New Eastern Outlook
by Seth Ferris
The ongoing media war between the United States and the Russian Federation is pretty much official. Even before the first official shots were fired, through the announcements by Andrew Lack, the newly-appointed chief of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which compared the English Language Russia Today to the Islamic State and Boko Haram, it was being conducted alongside the other concurrent conflicts: the ground war, the sanctions war, and the currency war.
In any sort of conflict opposing sides will have opposing views, and will present whatever suits their purposes and ignore what they don’t want people to hear. However, history shows us that there is such a thing a Truth, and if you ignore it it will come back and bite you. Ask any American who has served in Iraq and Syria, or any of the Vietnam veterans who came home vilified for doing their duty when, having seen the situation on the ground, they had no idea why they were there to begin with.
It is therefore in the interests of any conflicting party to base their propaganda on facts which give their actions justification. However, in Ukraine only one side is endeavouring to do this, and regretably it is not the US. All the Western powers have no choice but to go along with another projection of the US world view, despite the fact very few people outside the US believe it has any connection with reality. This is important, when people’s lives, and millions of war machine dollars, are involved.
Pot calling the kettle black
The American world view is very simple. It is based on one premise: everyone else has something wrong with them because they are not American. This encourages the US to look for the splinter in everyone else’s eye whilst neither seeing the log in its own nor imagining it could exist.
Consequently the US has expectations of different countries which reflect this prejudice. If they have wrong with them what America says they do, they must therefore want to do what America wants to put it right. Maybe these countries have their own ideas about what they want and what is good for them. But America’s ideas are superior, so what America wants must be what is good for the world as a whole, there is no need to take any other interest into account.
The US view of Ukraine is as follows: Putin’s view of what the new Russia should be is not compatible with the 21st century. His “nostalgia for the years of tsarist or communist conquest” is a utopian and dangerous sympathy out of step with the modern world. Reincorporating or annexing Crimea must therefore be part of an effort to create a buffer zone (East Ukraine, Moldova, Ossetia, Abkhazia and maybe more to come) between Russia and Western sympathizers, because his views are not American, so he must be setting up an anti-American bloc.
As journalist Robert Parry writes, part of the problem is that the neocon propagandists who conduct such wars have been allowed to get away with introducing a fundamental falsehood into the modern American media. The personal has become the political: that is, you don’t deal with the larger context of a dispute, you make it all about some easily demonised figure.
Instead of understanding the complexities of Iraq, you focus on the unsavoury Saddam Hussein, claiming that if this un-American figure is doing it, it must be bad. Now everything Russia does is the action of Putin, and therefore morally wrong, because Putin does not do what America wants.
For example, the US is claiming that Russia is guilty of censoring the press, jailing political opponents and descending into brutal dictatorship and isolation. These are things the US would know all about, given its flagrant support for regimes which did such things in many parts of the world, even in Western Europe (think Portugal and Spain 1930s to 1970s), Iran under the Shah, and not least the former Soviet Union (Georgia, Turkmenistan).
If such actions are undertaken by the US or one of its allies they are at least tolerated for the sake of the global interest. If they are associated with the latest hate figure, in this case Putin, they are suddenly discovered to be wrong. The question is: Does it actually benefit anyone to base world affairs, and actions affecting millions of people’s lives, on willful lies?
A case study
Some American newspapers are directly controlled by the CIA, in the same way we were always told Soviet journals were controlled by the KGB. One such is the Charleston Mercury from South Carolina. One of the mouthpieces for the official US line on Ukraine is Will Cathcart, its former managing director. Strangely enough, he was also once Media Advisor to the President of Georgia.
According to that paper’s website, he is now involved in “business development” in the Black Sea region, working out of Kiev. It goes on to describe how Cathcart “was able to interview Georgian President Saakashvili” (i.e., the person he was advising on the media) “and wrote how President Saakashvili predicted the Russian invasion; it turned out we published just as the Russians attacked our allies, the freedom-loving Georgians. Will ended up moving to Georgia and has retained a network and developed a high degree of expertise in the region. He is now reporting from Kiev, as you will see elsewhere in this issue. It was hard to lose Will at the paper but he still writes stellar features for us.”
Before countries make official media statements, they consult their media advisers. Georgia’s spin on the 2008 war partly derived from Will Cathcart, who was also working for a paper directly controlled by the CIA. If the American world view was based on reality, this would be a positive thing. As it is based on the concept that everything not American has something wrong with it, and that everyone must want America, what good can come from such relationships?
Bitter lessons learned
It was in fact the 2008 Georgian-Russian conflict over South Ossetia which was the breeding ground for this particular media war. Russia easily prevailed on the battlefield but did not do well in the airwaves, at a period when Senator John McCain needed a PR boost for his presidential campaign and the war in Georgia was just what the doctor ordered.
This drove home to Kremlin insiders how important it was to fight a PR war with highly paid PR companies. This became particularly important when they realised that Georgia’s PR victory, which is still being used against Russia, had been achieved by the appropriately-named Patrick Worms.
Worms is head of Aspect, a PR company based in Brussels, whose lucrative contract with poverty-stricken Georgia was brokered by NATO and the EU. Georgia had another company in its employ, Orion Strategies, run by one Randy Scheunemann. He was also an adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign.
This was the coalition of forces facing Russia in 2008, not newspaper editorials, not commentators, not facts. Similar coalitions are deployed against any country which is sufficiently un-American. From the Russian standpoint, this is no different to being surrounded by NATO bases armed with missiles pointed at you because you are not American, and equally deadly.
How did Aspect win the media war for Georgia? James Hunt, another of its spinners, revealed that its strategy was built on exploiting the news media’s need for a human angle on coverage, including images for television: “We put human beings in front of the camera. We recognised the need for emotionalism in emotional times, rather than doing things the way the Russians did, which was to keep, if you like, a very robotic, very old fashioned media approach.”
Such an approach takes no account of what these people in front of the camera actually say, of course, or whether it is true or not. Indeed, the facts would merely get in the way of creating an emotional message. But it did not stop there. Worms began staging events, and sending SMS messages highlighting which villages would be destroyed, using maps to show foreign journalists that Georgian artillery were aiming exclusively at military targets. All this was a means of disguising Georgia’s illegal use of cluster bombs, as documented by the human rights and de-mining groups who recovered the duds.
Since Soviet times there has been a difference in style between Western outlets who report and analyse everything instantly, whether correct or not, and Russian ones which gather the evidence first and then make a report. But the activities of Worms and his friends are another thing altogether. Their aim is to persuade people by any means possible, even blatant falsehoods. They are simply not interested in facts.
It is facts which people have to live with in their daily lives, as anyone pursuing a false idea soon finds. If we accept the concept of “crimes against humanity”, what do we call a blatant attempt by the Western powers to replace reality with whatever suits them, when not accepting that reality has wholly negative effects on the lives of millions of people?
Up to date with a bang
The legacy of Worms lives on. A media spin group has been set up in Tbilisi in the wake of the US-led coup in Ukraine, masquerading as a network of Language Exchange Groups and Clubs. Some of those involved were also linked with the Language Exchange Club Kiev during the Putsch there, for instance, Franzisca Von Den Socken, a certain Gabriel, who is in tight with various US funded NGOs, Richard DeLong, a protégé of notorious former US Ambassador Tefft, Remi Boissonnas, Louisa Whitlock and Greg Golden of Lingua House, a Tbilisi based language school.
Other US-funded media pundits are also being presented as experts on Ukraine, much like Steve “Birmingham is 100% Muslim” Emerson was presented as an expert on terrorism to give him the platform to make that ridiculous claim. They include Mark Mullins, a long term employee of Soros Foundation-funded entities who is closely connected with the former Saakashvili government and the NEO the Liberty Institute, the instrument used to make ideological statements even Saakashvili found too extreme to make himself.
Saakashvili is now being sheltered in Kiev by Poroshenko’s government, treated as an “adviser”. It is being widely speculated that Saakashvili is about to conduct a military coup to try and regain control of Georgia, and several recent events point in that direction. Poroshenko’s Nazi irregulars would be the obvious force to do it, since no one in Georgia will fight for Saakashvili. Are all these connections between these two CIA-backed regimes just coincidence?
In the film A Beautiful Mind Russell Crowe’s character is put in a mental institution for believing in unreal things and living his life accordingly. We are left to wonder why, when the US propaganda machine is designed to make us all do exactly that every day of our lives – if we survive the bullets also used to create that situation.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.