We can all agree that a free and independent press, such as we believe we have in the United States, must do more than simply question government narratives that are handed to it daily. It must, on a continual basis, show how corporate-driven propaganda for war can force us into making false choices.
This second responsibility is not being met because major media are telling Americans, essentially, that there are only two paths we can follow regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine. Much of the media has chosen to back the continuation of the war by supporting escalation of it and by supporting the pumping of more and more weapons into Ukraine. They are telling us that it’s either that, or choosing instead to do nothing.
Those two choices are far from being the only paths we can take. Neither of those choices, when taken, ever really ended any war. Those were the two choices we had, the media told us 20 years ago, in the buildup to the Iraq War. Either send in arms and fight or do nothing, allowing Saddam Hussein to do whatever he wanted with the weapons of mass destruction he did not have. It was a false choice then, and it is a false choice now. In fact, it was a false choice for every war in our history.
Almost as bad, in a war that could easily escalate into serious worldwide conflagration, since the two biggest nuclear powers are at loggerheads, the press has many people of good will saying that only the Ukrainian government, since its people are being attacked and slaughtered, is in a position to make any decisions here. On that basis, we are allegedly being negligent in fulfilling our “duty” if we don’t support the establishment of a no-fly zone which, of course, would increase exponentially the danger of nuclear confrontation.
Unlike Bush in the Iraq War, the Biden administration has wisely vowed not to involve U.S. troops in this war directly or to support the idea of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Reporters for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and cable TV are falling over one another, however, in a rush to build up war hysteria and question the administration’s judgment on a no-fly zone. They are outdoing even right-wing Republicans.
Many in the White House Press room are apparently auditioning for the position of cheerleader on a squad devoted to steering the U.S. into a full-fledged declaration of war against Russia. (Unfortunately, President Biden’s continued referral to Putin as a “murderous dictator” and a “war criminal” feeds into their effort to have us believe the only choices are more war and more weapons or doing nothing.)
Russia unconscionably ramped up its war efforts in Ukraine this week. Reporters at the White House have repeatedly pressured Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Biden’s refusal to send U.S. troops into Ukraine and his refusal to send MiG-29 fighter jets there, either directly or via another country.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. deployed missiles in Poland and Romania that can shoot down incoming missiles. The U.S. canceled the treaty with Russia that had long forbidden the use of such missiles and therefore ended the “Mutually Assured Destruction” understanding that had for so long prevented nuclear war. This week, Russia bragged about using hypersonic missiles that travel at five times the speed of light, making them immune to being shot down. This proves the futility of expecting that pumping in more weapons will result in an end to the war. It’s only one case in which escalation on one side results in escalation by the other. The danger to the entire world is more than obvious, but very little of this is heard in major media reports.
In most of the press conferences at the White House, not a single reporter has asked about the diplomacy ongoing between Russia and Ukraine. Not one has asked what the U.S. was doing to move such talks along, whether by supporting them or by making proposals of our own. All we get from the press is parroting of the position that the Russians don’t really want to talk and that the talks likely won’t get anywhere—again leaving us with those two choices, sending more and more weapons or doing nothing.
Pushing for more and more weapons and a no-fly zone was ABC reporter Mary Bruce at the press briefing last Wednesday. “Even with this additional aid that you’re providing today, it seems there are still other options on the table.” She was not satisfied that Biden had just announced another $800 million worth of weaponry for Ukraine, including drones and anti-aircraft systems.
“So why hold back?” Bruce asked. “Why not use every tool at your disposal now to spare additional lives?”
Psaki answered by carefully enumerating the escalatory moves the U.S. has taken to cripple the Russian economy and beef up the Ukrainian military. Psaki assured everyone that more actions were on the way.
“But what are you waiting for?” a still unsatisfied Bruce asked. She was parroting the line of many right-wing Republicans who are claiming Biden has not done enough and is not acting fast enough. And it is not just Bruce doing this. Most of the rest of the press corps and cable TV hosts are doing the same thing.
Two days earlier, another member of the fourth estate told Psaki that by not sending U.S. troops into Ukraine and by not setting up a no-fly zone, Biden is, in reality, “pushing these guys [Ukrainian soldiers] to commit suicide.”
The Russian assault on Ukraine has killed at least 1,000 civilians and has triggered an historic humanitarian crisis, uprooting a quarter of Ukraine’s population. Escalation of the war beyond this level should be unthinkable, but that is what can well happen if some of the hawkish elements on cable TV have their way.
Media Matters has noted, in an editorial, that “Both right-wing and mainstream cable news have featured commentary from hosts and guests pushing the idea of a NATO-imposed ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine, sometimes without providing important context about the possibility of escalation into a hot war with Russia.” (In reality, they almost always fail to provide that context.)
On Meet the Press, NBC anchor Chuck Todd pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his hesitancy to execute a no-fly zone, saying, “Why rule out the no-fly zone? Why not make Putin think it’s possible?” Todd is a popular and well-liked cable news figure. Such utterances by him can increase the level of public support for going to war with Russia. Todd’s willful failure to even mention the potentially devastating consequences of what he was calling for constitutes neglect of the duty required of a free and objective press.
It was almost 20 years ago that the Bush administration began bombing Baghdad. Now, much of the media is repeating the mistake it made then—playing the role of cheerleader for war.
People like John Bolton, who led in the push for the Iraq War, and a host of generals and admirals, are appearing on television as serious “contributors” to the discussion of why we need more weapons and more war. Generals and admirals are becoming regular commentators on “liberal” networks.
For some news outlets, it is really all about generating sensational coverage to increase ratings and advertising. To those people, we can only say that you are just as bad, if not worse, than the committed ideological war hawks.
- Media is falling down on the job, like it did with Iraq, when it tells people the only choices are more weapons or doing nothing.
- Media is falling down on the job, like it did with Iraq, when it cheerleads for acceptance of the idea of U.S. troops in Ukraine or for the deployment of MiG-29s there.
- Media is falling down on the job when it tells people, often with incredible arrogance, that only more war and more dead Ukrainians and Russians are the way forward.
- Media is falling down on the job when it either says or implies that Ukraine should never, during any talks, compromise on anything. It is falling down on the job when it claims “territorial integrity” should trump human life.
- Media is falling down on the job when it propagates the idea that any support for non-military solutions to this war by Americans amounts to an unpatriotic betrayal of our country and the Ukrainian people.
- Media is falling down on the job, perhaps most of all, when it tells people that diplomacy is useless even before it has really gotten underway. It is also falling down on the job when it would have us believe that any support for a non-military solution to this war by Americans amounts to being unpatriotic and amounts to betrayal of the Ukrainian people.
All wars end with diplomacy. It was true of past wars, and it’s true of this one. It is the only way to achieve withdrawal of Russian troops and peace in Ukraine. It won’t bring us back to the days when Russia and Ukraine coexisted peacefully in a socialist Soviet Union or to the days when together they destroyed the Nazi menace threatening the entire world, but it will be a start toward the better world that is both possible and necessary today.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union’s campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and ’80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.