23 April 2014 — WSWS
Yesterday, global media trumpeted pictures published by the New York Times, purporting to show Russian Special Forces involved in pro-Russian protests in east Ukraine.
This wave of positive coverage was all the more significant, in that the dossier is nothing but propaganda. The Times issued low-resolution pictures of bearded fighters, allegedly among Russian forces in Georgia and then in Ukraine, then asserted they were the same men and thus proof of armed Russian intervention in Ukraine. It was based on a crude trick noted on the Reddit Internet forum: the photos in the Times were downsampled versions of higher-resolution images circulating online, which show that the men in the different pictures are in fact different.
The Times’ concocted story nonetheless became the basis of a massive media campaign denouncing alleged Russian intervention in Ukraine.
CBS News titled its segment on the photos “Ukraine claims photos prove Russian Special Forces in Ukraine,” enthusiastically laying out the so-called “proof” provided by the Times photos. It buried towards the end of its report the following disclaimer: “It was unclear how the Ukrainian government obtained the photos, and CBS News could not independently verify their authenticity, or confirm they showed the same men.”
That is to say, the photos do not “prove” anything, let alone justify incendiary charges that Ukraine and its NATO allies must now retaliate against a Russian invasion of Ukraine. This did not stop other media outlets from pressing ahead. CNN unambiguously titled its report “Photos show undercover Russian troops” while issuing similar, if even briefer, disclaimers than CBS.
Many European news sources, including Britain’s Independent and France’s Le Monde, published detailed excerpts of the photo dossier.
Other news outlets were more cautious. Der Spiegel titled its article “US gives controversial proof of the presence of Kremlin troops.” Noting that the Ukraine crisis is now a “propaganda war,” it cast doubt on whether the men in the different pictures were really the same, or whether they were Russian Special Forces: “The common feature on all the photos was a long beard. But would Russian elite troops really have such out-of-control beards?”
The BBC was unusual in that its article briefly raised the tampering with the images published by the Times. “In the 2014 photos, the man’s greying beard appears to be black while in Georgia six years ago, the slimmer-looking man shown has a reddish beard,” it wrote.
It also noted that Russian Special Forces patches on the men’s uniforms, highlighted by the Times as proof that they are Russian troops, “can be bought on the Internet for less than $5.”
Asking whether the pictures “prove anything,” the BBC concluded: “It cannot be said for sure that they are actual Russian Special Forces, as the Ukrainians argue.”
The entire episode is a devastating condemnation of the role of the media, and in particular of the New York Times, which no longer has any credibility.
A decade ago, Times journalist Judith Miller was the conduit for disseminating lying claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), touching off a huge media campaign that set the stage for the US invasion of Iraq. Now, the Times is at it again—save that the lies it is palming off as news could this time provoke a war with Russia, a nuclear-armed power.
The unsubstantiated or outright concocted claims of Russian involvement in Ukraine are being seized upon to obscure the fact that this conflict arose out of the decision of Washington and Berlin to topple the pro-Russian regime in a fascist-led putsch in February. The unelected pro-Western regime in Kiev has now encountered significant popular opposition in pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine and is threatening a bloody crackdown.
The aggressive policy of the Western powers and their puppet regime in Kiev threatens a massacre of ethnic Russians in east Ukraine, raising the risk of direct Russian intervention against the Kiev regime and its Western backers.
The Times’ reporting of incendiary claims to suit the Obama administration’s negotiating posture is reckless and cynical. In a State Department press briefing Monday, spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear that the US government itself did not believe that the Times’ photos—which the government had “endorsed” and provided to the Times —prove that Russian forces are in east Ukraine.
Pressed about how she was certain the pictures showed individuals linked to Russia, Psaki replied: “What we see in these photos that have been, again, in international media, on Twitter, and publicly available, is that there are individuals who visibly appear to be tied to Russia. We’ve said that publicly a countless number of times. I will let you draw all the conclusions yourself as to whether these are individuals who look similar or not to other events.”
A journalist at the briefing objected to calling this “evidence,” and asked, “Do you think this is evidence that would stand up in a court of law?”
Psaki replied, “I don’t think it’s a legal—we’re not making a court-of-law case here. We’re just showing that this is photographic evidence that indicates the connection we’ve been talking about for weeks now.”
The journalist asked, “You think it is proof of connection, or it’s just—or you’re just alleging that it’s another sign of this?”
Psaki said, “It’s another sign.”
The US government, which passed on the pictures to the New York Times, knew very well that they did not constitute proof of anything. The Obama administration relied on the Times to publish the pictures and fan the flames of the US propaganda campaign without doing any due diligence to check that its story proved anything at all.
The conduct of Psaki and the State Department’s journalistic accomplices is irresponsible and reckless to the highest degree. Based on her comments on Monday, Psaki appears to believe that on Ukraine, the US government’s claims do not need to be held to the standard of admissible evidence in a court of law. This is a truly extraordinary view.
The US government and media are dealing with an issue that does not threaten individuals with jail time or even a possible capital sentence, as are decided in courts of law, but war involving nuclear-armed powers capable of obliterating the entire planet many times over. The standard of proof should, if anything, be far higher than in a court of law.
Yet, as the Times article and its international reception have made clear, the media function in even the most explosive situations as corrupt mouthpieces of the strategic interests of imperialism.