Ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, the western media has been full-throated in condemning Russia as evil incarnate. It has boiled the whole affair down to a black and white/good guy vs. bad guy scenario. It is, however, a pattern of behavior that is nothing new when the United States media especially has used negative propaganda against perceived enemies.
It is not to say that Russia is totally innocent when it comes to the invasion. It is probably accurate to say that some Russians troops have committed rights abuses on the battlefield. But the western media has consistently used exaggerations and outright lies when reporting on the crisis.
A lot of this has to do with the Ukrainian government, putting out atrocity stories that the western media has uncritically gobbled up. Journalist Caitlin Johnstone wrote (05/23/2022) in the Monthly Review that “The Ukrainian government is quickly learning that it can say anything, literally anything at all, about what’s happening on the ground there and get it uncritically reported as an actual news story by the mainstream western press.”
One of the more disturbing accusations against Russian troops was the alleged rape and killing of children, some as young as one-year-old. The source for this claim was Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s Human Rights Commissioner. But Denisova did not present any evidence to back this up. It was a hollow claim. Still, western media sources went with it. Johnstone quoted Business Insider: “The accusation is one of the most horrific from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but is not unique.” It is probable that Business Insider added the last part to try and make it sound like it’s more the rule than the exception. In the fourth paragraph, Johnstone mentioned that there was a disclaimer: “Insider could find no independent evidence for this claim.” And this disclaimer was used more than once by western media sources.
(On May 31, Denisova was relieved of her duties as the rights commissioner for her handling of the rape accusations.)
Johnstone quoted the Daily Beast publishing the same accusations: “The dead boy is among dozens of alleged child rape victims which include two 10-year-old boys, triplets aged 9, a 2-year-old girl raped by two Russian soldiers, and a 9-month-old baby who was penetrated with a candlestick in front of its mother.” Johnstone’s response? “This is what passes for journalism in the western world today. Reporting completely unfounded allegations against U.S. enemies based solely on assertions by a government official demanding more weapons and sanctions…”
To reiterate, there is a pattern to these accusations against perceived enemies. Johnstone refers to it as “atrocity propaganda.” She points out a major example relating to the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Iraqi troops allegedly took Kuwaiti babies out of incubators. This, however, was a lie, but a lie that spurred on the war.
And Johnstone made an important point: “Atrocity propaganda creates a useful appeal to emotion which bypasses people’s logical faculties and gets them accepting the propaganda based not on facts and evidence but on how it makes them feel.”
Writing for Outlook India (03/01/2022), Seema Guha emphasized the media bias as a product of a “Cold War mindset.” “Liberals [and conservatives] have grown up in a tradition of anti-communist rhetoric” and is used for the Russia-Ukraine War.
Guha also emphasized the fact that there is a degree of racism in western media reporting. “[S]ome journalists on the ground have not been able to hold back their natural racist mindset.” For example, CBS foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata claimed that Ukraine is not like Iraq or Afghanistan, both of which have seen continuous conflict, as opposed to Ukraine which is a civilized country where one wouldn’t expect such conflict. NBC’s Kelly Cobiella claimed that because Ukraine has Christians and are white, they wouldn’t be similar to the inhabitants of Syria.
Another example to bring up showing western media bias is a comparison between Ukraine and the Palestinians. Writing in Middle East Eye (03/04/2022), Jonathan Cook asserts that the western media are cheerleaders when it comes to supporting Ukrainians but see the protesting Palestinians as “dupes or provocateurs of Hamas.” Kind of like accusing critics of the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine as pro-Russian puppets.
Cook also wrote about the hypocrisy of the media’s outrage when it covered Russia’s shelling of Kharkiv in Ukraine where “dozens” were reported killed as opposed to the media’s glee and excitement of the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign of Iraq in 2003 where thousands were probably killed.
Cook’s conclusion: “If we seek peace – and there are few indications of that at the moment – then we need the western media held to account for its mindless jingoism, its exaggerations, its credulity, its double standards, and its deceptions. Most of all we need to stop with our racist view of the world, in which we are always the good guys and they are always the bad guys, and in which our suffering matters and the suffering of others doesn’t.”