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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are Western Journalists Missing the Story from Ukraine?

The editor of the Kyiv Post, Euan Macdonald has been critical of western media in their coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict:

"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 exploited 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."

A friend and colleague from my CBC days, Alex Sprintsen, posted this on Facebook:

What Western journalists need to remember about covering the situation in Ukraine: there AREN'T two sides to every story and sometimes if you see what looks like a duck walking, it IS a duck. Will a time come when media managers adjust? Not their principles and values, but their approach to reporting the truth when the rules of the game are different from the norm.

Alex asked me for a response:

Alex - what part of the story has not been reported by western media? As I have been following it (mostly in the NY Times and the BBC which seem to have a ringside seat to the story), the issues that Mr. Macdonald raises are ones that have been covered. I don't sense any particular attempts to paint Russia in some neutral way. There is a Russian perspective (you may not agree with it) that has been reported, even by the CBC. That's the view that Putin has revived a spirit of pan-Slavism (just in time for the anniversary of WW1). It has elements of Sovietism and evoking Mother Russia. Obviously that makes former Soviet republics very nervous. 

And for good historical reasons. Putinism is also an expression of the new Russian crony and statist corruption. And the new Russian imperialism is designed to cover up various failures of Russian politics, economy and society. Nationalism has served that role for quite some time, as we know. So what am I missing here? I'll tell you what I haven't read: the return to a bipolar balance of power.

Putinism may be a crude counter to the failures of American policies that began in 1989 and took an odd and troubled turn after 9/11. I leave these analyses to the Council on Foreign Relations et al, but we might consider that we could be on the verge of not only a new cold war, but a new international balancing of reinvented that which might presage a new era of international stability, punctuated as before by small clashes but no open warfare.

This would likely happen at tremendous costs to political freedoms and human rights. But there would be great power stability and that's something both the US and Russia are moving toward. As for the journalism, I think that the art of reading the Russians was shelved back in 1989, (end of history etc.) but it is now being revived. We need more journalists like you Alex to figure this out. And yes, Stephen Cohen, you can come back in now...

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