There are notable exceptions, but a general pattern has developed. Even in the venerable New York Times and Washington Post, news reports, editorials and commentaries no longer adhere rigorously to traditional journalistic standards, often failing to provide essential facts and context; to make a clear distinction between reporting and analysis; to require at least two different political or “expert” views on major developments; or to publish opposing opinions on their op-ed pages. As a result, American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War.
The history of this degradation is also clear. It began in the early 1990s, following the end of the Soviet Union, when the US media adopted Washington’s narrative that almost everything President Boris Yeltsin did was a “transition from communism to democracy” and thus in America’s best interests. This included his economic “shock therapy” and oligarchic looting of essential state assets, which destroyed tens of millions of Russian lives; armed destruction of a popularly elected Parliament and imposition of a “presidential” Constitution, which dealt a crippling blow to democratization and now empowers Putin; brutal war in tiny Chechnya, which gave rise to terrorists in Russia’s North Caucasus; rigging of his own re-election in 1996; and leaving behind, in 1999, his approval ratings in single digits, a disintegrating country laden with weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, most American journalists still give the impression that Yeltsin was an ideal Russian leader.
Since the early 2000s, the media have followed a different leader-centric narrative, also consistent with US policy, that devalues multifaceted analysis for a relentless demonization of Putin, with little regard for facts. (Was any Soviet Communist leader after Stalin ever so personally villainized?) If Russia under Yeltsin was presented as having legitimate politics and national interests, we are now made to believe that Putin’s Russia has none at all, at home or abroad—even on its own borders, as in Ukraine.
It is important to realise what is being done in the Western media with regard to Russia, and to realise that it is nothing less than a coordinated campaign of collective defamation against not only the Russian government, but also Russian culture and Russian people. It has been disheartening to say the least to see the wild-eyed rantings of Julia Ioffe and Timothy Snyder, as well as the less polemical but still perennially-wrong ‘decent liberals’ like Walter Russell Mead, elevated in the mainstream of American media-driven discourse to a status of respectability which, very clearly, none of them deserves.
Even when Russian authorities and thinkers prove not to be enemies to the American people, they are portrayed as an existential threat; but it has to be realised (and I hope it will be eventually) that Russia poses a threat only to American hegemonic schemes to shape the world in its image, and not to the American nation as such. (It should also be recognised that not just Russia, but all societies and cultures pointing to pre-modern and post-liberal values, insofar as they are able to successfully articulate those values, also pose such a threat to the Imperium - though not to America herself.) It is indeed a pleasant surprise to see the Nation, of all periodicals, give voice to such insights, but I am very far from complaining! Mr. Luhn and Dr. Cohen, please do keep fighting the good fight!