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The New Yorker on Ukraine: Instead of Sy Hersh, Keith Gessen

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As the world anxiously awaits the next chapter in the tug of war between Russia and the West over Ukraine, I deconstruct a lengthy article in the May 12th New Yorker that shows how investigative reporting has been replaced by sugar-coated bias.
Ukraine!The print media can be divided into roughly three categories:  corporate local dailies that cover major US cities, the so-called liberal press such as the NY Times, the Washington Post, and journals such as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and the progressive press, that includes The Nation, Mother Jones, Yes! and many smaller titles.  Alas, the difference between the mainstream media and the liberal media appears to grow smaller by the day, while the so-called progressive media increasingly resembles what used to be the liberal media.

This alarming trend is illustrated by the fact that, after contributing regularly to The New Yorker since 1993, America’s foremost investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh no longer writes for that magazine. A lengthy article on Ukraine by Keith Gessen indirectly explains Hersh’s disappearance, and The New Yorker’s abandonment of any progressive pretense.

Keith Gessen is the brother of Masha Gessen, who recently published “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin”, a much publicized take-down of the Russian president.  Although she resides in the U.S., she is listed on Wikipedia as a member of the Russian democratic opposition, and is an ideal US talk show guest in these days of rising tensions with Russia.  Keith is her younger brother, the editor of a magazine with literary pretensions and author, at 38, of one novel. Keith went to Ukraine last winter and the style of his New Yorker piece perfectly illustrates a comment about him by Jonathan Franzen: “it’s so delicious the way he writes.” Gessen’s is an ideal style for delivering a sugar-coated nasty message.

The piece begins ominously: “The Russian border is a two-hour tank drive from Kiev” – where the writer is sipping tea in a cafe.  “‘Little green men’ is how people described Russian soldiers when they first showed up, unmarked and unannounced, in Crimea.”  Aside from the fact that most people would not describe Russians as ‘little’, under a 1997 Treaty between Russia and Ukraine

“The two countries established two independent national fleets, and divided armaments and bases between them.[2][3] Under the treaty Russia maintained the right to use the Port of Sevastopol in Ukraine for 20 years until 2017.[4] …The treaty also allowed Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems, 132 armored vehicles, and 22 military planes on the Crimean peninsula.”

President Putin has repeatedly referred to this treaty with reference to the popular vote that returned Crimea to Russia in March of this year, finally admitting that Russian troops normally confined to barracks had been sent out onto the streets, where as videos on the MSM show, they merely stood around. Hardly an invasion, and impossible to consider on the same level as the weeks of violence precipitated and orchestrated by trained fighters of the Neo-fascist organization Right Sektor in Kiev’s Maidan square, as boasted in Time magazine interview and that resulted in the flight of an elected Ukrainian president.

Gessen says Kiev’s anti-government protesters were armed with bats and sticks and Molotov cocktails.  Apparently, he has never seen pictures of Right Sektor fighters in uniforms with swastika-like insignia (known as Wolf angels) carrying long metal clubs and shields.  Describing the protesters’ tents on the Maidan he does mention ‘an exhibit of helmets, home-made cannons, shields, Molotov cocktails’. When it’s just an exhibit, it seems harmless….

Surprised to find the encampment still occupied weeks after the end of fighting, Gessen muses: “It was clear that some of the men had nowhere to go, or certainly, no place better than this. Here they were heroes, back home they were not.”  Touching human interest note about Neo-Nazi thugs. Gessen also admits that the revolution merely brought another set of standard politicians to power “Men in black suits emerged from gleaming black Mercedeses to attend sessions of parliament.”  Meanwhile, the activists were preparing for war, signing up men for the National Guard, Gessen muses, like students do for credit cards on US campuses.  “The idea of the Guard was to get aggressive young people off the Maidan, but it was also an attempt to raise some fighting forces, in the event of a Russian invasion….The Ministry of Defense was asking people to text it money.” (Another touching note about a regime backed by the most powerful nation on earth.)

Gessen obviously identified with the young people in the Maidan where “there was an openness to the political life of the country, a willingness to experiment, a desire to communicate that was rare anywhere, but especially rare in the cynical, impoverished post-Soviet space.”… Alas, he fails to mention – or perhaps doesn’t realize – that these people did not win the revolution – and those that did are not interested in ‘openness’ or ‘experiments’, but are muscular men who love violence.  Continuing: “The new Minister of the Interior wrote long updates on his Facebook page. Everyone was equal and anything was possible.”  Gessen obviously hasn’t a clue as to who this man, Arsen Arkov is. According to Voice of Russia.com:

“Russia’s Investigative Committee has issued a resolution to indict the governor of Ukraine’s Dnepropetrovsk Region, Igor Kolomoysky and parliament-appointed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov on charges of using prohibited means and methods of warfare,” IC spokesman Vladimir Markin told Itar-Tass.

“Under the criminal case… of first degree murder, interfering with the professional activity of journalists and kidnapping, a notice has been given of charges against Igor Kolomoyskyi and Arsen Avakov,” he said in a statement.

The charges refer to the kidnapping of Zvezda television channel journalists and the preceding illegal detention of journalists from the same channel, as well as several other Russian journalists.  The release went on to say that the government sought to identity the commanders and rank-and-file of the Ukrainian Armed forces, the National Guard of Ukraine and Right Sector militants who have participated in the military operation against civilians in the southeast of Ukraine. Markin said that nearly fifteen hundred people have been recognized as victims of prohibited acts of war in Ukraine.

For example in Odessa: In the final paragraph of his article, Gessen tosses off a reference to the events of May 2 which left over a hundred dead. Major press outlets reported that pro-Russian demonstrators had erected a tent in front of the Odessa Trade Union headquarters, and that when Right Sektor thugs came and set the tent on fire, protesters took refuge in the building.  The Right Sektor then threw Molotov cocktails through the windows, setting the building on fire, and beating to death protesters who jumped from windows.  Gessen’s version of events: Read the rest of this entry →

How Liberal Journalists Mislead Readers

8:28 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Editor’s Note: Discuss Deena Stryker’s Lunch With Fellini, Dinner With Fidel on August 2nd at the FDL Book Salon. Also see “Mohammad Javad Zarif: Iran is committed to a peaceful nuclear program” in today’s Washington Post.

Portrai of Zarif in a dark suit jacket with white shirt

A recent article on Iran’s nuclear negotiator shows how journalistic “objectivity” misleads.

The award-winning foreign policy journalist Robin Wright published a portrait of Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif in the May 20th issue of The New Yorker that is a set piece for high-level yet misleading journalism. Wright has extensive experience covering the Middle East and has written or edited several books on the subject. However she illustrates what many progressive readers have noticed as a recent rightward tilt to both the New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, an example of the latter being Timothy Snyder’s slant on events in Ukraine.

The first thing you notice about Wright’s article is that it carries a negative title: “The Adversary.” Then a subtitle that appears to contradict it: “Is Iran’s nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif for real?” This sets the tone for the entire piece, in which the writer struggles to maintain American journalism’s highest — but illusory — standard of ‘objectivity’ and its corollary ‘equal time,’ never letting her own opinion transpire.

When the new Iranian negotiator, appointed by a new President, tweeted ‘Happy Rosh Hashanah,’ Nancy Pelosi tweeted back: “The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.” Zarif responded: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”

Instead of giving him credit for this, Wright tells us that Kerry and Zarif, having met four times, now call each other by their first names, a breakthrough made possible by the fact that the Iranian diplomat spent his college years in the United States. (The second breakthrough was that the representatives involved in the six party negotiations to reach a deal over Iran’s nuclear activity now share news of their respective families.)

And yet Wright slides from the sub-title, ‘Is the negotiator for real,” to “Is the process for real and can it succeed?” referring to Iranian hardliners gathered for a ‘We’re worried’ conference at the US Embassy against concession that ends with “A woman in black chador carried a placard stating ‘Our nuclear rights are not for sale.’” Did she do this in front of the Embassy, or did she sit in the conference room with her placard?

Further muddying the waters, the following paragraph states: “For many Iranians, a nuclear deal is about a lot more than nukes. It would remove the threat of regime change by securing … the Iranian government as the legitimate representative of the iranian people.” This sentence implies: 1) That after twenty-five years, the regime has not been able to establish itself as legitimate, which is patently absurd, and 2) That most citizens of this highly nationalist country are willing to ‘sell their nuclear rights,’ which is also absurd. The paragraph ends with: “But it might also open Iran to the outside world in ways that affect the internal balance of power.” This positive-sounding statement in fact portends US-inspired regime change followed by IMF shock and awe.

Diane Feinstein’s appraisal of Zarif would appear to confirm Washington’s hope that he could be enlisted in the effort: “He is thoughtful. He is real. He wants to help his people and lead them in a different direction.” Chuck Hagel, who also met Zarif when he was Iran’s UN ambassador, is less threatening: “He can play an important role in helping to resolve our significant differences with Iran peacefully.” And yet, after telling us that even our former Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, told Zarif he would be missed at the UN, Wright apparently felt the need to correct any positive impression the reader might get from this:

“Yet in January Zarif met with Nasrallah in Lebanon” at the grave of a military commander who had been ‘linked’ to the 1983 bombing of the US military barracks in Lebanon. Diplomats in most parts of the world — including those of US allies — would agree with Zarif, who says: “In order to be able to practice dialogue, you need to be able to set aside your assumptions and try to listen more than you want to talk. I have disagreements with some [people] and more agreements with others. But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to those I disagree with.”

You’re not likely to hear a remark like that coming from an American political or diplomatic figure — much less a mainstream journalist. Yet Robin Wright cannot let this statement go by without framing it: “Some American critics don’t buy this. There are worse Islamic revolutionaries out there, but make no mistake, he’s an Islamic Revolutionary (meaning an ally of Nasrallah).” Quoting a former CIA officer now ensconced in a think tank: “[Zarif] understands the Islamic Revolution as being incompatible with the United States.” Incompatible with the all-knowing, exceptionalist United States! And he continues: “Only in the Byzantine (used as a slur) world of Islamic politics do the differences between Zarif and what some call hard-liners gain importance.”

Scope that out! This guy is declaring that if you’re a revolutionary, you’re automatically ‘a hard-liner.’ Were there not degrees of ‘hardness’ among American revolutionaries? Did the Founding Fathers all share the same degree of ferocity vis a vis the British Empire and King George, whom they had decided to no longer recognize as their ruler? History books out the window!

Read the rest of this entry →