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A Travesty of Reporting

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Reginald Johnson     Permalink
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I've always felt The New York Times is a schizophrenic paper --- alternately very good or very bad.

The "paper of record" has won a myriad of Pulitzer Prizes over the years for coverage on a variety of issues, including environmental problems and questionable business practices by U.S. corporations.[tag]

From The New York Times type
The New York Times type
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Reporters Charlie Savage and James Risen have turned out some terrific stories on civil liberites and national security issues.

But the Times has fallen down badly on other occasions, particularly with respect to foreign policy and war coverage. The paper's reporting in late 2002 and 2003 on Iraq, which presented thinly-sourced stories claiming that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, helped the Bush administration build its public case that Iraq had to be invaded and Saddam removed.

Months later, the stories were discredited when inspection teams could find no WMD. But the damage had already been done --- an invasion of Iraq took place in March, 2003. That set off a brutal ten-year war which cost over 5,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.

It emerged later that the Times' pre-war stories had relied heavily on the claims of one Iraqi expatriate leader, Ahmed Chalabi, who wanted to return to power and stood to benefit from Saddam's removal.

Now the Times is failing again in its reporting on another overseas issue: Ukraine.

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From the onset of this crisis --- when street demonstrations led to a coup in Ukraine and a pro-western faction ousted the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovcyh --- to the civil war pitting the regime's military forces against pro-Russian separatists in the east, the Times' coverage has been atrocious.

The reporting --- which has mirrored the American government's view on Ukraine --- has been decidedly slanted against Russia and the Russian separatists. The paper has reported uncritically on the new Ukrainian government, despite the questionable background of some members of that regime, fascist elements in their armed forces and the fact that the regime itself is illegal, having come about through a violent coup. There's been a lack of professionalism in both writing and editing.

In one example, which recalled the Times' stories in the lead-up to the Iraq War, an article purported to show the presence of Russian military personnel in Ukraine fighting alongside the separatists. The story, featuring photos of Russian officers, bolstered the claim of the U.S. government that Russia is directly involved in the Ukraine civil war, and committing "aggression."

But later the story fell apart, when it turned out the identifications of the soldiers in the photos were incorrect, and there was no proof in fact that Russian fighters were in Ukraine. The Times later published a back-page correction.

Another example of the Times' unprofessional coverage has been the paper's virtual whitewashing of the role neo-Nazis and fascists have played both in the Ukrainian regime and in the military campaign against the separatists.

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The Ukrainian government forces and right-wing militias in the past year have waged brutal assaults against cities in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds being killed. In several of these attacks, young neo-Nazi fighters, with Nazi insignias on their shirts or helmets, have been involved in some of the fiercest fighting. In an attack on a trade union building last year in Odessa, dozens of separatists were trapped inside as militias fired on the building and threw stun grenades and tear gas cannisters. The building caught on fire, and when people jumped out, fascist militants from the Right Sector beat them with bats and chains, according to one person who survived.

All total, 39 people perished in the attack, either from injuries sustained after jumping from higher floors, suffocating from smoke inhalation or burning alive.

In September of last year, members of the "Azov Battalion" --- fighters who have the wolfsangel, a Nazi symbol, emblazoned on their group banner --- played a central role in the fighting with separatists at Mariupol. The Azov Battalion is under the direction of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.

Papers such as the London Telegraph have documented the presence of Nazi elements fighting with the Ukrainian government forces, with articles and photos, but major press in the U.S., like the Times, have not. You would think that a paper like the Times that frequently has done stories in other parts of Europe detailing the rise of neo-Nazis and fascists --- such as in Germany or Greece --- would eagerly report on the substantial role that far-right extremists are playing in the Ukrainian conflict, but that hasn't been the case.

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Reginald Johnson is a free-lance writer based in Bridgeport, Ct. His work has appeared in The New York Times, BBC-Online, the Connecticut Post, his web magazine, The Pequonnock, and Reading Between the Lines, a web magazine affiliated with the (more...)

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