I‘ve touched on the topic of WBUR—Boston’s NPR news station—on a couple of occasions in the past. The most recent example is this program segment that discusses current U.S. relations with Russia and the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats for alleged Russian poisoning attack in England. I’d like to show how one can analyze this piece of reporting (or any other for that matter) and expose propaganda tactics behind it.
The best place to start is to do a background check of the guests who were invited to inform us on this important topic. The guests were John Kornblum, and Michael Crowley, so let’s look them up online to see who they are and what they stand for.
“John Kornblum was U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1997-2001), and Deputy Ambassador to NATO (1987–1991). During his foreign service career, Kornblum specialized in European and East-West relations and played a defining role in enlargement of NATO. His service at NATO included helping prepare the new Alliance strategy after 1990 and negotiation of NATO’s position for the conventional forces negotiations with the Soviet Union.”
Bear in mind that the expansion of NATO after the end of Cold War against Russian objections is the most sensitive issue for Russia. As a matter of fact, it is one of the main reasons for the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the West, but it is rarely talked about in the Western media. On the contrary here we have one of the staunchest supporters of NATO expansion invited to inform us about Russia. Another detail to remember (which I will refer to later) is that Kornblum argued in his writing available online that NATO expansion helped U.S. gather support for Iraq war from the new NATO members.
Let’s turn our attention to the other guest that WBUR decided to have on their show to present an “unbiased” story about the events that unfolded in England. Michael Crowley is a journalist. In 2014 he wrote the cover story for Time, “The End of Iraq,” in which he put the blame for the disastrous outcome on none other than Iraqis themselves. He writes how U.S. sacrificed its blood and treasure to help Iraqis and they didn’t know how to appreciate it and ruined it instead. Can there be any worse example of hubris, lies, and hypocrisy? Oh yes it can. We have the privilege to learn from someone like this about Russia on
NPR. Crowley’s past record shows that he is the kind of journalist that, if Russian accusations were proven false, would still think the lying about it was noble because it was actually helping Russians depose of tyrant like Putin.
It’s not hard to see the pattern here (and there are many similar examples); people who serve as propagandists for wars of choice and for imperial policies are the ones who keep their jobs and who are promoted to continue their work. We don’t have any kind of accountability for people who promote disastrous imperial policies—as long as their narrative is dominant in the media on any particular issue there will be no accountability. They represent majority opinion that they impose on the rest of the public and once the lies are exposed it does not matter because even most of those who were deceived don’t want to push the issue and admit that they were gullible. Or imagine if nothing happened after G.W.Bush declared victory in Iraq. None of the lies and criminality of the invasion would even matter if an imperial victory was achieved. So, this is almost a bulletproof strategy. What are the promoters of this propaganda going to lose? Absolutely nothing. Only we, the people, can do something about it because this is costing us a lot—we pay for it both in lives, money and by losing our democracy (or whatever little remains are left of it).
Now let’s see what they talked about in this radio show. First of all, nothing here is new. It’s just repackaged and delivered for public consumption with an illusion of open discussion by allowing for a couple of skeptical questions and then redirecting them to reinforce propaganda talking pints from the guests. There’s no mention of any evidence that resulted in the expulsion of Russian diplomats. That is assumed as a fact and the discussion is only about how the U.S. and allies should respond.
They start by claiming how Trump refused for a long time to take the advice of the military, intelligence and foreign policy community to sanction Russia and how he reluctantly did it on a few occasions while at the same time trying to maintain personal cordial relations with Putin. First of all, who are these military, intelligence and foreign policy people, and what is their agenda? These are the unelected officials who influence the policy more than the elected president. In other words that is the Deep State that works behind the shadows to advance the goals of the U.S. empire (the top 1%, military-industrial complex, security/intelligence agencies, big corporations, mainstream media, financial oligarchy, political establishment, etc—all those who benefit from the imperialism).
They even explicitly say in this show that “this was really a decision that was reached by the foreign policy community that was presented to him and one that he agreed to”. Later they also say how “Donald Trump called Vladimir Putin and against the advice and the talking points he had been given by his national security aides congratulated him on what many people see is a totally illegitimate victory.” Obviously, the president is supposed to listen to the talking points of the Deep State and then they claim that Putin’s electoral victory was totally illegitimate, never mind that Boris Yeltsin was elected president with the help of CIA.
In spite of his many shortcomings it was obvious to me from long time ago that the biggest sin that Trump is guilty of is talking about normalizing relations with Russia. To prevent that from happening Deep State is relentlessly coming up with new accusations hoping that something will stick. Collusion between Trump and Putin was one of them. That one collapsed but it was quickly replaced with accusations of Russian interference implying that Trump (or anyone who is not part of the left or right establishment) benefited from it. Normalizing relations with Russia is a huge threat to U.S. imperial goals of expanding NATO, selling more arms and even maintaining NATO as an alliance that serves U.S. imperial goals whose first victim after the end of Cold War was Yugoslavia. That is where the role and purpose of NATO was redefined for the post Cold War period.
The next thing they do in this discussion is to prepare the terrain by listing former alleged Russian bad behavior most of which is unproven accusations or half-truths at best. For example:
- Interference in U.S. election: unproven and irrelevant to the outcome of the election. This was based on the accusation about 13 Russians being involved in online marketing scheme that according to the indictment did not influence the result of election, nor it was exclusively targeting one candidate while 40% of the alleged activity took place after the election. It’s beyond ridiculous to believe that this kind of activity was relevant any more than any yellow press would be that you can find in your grocery store or online if you are interested in it.
- Annexation of Crimea – This is a half-truth that omits what preceded it which is the U.S. staged coup in Ukraine (i.e. violent election interference) that threatened Russian security by advocating NATO membership for Ukraine, threatened the security of the Russian majority in Crimea and resulted in independence vote before annexation.
- Poisoning of Skripals: allegations without a shred of evidence presented to the world that Putin was involved nor about the chemical agent that was used. We are expected to believe British authorities before their own investigation was concluded let alone any independent one and before any evidence is presented to the public. We were fooled many times before—why should we believe blindly again? Later in the show they also mention “what appears to have been some hacking [by Russians] into our power grid” which is another deception.
Instead of addressing the evidence and doing any meaningful analysis they boast about wide coalition that was reached (based on nothing but faith) in support of expelling Russian diplomats. Now remember how John Kornblum emphasized the benefits of NATO members helping Iraq war effort. Is this the same kind of solidarity based on zero evidence that is going on here? Why not? The facts didn’t matter back then either. They say how closing of Russian consulate in Seattle was really important because Seattle is where Amazon and Boeing are located so that now Russians won’t be able to spy on them.
Wow, Russians are really going to regret the alleged poisoning of Skripals because from now on they will have to travel from some other consulate in order to spy on Amazon and Boeing. From Seattle it was so easy to see what these corporations are doing. They are screwing up American taxpayers by putting out of business the rest of retail industry without paying taxes and by owning a major news media Washington Post in the case of Amazon, and by spending billions of money from overblown military budget in case of Boeing when 15% of Americans are below poverty line (by the way, the annual income threshold for being counted as living in poverty was $11,490 last year for a person and $23,550 for a family of four).
Then they repeat the mantra how “Putin’s goal is to be disruptive force in relations with the West”. This they know for sure although they only speculate about various reasons why he is doing it. How can they be sure what his goal is if they don’t know even why he is doing it? Then come a couple of skeptical caller’s questions. Note that if it was not for these two callers’critical questions the moderator Anthony Brooks would not have asked any, although even these two callers had no chance for follow up and the answers were redirected without any objection from the anchor. The first question was what is Russia to gain from being disruptive and from the poisoning attack? The answer is that Putin believes that West is against him, and then they speculate whether he really believes in this self-delusion of his or its just for domestic consumption.
Really? This isn’t even answering the question. Besides why not add to these speculations that all this may be for Western domestic consumption and for preservation and expansion of NATO and future sales of weapons. Why is that not on the table to speculate as well especially when no proof was presented that Putin was involved in the hacking and poisoning? They say Putin is not raising standard of living for Russians. Do they mean like in the U.S. where the standard of living is deteriorating for most of its citizens over the last generation and middle class is disappearing.
Then the next caller expresses his concern that we are jumping to conclusions “without any investigation in this matter without any proof no evidence whatsoever the Russia had anything to do with it”. And John Kornblum answers: “there’s no doubt in my mind that the British are careful”. Pure faith again. Were they as careful as when they used faulty intelligence to accuse Iraq of possessing WMD?
And he continues “I know that this has all been checked out by the British with the CIA NSA whoever”. No sir you don’t know, you will contradict yourself just in a few sentences below. Tell us please how this was checked with “whoever”. I am particularly interested what “whoever” had to say about it. Then he says, “I think that it’s incorrect to say there’s no evidence whatsoever – there’s lots of evidence”. Well except that nobody presented it to the public. The only evidence is that somebody poisoned two people but no samples of the toxic agent were independently tested nor any evidence was presented that Putin was involved other than the claim that he wanted to send a message. Is that message perhaps that he did not dispose of the chemical weapons that
international inspection OPCW confirmed that he disposed of last year?
Kornblum continues, “secondly of course there can always be a mistake [aha here is the contradiction referred above]. I wouldn’t never say that there can’t be but this looks you know we have an American legal terminology beyond a reasonable doubt and right now I think that it is beyond the reasonable doubt that the Russians are responsible for this and I think it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the whatever Putin’s motives were that he has really hit the West where it
Oh yes this is the textbook example of the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ case. Imagine a court where prosecution says that they have evidence ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ but no one is allowed to see it. Case closed. No Mr. Kornblum you can do this only if you pretend to be the judge, the prosecutor and the defense at the same time but not in any serious court. Also note his emphasis that Putin benefited from this poisoning because he wanted to hit the West where it hurts most. He knew that West would be so outraged about it and that’s why he did it. Well this is where propaganda gets so cheap that it should raise suspicion even from the most gullible followers. They are usually much better than this.
And then the grand finale, “I personally think [before he said he knows–another contradiction of himself] that they are responsible for it but even if they weren’t the West has just decided enough is enough…”. Now imagine that court in Mr. Kornblum imagination where the prosecutor claims that he has evidence but cannot show it to the court and then he says even if I don’t have any evidence and even if the defendant did not commit the crime—enough is enough.
Then the other guest of honor, Mr. Crowley, further speculates how even if Putin was not behind it [it’s interesting that in the case that is beyond a reasonable doubt they allow for that possibility] it must have been some other Russians beyond Putin’s control who did it, and it cannot possibly be anyone else. And so they continue pretty much in the similar way for the rest of the show.
This is a sad example of what some would still call “reputable” media not doing its job like many times before and serving only to amplify the propaganda coming from the Deep State operatives like Kornblum and Crowley. Perhaps if you are interested only in art, science, and culture you can still listen to them but when it comes to the things that really affect your life like the fundamental policies of this country their record if far from reputable. They receive the majority of their funding from corporate underwriting, and they also receive substantial funding from the state and local governments and from the grants from federal agencies. That should not be an excuse for spreading propaganda of course, but it begs the question why they call themselves a public radio. #EtTuNPR