreed to negotiations with Opposition leaders and to the holding of early elections, or that those riots were accompanied by violence. And who were these snipers? Their clothing was not a ready identifier.

The idiosyncratic Germany-based author William Engdahl has another perspective. Engdahl claims that U.S. intelligence sources informed him that the snipers belonged to

'… an ultra-right-wing military organization known as Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO). … Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the crack-para-military UNA-UNSO members have been behind every revolt against Russian influence.'

Conspiratorial mumbo jumbo?

We outsiders have no idea. But the timing of the sniping murders seems to offer a clue. What would Yanukovych have to gain? He was deposed soon after.

Ross Douthaut (Image via Wikipedia)

On 23 February, hogging the Opinion pages, was Ross Douthat, reproduced from the New York Times. The NYT’s original heading is The Games Putin Plays. But the SMH subs retitled it Russia bares claws in clash with West. Actually Putin’s Russia wasn’t baring its claws at all. The EU offered economic austerity and Yanukovych decided that Russia had the better proposition for much needed financial support.

Douthat’s article – android journalism – is a masterpiece of utter puerility. But the author has the imprimatur of the NYT — the United States ‘newspaper of record’.

Douthat notes:

‘… even [the EU’s spectacular post-GFC mismanagement] record hasn't persuaded the majority of Ukrainians to warm to Moscow's embrace instead.’

Well, the majority of Ukrainians did precisely that in 2010, in an ostensibly above-board election — in contrast with Yanukovych’s 2004 corrupt involvement in a rigged election.

The Kyiv Post noted at the time:

'More than 3,000 international observers, including a delegation led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, dubbed the vote as a democratic milestone for Ukraine. The OSCE, for example, called it an “impressive display of democratic elections,” and called upon Ukraine’s politicians to respect the results ...'

Douthat claims that

'… events in Kiev have been a lesson in the limits of Russian influence and the implausibility of Putin's claim to offer a rival civilisational model to the liberal democratic West. That such a rivalry is Putin's goal seems clear enough.'

That such a rivalry is Putin’s goal is not clear at all.

Putin’s goal, defensive not offensive, appears to be the prevention of the dismemberment of Russia itself from the predations of the neo-conservatives, for whom the Cold War never ended. Apparently, Mikhail Gorbachev did a deal with George H. W. Bush that, if the former abandoned the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet Union’s answer to the creation of NATO) then NATO’s suzerainty would be retained at the then status quo.

But the Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic trio were soon swallowed into NATO, and NATO’s neo-con newcomers are on Russia’s borders  — precisely the same scenario that drove Stalin’s ill-fated country grab in 1947.

The U.S. attempted infiltration through Georgia, which came unstuck — albeit it’s now back on the table.

The U.S. is interested in the Ukraine secondarily, but primarily in Russia. Poland is already playing the U.S. agent in the Ukrainian transformation.

As for Douthat’s ‘liberal democratic West’ — I reach for my gun when this hoary old chestnut is brandished.

Liberal democracy’ is a 19th century shotgun marriage from when the forces of economic liberalism (read capitalism) – bearing a new servitude – were faced with the threat then inevitability of the adult franchise.

Over the 120 years or so from mid-19th century to 1970, political and economic compromises were effected and the labels ‘social liberalism’ and ‘social democracy’ given to associated ideas and practices. But liberalism and democracy were never a loving couple and liberalism has been aggressively suing for divorce since the end of the post-War long boom, while appropriating the entire marital nest egg.

The imperial U.S., both for raison d’état and in support of corporate interests, has always exposed the contradictions. Domestically, formally democratic structures are being eviscerated in both substance (the Supreme Court re-legitimisation of corporate campaign funding, the enduring strike of capital against taxes, repression of dissent) and in form (voter disenfranchisement).

Globally, full spectrum dominance remains the imperative, now assisted by comprehensive surveillance.

Recent peccadilloes, adding to a long list, include involvement in the coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti in 2004, the public indifference and de facto support to the rigged election that returned Felipe Calderón to power in Mexico in 2006, support of the coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 and the subsequent murderous regime, and the indifference and de facto support to the coup by oligarchs against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay in 2012.

Add the simultaneous destabilisation of elected governments in the Ukraine and Venezuela.

‘Liberal democracy’? Pah.

Even Douthat’s language of a ‘civilisational model’ has been lifted from strategic sources — namely a 2013 British government Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘blueprint’.  The document foresees the signing of the first stage of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in November 2013.

To quote at length:

This will have political importance, because it will demonstrate a real and informed choice of the Ukrainian authorities in favour of reforming the country in the framework of the European civilization model (sic). The AA including [the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area] will be the most ambitious agreement that the EU has ever concluded with countries outside the community. … The AA should become the ’engine for reforms’, encouraging the modernisation of Ukraine in more than 30 areas …

The AA will entrench common values, democratic standards, real guarantees of rights and opportunities that have become the norm in the European Union, and from which Ukrainians will benefit if the AA is successfully implemented. As for encouraging economic reform and growth, the [DCFTA] will go further than classic free trade areas. The introduction of the DCFTA will lead to a restructuring of the Ukrainian market, growth of investments as a result of the introduction of EU standards, as well as legal and administrative support for this process.

What? Common values, democratic standards, real guarantees of rights and opportunities that have become the norm in the European Union?

Who writes this stuff? Do they actually believe it themselves? No wonder Yanukovych said ‘no thank you very much’.

Ironic that in late 2013, the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the autocratic character and brutal methods of the ‘troika’ – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF – in dealing with the GFC.

More, other deputies linked to employment and social policy, mindful of the moderateness of the Economics Committee deputies, have launched their own inquiry and report in furious denunciation of the troika.

Further ironies exist in that the IMF has admitted that the medicine was too tough, while the EC and ECB remain unrepentant. The catastrophe suffered by a range of EU Countries  – all to save the profligate European banking sector – is to be imposed on the Ukraine under the rubric of democratic standards, rights and opportunities and so on.

During a session of the European Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, headed ‘Ukraine’s Future and U.S. Interests’, in May 2004, then Representative Robert Wexler claimed:

… the majority of Ukrainians ... support further Euro-Atlantic integration including membership in NATO and the European Union."

In fact they don't

Other participants also talked of closer ‘Euro-Atlantic integration’. 

Yet, in the bugged telephone exchange in early February between the U.S. Eurasian ‘diplomat’ Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland exclaims

"Fuck the EU!"

What the American strategists mean, apparently, is Atlantic integration — that is, assimilation purely to American interests.

Surprisingly, Yanukovych himself has already been accommodating NATO.

On a Russian website, we have the interviewee Rick Rozoff noting:

'So the process of integrating Ukraine into NATO has been going on for decades. It has been intensified in recent years rather than the opposite. And that opportunity now presents the US and its allies with the opportunity to further absorb and consolidate control over Ukraine.'

No half measures for NATO under its Neo-con Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. We want total Ukraine integration and subservience and we want it tomorrow.

On 24 February, we saw Janet Daley from the UK Telegraph reproduced on all Fairfax daily websites. This blanket coverage includes the Canberra Times, whose once editorial autonomy was abolished with the John B. Fairfax-driven merger of Rural Press and Fairfax. The Daley article is a shocking grab bag of rubbish.

For example:

'Meanwhile, ministers from Germany, France and Poland were trying to talk turkey through the gunfire.”

No, the gunfire began after the Ministers reached an agreement.


“It was clear from the outset that the EU ministers saw the urgency of their mission very much in terms of their own particular national interests.'


The problem for Daley is that, for once, the EU Ministers were not playing American lackeys.


'Ever since the Assad regime in Syria was allowed to gallop gleefully over Obama's ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons on its own people …'

Well, no, the evidence points to the Saudi/Qatari/Western-supported jihadis using chemical weapons as a false flag device.

Daley continues the sentence:

'… thus showing the world that you could now openly defy America and suffer no consequences.'

Ah, there’s the rub. A rising China and a Russia that refuses to roll over (Putin’s ‘neo-imperial brazen power game’) openly defying America and its satrap Britain — this is the cause of Daley’s hysteria.

After the 22 February coup, events moved to the autonomous predominantly Russian region of Crimea in the face of immediate ‘de-russification’ initiatives from Kiev.

The articles reproduced in Fairfax reflected the shifted focus of Anglo-American strategists, post-victory, in demanding that Russia refrain from violating the Ukraine’s ‘territorial integrity’. The chutzpah of it all.

One author has drawn attention to an AFP report that claimed that Rinat Akhmetov, wealthy owner of the Shakhtar Donetsk and backer (and sometime deputy) of Yanukovych’s Regions Party, was threatened in December with crippling sanctions if he didn’t withdraw support from Yanukovych.

Subsequently, in January, Akhmetov publicly called calling for calm, non-violence and negotiations. A significant number of deputies have since withdrawn from the Party of Regions grouping.

The U.S. diktat has perennially been: don’t do what I do, do what I say.

Unfortunately, the one group that won’t be satisfied by post-coup developments are those protesting entrenched oligarchic and political corruption. That will continue.

The now formal legitimisation in the interstices of the state apparatus of the fiercely nationalistic, socially reactionary and Russophobic Svoboda Party and the violent Right Sector movement will ensure both that prospects of fair elections will be vitiated indefinitely and that the grounds are set for civil war and possible partition.

In the meantime, Ukraine will be subject to a Greek-style haircut under its appointed Prime Minister, the former Central Banker Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Its economy will be subject to plunder not merely by the oligarchs but by Western interests. The details of the road map are already there in the EU-Ukraine agreement that Yanukovych rejected.

Bizarrely, we have the U.S. business journal Forbes telling it like it is:

'Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy “Yats” Yatsenyuk, may prove to be arsenic to the beleaguered nation.'

The article quotes a mainstream investment analyst:

'“Recall the phone exchange between the Ukraine ambassador and Victoria Nuland (Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs) that got leaked out, where she basically said ‘we want Yats in there.’ They like him because he’s pro Western,” says Vladimir Signorelli, president of boutique investment research firm Bretton Woods Research LLC in New Jersey.'

The article continues:

'"Yatsenyuk is the the kind of technocrat you want if you want austerity, with the veneer of professionalism,” Signorelli said. “He’s the type of guy who can hobnob with the European elite. A Mario Monti type: unelected and willing to do the IMFs bidding,” he said.'

Thus, on this extraordinarily important conflict, Fairfax has delivered us a stew of glib factual inaccuracies, consistently partisan omissions and linguistic blather.

As I previously noted in an article on Fairfax’s sacking of journalist Paddy Manning, the bottom line of media companies is supposed to be the bottom line. I can’t, then, understand why management, especially of a financially bleeding company, would expect readers to pay for the privilege of being misinformed.

Imagine if the same standards were applied to the sports page and the form guide? There’d be hell to pay.

Is it laziness?  Merely the accidental by-product of cost-cutting and Fairfax’s long-term agreements with ‘prestigious’ Anglo-American media? After all, with Fairfax having a reporter on the ground in another hot-spot, Thailand, Lindsay Murdoch can give readers a more nuanced approach to the anti-government protests.

However, the consistency of the slant regarding the Ukraine coverage indicates that the message itself must be a factor in the partisan selection process. It’s all crude white-black good guys versus bad guys.

In the first instance, the line is consistent with the mentality of Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood. His journalism was perennially in the white-black mould.

Two pieces from April 2004 are indicative (here and here), with Hywood fretting over Opposition leader Mark Latham’s questioning of the Australian-U.S. alliance, and Latham’s proposal to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq.

Claims Hywood:

… the deterioration of US political and military control in Iraq has made overt success in that messy conflict unlikely. For allies like Australia it is a particularly sensitive time. This is why Mark Latham's criticism of the US-Australian alliance is so fraught with danger. … Real friends rally around in times of need. Fair-weather types watch from the sidelines and are remembered for it. … There are still strong reasons to justify the invasion. … the Howard Government made the right call. There was no real choice but to send an Australian contingent. And once deployed, there needed to be a presence until the US was able to withdraw.

Some medium-term perspective is available from analyses I made (on the sadly defunct Workers Online site) of Australian media coverage of two significant events — the prospective U.S. response to 9/11 and the politics behind the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The general lesson is that it’s more of the same — the world is coloured white or black.

As I wrote in June 2003:

'But the opinion pages on international affairs are wretched. Is it by accident or on purpose?Tellingly, the reproduction of foreign correspondents is monopolised by the Establishment media of Anglo-America.'

There seems to have been a couple of changes.

There are now less domestic columnists (at least in Fairfax) parroting the correct opinions, with even greater reliance on Anglo-American media. If the local establishment pundits are merely reproducing the correct line, why not rationalise the staffing and good riddance.

However, the Australian media post-9/11 coverage did include a significant minority of dissenting voices, both domestic and from Anglo-America. That allowance is now passé, so things have deteriorated.

In this context, James Aronson’s 1970 The Press and the Cold War is instructive.

In 1945, Aronson worked for the Occupying Force’s Information Control Division to establish a democratic press in West Germany, uncensored by U.S. authorities. The ‘absence of editorial bias’ meant that, almost immediately, the military command moved in — anti-Nazi Germans were replaced by former Nazi sympathisers.

The U.S. press itself has since been under constant pressure from the authorities, and has generally (with occasional exceptions) succumbed. The U.S. mainstream media now voluntarily walks in step with and is an arm of officialdom. Hence the stuff that Fairfax reproduces.

The lessons for media censorship were learnt during wartime (World War I was a turning point). But the U.S. is permanently at war, hence the need for permanent censorship, Western style. Alas, any attempt to understand from the mainstream media why the West, under U.S. tutelage, is permanently at war is an adventure doomed to failure.

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