Reprinted from Consortium News
A basic rule of journalism is that there are almost always two sides to a story and that journalists should try to reflect that reality, a principle that is especially important when lives are at stake amid war fevers. Yet, American journalism has failed miserably in this regard during the Ukraine crisis.
With very few exceptions, the mainstream U.S. media has simply regurgitated the propaganda from the U.S. State Department and other entities favoring western Ukrainians. There has been little effort to view the worsening crisis through the eyes of ethnic Russian Ukrainians living in the east or the Russians witnessing a political and humanitarian crisis on their border.
Frankly, I cannot recall any previous situation in which the U.S. media has been more biased -- across the board -- than on Ukraine. Not even the "group think" around Iraq's non-existent WMDs was as single-minded as this, with the U.S. media perspective on Ukraine almost always from the point of view of the western Ukrainians who led the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in the east.
So, what might appear to an objective observer as a civil war between western Ukrainians, including the neo-Nazis who spearheaded last year's coup against Yanukovych, and eastern Ukrainians, who refused to accept the anti-Yanukovych order that followed the coup, has been transformed by the U.S. news media into a confrontation between the forces of good (the western Ukrainians) and the forces of evil (the eastern Ukrainians) with an overlay of "Russian aggression" as Russian President Vladimir Putin is depicted as a new Hitler.
Though the horrific bloodshed -- more than 5,000 dead -- has been inflicted overwhelmingly on the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine by the forces from western Ukraine, the killing is routinely blamed on either the eastern Ukrainian rebels or Putin for allegedly fomenting the trouble in the first place (though there is no evidence that he did, as even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has acknowledged.)
I realize that anyone who doesn't accept this Official Washington "group think" on Ukraine is denounced as a "Putin apologist" -- just as anyone who questioned the conventional wisdom about Saddam Hussein giving his WMDs to al-Qaeda was a "Saddam apologist" -- but step back for a minute and look at the crisis through the eyes of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
A year ago, they saw what looked to them like a U.S.-organized coup, relying on both propaganda and violence to overthrow their constitutionally elected government. They also detected a strong anti-ethnic-Russian bias in the new regime with its efforts to strip away Russian as an official language. And they witnessed brutal killings of ethnic Russians -- at the hands of neo-Nazis -- in Odessa and elsewhere.
Their economic interests, too, were threatened since they worked at companies that did substantial business with Russia. If those historic ties to Russia were cut in favor of special economic relations with the European Union, the eastern Ukrainians would be among the worst losers.
Remember, that before backing away from the proposed association agreement with the EU in November 2013, Yanukovych received a report from economic experts in Kiev that Ukraine stood to lose $160 billion if it broke with Russia, as Der Spiegel reported. Much of that economic pain would have fallen on eastern Ukraine.
On the rare occasions when American journalists have actually talked with eastern Ukrainians, this fear of the economic consequences has been a core concern, along with worries about the harsh austerity plan that the International Monetary Fund prescribed as a prerequisite for access to Western loans.
For instance, in April 2014, Washington Post correspondent Anthony Faiola reported from Donetsk that many of the eastern Ukrainians whom he interviewed said their resistance to the new Kiev regime was driven by fear over "economic hardship" and the IMF austerity plan that will make their lives even harder.
"At a most dangerous and delicate time, just as it battles Moscow for hearts and minds across the east, the pro-Western government is set to initiate a shock therapy of economic measures to meet the demands of an emergency bailout from the International Monetary Fund," Faiola reported.
In other words, Faiola encountered reasonable concerns among eastern Ukrainians about what was happening in Kiev. Many eastern Ukrainians felt disenfranchised by the overthrow of their elected leader and they worried about their future in a U.S.-dominated Ukraine. You can disagree with their point of view but it is an understandable perspective.
When some eastern Ukrainians mounted protests and occupied buildings -- similar to what the western Ukrainians had done in Kiev before the coup -- these protesters were denounced by the coup regime as "terrorists" and became the target of a punitive military campaign involving some of the same neo-Nazi militias that spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup against Yanukovych.