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When it comes to war, mainstream media voices in the U.S. are almost always for it, even when it could conceivably escalate to a nuclear exchange.

That’s a disturbing lesson reinforced by recent U.S. media coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The basic narrative is that Putin’s Russia is the aggressor, the U.S. is the defender of democracy, and that U.S. actions are high-minded even when they involve weapons sales, troop deployments, and draconian economic sanctions.

You don’t get more mainstream than David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart on PBS, so I tuned in to watch their “debate” (2/18) on the issue. Both men expressed their approval of Democrats and Republicans coming together to support the Biden administration’s hardline against Russia. Bipartisan unity is to be celebrated when it comes to warmongering, I suppose. Especially revealing was David Brooks’s quick dismissal of left/right critics of the administration’s policies:

What’s amazing about the “mainstream” in America is how narrow that stream is allowed to be.

There will be some people who worry on the left that this is part of American imperialism to get involved in Europe. There are some people on the right who like Vladimir Putin. They see him as a manly, socially conservative, authoritarian kind of guy who they kind of like. So, I’m sure, on either end, there will be some [critics]. But, among the mainstream of both parties, I think, right now, there’s strong unity. The Biden administration has done an excellent job of rallying the Western alliance. It’s been a demonstration of why the world needs America to be a leader of the free world.

So, leftist critics are knee-jerk anti-imperialists; rightists critics are authoritarian Putin-lovers. But real Americans in the mainstream support Joe Biden and America as the “leader of the free world.”

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What’s amazing about the “mainstream” in America is how narrow that stream is allowed to be. Of course, as Noam Chomsky famously wrote, it’s all about manufacturing consent. But imagine if true diversity of opinion was allowed on PBS. Imagine if someone like Jonathan Capehart said the following:

“The U.S. betrayed its promise not to expand NATO to the borders of Russia. Even worse, the U.S. meddled in Ukrainian politics in 2014, driving a coup and empowering neo-Nazi forces there. Sending weapons to Ukraine is making a bad situation worse, and constant threats are ratcheting up tensions that could lead to war. In war, mistakes are always possible, even common, which could lead to a wider and disastrous war between the world’s two leading nuclear powers. Measured diplomacy is what we need, even as the U.S. should take a step back in a region of the world that is not directly related to our national defense.”

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Imagine that statement as a counter-narrative to the idea the U.S. is always in the right (as well as blameless), that more troops and weapons are always the answer, and that Russia has no national defense issues of its own, because NATO obviously poses no military threat to anyone. (Imagine, for one second, seeing the expansion of NATO and U.S. meddling in Ukraine from a Russian perspective, which we should be willing to do because you should always plumb the mindset of your rival or enemy.)

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Truly, the lack of diversity of opinion on foreign relations and war is startling in U.S. media. It’s almost as if we have an official state media, isn’t it, comrade? I still remember Tass and Pravda from the days of the Soviet Union; who knew that today the U.S. would have its very own versions of them, while still applauding itself as the unbesmirched leader of the “free” world?

WJ Astore
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