Reprinted from Consortium News
During my years at Newsweek in the late 1980s, when I would propose correcting some misguided conventional wisdom, I'd often be told, "let's leave that one for the historians," with the magazine not wanting to challenge an erroneous storyline that all the important people "knew" to be true. And if false narratives only affected the past, one might argue my editors had a point. There's always a lot of current news to cover.
But most false narratives are not really about the past; they are about how the public perceives the present and addresses the future. And it should fall to journalists to do their best to explain this background information even if it embarrasses powerful people and institutions, including the news organizations themselves.
Yet, rather than take on that difficult task, most major news outlets prefer to embroider onto their existing tapestry of misinformation, fitting today's reporting onto the misshapen fabric of yesterday's. They rarely start from scratch and admit the earlier work was wrong.
So, how does the mainstream U.S. news media explain the Ukraine crisis after essentially falsifying the historical record for the past year? Well, if you're the New York Times, you keep on spinning the old storyline, albeit with a few adjustments.
For instance, on Sunday, the Times published a lengthy article that sought to sustain the West's insistence that the coup overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych wasn't really a coup -- just the crumbling of his government in the face of paramilitary violence from the street with rumors of worse violence to come -- though that may sound to you pretty much like a coup. Still, the Times does make some modifications to Yanukovych's image.
In the article, Yanukovych is recast from a brutal autocrat willfully having his police slaughter peaceful protesters into a frightened loser whose hand was "shaking" as he signed a Feb. 21 agreement with European diplomats, agreeing to reduce his powers and hold early elections, a deal that was cast aside on Feb. 22 when armed neo-Nazi militias overran presidential and parliamentary offices.
Defining a Coup
One might wonder what the New York Times thinks a coup looks like. Indeed, the Ukrainian coup had many of the same earmarks as such classics as the CIA-engineered regime changes in Iran in 1953 and in Guatemala in 1954.
The way those coups played out is now historically well known. Secret U.S. government operatives planted nasty propaganda about the target leader, stirred up political and economic chaos, conspired with rival political leaders, spread rumors of worse violence to come and then -- as political institutions collapsed -- chased away the duly elected leader before welcoming the new "legitimate" order.
In Iran, that meant reinstalling the autocratic Shah who then ruled with a heavy hand for the next quarter century; in Guatemala, the coup led to more than three decades of brutal military regimes and the killing of some 200,000 Guatemalans.
Coups don't have to involve army tanks occupying the public squares, although that is an alternative model which follows many of the same initial steps except that the military is brought in at the end. The military coup was a common approach especially in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the preferred method in more recent years has been the "color revolution," which operates behind the façade of a "peaceful" popular uprising and international pressure on the targeted leader to show restraint until it's too late to stop the coup. Despite the restraint, the leader is still accused of gross human rights violations, all the better to justify his removal.
Later, the ousted leader may get an image makeover; instead of a cruel bully, he is ridiculed for not showing sufficient resolve and letting his base of support melt away, as happened with Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.
The Ukraine Reality
The reality of what happened in Ukraine was never hard to figure out. George Friedman, the founder of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, called the overthrow of Yanukovych "the most blatant coup in history." It's just that the major U.S. news organizations were either complicit in the events or incompetent in describing them to the American people.