How American Media Manipulates Perceptions About Russia
Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 20 September, 2016
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Seshadri Kumar. All Rights Reserved.
In their 1988 classic, “Manufacturing Consent,” Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky talk about how the media can be manipulated and alternative perceptions of reality created by what they call “framing” the topic.
Well, I got an excellent example of how this is done a couple of days ago while watching CNN.
The program was “Amanpour,” anchored by renowned journalist Christiane Amanpour, who covers a range of global topics. One of the topics in this show was how Russia is now playing a greater role in world politics. The specific focus of the program was the news that day that Russia was planning to hold peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Amanpour sets the stage for us by telling us that, closely following on its aggressive actions in Syria, Russia is now trying to broker peace between Israel and Palestine. Why would Russia want to do this, she asks.
Russia’s Historic Ties with Middle Eastern Countries
At this point, anyone with a sense of history and a desire to present an objective view of world affairs would probably point out that historically, Russia has always had close ties with the countries in the Middle East – with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, etc. This was only to be expected, given how close the Middle East is to Russia. Prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the USSR shared a border with Iran and one with Turkey.
1. Russia has close economic ties with Iran and is a major benefactor while western nations have imposed severe sanctions on the Iranian regime. Much of Iran’s military equipment comes from Russia. Iran is the only country in the Middle East that has been invited to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia’s response to NATO. Their ties with Iran go back to 1521, when Iran, then Persia, was ruled by the Safavid Dynasty. For hundreds of years, the Persian and Russian empires fought many wars and also collaborated against their common rival, the Ottomans. During the early 20th century, Iran was practically under Russian control. After the second World War, Iran slipped into the American sphere of influence; however, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, things changed dramatically. Although the Soviets supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, they became a major arms supplier to the Islamic Republic of Iran after the war. Russia also started helping Iran in developing their nuclear program starting in the 1990s.
2. The Soviet Union, and later Russia, had strong military ties with Iraq. Most of Saddam Hussein’s military equipment came from the USSR; he relied heavily on them to assist him in the ruinous Iran-Iraq war that lasted from 1980 to 1989. Russian oil companies have strong interests in Iraqi oil fields.
3. The Soviet Union has been a supporter of the Palestinians from as far back as 1922. In 1975 they were instrumental in passing a UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism. A lot of Yasser Arafat’s PLO militants were trained by the KGB. The current President of Palestine, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, earned his doctorate at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. In 2006, Vladimir Putin even said that he did not consider Hamas a terrorist organization. To this day, Moscow is a strong supporter of Palestine in international fora.
4. Although the Soviet Union and later Russia were always opposed to Israel, they were paradoxically one of the earliest in the world to recognize the newly-formed state of Israel in 1948, thinking that Israel might end up becoming a socialist country. Once it became clear that this would not happen and that Israel would be a strong ally of the US in the Middle East, the USSR and later Russia were strong opponents of Israel and very good friends with its enemies. However, after 1991, when the USSR collapsed and the Iron Curtain was shattered, millions of Jews migrated from Russia to Israel, the Jewish homeland. This created new cultural ties between Russia and Israel that have created a strong counterbalance in the Russia-Israel relationship. Russian is now the third-widest spoken language in Israel, after Hebrew and Arabic.
5. The USSR had close ties with Egypt for a very long time, mainly because Gamal Abdel Nasser was a fierce anti-imperialist critic and developed close friendships with the Soviet Union. Many Egyptians, including Hosni Mubarak, studied in the USSR. Khrushchev even bestowed the Soviet Union’s highest honor, the Hero of the Soviet Union with the Order of Lenin to Nasser in 1964. Sadat was more pro-American, and ties with the USSR suffered; but they came back up when Mubarak became President.
6. The USSR played a key role in the Suez crisis of 1956, when Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt in retaliation for Nasser nationalizing the Suez canal. The USSR strongly supported Egypt’s cause, even threatening to use nuclear missiles against Britain and France if they did not withdraw from Egypt. This endeared the Soviet Union greatly to Arab countries, and the USSR had huge influence for several years in Egypt. They actively supported Egypt (and Syria) during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, with military advisors, hardware, and even nuclear missiles stationed on Egyptian soil.
7. The USSR, and later Russia, have had deep strategic ties with Syria for decades, from as far back as 1944. They played an important role in arguing for the French departure from Syria in 1946 which made Syria an independent country. After Hafez al-Assad took power in a coup in 1970, Syria entered into an agreement with the USSR that allowed it to open a permanent naval base in Syria at the port of Tartus, an agreement that continues to this day. The USSR and Syria signed a 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1980. Thousands of Syrian professionals and military personnel were trained in the former USSR and later Russia. Most of Syria’s military equipment is Soviet- and Russian-made. After Hafez al-Assad’s death, his son Bashar al-Assad continued the close ties with Moscow, and to this day Russia is a staunch ally of Syria and has supported Assad in the ongoing civil war.
8. Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet or the Madrid Quartet, a group of four entities that was formed in 2002 to help resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the US, Russia, the UN, and the EU. This organization survives to this day, and was meeting every few months until May 2015.
Given all this history, should it come as a surprise to anyone that Russia should try one more time to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? One would think it is the natural thing.
How Amanpour Chose to Frame the Discussion
However, in her opening remarks, while trying to answer the question she herself posed, viz., why Russia would want to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, Amanpour offered two choices:
1. That this was driven by megalomania – that Putin wanted to project an image of himself as a strongman, OR
2. That Putin wanted to deflect attention away from Russia’s internal problems.
To quote Amanpour, “Vladimir Putin is really making a play as a global leader – whether in Syria; he’s just announced he wants to hold new Israel-Palestinian talks; and of course, he has a lot of say about Brexit, about the European Union, and the United States.”
Now excuse me, is Vladimir Putin, as the President of one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world (do not forget it still has thousands of nuclear ballistic missiles that could destroy the world several times over), with huge natural reserves, and one of the largest conventional militaries in the world, not a global leader???
And is it so beyond the pale that such a leader of a country that has historically had very strong ties with and influence in the Middle East should think it is in his country’s interest to have a peaceful Middle East, a region that is very close to the borders of Russia, especially when Russia has been intensely engaged in the Israel-Palestine peace process for decades?
Is it even remotely sensible to suggest that his support for Syria is “making a play as a global leader” when Russia and Syria have strong ties going back 70 years?
As part of Europe, should Russia not have a say in what happens in Brexit or the European Union? One-third of all Europe’s gas comes from Russia. Are the trade implications not important to Russia that it should not express its opinions on the matter?
And, given that the United States is actively interfering in Europe, a continent that is separated from it by a vast ocean, should Putin not comment on what is happening, essentially, in his backyard?
None of this appears to strike Amanpour. She has framed the debate. Now the only two choices are that either Putin is a megalomaniac or that he wants to distract Russians from the serious problems of their country, because elections (which are now over, were considered free and fair, and have resulted in a massive victory for Putin) were just around the corner.
It is like the old joke about asking someone, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” – a question that slanders the person who is being asked, whichever way he answers: “Yes” would imply he was beating his wife in the past, while “No” would imply he is still beating his wife. That’s the kind of approach to journalism that CNN has chosen.
The Choice of the Source of Opinions
Also notable is the fact that this was not just a statement from Amanpour. This was an interview. And who was she interviewing? A Russian dissident and critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Who is this Khodorkovsky? A shady figure and a criminal, this man was one of the many oligarchs who became overnight billionaires after the fire sale of Russia’s assets during the bankrupt and unbelievably corrupt regime of Boris Yeltsin. Like all the other oligarchs, this man indulged in a lot of shady deals to become a billionaire. Unfortunately for him, he fell afoul of Vladimir Putin, who had him arrested and convicted on (probably very real) charges of fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering, and spent 8 years in jail following a court conviction before being pardoned by Putin. After his pardon, he left Russia to live in Switzerland, his fortune much diminished but still considerable (his estimated worth is $500 million) and now regularly attacks Putin in media statements from outside Russia.
It is such a shady person of very questionable character that Amanpour chooses to ask about Putin’s motivation for being a global leader, about asking questions and making statements on Brexit and the EU, and for proposing a new peace initiative in the Middle East – and with a leading question that begs the answer. With so much prompting, and his past enmity with Putin, Khodorkovsky predictably lashed out at Putin (you can see the interview in the link given earlier.) The audience is led to conclude that the megalomaniac Putin was trying to project himself as a man of great importance (falsely implying that he is absolutely unimportant in reality) to deceive the Russian public ahead of the elections.
What kind of gutter reporting and analysis is this???
It is obvious that this slant was taken to besmirch Putin’s reputation because the US and Russia are currently engaged in a highly adversarial relationship. Russia openly backs the Syrian government headed by Assad, and the US openly backs the rebels that have vowed to topple him. This is a Cold War being played out in 2016. And American news outlets have dropped all pretences of objectivity in their analysis.
Do the American media impute such motives to American Presidents who talk about Brexit, about the EU, about Russia, or about Israel and Palestine? Did they attack Obama when he made a statement in June 2012 that America’s bond with Israel was unbreakable that it was a cynical statement made only to impress American voters ahead of the elections in November 2012? Or did they say that President Jimmy Carter was only trying to impress American voters as a global leader when he held the Camp David accords in 1978 to mediate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?
Decidedly not. Such venom is reserved for “enemies of the USA.”
Anyone who reads Herman and Chomsky’s book, and wants a real-life modern example, should just watch this interview to know how biased American media outlets like CNN “frame the discussion” in a certain way that the uninformed audience can only get one conclusion from the discussion.
This is how “thought control” is achieved in a democracy.
Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.