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US, NATO and the Russian Invasion of the Ukraine: Part I – The Information War

February 28, 2022

(In the coming weeks, GRIID will be providing a series of posts covering a broad range of issues as it relates to the US, NATO, Russia and the Ukraine.)

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” Aeschylus, the ancient Greek playwright.

Just days before the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, Patrick Cockburn, an author and longtime journalist that specializes on covering issues related to the Middle East, but has also covered Washington and Moscow, wrote an important article entitled, Russia-Ukraine is an Information War, So Government Intelligence Needs More Scrutiny Than Ever. 

The point I want to make is not so much that the evidence for Russia plots to provide a casus belli is shaky, but that intelligence service information is often dubious, and always partisan. The bias is in-built because intelligence agencies are, first and foremost, a component of the government machine and they forget this at their institutional peril.

Pundits occasionally say in shocked tones that intelligence has been “politicized”, but this is automatically correct on all occasions. Yet intelligence sources are often cited as if they were to be held to academic standards of objectivity and are not pursuing some personal, institutional or national aim.

It takes a high degree of naivety not to realize that this must be the case and information wars are always part of cold wars and shooting wars.

As someone who has been monitoring the local news coverage of the 1980s US Wars in Central American, the 1990 US bombing of Panama, the 1991 Gulf War, the War in former Yugoslavia, the US invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 US War against Iraq, the bias, sourcing and framing of the coverage is awful. For example, you can watch a documentary GRIID produced in 2003, which was based on the local news media coverage of the Iraq War for the first six weeks. GRIID also conducted a 100 day study of the Grand Rapids Press coverage of Afghanistan in 2009.

Studies that have been done by groups like the Center for Media & Democracy, have also demonstrated that the more that people in the US relied on the mainstream commercial news media around war coverage, the less they really knew, particularly about the larger context of any given war. 

The dominant US commercial news media relies almost exclusively on US government sources and former US military personnel, without providing a counter perspective or verifying the validity of the government information.

The local news media will also tend to run stories that are either a lazy form of journalism, journalism that is sensationalized or journalism that perpetuates a government narrative. For example, MLive has run several stories in the last week, stories which illustrate this type of reporting. On February 24, MLive posted a story about Michigan State lawmakers views about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is worth asking here, why does what state lawmakers, who make no decisions about US foreign policy, why their opinion should matter. 

On February 25th, MLive posted a story with the headline, Congressman Fred Upton calls Putin a ‘thug,’ supports sanctions as Russia invades Ukraine. The article doesn’t provide any information that would challenge or counter Upton’s point of view. Also, the headline supports the dominant narrative, since you did not find a headline in US commercial media during the George W. Bush years referring to Bush as a thug, even though in both cases – with Putin and Bush – they invaded a sovereign nation.

Then there was the MLive post from February 24, where a Grand Rapids Bar owner pulled some brands of vodka from the bar in protest of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. l The article even acknowledges that the brans are no longer Russian owned, so why post such a story when it is simply a knee-jerk position to take that is not based in fact.

On the national news front, thankfully there are groups like Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) , which has been acting as a media watchdog since the 1980s. Here are four articles that FAIR ran just prior to the Russian invasion, which demonstrates the US media bias and over-reliance on government sources for stories.

It is also worth looking at the link on FAIR that focuses on how the US media has reported on Russia over the past four decades.

Moving forward it is imperative that we have well sourced, well documented news and information that is independent of commercial influences, over-reliance on government sources and internalizing pro-USA narratives. If people are not clear what I mean by pro-USA or dominant narratives, here is an excellent post from Paul Street, entitled, 15 Bad Ukraine Narratives.

In addition, below are a few sources I have found to provide solid analysis and use sources that are not motivated by partisan politics, sources to read and then compare to the dominant commercial media coverage.

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