It is always a simple matter
to drag the people along.
…. All you have to do is to tell them,
they are being attacked.1
(Reich Marshall Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg Trials)
Philosophers and psychologists have, for centuries, examined how we can know the world surrounding us. Our understanding of the world determines our attitudes towards events taking place. It is a truism that the media exerts a significant influence on the formation of our attitudes towards virtually any subject and especially towards themes of political importance.
Debates on problems and issues in the Western media regarding the war in Ukraine are extremely rare, and this is especially true when exploring the causes. From a Westerner perspective, Russia is fully responsible for the war. Certainly, nobody would deny that had Russia not invaded Ukraine, it is unlikely that the war would have begun. In this article, we ask what drove the Russians to invade.
In 2008 it was agreed among NATO countries at the summit in Bucharest that Ukraine should be allowed to join Nato. As a result, financial and military aid has endlessly flowed to that country, intending to prepare it for membership.2 Initially, the aid consisted mainly of budgetary support but was extended to cover the military directly in 2014. At least 10.000 Ukrainian soldiers were trained annually by bilateral agreement with individual NATO countries to ensure interoperability with NATO. Further, to pave the way for a formal entry into NATO, the US presented in August 2021 a Strategic Defense Framework with Ukraine, followed by the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership.
The media avoided talking too much about Western involvement with Ukraine before the Russian invasion in February 2022. The US involvement in the violent demonstration on Majdan Square in Kyiv is not well known. This led to the collapse of the democratically elected pro-Russian government in 2014.
The narratives of Western countries on the war in Ukraine resemble those applied to describe motives driving the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The 'coalition of the willing', was ready to back the US invasion of Iraq. This came due to the nonstop bombardment by mainstream media with a negative image of the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. Saddam was presented as a belligerent and hostile monster. He possessed weapons of mass destruction and was ready to use them on the entire 'free' world. It turned out that the pretext to go to war was fabricated by the CIA. The Western world believed it participated in a worthy and noble cause, even with humanitarian and democratic undertones. Few dared to oppose this war for fear of being labelled unpatriotic and undemocratic.
Today President Biden cautions the entire world that our freedom is under threat by the Russian president. The key message from the media is that this war can only end when Russia has been defeated and wiped out militarily as a global power.
Presently, history repeats in Ukraine with the replacement of proper names. This paper emphasizes that the 'free press' of the Western media has failed to satisfy the standards defining a 'free press', such as viewing a story from all angles. This is not to suggest that the Russian media is more autonomous and non-partisan.
The demands by the US leadership for support to its war against Russia in Ukraine are axiomatically associated with values upon which our own identity depends. For most people, it would be a most unpleasant experience to oppose news framed in the context of human rights and democratic values. It would smash our very identity as free and democratic beings, an identity that has been under development since the end of the second world war. The risk of being ostracized exists for members of government, as well as for the general public. To trust media war narratives is the least complicated response.
The key argument of this paper is: The media plays a principal and influential role by framing narratives to the public in a manner that supports and confirms policy decisions taken by the US leadership and NATO. A concluding argument here is that if the media had incorporated stories of western initiated activities leading up to the invasion, it is likely that they could have paved the way for peaceful solutions rather than military ones. A conflicting narrative may have Western unity against Russia's invasion at risk.
It is implied in this argument that news and 'analytical' comments glorify the use of violence as a primary means of settling international disputes. This is done by framing stories of dangers or alleged dangers by enemy states and persons who cultivate popular support for military solutions. Arguments from the 'target group' are ignored in favour of narratives that play into the interests of the military-industrial complex. Arms manufacturers improved their social reputation less than 18 months into the war. Rather than being considered as 'merchants of death', this industry is now respected and considered a contributor to peace. The images coming out of Ukraine, or for that matter images from any war-torn country are terrible. But "succumbing to blind emotion and embracing the dominant Western narrative is a dangerous error. It empowers the worst forces in Washington, including the nexus of bureaucratic power and commercial interests that President Eisenhower…. termed the military-industrial complex."3
The role of corporate media
Most Westerners believe that they have a free choice to decide where to cast their vote. It is well documented that our political attitudes, to a large extent, are influenced by the media. And the media is owned by a handful of corporations with global reach.4 These corporations include AT&T (incl. Time Warner), Disney, News Corporations, Fox Corporation, and Paramount (including Viacom). About 40 years ago, 50 media companies served the American public. Today they are served by 6. Global newspapers, including the New York Post, Sunday Times, and Daily Telegraph, are owned by Murdoch's News Corporation. Ownership also extends to television, examples include Fox TV, Sky TV and the film studio 20th Century Fox. The statement, "The news is what we decide it to be" is attributed to Murdoch.
The corporate media receives, to a large extent, news content from a few agencies. The Associated Press ("Advancing the power of facts" ) is well known. The source of its revenue underlines its global reach. The agency generated about 30% of its revenue from United States newspapers, while 37% came from broadcast customers globally. It boasts of independence and presents facts from all angles. The Board of Directors composition suggests that AP may not be as independent as it would have us believe. The chairman of the board of AP is from Hearst Corporation, which owns services with direct links to the military and the arms industry, thus setting limits to AP's investigative journalism.5 Hearst is a provider of software-as-a-service solutions for managing the maintenance of jets and helicopters. The company owns cable television networks such as A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime, and ESPN, in addition to 24 daily and 52 weekly newspapers, and and nearly 260 magazines around the world. Other news agencies providing inputs to the corporate media include Reuters, ("Information you can trust"). The Canadian media company Thomson Corporation acquired it in 2008.6 Reuters informs on its website that it "…..is the world's largest daily multimedia news provider, reaching billions of people worldwide. Reuters provides business, financial, national, and international news to professionals via desktop terminals, the world's media organizations, industry events, and directly to consumers." Steve Hasker, an ex-employee of the private equity firm, TPG Captial, is now the president and CEO of Thomson Reuters.7 This calls attention to the true character of the media as commercial corporations.
The military-industrial-media complex
The term 'the military-industrial-media complex' was coined at the beginning of the century. The phrase has gained prominence with the war in Ukraine and has become a true goldmine for defence contractors. The stocks of defence corporations are skyrocketing with sharp increases in defence spending throughout NATO countries.
CEOs of media corporations often sit on the board of other non-media corporations. Analysts have documented the connection between the media, the advertising world, and the military-industrial complex.8 A study from 1998 found that 81 corporate directors also held 104 director positions on the boards of businesses identified as Fortune 1,000 corporations. With such an intertwined network, it is hardly surprising that corporate media influence the public by prevailing ideologies driving the capitalist system.
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky's book conclude that the media maintains a corporate class bias.9 Thus the media pays priority to governmental and corporate sources for news. They observe a primary tendency to avoid offending the powerful and almost religiously worship the market economy. Observers of news coverage related to the war in Ukraine support the conclusions of Herman and Chomsky. Virtually all major television stations in the USA called upon former military officers to comment on Russia's invasion. Comments and evaluations by these pundits often constitute the base of narratives delivered by newspapers to the entire Western world. Thus when the TV station MSNBC called upon the former Homeland Security Chief, it did not inform its viewers that this expert now serves on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defence contractor. This is not a unique case, another example is that of arms manufacturer, Raytheon Technologies.10 Raytheon Technologies interlocks with the New York Times, a respectable source of 'objective' news while contributing to numerous aspects of the war machines, such as the F-35. Former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was a member of the board of directors of the New York Times.
The most blatant case of interlocking directorates between the media and the military-industrial complex is when an arms manufacturer owns media. This was the case when General Electric owned the TV station NBC. It also sponsored news programs on the TV stations CBS, ABC, and CNN – all of which enjoy global reach.
If the public was conscious of the direct involvement of the arms industry in news coverage, it is fair to assume that it would hold its governments accountable. Western citizens are misinformed, uneducated, and misled regarding the war and the military's involvement.
It is now fitting to identify omissions of news coverage on the war in Ukraine. Without the omissions, there may have been different perceptions and attitudes that would clash with narratives broadcast by the mainstream media.
Contextual omissions on the causes of the war in Ukraine.
John Mearsheimer and Benjamin Abelow are among the few in the West who have dared to question the stories of Ukraine. Mearsheimer, a Chicago professor, delivered a speech to the European Union Institute on June 16, 2022, entitled "The Causes and Consequences of the Ukraine War".11 A few months later Abelow, lobbying Congress on nuclear arms policies, published his book "How the West brought war to Ukraine".
The substance of the revelation by both of them runs as follows: The West's obsession with Ukraine's right to join NATO was seen by Russia as a red line. Russia repeatedly communicated to Washington and European leaders that it considered the joining of Ukraine to NATO as an existential threat. Abelow, further enlightens his readers that the former US ambassador and the current head of CIA, William J. Burns, notified the State Department in 2008 that the entry of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO by Russia would be considered 'as a line that could not be crossed'. Preparations for joining NATO were likely to provoke serious and unpredictable Russian reactions. Abelow reveals to his readers, a few days before the invasion, that the Russian government communicated with Washington to propose a peaceful solution to the crisis. This proposal did yield a positive response from Washington. Blinken replied in December 2021 that "There is no change. There will be no change."11
The two researchers find no evidence to support President Putin's assumed imperial motives, although this has been repeated in mainstream media and by all political leaders of Western countries. His interest was ensuring that Ukraine did not become a springboard for the USA and NATO forces. On the day of the invasion on February 24, 2022, President Putin stated, "It is not our plan to occupy Ukrainian territory... Russia cannot feel safe, develop and exist while facing a permanent threat from the territory of today's Ukraine.3
The propaganda stream coming out of mainstream media concentrates on creating fear. This helps to unite people of different beliefs and values. It is a strategy advocated by the Nazi leader, Herman Göring, as quoted at the outset of this paper. If people were to understand that messages coming out of corporate media were political, it is very plausible that the public would begin arguing against the conflict. Had the accounts covered viewpoints from wider perspectives, the American fear-based narratives would not have met with such unilateral submissiveness by citizens of other Western countries.
The background to the invasion as reported by these two researchers has consistently been omitted by conventional media.
Russia is on the border with the USA!
The situation in Ukraine resembles the Cuba crisis in 1962 when USSR crossed the red line decided unilaterally by the USA. The USSR was covertly in the process of installing missiles in Cuba. Then US President, John F. Kennedy, told President Khrushchev that serious consequences would follow if the missiles were not withdrawn. Putin applied the same approach as Kennedy. His rival, President Biden, counting on the world's acceptance of American exceptionalism, did not respond.
What would the public reaction have been if the roles between the two countries were turned around with Russia preparing for military installations in Mexico or Canada on the border to the USA? Should such a situation occur, the corporate media would probably present us with narratives, justifying preemptive strikes by the USA concerning the 200-year-old Monroe doctrine.12 The Monroe Doctrine implies that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers is a potentially hostile act against the United States. Rex Tillerson, former secretary of state, responded to a question from a journalist on February 2018 that "I think it [Monroe Doctrine] is as relevant today, as it was the day it was written,". The media showed little understanding of the Russian position when the USA installed nuclear-capable missile pads in Romania, and the Baltic states, and planned them for Poland. The media has failed to provide information on the implications for Russia. The US opted out of the ABM treaty in 2002. In 2019 The US repealed the intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty and refused to respond to Russia's attempt to negotiate a bilateral moratorium on deployments of launch systems.
Towards a peaceful settlement of the current war?
A Russian victory, on the Ukrainian battlefield, against its Western NATO allies would be unbearable to the USA. The moralistic arguments applied by President Biden when calling for military contributions to the Ukrainian war machine, make a negotiated solution to this conflict nearly impossible. Behind the position of the US and its allies looms the ideology of free enterprise disguised as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. The Neo-liberal ideology of privatization has dominated political thinking during the last many decades and is the drive for US military involvement anywhere. The military prepares the ground for the entry of commercial enterprises, while the military-industrial complex reaps the immediate profits.
Could the war have been avoided?
Without popular support, sensible rulers do not embark on war. When popular support for a war ceases, conflicting partners seek political solutions rather than military ones. If this assumption is valid, then it is logical to assume that the better the context of war is understood, the more likely it is that popular support will be divided. Abelow assumes that the war would never have started if the following activities had not been carried out:
- The US has pushed NATO to the borders of Russia.
- The US has deployed nuclear-capable missile launch pads in Romania and planned them for Poland.
- The US contributed to the overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian government in 2014.
- The US disregarded Russian attempts to negotiate a bilateral moratorium on deployments of anti-ballistic Missiles (after the US abrogation of the ABM treaty and the IRN missile treaty).
- The US intertwined its military with that of Ukraine.
Had these US-initiated activities, with NATO alliance support, not taken place, it is reasonable to assume that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine.13 However, once carried out, the so-called free media of the West ought to have included them in their narratives about what motivated the Russian invasion. Such narratives could have paved the way for peaceful solutions to the conflict, rather than military ones. Abelow's assumption supports the key argument of this paper, that a violent solution to the crisis in Ukraine could have been avoided. Now that it has taken place, the media ought to present the entire story, thus creating discussions on a more diversified and peaceful alternative on how to bring the war to an end.
Historically a free press was independent of interest groups. It was known for critical and investigative journalism to provide the public with verifiable facts, which would benefit the electorates to hold governments accountable. The war in Ukraine has made a mockery of journalism, and rather than rendering political decision-makers accountable, it has become an instrument of lobbying for the arms industry.
1 Gustave Mark Gilbert, Nüremberg Diary, Farrar Straus, 1947 , p.9.
2 Benjamin Abelow, Thow the West brought war to Ukraine, Massachusetts, 2022, p. 22.
3 Ibid. p. 50.
4 Ben Bagdikian, Former Assistant managing editor for the Washington Post.
5 Hearst corporation.
7 TPG Capital portfolio company.
8 Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is turning the Internet against Democracy, New York, NY: Free Press, 2013.
9 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book, Manufacturing Consent, in 1988.
10 Raytheon Technologies.
11 John Mearsheimer.
12 Rex Tillerson, former secretary of state, responded to a question from a journalist on February 2018.
13 Abelow, pp. 56.