The U.S. news media flip-flops on whether
international law is inviolate or can be brushed
aside at America’s whim – and similarly whether
killing civilians is justified or not depending on
who’s doing the killing, says Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
- Over the past few decades, the U.S. mainstream
media has failed the American people in a historic
fashion by spinning false or misleading narratives
on virtually every important global issue,
continuing to this day to guide the nation into
destructive and unnecessary conflicts.
To me, a
major turning point came with the failure of the
major news organizations to get anywhere near the
bottom of the Iran-Contra scandal, including its
in illicit contacts between Republicans and
Iranians during the 1980 campaign and
the Reagan administration’s collaboration with
drug traffickers to support the Contra war
in Nicaragua. (Instead, the major U.S. media
disparaged reporting on these very real scandals.)
unsavory stories had been fully explained to the
American people, their impression of Ronald Reagan
and George H.W. Bush would be far less favorable and
the rise of Reagan’s neocon underlings might well
have been halted. Instead the neocons consolidated
their dominance over Official Washington’s foreign
policy establishment and Bush’s inept son was
allowed to take the White House in 2001.
might have thought that the disastrous invasion of
Iraq in 2003 – justified by a legion of lies – would
have finally doomed the neocons but, by then, they
had deeply penetrated the national news media and
major think tanks, with their influence reaching not
only across the Republican Party but deeply into the
Democratic Party as well.
the Iraq catastrophe, almost nothing changed. The
neocons and their liberal interventionist chums
continued to fabricate narratives that have led the
United States into one
mess after another, seeking more and more “regime
change” and brushing aside recommendations for
peaceful resolution of international crises.
As part of
this phenomenon, there is profound cognitive
dissonance as the rationales shift depending on the
neocons’ tactical needs. From one case to the next,
there is no logical or moral consistency, and the
major U.S. news organizations go along, failing
again and again to expose these blatant hypocrisies.
government can stand for a “rules-based” world when
that serves its interests but then freely violate
international law when it’s decided that
“humanitarian warfare” trumps national sovereignty
and the United Nations Charter. The latter is
particularly easy after a foreign leader
has been demonized in the American
press, but sovereignty becomes inviolate in other
circumstances when Washington is on the side of the
Bush’s administration and the mainstream media
justified invading Iraq, in part, by accusing Saddam
Hussein of human rights violations. The obvious
illegality of the invasion was ignored or dismissed
as so much caviling by “Saddam
apologists.” Similarly, the Obama administration and
media rationalized invading Libya in 2011 under the
propagandistic charge that Muammar Gaddafi was
planning a mass slaughter of civilians (though he
said he was only after Islamic terrorists).
same media looks the other way or make excuses when
the slaughter of civilians is being done by
“allies,” such as Israel against Palestinians or
Saudi Arabia against Yemenis. Then the U.S.
government even rushes more military supplies so the
bombings can continue.
The view of
terrorism is selective, too. Israel, Saudi Arabia
and other U.S. “allies” in the Persian Gulf have
aided and abetted terrorist groups, including Al
Qaeda’s Nusra Front, in the war against the largely
secular government of Syria. That support for
violent subversion followed the U.S.
media’s demonization of Syrian President Bashar
trying to avoid another Iraq-style morass, President
Obama faces heavy criticism from neocon-dominated
Washington for not doing more to force “regime
change” in Syria, although he actually has
authorized shipments of sophisticated U.S. weaponry
to the supposedly “moderate” opposition, which often
operates under Nusra’s command structure.
words, it’s okay to intervene overtly and covertly
when Official Washington wants to do so, regardless
of international law and even if that involves
complicity with terrorists. But it’s different when
the shoe is on the other foot.
In the case
of Ukraine, any Russian assistance to ethnic Russian
rebels under assault from a Ukrainian military that
includes neo-Nazi battalions, such as
the Azov brigade, is impermissible.
International law and a “rules-based” structure must
be defended by punishing Russia.
news media failed its readers again with its
one-sided coverage of the 2014 coup that overthrew
elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who had
undergone another demonization process from U.S.
officials and the mainstream press. So, the major
U.S. news outlets cheered the coup and saw nothing
wrong when the new U.S.-backed regime announced an
“Anti-Terrorism Operation” – or ATO – against ethnic
Russian Ukrainians who had voted for Yanukovych and
considered the coup regime illegitimate.
Western media, the “white-hatted” coup regime in
Kiev could do no wrong even when its neo-Nazi storm
troopers burned scores of ethnic Russians alive in
Odessa and spearheaded the ATO in the east.
Everything was Russia’s fault, even though there was
no evidence that President Vladimir Putin had any
pre-coup role in destabilizing the political
situation in Ukraine.
evidence was clear that
the U.S. government was the one seeking “regime
change.” For instance, Assistant Secretary
of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland was
caught on an intercepted phone call conspiring with
U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt regarding who should
take power – “Yats is the guy,” she said about
Arseniy Yatsenyuk – and discussing how to “midwife”
and “glue this thing.” The coup followed a few weeks
later, with Yatsenyuk emerging as the new prime
news media acts as if it is the unquestionable right
of the U.S. government to intervene in the internal
affairs of countries all over the world – whether
through subversion or military invasion – but the
U.S. media then gets outraged if anyone dares to
resist Washington’s edicts or tries to behave in any
way similar to how the U.S. government does.
regarding Ukraine, when neighboring Russia
intervened to prevent massacres in the east and to
let the people of Crimea vote in a referendum on
seceding from the new regime in Kiev, the U.S.
government and media accused Putin of violating
international law. National borders, even in the
context of a violent coup carried out in part by
neo-Nazis, had to be respected, Official Washington
piously announced. Even the 96 percent will of
Crimea’s voters to rejoin Russia had to be set aside
in support of the principle of state sovereignty.
words, if Putin shielded these ethnic Russians from
violent repression by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists,
he was guilty of “aggression” and his country needed
to be punished with harsh sanctions. U.S. neocons
soon began dreaming of destabilizing Russia and
pulling off another “regime change,” in Moscow.
the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime prosecuted its ATO,
bringing heavy armaments to bear against the eastern
Ukrainian dissidents in a conflict that has claimed
some 10,000 lives including many civilians. The
Ukrainian conflict is one of the worst bloodlettings
in Europe since World War II, yet the calls from
neocons and their liberal-hawk pals is to arm up the
Ukrainian military so it can – once and for all –
crush the resistance.
the crisis, New York Times columnist Nicholas D.
Kristof, who has cultivated a reputation as a caring
humanitarian, was eager to send more weapons to the
Kiev regime and to western Ukrainians (who include
his father’s relatives) so they could kill their
ethnic Russian neighbors in the east – or “go
bear-hunting,” as Kristof
put it. By calling Russians “bears,”
Kristof was likening their slaughter to the killing
a recent column, Kristof takes a very
different posture regarding Syria, where he wants
the U.S. military to invade and create so-called
“safe zones” and “no-fly zones” to prevent the
Syrian army and air force from operating against
means one thing in Ukraine, even following a coup
that removed the elected president. There, national
borders must be respected (at least after a pro-U.S.
regime had been installed) and the regime has every
right kill dissenters to assert its authority. After
all, it’s just like hunting animals.
sovereignty means something else in Syria where the
U.S. government is called on to intervene on one
side in a brutal civil war to prevent the government
from regaining control of the country or to obviate
the need for a negotiated settlement of the
conflict. In Syria, “regime change” trumps all.
column, Kristof noted other conflicts where the
United States supposedly should have done more,
calling the failure to invade Syria “a stain on all
of us, analogous … to the eyes averted from Bosnia
and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s.”
the selectivity of Kristof’s moral outrage. He
doesn’t call for a U.S. invasion of Israel/Palestine
to protect the Palestinians from Israel’s periodic
“mowing the grass” operations. Nor does he suggest
bombing the Saudi airfields to prevent the kingdom’s
continued bombing of Yemenis. And, he doesn’t
protest the U.S.-instigated slaughter in Iraq where
hundreds of thousands of people perished, nor does
he cite the seemingly endless U.S. war in
other mainstream pundits, Kristof tailors his
humanitarianism to the cause of U.S. global
dominance. After all, how long do you think Kristof
would last as a well-paid columnist if he advocated
a “no-fly zone” inside Israel or a military
intervention against Saudi Arabia?
differently, how much professional courage does it
take to pile on against “black-hatted” U.S.
“enemies” after they’ve been demonized? Yet, it was
just such a “group think” that cleared the way for
the U.S. invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein,
a decision embraced by “liberal hawks” as well as
neoconservatives and touching off mass suffering
across the Mideast and now into Europe. Some
estimates put the Iraqi dead at over one million.
worth remembering how The New Yorker, The New York
Times and other supposedly “liberal” publications
hopped on George W. Bush’s Iraq War bandwagon. They
became what Kristof’s former boss, Bill Keller,
dubbed “the I-Can’t-Believe-I‘m-a-Hawk Club.”
(Keller, by the way, was named the Times executive
editor after the Iraq WMD claims had been
debunked. Like many of his fellow hawks, there was
no accountability for their gullibility or
not join the club at that time but signed up later,
urging a massive bombing campaign in Syria after the
Obama administration made now
largely discredited claims accusing
Bashar al-Assad’s government of launching a sarin
gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
We now know
that President Obama pulled back from those bombing
plans, in part, because he was told by U.S.
intelligence analysts that they doubted Assad was
responsible. The preponderance of evidence now
points to a provocation by Al Qaeda-connected rebels
to trick the United States into intervening in the
civil war on their side, but the mainstream U.S.
media continues to report as “flat fact” that Obama
failed to enforce his “red line” against Assad using
Kristof-endorsed bombing campaign in 2013 might well
have played into Al Qaeda’s hands (or those of the
Islamic State) and thus unleashed even a worse
tragedy on the Syrian people, the columnist is still
advocating a U.S. invasion of Syria, albeit dressed
up in pretty “humanitarian” language. But it should
be clear that nice-sounding words like “safe zones”
are just euphemisms for “regime change,” as we saw
in Libya in 2011.
news media also often “forgets” that Obama has
authorized the training and arming of so-called
“moderate” Syrian rebels with many of them absorbed
into the military command of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front
and with sophisticated U.S. weapons, such as
TOW anti-tank missiles, showing up in the
arsenals of Nusra and its jihadist allies.
words, beyond the selective outrage about morality
and international law, we see selective reporting.
Indeed, across American journalism, there has been a
nearly complete abandonment of objectivity when it
comes to reporting on U.S. foreign policy. Even
liberal and leftist publications now bash anyone who
doesn’t join the latest version of “the
that as the neocon-dominated foreign policy
establishment continues to push the world toward
ever greater catastrophes, now including plans to
destabilize nuclear-armed Russia (gee, how could
that go wrong?), the U.S. news media is denying the
American people the objective information needed to
rein in the excesses.
nothing has been learned from the Iraq War disaster
when the U.S. government cast aside negotiations and
inspections (along with any appreciation of the
complex reality on the ground) in favor of
tough-guy/gal posturing. With very few exceptions,
the U.S. media simply went along.
pro-war posturing has spread deeply within the
Democratic Party and even among some hawkish
leftists who join in the fun of insulting the few
anti-war dissenters with the McCarthyite approach of
accusing anyone challenging the “group think” on
Syria or Russia of being an “Assad apologist” or a
Democratic National Convention, some of Hillary
Clinton’s delegates even chanted “USA, USA” to drown
out the cries of Bernie Sanders’s delegates, who
pleaded for “no more war.” On a larger scale, the
mainstream U.S. news media has essentially ignored
or silenced anyone who deviates from the neocon-dominated
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of
the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and
Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book,
Narrative, either in print
as an e-book (from