Media Opinion Original Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence: This Week in Fake News / Artless Dodgers

Mark 6:4 

There is the case of Seymour Hersh, the great investigative reporter whose work vaults across the years from the My Lai massacre to the dirty war in Syria. Sy published at The New York Times until he reported and wrote too honestly, too pithily, too–in short–close to the truth. That is Sy’s calling card, writing what he sees and digs up, never mind what editors may think is “fit to print.” The man has sources the rest of the press corps can but dream of. 

When he proved too much for our friends on Eighth Avenue, Sy moved to The New Yorker. When he proved too much for The New Yorker, it was professional exile. The London Review of Books published Sy’s stuff for a while—until he proved too much for them. His last big piece, exposing the false-flag gas attack in Syria in April 2017, came out in Welt am Sonntag, the big Berlin Sunday paper. If you wanted to read it in English, you had to get the translation back from German. 

“A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house,” the Good Shepherd observed two millennia ago. That is from Mark; Luke and John had variant versions of the moment. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

Now we have the case of John Mearsheimer, another seer who sees too much for his own people to manage. Mearsheimer does a lot of his talking to the Europeans these days. Last week L’Express, the Paris weekly, published a long interview with him. It is full of insights you will never read this side of the Atlantic, regrettably. 

Can you get any more distinguished than the University of Chicago professor and acknowledged dean of the realist school of American foreign policy—“the pope,” as L’Express puts it? Mearsheimer is conservative in temperament but not always in outlook, having favored Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate for the 2020 election. But, again, he prefers to tell it like it is rather than telling it like the mavens of orthodoxy insist it is—a different thing, almost always. 

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Norton, 2001) and Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Oxford, 2011) are classics in the international relations game. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (FSG, 2007), co-authored with Stephen Walt, was predictably controversial, as any book on this topic is bound to be in America, but among the level-headed it is considered a tour de force. 

Then came the U.S.–cultivated coup in Ukraine on February 21, 2014. You knew there was going to be trouble when the fog machine immediately began insisting Washington had nothing to do with it, great hills of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Mearsheimer doesn’t do fog. That autumn he published in Foreign Af airs, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” The piece turned many heads, mine included—for what it said and where it appeared. 

So did Professor Mearsheimer set out on the long trans–Atlantic voyage to the pages of L’Express

You can still find his name in the mainstream dailies and magazines—but rarely as a byline. It almost always appears in pieces intent on taking him down. Here is Ross Douthat, the Times columnist who often seems to me to spread himself too thin to be of any interest, attempting, shortly after the Russian intervention in Ukraine, to discredit Mearsheimer’s analysis of who bears responsibility: 

“But now that Ukraine is, in fact, being wrecked by a Russian invasion, there’s a widespread view that his realist worldview lies in ruins too—that Mearsheimer has ‘lost his reputation and credibility’ (to quote the Portuguese thinker Bruno Maçães) and that the realist conception of nations as ‘pieces in a game of Risk’ with ‘eternal interests or permanent geopolitical orientations, fixed motivations or predictable goals’ (to quote Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic) should be discarded on the evidence of Vladimir Putin’s invasion and the Ukrainian response.” 

What codswallop, as the Brits put it. Anyone who quotes the unbalanced Applebaum on any topic having to do with Russia loses my trust straight off the top. Know this, readers, for what it is: This is a stealth attempt to remove politics and history from our understanding of events in favor of the Biden regime’s “democrats vs. authoritarians” ideological binary. As to that widespread view of Mearsheimer’s downfall, it is wishful thinking and no more among the Russophobic orthodox who propose airbrushing NATO expansion out of the Ukraine picture. 

Here are snippets from the interview in L’Express. I have here and there touched up a machine translation: 

“Mearsheimer: According to the established view in Western countries, this war was provoked by the imperialist ambitions of Vladimir Putin…. But there is no solid argument to support this thesis. On the other hand, there is no lack of evidence that what started this war was the West’s desire to make Ukraine a bulwark on the Russian border. Russia perceived this as an existential threat, which therefore had to be eliminated. 

“The Western strategy was based on three elements: first, to make this country a liberal democracy… second, to incorporate Ukraine into the European Union, and finally, and this is the most serious from Moscow`s point of view, to include Ukraine in NATO. This accession is absolutely unacceptable to the Russians. They did everything to reach an agreement excluding this possibility. But the United States refused to negotiate with Russia. The result is that Putin opted for war in order to solve this problem. 

“L’Express: But don’t the Ukrainians, who are part of a sovereign state, have the right to choose their own destiny, by wanting to be a liberal democracy? 

“Mearsheimer: This desire is of course justified. The problem is that Ukraine does not simply want to become a liberal democracy, but a pro–Western democracy destined to be integrated into the European Union and into NATO. In Russia`s eyes, that makes her an adversary. Without promises of membership in NATO and the European Union, a democratic Ukraine would not have been a problem for Putin. 

“L’Express: Your theory assumes that Russia is acting rationally. According to you, any Russian president, in a similar situation, would have acted in the same way. But hasn’t Putin, over the past few months, fallen into irrationality? 

“Mearsheimer: Putin is rational. The decision to invade Ukraine on February 24 was rational. Arguably, this was a bad decision, and that Putin should have pursued diplomacy rather than resorting to force. But he decided that military force was the solution. Time will tell if he was right to do so.”

A corollary point here. L’Express is as centrist as it gets in French journalism. Running Mearsheimer at this length suggests compellingly that his perspective on the Ukraine crisis, and his advocacy for a diplomatic settlement, enjoy far more support in Europe than the American press is inclined to report. 

I do not accept John Mearsheimer’s views on all foreign policy questions. He has China all wrong, in my view. But it is the clarity and balance evident in the above passages that are tragically missing from American discourse. Tragically: It is because thinkers such as Mearsheimer (and reporters such as Sy Hersh) are to be heard abroad but not at home that Americans are left in a state of near-darkness as to what is going on in the world and America’s true role in events. 

We cannot afford this. We cannot afford a delinquent press. Ignorance never works out to advantage. 

The Math in the Moon 

Carlotta Gall, The Times’s Istanbul bureau chief and now reporting from Ukraine, had a revealing piece over the weekend datelined Chasiv Yar. Chasiv Yar is a village in Donetsk province, the new front in the Russian intervention. Gall reported it suffered the deadliest of many attacks in the region, most of which seemed “random and without purpose.” To be noted straightaway: Senseless Russian attacks on civilians is the running theme in the major American dailies these days. 

“At least 15 people were reported dead,” Gall reported from the scene of an apartment complex that Russian rockets hit. Read this sentence again. Now you know why I never trust the passive voice. Who reported this, if we may know?

Further into Gall’s piece, we read that roughly 10 civilians were in the building, most of them older women. There was one woman whose grandson tried to persuade her to leave but she refused and appeared to be among the fatalities. 

Now it gets interesting. Apart from the 10 civilians, “members of the military had come to lodge there two days earlier,” Gall reported. As Gall’s piece went into The Times’s “Live Update” mode, the number of retrieved dead came to 24; two dozen people were still missing and eight had been rescued. 

Lots of numbers. What do they tell us? 

The Moon of Alabama, a prize-winning website published in Germany (and named after a famous Brecht song) that has excellent sources and a 15-year record of sound analyses of these kinds of things, did the math for us, and deserves full credit for it. “That makes for a total of 56 people hit by the strike of which possibly 10 were the resident pensioners,” MoA writes. “The other 46, then, were ‘members of the military [who] had come to lodge there two days earlier.’” 

On Monday, good old Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty upped the casualty count at the Chasiv Yar apartment block to 31. The minimum of 46 Ukrainian troops reported dead over the weekend now goes to a minimum of 53. 

What happened, then, at the apartment block in Chasiv Yar? 

By Gall’s account, some soldiers moved in. This appears a radical understatement, to the point it misleads us, for two reasons. One, the grandson must have had a good reason to urge Grandma out of her home—not something I ever asked my grandma to do. Two, by simple arithmetic, there were a minimum of 50 or so soldiers in the building at the time of the rocket attack, with 24 still missing and eight rescued. “Military vests and rucksacks and a broken rifle covered with dust lay on the ground under the trees,” Gall writes in a telling detail. 

Let me suggest what happened since Ms. Carlotta Gall is not inclined to tell us directly. These soldiers were not, I will say with brash confidence, visiting their grandmothers. 

Ukrainian forces appear to have occupied the building and cleared it of all but the most recalcitrant residents. They made it, in short, a base of operations. This no longer looks like a random, purposeless attack on civilians, does it? For its part, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that it deployed high-precision rockets against the “temporary deployment point of 118th Brigade of Territorial Defence of AFU.” AFU is the armed forces of Ukraine. 

There are wider implications here. If the above reckoning is correct, the Chasiv Yar incident matches rather precisely the accounts of correspondents elsewhere in Ukraine who are not reliant on Ukrainian sources for their reporting. The maternity hospital in Mariupol, the theater elsewhere in the city, the nursing home: These are among the locations marked down as Russian atrocities in Western news reports. Alternative accounts, rendered well before the Chasiv Yar incident, described Ukrainian troops forcing people out of these institutions, or in some cases holding them captive for use as shields, as they occupy these buildings as none other than “temporary deployment points.” 

Carlotta Gall ought to know better, given her bloodlines. She is the daughter of Sandy Gall, one of those gritty British correspondents who came of age covering World War II and went on to Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and various other conflicts. But she doesn’t seem to. I do not single out Gall’s piece as an exceptional case but as altogether typical of the delinquencies we find in the Western media’s daily reports from Ukraine. 

There appears to have been no authentically independent correspondents on the scene in Chasiv Yar. In other cases, those who keep official Ukrainian accounts of events in their proper place go to the locations of these events, interview and photograph victimized civilians, and come away with accounts very often perpendicular to Western press reports of Russian savagery. Alas, there are too few correspondents of this kind on the ground, leaving careful readers to chicken-scratch for the truth as I have done here. 

There is one other aspect of Gall’s report that deserves scrutiny. The Washington Post also filed from Chasiv Yar. So did wire-service reporters from Reuters and The Associated Press. This suggests these correspondents are on officially conducted tours—in essence embedded—and seeing only what Ukrainian officials want them to see. This is the sort of thing that happens when the North Koreans let correspondents in on restricted visas. 

There are two ways at this for the correspondent of integrity. Either you state prominently in your file the nature of the ruse and do the best you can, or you decline to participate. Let me add a third, actually: You break the rules whenever this alternative becomes available and see what you are not supposed to see. 

Nobody reporting Ukraine for the Western press is breaking any rules—either as they report or in what they file. It absolutely galls me, if you will excuse the expression, that we must read The Times and the other major dailies in this manner. You can wring the truth out of them with effort, though often this is impossible. And the truth here is they are not telling us the truth as they purport to report Ukraine.

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of Patrick Lawrence’s weekly media critic columnSee his previous columns below:

Patrick Lawrence: Blurred Truths

Patrick Lawrence: The Power of Images

Foreign Policy: The Warmonger’s Game

Patrick Lawrence
Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site

16 comments

    1. I had heard the same about opium fields in Afghanistan which the Taliban had forbidden. After the US came in opium became a major source of money, and the CIA has entrenched itself and allies in Latin America for profit. The Honduras Coup That Wasn’t, according to US officials, quickly resulted in a US puppet state/ narco state, like so many others (it’s called “American democracy”).
      With fentanyl being easy to make and smuggle, since it is 50-times more potent than heroin, maybe the CIA can focus on the drug market in the US and leave many other countries alone.

      1. There is a strong connection between private banksters and drugs. The Opium Wars were because the emperor had banned opium. The Anglo American Alliance (AAA?) was already in full swing. Because royalty of Europe had spent much of its extracted wealth on luxuries only available in the East, China had much gold. Opium was a way to get it back. The Forbes family as in John Forbes Kerry, the Delano family as in FDR and the Brown family as in Brown Univ. among others made their fortunes in the opium trade and then went into banking. Why work and risk your fortune when you can steal by lending at interest money created on the books and relax in the luxury and safety of your estate?
        The connection between Afghanistan and opium is blatant but not mentioned. You may be right that fentanyl is the reason the US relaxed its grip. Addiction and criminalization are two of the many ways the billionaire class control the dangerous 99%.

  1. “Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist.”
    Can’t follow Patrick Lawrence on Twitter. “Account Suspended.”
    The tech equivalent of “disappearing” Sy Hersh.
    Sigh. It just gets harder and harder to discover the truth.

  2. Thank you Lawrence for this clear sighted and prophetic look at this tragic war! Regrettably, every western leader, (with the exception of Pope Francis who is catching hell for calling for an end to fighting and return to diplomacy) mainstream media outlet, shallow politician has supported the canonization of the Ukrainian cause while Russia and Putin are demonized. Like they say, “The first casualty of war is the truth.” The people in the west like sheep follow their leaders down this path of folly barely a century after the end of the War to end all Wars. NATO and the western leadership may preside over the end of humanity not by ecocide (climate emergency) but militarism (nuclear war). These are the leaders we have chosen to guide humanity during this perilous time men not of vision or history but utter of the deepest ignorance Biden, Johnson, Trudeau, Macron! May God help us all.

    1. We didn’t choose these guys, Jeremiah. That is the problem in a nut shell. They chose themselves and pulled the wool over our eyes about their intentions.

  3. I appreciate the self-reflection in this article. And demure to his pathos.

    Every analysis of this war seems locked into an “Absurd Trolley Problem” (look it up) regarding what the Russians could do versus what they should do versus what they do do, so to speak.

    Clearly an acutely higher degree of seld-reflection is required.

    Every thoughtful take comes back to the thesis — the elephant on the table — of what is the relevance and purpose of NATO?

    Vietnam, Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq… Not to mention absurdities like the Falklands, NATO has no legs to stand on. It’s plain as day.

    Russia and China are thinking ‘what a bunch of f-ing hypocrites!’

    It’s like American Empire long ago lost its interest in what’s going on in the outer realms at anything other than a base CocaCola level and lets hacks run everything. And not just at the edges.

    It’s notable that the saner president of President of the USA stands behind his drug abusing son and affords him every nepotistic privilege of great power, including a stipend from an energy company in the contented region, while millions of his countrymen toil in prisons for the same offenses, my point being that those who make the policy, conduct the wars, live at great distances from the front-lines cosseted in privilege. And that the same President laments that his other son may have died as a result of being poisoned by “burn pits” routines used by US bases to dispose of their garbage by throwing into open holes near camp, pouring jet in, and setting it on fire and letting the acrid smoke pour into the air for the enjoyment of the troops.

    This is who we are as a nation. And it’s either this sane one or the Orange Monster, take your pick: Heee’s baaack!!

    Russia clearly has a border bone of contention. As to whether it justifies blowing up civilian apartments, seems a fair question for one of the great nations dealing with a bunch of hicks. But the word on the street is those hicks have, with American encouragement, been antagonizing the border for 20 years. And there seems to be a dutiful, if not respectful, acceptance of their prerogatives after the initial “fog”.

    I am struck by how useless a 1 trillion / annum US war machine is to saving those apartment dwellers, much like the self-styled Rambo police were basically useless in Uvalde as a kid tore up his classmates in a school using the same gear the police had prepared to fight him.

    Useless.

    The unspoken assumption is that if USA weren’t around, things would be even worse. The cops think this about themselves too: You need us.

    The object lesson is the life continues to be cheap, and many factors seem to overwhelm the prescribing of health and welfare.

    Yes Putin is rational, but he also is one of the cosseted, as are most around him. So if he pulls the lever and 6 of those die instead of a half-dozen of the other…

  4. One of the weaknesses I see in most commentary is the lack of information about resources in the countries in question. Do you think that Putin would declare war if he and his oligarch buddies would not get something out of it like coal, oil & gas, strategic metals, etc. and at the same time squelch competition? Putin is the oil and gas “daddy” of Europe and he obviously does not mind blowing up people to prove it. If he were “rational” he would have known that his actions would stimulate more additions to NATO and give U.S. oligarchs an excuse to sell weapons.

    Otherwise our honest news people, that consider integrity in reporting important, are suffering the fate of the biblical character “Jeremiah”. Unfortunately ‘structured hypocrisy’ seems to be the rule of the day.

    1. Your thinking like an American, not a Russian. For them this is not about plunder, it’s about survival.

    2. You’re off base, Beeline. Mr. Putin is clear when he speaks. He has not started this special military operation for anything other than the security of his country. As attacks go, the Russian army was sensitive to civilian casualties. Contrast this with the American invasion of Iraq. Shock and awe killed more civilians in the first month than Russia has killed throughout the current war.

  5. There is no bad journalism, there is no journalism at all among MSM. Assange case showed that fact vividly. They greedy are apparatchiks of power.

    What they are actually engaged in regarding Ukrainian war is vicious US state department driven psychological warfare identical in form to vicious psychological warfare against people including expert professionals who questioned COVID narrative, wanting see full picture or to share they own “frontline” experience.

    Almost none of MSM propagandists are experts on war or interacted with those soldiers on frontlines who as freely available YT videos show, mutinied or surrendered, accusing Kiev regime of sending them to their deaths to undefendable positions, to be abandoned by command often in cauldrons with nothing to defend themselves with.

    Story of deliberate and easily avoidable slaughter of de facto untrained, western Ukrainian civilians from Territorial Defense units with one Kalashnikov and three magazines of ammo facing professional Russian army won’t ever be told as it points to criminality of Kiev regime as well as NATO command. Neither story of overwhelming support for Russians in East and South East Ukraine where people waited to be liberated from Ukrainian discrimination and persecution of ethic Russians since 2014.

    In fact Sky News reporter explained to viewers apparent support of Russian forces among Ethnic Russians In Severodonetsk as Russian propaganda brainwashing in Ukraine that actually banned all Russian TV and radio stations as well as most publications in Russian language years ago.

    The MSM are brainwashed opportunists who are preoccupied not with tragic reality of war but their own journalistic careers addicted to self censorship and don’t even know that they are mentally enslaved fearful of looking away from lies to see the truth.

    1. I agree that there is no journalism at all.
      The US today is much like East Germany and the Stasi running things. We are only allowed the Official Narratives from State Media run increasingly on even trite subjects; as many others have noted we no longer have investigative journalists, we have State/CIA stenographers and teleprompter readers, which was leaglized with the abolition (“modernization”) of Smith Mundt, our anti-domestic propaganda Act. Additionally the Establishment is aiming its power at political opponents rather than at crime or other important issues. The US is now a technologically advanced, more subtle, Totalitarian Police State. They are already seizing assets of dissenters, as other “Democratic” countries are doing throughout the West.
      We can enjoy today contrasting opinions and in depth reporting from moonofalabama, theduran, thegrayzone, and many YouTube personalities, but like consortiumnews and Jackson Hinkle (and Lawrence, and worst of all Julian Assange) all dissent is under attack and will be stomped out over the next decade by our psychopaths who are running/ ruining things.

    2. I’m curious as to who will claim the property left behind by the refugees and the dead

  6. as more of an observer than an expert in FA, one must connect the dots; US foreign policy is so shoddily rationalized that is almost transparent due to its weak unsupported evidence, self aggrandizing, shams, smoke & mirrors….
    The mindless wars since 9-11 have been truly insane. One might suspect that the real threat is against our own country,
    Damn democracy.
    Brought to you by our own blind government

  7. I agree that Russia’s decision to attack Ukraine was rational. I believe that Putin performed a coat-benefit analysis and went ahead with the invasion, even though there were risks. Perhaps he underestimated Ukrainian and Western resistance and overestimated Russian military performance. Perhaps current Russian achievements were the goals all along. We shall see how this turns out.

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