Media Criticism Opinion Original Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence: Atrocity Porn

Ukrainian forensic experts dig and exhume the remains within an unmarked grave in a mass grave in Izyum. (Photo by Justin Yau/ Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost

The Russian army shelled its own detention center in the east of Ukraine. The Russian army shelled a nuclear power plant it has guarded since taking control of it last March. The Russian army wantonly shelled a maternity ward, a theater, and an art center in Mariupol last spring. The Russian army shells hospitals and apartment houses everywhere and randomly. The Russian army massacred residents of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, as it withdrew in the final days of March.

And last Friday we had news that the Russian army slaughtered hundreds of people in Izyum before its recent withdrawal from the city. There is a mass grave to prove it, just as Ukrainian police discovered a mass grave outside of Mariupol last spring.

“Ukrainian authorities have found a mass grave of more than 400 bodies in the eastern city of Izium that was recaptured from Russian forces, a regional police official said on Thursday…” This was what Reuters reported last Friday morning. In its third paragraph. A police investigator is quoted thus: “I can say it is one of the largest burial sites in a big town in liberated [areas]…440 bodies were buried in one place.”    

This is atrocity porn, and it is getting monotonous. So are a couple of other things.

“Ukrainian officials say,” “according to Ukrainian officials,” “senior Ukrainian officers said,” “Ukrainian troops reported,” “the Ukrainian mayor said in an interview,” “police officers say.” This is getting monotonous, too, given whatever these sources say or report or assert is played back to readers and viewers as factually so.

The absence of evidence supporting Ukrainian accounts of Russia’s responsibility for these events: This is also getting monotonous, So are vigorous assertions that there must be and will be full and impartial investigations into these matters, except that there is never any effort to conduct such investigations. The investigations of Ukrainians are treated as full and impartial. 

There is one other thing that grows monotonous as we read the work of Western correspondents working in Ukraine, most of whom cover the conflict on guided tours the Kyiv regime conducts and by quoting Ukrainian sources as if they are objective and reliable. This is Western media’s habit of appointing themselves judges in war-crimes tribunals and convicting Russian forces on all charges. This practice does not rise even to the level of the old show trials.

I have previously considered the diabolic uses to which images and language are put when the objective is to manipulate public perceptions. What the press and broadcasters offered us from Izyum last Friday is more than a case in point. It demonstrates the extraordinary extent to which the Kyiv regime and its Western supporters wage two wars. There is the war on the ground, where Ukraine has just made considerable gains, although these were achieved in a region where there was next to no resistance and they do not appear to have altered the overall course of the war. And there is the war by propaganda—the assault on our minds with the objective of occupying them. This latter war is without relent. Regrettably, its progress is in the favor of those waging it.  

“Ukraine war: Mass exhumations at Izyum forest graves site:” This is the headline on the BBC’s report, written from Izyum by Orla Guerin. The text is heavy on the atmospherics and gives prominence to a prosecutor from the Kyiv Justice Ministry:

The exhumation was conducted mostly in silence, as police and prosecutors looked on. One officer put his head in his hands. Another walked away.

Kharkiv regional prosecutor Olexander Ilyenkov says there is no doubt war crimes have been committed here.

“In the first grave, there is a civilian who has a rope over her neck. So we see the traces of torture,” he told the BBC.

He said almost everyone died because of Russian soldiers.

“Some of them were killed, some were tortured, some were killed because of Russian Federation air and artillery strikes.”

Look at the pictures. One shows nine men identified as emergency workers, standing in a forest wearing protective gear and holding shovels. Another depicts a makeshift grave marker: a wooden crucifix numbered “203” and indicating a death date in clear, unweathered script, “19.04.22.” There is a photograph of a sad-faced man named Hryhorii, whose wife, according to the BBC, was killed during an artillery strike last March. Hryhorii buried her at home, but then buried her again in August for reasons unexplained.

What do we have here? We have a surfeit of melodramatic description, rendered without much subtlety. We have the remarks of a Ukrainian official whose presence or absence in Izyum during the events in question is not noted. And then the images. They show us men with shovels in a forest, an inscribed grave marker, and a sad old man.

We are invited by way of strong inference to conclude that Russian forces committed more war crimes in Izyum during the months they held it. Do the things we have been shown and told support this?  

Not by a long way. We know nothing about the situation in Izyum in the way of chronology, causality, or responsibility. And immediately there are problems of this kind.

We are prompted to wonder about the dated crucifix, as mass graves by definition do not have markers honoring the individual dead. We wonder who was responsible for the death of Hryhorii’s wife: She was killed on March 7, and Russian forces did not take Izyum until later that month. But the BBC is not going to help us out on these points.   

The BBC urges us to convict the Russian army of the many murders it purports to show us by way of the graves and the emergency workers and a mourning survivor. But the Beeb customarily goes long on innuendo, suggestion, and implication. It is careful to put the conclusive judgment in the mouths of a prosecutor and others it quotes as witnesses.   

The New York Times covered the mass-grave story along with the BBC. For once The Times’s correpondents acknowledged that Ukrainian officials shepherded them and other Western media to the site in the Izyum forest. And The Times is equally careful in its rendering of judgments, letting people it puts forward as witnesses articulate them. But in the matter of pictures, it is more extravagant than the Beeb, as is its new mode in much of its foreign reporting.

The Times report was first published in its “Live update” format under the headline, “Russian Invasion of Ukraine: As Investigators Exhume the Dead in Izium, a Ruined City Reels From Loss.” I read the version available at 11:39 am Friday morning. Readers may find that the link I have provided leads to later versions of The Times’s report.

“Ukrainian investigators on Friday began exhuming hundreds of bodies found after Russian forces fled the city of Izium in disarray last weekend.” This is how Andrew Kramer begins his report. The attribution that follows as Kramer describes what happened is familiar to us: It is “Ukrainian officials said.” He writes, properly if in his eighth paragraph, that he is witnessing what these officials “claimed was evidence of more atrocities by Russian soldiers.”

Kramer quotes Dmytro Lubinets, the Kyiv legislature’s commissioner for human rights, who tells him the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers were “heaped into a bunch and buried.” Lubinets elaborates, “The world should see this place. For us, it shows the Russians made a crime, and not only a crime but genocide of the Ukrainian population. In this place we see women and children.”

Kramer lets the remarks of Lubinets, who seems to be one of the officials making claims, stand without qualification. Further in, we have Raisa Derevianko, a retiree “who lived across the street from the grave site [and] said that the Russians would bring the dead to the forest nearly every night.” Raisa Derevianko continues, “We didn’t see who they were burying. One huge hole was stinking.”

And then The Times’s pictures. One shows three workers in protective suits placing a white body bag in a row with numerous others. Another shows dozens of the emergency workers with shovels we saw in the BBC report. There are several pictures of white-suited workers digging along a long, broad trench. There is one that shows an area cordoned off with police tape, behind which are many rows of the wooden crucifixes of the kind we saw in the BBC’s photographs.

What has The Times told us and shown us? We know from The Times not much more, if anything more, than what we learned from the BBC report. We have images, and we have words and quotations used to create more images. It is again hopelessly inconclusive.

But we think we know the Russians have once again behaved cruelly and viciously. And this is what we are supposed to think we know as we go about our days.

Some Western correspondents have reported from Izyum as if they wear the black robes of jurists. Reuters has been especially reckless, in all likelihood because it works closely with M.I.6 to spread anti–Russian propaganda, a relationship that is well-documented—as is the BBC’s, for that matter. Reuters reports of a mass grave of 440 bodies are completely untrue. Later on Friday the agency reported that many of the bodies found at the “mass burial site”—it is no longer a mass grave—were disinterred with ropes around their necks. Reuters withdrew that story within hours.

A short while later The Telegraph reported that its correspondent had found no evidence to support Ukrainian claims of large body counts—one official asserted they had found 1,000 bodies—and none indicating that any of the victims had been tortured.

The New York Times and the BBC are not typically so cautious in their assertions and attributions of responsibility as they have so far proven in Izyum. The Times is on the record in one of its “special reports” as documenting Russian war crimes in the Bucha case when it has done no such thing and as there has been no impartial investigation of events there last spring. 

As it turns out, The Times and the Beeb have reason to be careful this time. What appears to have occurred in Izyum during Russia’s occupation and what is now being discovered stand in direct contradiction to the assertions of the Ukrainians they quote to establish a clear version of events without putting their names to it.

An Associated Press video shot in Izyum during the Ukrainian authorities’ guided tour last week reports there is a single mass grave containing the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers, not civilians and not hundreds or a thousand. “It was surrounded by hundreds of individual graves,” The AP notes in a superimposed caption.

This starts to resemble the scam the Ukrainians attempted to put over when, last spring, they led Western media to a mass grave outside of Mariupol that was supposed to contain 9,000 bodies. As Eva Bartlett has ably established, the mass grave was nothing more than an orderly, undisturbed cemetery.

As to the 17 Ukrainian soldiers, Russian media reported months ago that Russian forces proposed several times to establish safe-passage corridors allowing the Armed Forces of Ukraine to collect their dead and give them proper burials. The AFU refused all such offers and declined to remove the corpses of its fallen, according to these media. Russian forces, in consequence, interred the 17 soldiers in a cemetery with, by the most reliable count, roughly 200 individual graves.

This report from a Russian news site includes Russian-language text covering these events and video that appears to show Russian soldiers preparing the 17 bodies for burial.

Monotonous, as I say.

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. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon siteHis Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.

43 comments

  1. So sorry that you find the serial war crimes being committed by Russia monotonous. Perhaps some other topics might be more titillating.

      1. Agree Mav. This is what strong Kool-aid and blind nationalism does to too many. Imagine – how would it feel to be on the receiving end of our insane war ways ? All the victims are my brothers and sisters. Be well.

    1. JOURNALISTS AS WITNESSES

      @S.A.S.:
      Did you even read the article? Perhaps you know a priori what is or isn’t true and therefore don’t have to read it. Mr. Lawrence’s point was just the opposite of your apparent assumption.

      Which was not that it’s “titillating,” but rather because these events are so horrific they cannot be broadcast as if entertainment. As if like movies or TV shows where the higher the body count or the more outrageous the crime, the more attention they get.

      Serious conflicts warrant the best investigative journalism. Our opinions depend on whether or not we have accurate information from seasoned foreign correspondents who are eye witnesses to what they’re reporting.

    2. Have you even read the article? Or weighed up the likelihood of Ukrainians’ motives for blaming everything on their declared energy? Or the fact that the “MSM” are just propaganda outlets for the western empire? I think not.

  2. Talk about playing fast and loose with the truth!

    The truth is we don’t know exactly who did the bombing. That said, I tend to favor Scott Ritter’s preliminary assessment which is that Russia didn’t bomb itself (the idea that they would is pretty absurd). Instead, it would appear that Ukraine bombed the prison (with U.S. support) with the goal being to eliminate the possibility of prisoners providing first person accounts of war crimes. As for the nuclear power plant, it would appaear that Ukraine is behind that bombing as well (again, why would Russia bomb itself?). Anyone stating unequivocally what happened is lying.

    1. I have found the simple formula for finding the truth, or at least a large part of it.

      Step one: Listen to what western major media is saying.

      Step two: Assume the exact opposite.

      Been doing it pretty much since 9/11 and it has been an incredibly accurate method of learning the truth. This simple method has repeatedly been validated over time. Another similar formula is for listening to any American politician of any party. It works great too.

      It’s all illusion, delusions….and projection.

  3. This morning MSNBC had an interview with an English speaking soldier who repeated the war crimes and torture stories and added again about Russian soldiers raping babies to the point of death. Also he claimed that the Russian troops consist of criminals allowed out of jail to fight. It is getting to the point of overkill with all these claims. We heard terrible things supposedly done by Assad each time his side got ahead in the battle. And don’t forget the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter testifying that Iraqi or was it Irani soldiers throwing babies out of the hospital containers to the floor.

  4. The American public is used to.being.lied to.They.would not know.the truth.if it.hit them.in the face.To.acknowledge some.of the lies from mass media and.Government would require facing.some.truths about.themselves.

  5. When I was a kid I remember reading about the Nazis. I wondered what it would feel like to be living in Nazi Germany and listening to all the propaganda, and seeing everyone around me hypnotized by it, when I had access to the truth. Now I know what it feels like.

  6. OMG, Patrick. Please stop your defense of the Russians. It is appalling because you are indirectly supporting their aggression. No war is just and no violence is justified, let alone the mass killing of innocent people. Where is your brain?

    1. Look into how many US/NATO missiles were shot across the border into Russia, hitting Russian towns, before Russia finally crossed that border — responding to Zelensky’s aggression. Some of us were paying attention all along, watching every step since the US so effectively ensured that Zelensky would become Ukraine’s president.

    2. He’s defending the truth, not the Russians. You apparently are utterly unfamiliar with what the US has been doing via criminal wars and the overthrowing of elected governments ( like in Kyiv in 2014). You have been successfully propagandized. Your childish naivete is astounding, but unsurprising. And, it’s “Mr. Lawrence” to you, sonny.

      1. Excellent response to “Tom”. Saves me the bother of typing more or less the same thing. Another who appears not to have even read the piece.

    3. Nazis are red hot; Russians ain’t doodley-squat.
      Lean to the Left; Lean to the Right.
      Stand up. Sit down. Fight-fight-fight.

      Exhilaratingly vicarious… now it’s time to check on your investments…

    4. A person has to wonder if you were crying the same tune when we invaded Iraq.

      For some reason I think not.

      I think your brainwashed and incapable of critical thought.

    5. OMG Tom! Your criticism of Patrick is ridiculous nonsense! Apparently you haven’t followed the turn of events since the US led coup in Kiev in 2014, and American and the flunky NATO countries who supported the overthrow of a democratically elected President and support of the anti-Russian, pro-Nazi Right Sector political party and the Ukrainian Nazis and their bombardment of the Russian speaking southeastern part of that nation, called the Donbass Region who literally begged the Russian Federation to send in troops besides supplies, as the UKONAZIS bombed portions of their cities , with an estimated casualty list of 14,000 victims. Finally, in February, the Russian government finally had the courage to send in troops. It is not a Soviet invasion as the MSM bottom feeders call it, but common sense and to protect Russia’s border with the Ukraine. Most commenters, including myself, and are much more educated and knowledgeable than me praise Mr. Lawrence for his wise, insightful, and analytical “brain” in writing unbiased articles for the general public. Go easy on the Kool-Aid my friend!

  7. inevitably the american war crimes committed in Ukraine are distorted to blame Russians—it is no surprise that americans aligns themselves with nazis; this is the entire history of the USA

  8. This must be the only “mass grave” in the long sad history of massacres and atrocities that’s marked so respectfully (by the massacre perpetrators?) with crosses. Thanks for your sane reporting and analysis, Patrick Lawrence.

  9. “The absence of evidence supporting Ukrainian accounts of Russia’s responsibility for these events: This is also getting monotonous . . .”.

    Indeed it is – as we’re treated as goldfish.
    It works as we’re been treated to over 100 years of anti-Russian Western propaganda.
    Over 100 years of anti-Chinese Western propaganda as well.
    The British Defense Department admits to it but who reads their publications?

    Mentioned here though in this essay . . . https://les7eb.substack.com/p/ukraine-notes-the-long-proxy-war-67b

    Many find it incredulous (conspiracy theory paradigms) that the Defense Establishment, the Intelligence Agencies and the Government author much mainstream reporting – in the Mainstream Media.
    The independent media, like Scheerpost and others, are a persistent threat to them and so long as they do not draw too many readers, they will not be put out of action.
    But then, you never know . . .

  10. As proved to be true with every war of this era, Americans were misinformed about Ukraine, since at least 2014. As briefly as possible, it would be more accurate to see Ukraine in terms of a civil war, Zelensky’s (US-funded) right wing forces in the north and west vs. eastern and southern Ukraine, with its sizable ethnic-Russian population. These bombings have been by Zelensky’s forces on cities in eastern Ukraine. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, for example, is Ukrainian, in eastern Ukraine, insanely targeted by Zelensky. These locations are not Russian owned or controlled. They are Ukrainian. To get a clearer understanding, picture if a US president decided to wage a war on Mexican Americans.

  11. As terrible as military warfare is (especially to the innocent civilians caught in the middle – and at times, even used as human shields (as the Ukrainians have done with Donbass residents), sometimes i think the greatest, perhaps most long-lasting horror is the overwhelming tide that is the propaganda war. For it is used to destroy democracy not only in the contested area, but throughout the globe.

    Reuters, BBC, PBS/NPR, CNN/MSNBC/ MSN/ NY Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, what have you: all are complicit and willing parties to the spread of propaganda . They cheerfully fulfill their roles as unquestioning stenographers and mouthpieces for the U.S. Security State – the expanded version of what President Ike had first called “the Military-Industrial Complex, now better known to some as MICiMATT since the obvious inclusion of Congress, the politicized intel Agencies, Media, Academia and Think-Tanks.

    All continue the pretense of standing for democracy , truth and justice, even as they work overtime to undermine all. I only wish I could believe in the notion of a Hell that waits for the most evil, for it might provide a bit of solace. Still, I think names must be kept and the truth eventually told.

  12. Just ghost stories for the campers gathered around the firelight TV.
    Now brush your teeth and pee, and have pleasant dreams.
    New police cars chase the Homeless away all night.
    More news of Triumph and Heroism starting at 4:30 am.
    We make the news and the traffic and the shootin’s and the economy for your entertainment. We flail our arms and shake our heads yes without even hearing the copy we read. It’s a great job.

    Thanks for confirming our suspicions, Patrick Lawrence.

  13. Kiev regime is fighting total war. Engaged in total psychological warfare.

    Reality does no matter only impact on Western, Ukrainian and Russian public. Not a single statement that coming from Kiev is true mostly by straight lying content while the rest of lies are by lying context and huge omission. Kiev and western backers are engaged in white, gray and black propaganda.

    All of western media parroting of Kiev lies are veiled by innuendos, pure unsupported conjectures, non sequitur false arguments and bandwagon fallacies, hasty, baseless generalizations, Ad ignorantum arguments and attacks on Putin ad hominem.

    Example of such war propaganda is western regurgitation of hatred to Putin as they incessantly repeat that Putin’s a Pariah or as Biden publicly put it a thug. And hence he must have order murder of Ukrainian civilians and tortured soldiers and hence he should face war crime trial.

    Everything fits psychological warfare requirements and everything is a blatant lie such as he must have ordered shelling of Zaporoze NPP, he must have ordered Bucha killings, attack Kramatorsk rail station and shelling Donetsk as he hates Ukrainians.

    The recent lie involved baseless assertion that since Russian were in Izyum they must have committed crimes as they are like Putin blood thirsty thugs.

    And this western/Ukrainian ad hominem attack on Putin did not begun in February 2022 but in May 2014. In May Putin was accused of invading Donbas and in July ordering downing of Malaysian airplane MH17 with no shred of evidence in Ukrainian possession as Malaysian aviation authorities found out a year later.

    But that was enough to call Putin a Pariah by Newsweek in summer and other western parrots that supported CIA/state department Kiev coup of February 2014 aimed at derailing signed agreement between EU and Yanukovitch to hold new elections Nazis who came to power in Kiev were not be able to win in a country of 22 millions of ethnic Russians.

    Based on such unsubstantiated accusations Russia was severely sanctioned by EU that actually lost hundreds of billions in profits from Russia while US in fact imposed only mild sanctions and in fact 50% increased trade in following few years.

    Again today like in 2014 EU was screwed by US and had to pay for US organized Kiev coup and its Nazi policies of apartheid.

    Such a western brainwashing is a proof that NATO is engaged in war total against Russia in order to destroy it economically as well as in propaganda realm to overthrow Putin rule.

    And what more important it proves that western media is today a monolith presenting itself to be diverse and independent while in fact they are simply government serving agencies aimed at supporting government policies.

  14. Thank heavens for the truth-tellers. The PTB are after them with a vengeance. We must be as stalwart and brave as they and stand up for them and support them everyday. Mr. Lawrence is one.

  15. EDWARD BERNAYS WOULD BE PROUD

    I was talking to my mom about a reply I did on another post which had elicited response by a defender of “centrism.” That person, whose florid argument was mostly ad hominem, assertion, and distraction, did a link to an article on Daily Kos.

    I read it, and several others there. I was actually shocked by the prevalent tone–lurid, overblown, and seldom rational. Perhaps the Dems who seem to have made peace with endless war are right that all Russians are evil and all Ukrainians good.

    But why this need for shrill irrationality? Where is the objective evidence? Where are the thoughtful analyses? A lack implying there is something very, very wrong. A revelation of just how effective the methods of Bernays really are.

    No wonder the few journalists still seeking truth, like Patrick Lawrence, are so marginalized.

    1. War crimes are alleged: Evidence is fabricated: There is no follow-up on promised investigations. Critics are denied standing to ask questions. Sounds like the perfect conspiracy formula. It follows the pattern…

  16. In propaganda wars the sides either play-down or play-up alleged atrocities, depending on what suits their purpose. Truth can hardly ever be discovered. But then wars are about power, and power is an illusion – as history cries out, but no one listens.
    https://patternofhistory.wordpress.com/

  17. Patrick thank again for your prophetic truth telling! Please keep it coming just asking the questions is more critical than ever during these troubled times.

  18. Thank you Mr Lawrence for keeping an unbiased approach, it is simply unbelievable that the words “Ukraine says” makes it automatically a fact. There always is massive propaganda in war times (and when is the US not in war times?), but what is happening now in our so-called “Western democratic civilization” is simply ridiculous (if it would not be so terribly sad), why would anybody believe that the Ukrainians (leadership and military) and our leaders (and military) are the ‘good guys’???

  19. Excellent critical and sceptical literary analysis Mr Lawrence and a vigilance about who states what and comes back on stage to state, for example, the iterative burial of his already dead wife…etc. In the schoolyard of primary school, naive kids spread all sorts of rumours and pretend to the truth beyond illogical obvious contradictions… The Master, after recess time, who listens (with some inner smile) to their story-telling knows quickly the fabricated versions and looking them in the eye one by one, he can stare with confidence to the ones who state the counterfeited “facts”. One by one, they tend not only to contradict themselves, but they believe that repeating over and over again the absurdities enabling them to win the battle to punish the black sheep in class…is sufficient to claim victory in the deliberations. The Master knows the character he has in his classroom, and what they are capable of, after years and years of teaching and conducting that little orchestra, that is if there is some genius (talent) within him. Mr Lawrence teaches all of us to think calmly.

  20. “The United Nations has said its investigators have concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, including bombings of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.

    The UN has made the investigation of human rights violations in the war a priority and in May its top human rights body mandated a team of experts to begin work in the country.

    Since then, UN investigators, have risked their lives to collect evidence of crimes perpetrated against civilians, including in areas still threatened by enemy forces or laid with mines.

    The team of three independent experts on Friday presented their first oral update to the UN human rights council, after it launched initial investigations looking at the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, adding that it would broaden its inquiries.

    Speaking a day before the seven-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, Erik Mose, the head of the investigation team, told thecouncil that, based on the evidence gathered by the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, “it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine”.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: