did you hear about the gay girl in Damascus?

Remember how everybody thought that Kim Jong Un fed his uncle to rabid dogs, and they all had a good time working themselves into a frenzy about it? And remember how that wasn’t true, and everybody was like, boy we sure were stupid then! Remember how weeks later, everybody thought that everyone in North Korea was required to have the same haircut, and they all had a good time working themselves into a frenzy about it? And remember how that wasn’t true, and everybody was like, boy we sure were stupid then!   Remember all of those images of brutal crackdowns of Venezuela’s protests, and everyone had a good time working themselves into a frenzy about it? And remember how when people actually looked at those images, they were like, hmm, these photos are years old, and from Greece and Egypt and Syria, isn’t that odd! And everybody was like, boy we sure were stupid then! Remember when everybody thought that Putin had the guy responsible for the malfunctioning Olympic rings killed, because they forgot that the Daily Currant is a) fake and b) uniformly unfunny? And remember how that wasn’t true, and everybody was like, boy we sure were stupid then! Remember how everybody believed every other ridiculous made up lie about the conditions in Sochi, and they all had a good time working themselves into a frenzy about it? And remember how they weren’t true, and everybody was like, boy we sure were stupid then! Remember how everybody thought that China had to broadcast images of the sunrise, because China’s pollution is so bad, and China are scary commies who can’t run a country right, and everybody had a good time working themselves into a frenzy about it? And remember how that wasn’t true, and everybody was like, boy we sure were stupid then!

I could literally go on and on. And on.

Now I don’t know if Jews in eastern Ukraine are being forced to register. It’s a very scary story. It’s a very frightening situation in an unstable part of the world, one subject to illegal and immoral aggression from the Russian government. But it’s also a situation where Western journalists, like Adam Weinstein of the oh-so-savvy Gawker Media here, will simply report any story that casts Russia in the worst possible light under the flimsiest of pretenses. Meanwhile, they refuse to countenance any aspect of the story that might portray the new Ukrainian government in a bad light– like pointing out, for example, that every major election certification group in the world had found the previous election free and fair. Even the actual story linked to from USA Today does not make the case that the headlines flying around now say it does. Time will have to tell. But recent history, and the basic pro-American -hegemony nature of American media, gives us every reason to be profoundly skeptical of this story. American media will believe literally anything you tell them about governments our own government doesn’t like, and the supposedly liberal, supposedly savvy, supposedly hip set are worse than anyone. Maybe every word of this story is true, and all the fevered panic about it is justified. But the broader point would remain the same: when it comes to “the bad guys,” American journalists will print anything, so long as it makes us look better and them worse.

American journos, pundits, writers, and internet obsessives: you are very, very bad at assessing evidence about regimes that your government does not like. You should not trust your own instincts when assessing the likelihood and legitimacy of stories about governments that are antagonistic to your own. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again, and then realizing the bad results after, is not an effective way to go about doing your job. Maybe try, you know, learning.

9 Comments

  1. It’s not necessarily part of the “pro-American hegemony nature of the American media.” These places, esp. N. Korea, are generally media-opaque. More so than, say, France.

    Lots of claims get thrown about. The claim that “provocateurs,” rather than security forces, were responsible for sniper attacks in Kyiv is still pretty widely circulated, despite no evidence beyond what’s, basically, RT propaganda. Surprising numbers of people seem to view the interim government as rabid fascists, anti-semites and anti-Russian.

    Journalists are paid to excite and, coupled with no real way to fact check in certain situations, this type of stuff is bound to happen. It also allows everyone of any ideological persuasion project whatever the hell they want onto events. (e.g. claims that the US orchestrated the anti-Yanukovych. It’s appealing if you see US hegemony everywhere, but there’s no real evidence to support it, either.)

  2. “American journos, pundits, writers, and internet obsessives…”

    Don’t expect anything from that crowd. Few of them are in it for the salutary reasons portrayed in television dramas and if they notice your critique at all they’ll just respond with the usual obfuscations.

  3. Spot on, and something that’s bothered me about 99% of the American media for a long time: no one even notices (s)he’s rooting for the home team. (Digression: this is why I find a journalist such as Glenn Greenwald so vital: say what you will about his prickly and thin-skinned approach to journalism, but he manages to attain a detachedness from American foreign policy that is curiously absent on the so-called “objective” end of mainstream journalism. The fact that these same journalists so often decry his brand of “activist” journalism is just the height of irony, since apparently jumping on the jingoistic bandwagon during foreign policy crises equates to journalistic neutrality these days.)

    Nowhere was this herd instinct more apparent than during the height of the Crimean intervention, when RT was suddenly transformed from an irrelevant foreign news network into a dangerous propaganda behemoth spewing lies and deceit at the American public. (My favorite irony here: this admittedly ludicrous RT article — http://rt.com/news/ukraine-crimea-photos-tweets-434/ — was lambasted across the American media as amateurish, unsophisticated propaganda. No one seemed to remember the news reports from late March 2003.)

    I wrote something about the RT anchor resignation saga about a month ago, which I will shamelessly link to here: http://jaypinho.com/2014/03/06/propaganda-or-the-other-side-of-the-story/.

    Anyway, glad someone else noticed.

  4. Well, as someone who’s been reading both Russian web-media news (in Russian), and anglophone news (google news, search for Ukraine) since this thing started, for a few months now, I’ll tell you that the anglophone stuff is much more selective/one-sided and propagandistic. A subjective judgement, of course, but nevertheless. And the registration thing: normally I’m not into conspiracy theories, but in this case I have a very strong suspicion that this was something devised by the CIA chief when he visited Kiev a few weeks ago. His agency sure knows how to whip up hysteria.

    And to ‘diminutive’ above: the claim that provocateurs, rather than security forces, might’ve been responsible for sniper attacks in Kiev did not materialize out of thin air, it came from the intercepted (and confirmed) phone conversation between the Latvian Foreign Minister and the EU Foreign Affairs Representative. Doesn’t this give it at least some credibility? If the story was so outlandish, why would the Latvian Foreign Minister mention it at all? He certainly has no interest whatsoever in spreading it.

  5. Is it just me, or have there especially been a lot of these dodgy news articles lately? I wouldn’t be impressed by the fact, except they’ve been showing up in news sources and aggregators like Google News that usually don’t traffic in this stuff unless it’s from Fox. Is there some creeping urge to reduce politics and news to the level of cartoons?

    The media’s failures on the Iraq War are well established, as are their tendencies to toe the US establishment line (cf. Iran). Even so, it’s sobering to stop and note how prone we still are to receiving information uncritically, if we don’t mistrust the source. I first heard the Beijing story from Laughing Squid, a place I enjoy as a non-political site about new art and culture. I didn’t seriously question it — after all, you can’t see the stars in NYC, either, and people watch videos of log fires, don’t they? The incident is a reminder that even the hip people who run that site don’t always know what they’re doing.

  6. …I should emphasize: I’m only talking about the web stuff. A friend from Moscow told me that Russian TV is really, really bad, and I believe him. But could it really be worse than CNN and Fox News? I dunno.

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