By Ted Morgan
Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sendinag them off to distant lands to die….
Justice Hugo Black, in the Pentagon Papers case.
In their 1988/2002 classic, Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of Mass Media, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky presented a “propaganda model” whereby the corporate media “serve to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity.” Key to their analysis were five “filters” that collectively filtered out of mass media perspectives that challenged fundamental premises or suggested the systemic roots of state power –i.e., the filters effectively excluded forms of “illegitimate,” or one could say radical discourse. The authors provide detailed case studies of each of the filters at work.
Herman and Chomsky labeled one such filter as “worthy and unworthy victims,” noting that people abused by (or in) “enemy states” are worthy of intensive and often dramatic coverage by the corporate media, whereas people abused by the United States or its allies or client states are unworthy of mass media attention. They illustrate their argument by comparing New York Times coverage of the 1984 murder of a Polish priest by (Communist) Polish police with the murders of several priests, Archbishop Romero, and four American church women and other religious figures by the U.S. client states, El Salvador and Guatemala. The effect was to legitimize two murderous regimes backed by the United States, while simultaneously reinforcing propaganda about the evils of the nation’s communist adversaries.
At a time when current mass media are filled with reports and images from the war in Ukraine, and coincidentally a time when the media have been reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, it’s hard to imagine a more potent example of worthy and unworthy victims in mass media coverage than the Ukrainians and Iraqis. Not that there aren’t countless Ukrainian victims of the brutal Russian assault but that the paired examples have one thing in common: the US corporate media systematically reinforce the legitimacy of American imperialism. In the mass media world, US objectives in providing massive military support to help the Ukraine defend itself against a brutal invasion and “evil dictator” are universally viewed as a benign example of the US acting as a crucial force for good in the world. The same was true when the US engaged in a massive invasion of Iraq that was under the tight control of another “evil dictator” who allegedly posed a terroristic threat to the world. In both invasions government propaganda pronouncements were widely echoed without question or challenge by media personnel, and media stories and imagery highlighted the suffering of the worthy Ukrainians, while rendering virtually invisible the unworthy Iraqi victims. Yet¸ by the standards of the post-WWII Geneva Conventions, both invasions involved war crimes by the perpetrators.
The Unworthy Victims of the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003
In the years following the disastrous US assault on Vietnam, government and military personnel concluded that propaganda and media control were imperative if the US was to win its wars and military interventions. Thus the Reagan administration barred reporters from access to the US assault on Grenada in 1983, as did the Bush I administration during the US invasion of Panama, leaving government characterization of these wars unchallenged in mainstream media.
Dating back to elite planning for the post-WWII world, a key part of the US drive for global hegemony was control over the flow of oil out of the Middle East. To this end, among other interventions, the US overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh regime in Iran in 1953, installing the ruthless regime of the Shah, and in 1990 lured Saddam Hussein into invading Kuwait, which became the pretext for the massive US Gulf War assault on Iraq. During the Gulf War, US reporters were tightly controlled by the military, and largely prevented from reporting on civilian Iraqi casualties. Bolstered by unchallenged government propaganda that included a Hill & Knowlton PR fabrication about Iraqi soldiers removing Kuwaiti infants from their incubators and leaving them on the floor to die, the result was a profoundly sanitized media presentation of a war in which the US demolished Iraq’s water-purification system and electric grid and subjected Iraq to lethal punitive sanctions. The combined US tactics produced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, including 500,000 children as a consequence of UN sanctions backed by the US and UK. After the fact, as more damaging information began to find its way into mainstream media, popular support for the war declined, and the government’s near totalitarian control of the media was challenged. Consequently, in 2003, the government had an alternative plan for controlling the message that reached the American people.
First, a tightly-coordinated government propaganda bombardment in the weeks and months leading up to the US war was echoed by mass media personnel acting as cheerleaders for the war effort, unquestioningly reporting what administration and military personnel told them. As occurred during the Gulf War, the television networks employed national security and/or retired military personnel –many of whom had ties to defense contractors invested in the war— as on-air interpreters of war events. The Bush Administration –from the President and Vice-President through high-level State, Defense and National Security leaders — bombarded the media with lies that allegedly justified the American invasion. Two lies were crucial: 1) that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including an unaccounted-for “massive stockpile” of biological weapons and an active program to build nuclear weapons, and 2) that Saddam collaborated with Al Qaeda thereby posing a perilous threat of global terrorism.
As Bush put it, in words that were echoed by the other key leaders in his administration, “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud” In the same October 2002 speech, Bush also asserted “We know that Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy — the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al-Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade…. We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” Thus, he reasoned, Saddam could share chemical or biological weapons with the terrorist group that had already attacked the United States.
It was powerful messaging by the Administration over the months leading up to the March invasion. As the neoconservatives planned the expansion of their “War on Terror” to attack Iraq, along with their vision for US global domination, the New York Times ran a series of front-page articles by reporter Judith Miller. Miller’s articles reinforced administration claims by drawing heavily on the “intelligence” of Iraqi defectors like Ahmad Chalabi who, with neoconservative sponsorship, had been campaigning for “regime change” in Iraq. Similarly, the Washington Post was dominated by front page articles echoing administration rhetoric, whereas stories about more skeptical speeches by Senators Kennedy and Byrd were buried deep in the paper. While CIA officials refuted administration claims in independent (non-corporate) media, CIA findings were widely cherry-picked by the administration –notably by VP Dick Cheney—to provide alleged support for its claims.
Not surprisingly American public opinion revealed that a majority of Americans supported removing Saddam from power in the lead up to the war. An October 2022 CNN/USA/Gallup poll showed 53% supporting a US invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam from power; in fact support for an invasion of Iraq ranged between 53% and 74% in the months since 9/11. Indeed, a January 2003 poll revealed that a majority of Americans believe Iraq had played a significant role in the 9/11 attacks.
On February 15, 2003, the world’s largest antiwar protest in history, involving what the BBC estimated to be between six and ten million people, erupted in 600 cities world-wide, including hundreds of thousands in New York and San Francisco. Yet critical or antiwar voices virtually disappeared from mass media discourse during the lead up to the invasion, even though at the same time independent, progressive and international media were refuting both the WMD and Al Qaeda propaganda themes. In one notable case, the liberal talk-show host, Phil Donahue, included antiwar critics on his MSNBC show, and was subsequently fired by the network.
War Imagery: Drama, US Weaponry, and Unworthy Iraqis
Especially in highly imagistic television coverage, imagery from the war was fixated on massively destructive US weaponry, beginning with the “shock and awe” unleashed as the US bombarded Baghdad on March 20, 2003. The incendiary spectacle was widely observed through TV screens, albeit at a distance that meant viewers would not see the human casualties produced by US weaponry. Indeed, civilian casualties were invisible to American audiences. A website hosted by Vortech displayed some images of Iraqi civilian casualties; Vortech shut it down on March 24 on the grounds that it was “inappropriate graphic material.” Instead of covering the devastating effects on Iraqis and their society, the media concentrate on dramatic stories told by embedded reporters, or the quest to find Saddam Hussein, or events staged by the US to capture desirable imagery for American audiences.
The idea to embed reporters with US ground troops was the brainchild of Victoria Clark, hired by Donald Rumsfeld from her post at the Hill & Knowlton PR firm. Placing reporters with ground units meant they became dependent on the troops for their own safety and American audiences were treated to images of reporters getting trained, wearing gas masks and flak jackets, and images that reflected the war as experienced by US ground soldiers. NPR’s Tom Gjelten gushed, “We were offered an irresistible opportunity: free transportation to the front line of war, dramatic pictures, dramatic sounds, great quotes. Who can pass that up?” One academic study of television war coverage noted: …all of the American media largely shied away from showing visuals of coalition, Iraqi military, or civilian casualties. Despite advanced technologies offering reporters the chance to transmit the reality of war in real time, reporters chose instead to present a largely bloodless conflict to viewers, even when they did broadcast during firefights…. For American viewers in particular, the portrait of war offered by the networks was a sanitized one free of bloodshed, dissent, and diplomacy but full of exciting weaponry, splashy graphics, and heroic soldiers.
Instead the media were drawn to a range of US-staged events where images reinforced US propaganda. Among others, Vice President Cheney had publicly announced that invading US forces would be “greeted as liberators,” whereas ample evidence has revealed the opposite to be true for most Iraqis. US troops had destroyed dozens of Saddam Hussein statues, but in April 2003, gathering near an outsized statue of Saddam in Firdos Square, the soldiers noticed a handful of Iraqis, at least one of whose family members had been executed by Saddam and wanted the statue pulled down. They also noticed a large number of journalists and cameras present. So with a handful of Iraqis cheering and waving flags provided for them by the Americans, US forces used a M-88 vehicle to pull down the huge statue, producing what the Guardian would later call “the abiding image of the war” in 2003. Two hours of non-stop coverage of the event was transmitted around the world that night, and between 11 AM and 8 PM the next day, the cable news networks had a field day. Fox News aired the images every 4.4 minutes, and CNN did the same every 7.5 minutes. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer exclaimed that the image “sums up the day, and in many ways, the war itself.”
Other staged or heavily distorted dramatic events included President Bush being air-lifted onto the returning US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego. On May 1, 2003, Bush strutted out to be viewed among the troops, wearing an improbable flight suit; behind him a large banner proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.” The improbable event was widely mocked on The Daily Show and other late night TV shows. Other dramatic stories included Secretary of State Colin Powell’s major address before the UN Security Council, universally greeted by the US mass media as the clinching proof of WMDs. Independent media and former intelligence officials demonstrated how the misleading images failed to reveal any WMD threat. Also, the long US search for Saddam Hussein, which after a dozen unsuccessful raids, ended with him being captured while hiding in a well, leading to his later execution. One widely-hyped drama, the alleged rescue of “POW” Private Jessica Lynch, was fed to reporters by Combat Camera, a Pentagon operation that provided 800 photos and 25 video clips a day to the media. In its May 15 exposé, The Guardianrevealed how the “icon of the war” story was “one of the most stunning pieces of news management yet conceived.”
As the invasion turned into a long and highly contested occupation by the US, American and Iraqi casualties mounted up, and, of course, as no WMDs were discovered, the American public soured on the war. Twenty years later, mainstream media from the New York Times to NPR acknowledged the exorbitant human and financial costs of the war and the falsity of administration claims, but they labored to put the best face on Bush administration ‘mistakes.’ The main Timesretrospective puzzled that “20 Years On, a Question Lingers about Iraq: Why Did the US Invade?” The paper pointed to “processes and rationales so convoluted that even the people involved might not know exactly how they happened.” Perhaps none of the revisionism is as striking as the rewriting of the US assault on the city of Fallujah in 2004, largely remembered ten years later as a place where US soldiers made great sacrifices. As correspondent Terry Moran explained, “More than 100 Marines gave their lives to pacify the city.” Yet as Mike Marqusee reported in the Guardian: The assault was preceded by eight weeks aerial bombardment. US troops cut off the city’s water, power and food supplies, condemned as a violation of the Geneva Convention by a UN special rapporteur, who accused occupying forces of ‘using hunger and deprivation as a weapon of war against a civilian population. Two-thirds of the city’s 300,000 residents fled, many to squatters’ camps without basic facilities.
As if this revisionism wasn’t enough, the U.S. Navy has recently announced that it will name a new amphibious assault ship Fallujah, “to memorialize the Marines, Soldiers, and coalition partners that fought valiantly and those that sacrificed their lives during both battles of Fallujah.”
The Ukrainians: Worthy of Endless Coverage
With the Ukrainian-Russian war currently in its second year, US mass media coverage has continued unabated, largely with daily reports on the war. The Ukraine had been subjected to invasion, and sometimes occupation, by pre-Soviet Russians, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. Contemporary Russian forces annexed Crimea and supported pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas area after the 2014 Euromaidan uprisings. On February 24, 2022, the Russian army began the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In response, the West, led by the United States, imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia and began to provide enormous financial and military support to help Ukraine defend against the invasion. To date, the US has contributed over $75 billion in aid to Ukraine, 61% of which is military aid in the form of weaponry, equipment, training and “security assistance”; 34% of which is financial assistance, and 5% “humanitarian” assistance.
I juxtapose two competing interpretive stories about the war in Ukraine — one dominates reporting in the American media, while the other is virtually invisible in the American media. The latter story points to actions by the United States as part of its on-going quest to remain a dominant global hegemon. The former faithfully follow what the State Department stated in justifying support for Ukraine: “The United States, our allies, and our partners worldwide are united in support of Ukraine in response to Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war against Ukraine. We have not forgotten Russia’s earlier aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation following its unlawful seizure of Crimea in 2014 [emphasis added].”
Especially when viewed in the context of Russian history, Putin certainly could legitimately reason that two episodes were threatening provocations by the West. The first of these was the decision made by the US and NATO to allow the former Warsaw Pact nations, or former Soviet Union republics, to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Cold War throwback led by the US to blunt any perceived Soviet threat to the West. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991 and the start of “free-market” based “shock therapy” in former Soviet states, US officials debated whether to grant membership in NATO to Eastern European nations. As these discussions proceeded, George Kennan, formerly the leading voice for the Cold War “containment” policy, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, titled “A Fateful Error.” Noting that by 1996, it appeared that the decision to admit nations into NATO “up to the Russian border” had been made, Kennan wrote: …expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking…. Russians are little impressed with American assurances that it reflects no hostile intentions. They would see their prestige (always uppermost in the Russian mind) and their security interests as adversely affected.
Innumerable high US officials — Madeleine Albright, Strobe Talbot, and Robert Gates— have acknowledged the truth of Kennan’s warning. Gates described the Bush II effort to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO as “truly overreaching” and “recklessly ignoring what the Russians considered their own vital national interests.” Beginning in 1999, twelve former Warsaw Pact nations or former Soviet republics sought and won membership in NATO. In response to the Russian invasion, long-neutral Finland joined NATO on April 4, 2023, producing an additional 841 miles of NATO members bordering Russia.
The other provocation revolved around the so-called “Euromaidan Revolution” of 2013–4 that drove Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich from power. Although democratically elected, Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency was becoming increasingly corrupt and autocratic, and Ukraine’s economy was falling behind EU states. Heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, Yanukovych allowed the Russian Black Sea fleet to use Crimea as a base even as he pursued a free-trade agreement with the EU, one that came with austerity demands required by IMF loans. Putin offered Ukraine a no-strings attached loan equal to the IMF’s, while also threatening to block the flow of Russian gas. Yanukovych reneged on the EU deal, which produced the initial citizens’ uprising in the Maidan (Kyiv’s Independence Square). Yanukovych responded with a brutal crackdown that violently scattered the protesters and followed up with new repressive anti-protest laws.
The government’s violence drew wider numbers into the protests which, in turn, became more violent themselves. The key force behind the protest violence was Ukraine’s long-standing far right — the Svoboda Party, initially founded as the “Social-National Party of Ukraine (a hint at its Nazi sympathies) and the “Right Sector” that traces back to genocidal Nazi collaborators. As the crisis escalated, Yanukovych and opposition parties agreed to scale back presidential powers and schedule an election — an agreement that enraged the increasingly militant street movement. Yanukovych fled Kyiv and Parliament voted to strip him of his presidency, winning the praise of the US ambassador.
The US saw in the protest movement an opportunity to reverse the abandoned EU agreement. Senators John McCain and Chris Murphy stood in Kyiv’s Square, aside Svoboda’s fascist leader, announcing their support to the protesters. US assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, Victoria Nuland, maneuvered behind the scenes to successfully push the Americans’ favorite candidate to lead the new government as Prime Minister. Once in office, he signed the original EU deal solidifying Ukraine’s move toward integration with Europe. Meanwhile the winner of the 2014 election, the extremely wealthy Petro Poroshenko took office; his interior minister incorporated the neo-Nazi militia, Azov Regiment, into Ukraine’s National Guard; Ukraine’s politics shifted to the right. Little changed once Volodymyr Zelensky, an “outsider” candidate was resoundingly elected in 2019.
As noted by Ted Galen Carpenter’s CATO commentary, both the Obama administration and most of the US mass media portrayed the Euromaidan Revolution as a “spontaneous, popular uprising against a corrupt and brutal government,” yet Carpenter observed, “The extent of the Obama administration’s meddling in Ukraine’s politics was breathtaking.” As Branko Marcetic put it in Jacobin, “There is no doubt US officials backed and exploited Euromaidan for their own ends…. Western involvement helped bring the country to this crisis.”
Furthermore peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in the first month after the invasion showed, at a lower diplomatic level, the potential shape of a peace agreement. According to the sketched out 15-point agreement Ukraine would embrace neutrality and forego joining NATO, Russia would withdraw from all but Crimea and the Donbas region of Ukraine, the future of which would be determined by the self-determination of the people in those regions, and the future security of Ukraine would be guaranteed by an outside group of countries, although Ukraine would not allow foreign military bases in its territory.
On April 9, 2022, the UK’s Boris Johnson visited Zelensky to assure him of British backing for however long it took to ensure Ukrainian independence from Russia. Johnson publicly declared, “I made clear today that the United Kingdom stands unwaveringly with them in this ongoing fight, and we are in it for the long run. We are stepping up our own military and economic support and convening a global alliance to bring this tragedy to an end, and ensure Ukraine survives and thrives as a free and sovereign nation.” Two weeks later, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” As of April 14, 2022, the US had already provided Ukraine with $2.6 billion in security aid, including a wide range of weaponry. As military support from the US, EU, Britain and others grew exponentially, along with casualties on both sides, positions hardened and Ukraine proceeded to apply for NATO membership while Russia indicated no further interest in the bilateral negotiations with Ukraine.
It should be noted that, in most cases, this “illegitimate” story views the Russian invasion as an aggressive violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, resulting in major destruction of Ukrainian lives and infrastructure. As such it can be compared to the US invasion of Iraq, albeit on a smaller scale than the long-term US assault on Iraq from 1991 to 2011. But it also maintains that the US clearly provided Putin with provocations that reflect the hegemonic or imperial objectives of US foreign policy. The competing interpretations revolve around the motives of Putin and Russia, and the United States. The story of the war told across the board in the US corporate media omits the US provocation perspective as well as the relevance of US imperial ambitions –these are either ignored as non-existent or irrelevant. In the absence of these perspectives, speculation focused entirely on the motives of Putin –taking at face value his grandiose rhetoric, comparing him to Hitler or dismissing him as a “madman” or a “psychopath.”
For example, a Lexis-Nexis search revealed that the New York Times included the phrase “unprovoked invasion,” 327 times between February 21, 2022, and April 2023 — 138 occurred in February and March of 2022. All but three of the references applied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Of course, more than a few of these were uttered by President Biden, who referred to the “brutal and unprovoked invasion” by Russia, or by other US or European leaders. On March 4, 2022, Columnist Fareed Zakaria referred to it as an “utterly unprovoked, unjustified, immoral invasion,” and Times op-ed columnists Thomas Friedman and Charles Blow referred to the “unprovoked invasion.” BP and Starbucks executives did the same in the paper of record, although the Times pointed out that many US food and fast-food companies remained curiously silent while carrying on their businesses in Russia. Even late-night host Jimmy Kimmel got in on the act with a condemnation of the “unprovoked invasion.” A pre-war newsletter column by David Leonhardt anticipated Russia’s “unprovoked ground invasion,” and Reagan’s Secretary of State James Baker chimed in similarly in a guest editorial.
Other “unprovoked invasion” mentions were simply included in articles focusing on other matters related to Russia. For example, an article about the WNBA basketball player Brittany Griner referred to the “unprovoked Russian invasion.” An article in December 2022 looked back on a year seen as “the Beginning of a Green Transition,” but went on to note that the coming year was likely to be one of a European energy crisis, thanks to Russia’s “unprovoked invasion.”
Finally, in an editorial that reveals the paper’s predictable amnesia, the Times offered the opinion on February 24, 2022 that “an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state in the 21st Century is madness.”
In sum, it is simply a given truth, repeated again and again in the paper of record, that Russia’s invasion was unprovoked. One can search in vain for any Times article about the claim of US/NATO provocations, with one or two exceptions that dismiss those who raise such a possibility. Instead, the paper goes on at some length about Russian “propaganda,” which of course exists. But the repetition of the one-themed characterization of an enemy state couldn’t possibly be viewed as a form of propaganda. It’s simply the truth, end of story.
Indeed, not only were the “illegitimate” challenges to the propaganda ignored by the mass media, but anyone who raised critiques of US policy was likely to be branded a Putin apologist or worse. Such was the case with the group of progressive members of Congress who sent a letter to the White House calling on the Biden administration to pursue diplomacy with Russia. Even though the letter took pains to applaud the Biden administrations’ military support for Ukraine, once it became public, the group endured a tidal wave of attacks from across the mainstream political spectrum. The letter was retracted one day later, with most signers scrambling to distance themselves from the letter. To ensure a discourse of total support, government and private sector officials have gone to great lengths to ensure that critical information is kept out of public discourse. Thus the EU banned the Russian television channel, RT, and a long list of US providers –Microsoft, Meta, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Google, Apple, DirecTV and Spotify—removed RT content or access.
Furthermore, the mass media have essentially ignored the existence of the powerful influence of the far-right in Ukrainian politics. In the case of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion deployed against the Russians, the New York Times seems to have a double standard depending on whether the Azov Battalion is fighting the Russians or not. In a 2019 story about a white supremacist charged with killing 49 people in New Zealand, the Times noted that his flak jacket bore the symbol “commonly used by the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.” By contrast, in a war report on October 2022, the Times noted that “Commanders of Ukraine’s celebrated Azov Battalion have held an emotional reunion with their families in Turkey [emphasis added].” As noted by Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko of the Institute for East European Studies, most Ukrainian political parties are “electoral machines” for “specific patron-clientele networks,” whereas the radical nationalist [Rightist] parties, “by contrast have ideology, they have motivated activists, and at this moment, they are probably the only parties in the real sense of the word ‘party.’ They are the most organized, the most mobilized parts of the civil society, with the strongest street mobilization.”
And so, the corporate media once again fell into line with the US government’s official claims about the invasion and US actions: as a benign effort to protect Ukraine from a “premeditation, unprovoked, and unjustified” invasion. From the start, with reporters free to seek out their own stories, media reports repeatedly documented the widespread destruction caused by the Russians through missile, tank, and infantry attacks, typically with gripping imagery. Early on, as Russian troops were advancing towards Kyiv stories speculated about the Russian goal of absorbing all of Ukraine into the Russian orbit. As the US began to ship military equipment to Ukraine, reporters demanded to know why the US was “holding back” from striking out directly at Russia.
As the war progressed, war imagery showing the destruction in Ukraine became a daily event. A sampling follows:
- Desperate refugees running toward an arriving train
- A man weeping after his family escaped on a train
- A bloodied school teacher in the doorway of her school
- A large crowd of Ukrainians under a partially destroyed bridge, waiting to escape across the river
- Children sleeping in an underground subway station
- A firefighter in a destroyed house
- A wounded pregnant woman outside the bombed maternity hospital
- The body of a 6-year-old girl in a hospital
- A Ukrainian soldier carrying a baby across a destroyed bridge
- A weeping woman with two girls who had fled to Moldova
- Ukrainian soldiers taking cover from an artillery shelling
- The body of a Russian soldier in the snow next to a destroyed armored vehicle
- A mother and boyfriend racing her wounded 18-month old to the hospital
- Repeated images of multistory apartment buildings destroyed by missiles
- A woman weeping inside the destroyed remnants of her home
- A man covered with bleeding wounds after a missile attack
- A destroyed gate next to graffiti saying “Welcome to Hell”
- A woman crying over the bodies of her dead son and grandson
- A long line of empty graves prepared for Ukrainian soldiers to come
- Ukrainian soldiers cooking food in kitchen bunker
- Multiple images of Ukrainians searching for bodies under destroyed apartment buildings
- Body bags of Ukrainians recovered from apartment ruins
- A woman who had been lying dead in a doorway for two days
- Multiple images of grieving survivors at gravesides and funerals
- Ukrainian Bodies being exhumed from mass graves
- Crowds of people in a long line for free bread handouts
- Debris of a destroyed church
- 2 men salvaging a refrigerator for a destroyed home
- A six-year-old girl and a young man learning to walk with a prosthetic leg after a Russian shelling
- Ukrainian soldiers holding a captive they accused of spying for the Russians
- A bombed-out school, and a partially destroyed university classroom
- An entire row of destroyed apartment high rises and houses in Kyiv suburb
- Piled-up ruins of destroyed automobiles.
- A hand protruding from a mass grave
- A dog lying near the body of a retired teacher.
Clearly the destruction of civilian life, and civilians, in the Ukraine has been heavily documented by the mass media –in stark contrast to media coverage of the US invasion of Iraq.
Estimated totals of casualties on both sides of the war have varied widely, reflecting their sources, but civilian deaths in the Ukraine have minimally been in the tens of thousands, while estimates for both Ukrainian and Russian soldiers’ deaths range far higher, again, depending on who is doing the estimating.
As the war began to take on the appearance of a bloody stalemate, speculation has increased about the potential for a nuclear war, as both Putin and officials in the US have warned of nuclear escalation and its dangers. Not surprisingly antiwar sentiment has grown in the US and parts of Europe. On March 18, 2023, an antiwar rally and march outside the White House was called by a coalition of more than 200 peace and anti-militarism groups on the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. Although an estimated 2-3000 protested, none of the national media –including the local Washington Post— viewed the protest as remotely newsworthy.
Given the corporate media’s complete subservience to US government propaganda, while the public is bombarded by gripping imagery of the human and physical costs of the Russian invasion, it is understandable that people across much of the political spectrum have had their sympathies aroused for the Ukraine and their antipathies focused on Putin and the Russian government. Yet as the war grinds on and people are mindful of the costs of the war vs. other unmet domestic needs, there has been some softening of support for US policy. Similarly, the complete subservience of mass media to government propaganda during the US invasion of Iraq coupled with the absence of gripping images of Iraqi victims made for initial support for that war –although it, too, faded over time.
What is crucially lost in both of these horrific events is anything that might suggest to the American public that they have long been fed lies about the United States record and objectives in the rest of the world. As journalist John Pilger put it, “An accounting of the sheer scale and continuity and consequences of American imperialism is our elite’s most enduring taboo.”
Ted (Edward P) Morgan is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and the author, most recently, of What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy (U. Kansas Press).
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media (New York, Pantheon, 2002).
For audio-visual documentation (and refutation) of the government’s propaganda see the video “Uncovered: the War on Iraq.” For media coverage leading up to the war see Bill Moyers’ video, “Buying the War.”
I draw on two sources in elaborating these events: the “free market” oriented CATO Institute and the democratic socialist journal Jacobin.
Among others, both CNN and the New York Times have gathered photographs from the war online.
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