Reprinted from Consortium News
Does any intelligent person look at a New York Times article about Russia or Vladimir Putin these days and expect to read an objective, balanced account? Or will it be laced with a predictable blend of contempt and ridicule? And is it any different at The Washington Post, NPR, MSNBC, CNN or almost any mainstream U.S. news outlet?
And it's not just Russia. The same trend holds true for Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries and movements that have fallen onto the U.S. government's "enemies list." We saw the same pattern with Saddam Hussein and Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion; with Muammar Gaddafi and Libya before the U.S.-orchestrated bombing campaign in 2011; and with President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukraine before the U.S.-backed coup in 2014.
That is not to say that these countries and leaders don't deserve criticism; they do. But the proper role of the press corps -- at least as I was taught during my early years at The Associated Press -- was to treat all evidence objectively and all sides fairly. Just because you might not like someone doesn't mean your feelings should show through or the facts should be forced through a prism of bias.
In those "old days," that sort of behavior was deemed unprofessional and you would expect a senior editor to come down hard on you. Now, however, it seems that you'd only get punished if you quoted some dissident or allowed such a person onto an op-ed page or a talk show, someone who didn't share Official Washington's "group think" about the "enemy." Deviation from "group think" has become the real disqualifier.
Yet, this conformity should be shocking and unacceptable in a country that prides itself on freedom of thought and speech. Indeed, much of the criticism of "enemy" states is that they supposedly practice various forms of censorship and permit only regime-friendly propaganda to reach the public.
But when was the last time you heard anyone in the U.S. mainstream say anything positive or even nuanced about Russian President Putin? He can only be portrayed as some shirtless buffoon or the devil incarnate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got widespread praise in 2014 when she likened him to Hitler.
Or when has anyone in the U.S. media been allowed to suggest that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters might actually have reason to fear what the U.S. press lovingly calls the "moderate" rebels -- though they often operate under the military command of Sunni extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda's Nusra Front. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Obama's 'Moderate' Syrian Deception."]
For the first three years of the Syrian civil war, the only permissible U.S. narrative was how the brutal Assad was slaughtering peaceful "moderates," even though Defense Intelligence Agency analysts and other insiders had long been warning about the involvement of violent jihadists in the movement from the uprising's beginning in 2011.
But that story was kept from the American people until the Islamic State started chopping off the heads of Western hostages in 2014 -- and since then, the mainstream U.S. media has only reported the fuller story in a half-hearted and garbled way. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Hidden Origins of Syria's Civil War."]
Reason for Conformity
The reason for this conformity among journalists is simple: If you repeat the conventional wisdom, you might find yourself with a lucrative gig as a big-shot foreign correspondent, a regular TV talking head, or a "visiting scholar" at a major think tank. However, if you don't say what's expected, your career prospects aren't very bright.
If you somehow were to find yourself in a mainstream setting and even mildly challenged the "group think," you should expect to be denounced as a fill-in-the-blank "apologist" or "stooge." A well-paid avatar of the conventional wisdom might even accuse you of being on the payroll of the despised leader. And, you wouldn't likely get invited back.
But the West's demonization of foreign "enemies" is not only an affront to free speech and meaningful democracy, it is also dangerous because it empowers unscrupulous American and European leaders to undertake violent and ill-considered actions that get lots of people killed and that spread hatred against the West.
The most obvious recent example was the Iraq War, which was justified by a barrage of false and misleading claims about Iraq which were mostly swallowed whole by a passive and complicit Western press corps.