New York Times: Propaganda Machine?


It’s one thing when a right-wing cable station is pumping out propaganda. Well, it’s actually a really bad thing, but at least its impact is contained to the looney viewers who watch it.

It’s quite another when the country’s leading newspaper is doing so.

I’ve been paying reasonably close attention to the situation in the Ukraine over the past year and change. The situation itself is disturbing, but the news coverage is far more so. If I relied only on the New York Times for my information, I’d believe Vladimir Putin is the devil incarnate and the crisis in the Ukraine is entirely of Russian creation.

But I’ve of course consulted other sources and, having done so, find the analogy to Orwell’s 1984 in Robert Parry’s Truth-out post, The New York Times’ Orwellian View of Ukraine, depressingly accurate. Parry picks up on the Times’ insistence on total demonization of any country or leader not 100% aligned with the U.S.:

In George Orwell’s 1984, the leaders of Oceania presented “Two Minutes Hate” in which the image of an enemy was put on display and loyal Oceanianians expressed their rage, all the better to prepare them for the country’s endless wars and their own surrender of freedom. And, now, in America, you have The New York Times.

Surely the Times is a bit more subtle than the powers-that-be in Orwell’s Oceania, but the point is the same. The “paper of record” decides who our rotating foreign enemy is and depicts its leader as a demon corrupting whatever he touches. The rest of us aren’t supposed to think for ourselves. We’re just supposed to hate.

As the Times has degenerated from a relatively decent newspaper into a fount of neocon propaganda, its editors also have descended into the practice of simply inventing a narrative of events that serves an ideological purpose, its own version of “Two Minutes Hate.” Like the leaders of Orwell’s Oceania, the Times has become increasingly heavy-handed in its propaganda.

And Americans of course are only too eager to join in. Simply put, they like to be led, with too little concern for the direction in which they’re being led. In this case, they’re being led to an unnecessary confrontation between two nuclear powers. That’s scary. Many refer to this as the renewal of the cold war. But there’s no guarantee that a cold war won’t turn hot. The last cold war nearly did, on more than one occasion.

Unfortunately, no voices in the mainstream media are calling the Times out for its belligerence. The usual chasm between MSNBC and Fox isn’t present on this issue, unless perhaps the difference is measured in the degree of bellicosity in their messages.

Voices outside the mainstream media, like Patrick L. Smith at Salon and Stephen Cohen at The Nation, have been screaming about this one for over a year. Are the analyses of Smith and Cohen dead on in their entirety? I don’t know, but I do know there are clear truths they’ve reported, important truths, that the Times has swept under the rug in what seems like a decision not to interfere with the drumbeat to war. Parry explains:

At the center of the Times’ propaganda on Ukraine has been its uncritical – indeed its anti-journalistic – embrace of the Ukrainians coup-makers in late 2013 and early 2014 as they collaborated with neo-Nazi militias to violently overthrow elected President Viktor Yanukovych and hurl Ukraine into a bloody civil war.

Rather than display journalistic professionalism, the Times’ propagandists ignored the evidence of a coup – including an intercepted phone call in which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt discussed how to “mid-wife” the regime change and handpick the new leaders. “Yats is the guy,” declared Nuland, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk who emerged as prime minister.

The Times even ignored a national security expert, Statfor founder George Friedman, when he termed the ouster of Ukraine’s elected president “the most blatant coup in history.” The Times just waved a magic wand and pronounced that there was no coup – and anyone who thought so must reside inside “the Russian propaganda bubble.” [See’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.”]

Perhaps even more egregiously, the Times has pretended that there were no neo-Nazi militias spearheading the Feb. 22, 2014 coup and then leading the bloody “anti-terrorist operation” against ethnic Russians in the south and east who resisted the coup. The Times explained all this bloodshed as simply “Russian aggression.”

Most people, by their nature, are risk averse, especially when it comes to war. In a different arena, legal disputes, I encounter this all the time. There, trial is analogous to war in a geopolitical dispute. Each side seeks to avoid it. If the attorneys do their job well, by accurately assessing the risks and advising their clients, trial is avoided. Most times that involves something unpleasant — telling the clients what they don’t want to hear: that their cases are not as great as they think they are. It is when one or both attorneys fail to assess the risks accurately that the risk averse nature of the parties may fail to lead them to settlement, resulting in trial. And when they go to trial, the all too frequent result is that both parties lose.

And so it is with war. Those in the media are our counsel when we, as a people, evaluate whether to go to war. If counseled properly, we reject war when it should be rejected. If not, we spend blood and treasure in unnecessary battle. And, as in a trial, both sides lose.

On the subject of the Ukraine, as was so glaringly the case earlier this century in the lead up to Iraq, the New York Times has failed us. Instead of counseling us, the New York Times has chosen to churn out propaganda, telling us what we want to hear: That the Russians are the bad guys and that we, the exceptional Americans, through their leaders, are blameless.

There’s plenty of time left to avoid disaster as this crisis plays out. But we’re off to a terrible start.