21 February 2014

Tabloid toxicity

I am very quickly developing a newfound appreciation for the Nation; they’ve been carrying some top-class commentary of late on Eastern Europe. First of all, there was a superb piece by Mr. Alec Luhn in said esteemed publication expressing concern about some of the more insidious elements of the pro-European protests in Independence Square. And a friend of mine from Solidarity Hall, Ms. Grace Potts, has directed me to an interview and to an utterly stunning piece of media criticism by Dr. Stephen Cohen highlighting the disturbing deficiencies in the way Anglo-American media cover Eastern Europe in general, and Russia in particular. It is worth reading the entire article in full, but I would like to quote the main highlight here:
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!


  1. Yes, it is weird that one has to go to the Nation to see this point of view expressed. Being the husband of the Nation's editor may have something to do with it. And also that Cohen manages to still toe the line on key cultural issues important to Nation readers. I too have been glad to see his writing, but am skeptical (unfortunately) that the Nation will prove in the long run an ally of Christianity or tradition of any sort. Would be only too happy to be proved wrong, however!

  2. Hello, Paul! Many thanks for the comment; and I'm incredibly glad to hear from you!

    I agree, the Nation still very much does have a disconcerting liberal-lifestylist bent on cultural issues. But I was incredibly impressed by these two pieces in particular, which have highlighted pieces of the Ukraine situation that simply weren't getting airtime anywhere else in English-language media. Maybe this is sort of gasping at whatever fresh air I can find. But at the very least, the Nation hasn't gone all-in on the liberal-interventionist project the way, say, the New Republic has in the past ten years or so.

    Please do keep in touch! I hope to hear more from you on FB or on Solidarity Hall!

    All the best,

  3. Thanks Matthew. Nor do I mean to simply diss the Nation altogether. We live in a strange world, where odd bits of truth may appear willy-nilly without regard to milieu. I would love to spend more time writing, less time wage-slaving! Will raise my glass and clink it with your shot glass of vodka to that very thought.