A dispatch from the Information War

By Abdallah Schleifer7.09.2014Global Policy, Media

The Information War is in full swing, and the public should be wary not to fall for the black-and-white accounts of the traditional media. A veteran’s account.

An Information War? I know it exists and if I were still a journalist – by which I mean a reporter in the Anglo-American model of a journalism that aspires at least as much to an ideal of detachment and objectivity as it does to analysis – I would say…count me out!

As an aside let me also note that in the many years I spent teaching journalism at the American University in Cairo, I always stressed to my students that the only hope of – at best – approaching the ideal of detachment and objectivity was to realize how nearly impossible it is to be detached and objective. This is particularly the case when reporting political and frequently violent conflict, and most particularly when one personally sympathizes with any one side in any conflict.

Virtually no debate

Not only do I know that information wars exist, but I must assume that as a regular contributor of opinion to Al Arabiya News (the English-language website of the Al Arabiya Arabic language satellite news channel), I have on recent occasion taken on the role of a partisan in these wars as manifested in the Ukraine crisis.

I have assumed the mantle of advocate because for the past 20 years, America has encouraged the movement of NATO closer and closer to the borders of a post-Soviet Russia that must cope with this situation on its own – without benefit of local NGOs receiving funds from semi-official American organizations as in the case of the Kiev revolutionaries (who overthrew a freely, fairly, democratically elected president, however corrupt) or without mobilizing massive demonstrations whose best street fighting forces and possible snipers were largely drawn from two near-fascist Ukrainian political movements, Svoboda and Right Sector. Those two parties took the lead in seizing government buildings throughout the largely pro-EU towns and cities of western Ukraine with almost no complaint from the same mainstream American media that more or less condemns precisely the same tactics now being used by pro-Russian militias in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Bear in mind that I refer only to mainstream American media, which is in almost total compliance with the Obama administration.

Remember history

Since I do not speak or read Russian, I have no access to Russian media except for the English-language TV news channel “RT”. Certainly, the belligerent rhetoric has escalated on both sides.
In an article in the American left-liberal weekly “The Nation”, Katrina vanden Heuval and Russian expert Stephen F. Cohen observe with great concern that there was barely any debate, much less opposition, “from the American political or media establishment” on America’s policy toward the Ukraine, and that no modern precedent exists for such complicity. There was, however, they note, considerable congressional and mainstream media debate about American policy prior to entering into the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

One thing that would help American journalists to break out of this mold would be to read what we may call “responsible history” – to know and remind one’s readers in those back of a news report references to the fact that Odessa was created by Catherine the Great as a Russian city and curiously given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by Lenin in the formative days of the USSR. Just as the Crimea was given to Ukraine in the mid-1950s by Khrushchev – thus not as part of any “post war territorial settlement” and allegedly in a moment of drunkenness. It would also help if American journalists and commentators were to turn to the new media outlets like Al-Jazeera English and the Al Arabiya News English-language websites, or even the BBC’s world news channel – all will frequently set global agendas far differently than American mainstream media.

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