U.S. Media Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict Is So Awful I Actually Enjoy It a Little
When I woke up this morning, I didn’t want to write another article on the Russia-Ukraine issue, I really didn’t. I already wrote one a couple weeks ago and there wasn’t anything left to add. After all, what the hell do I know about Russia or Ukraine? I’m not Russian or Ukrainian, I’ve never visited either country, and I certainly don’t have a degree in Russian-Ukrainian relations, if such a thing even exists—I’m just some jerk sitting in his sweatpants, eating Pringles, and reading the news on a busted laptop.
Anyway, despite my wish for a relaxing Sunday free of any writing obligations, an unfortunate set of circumstances led me to open Google News at the precise moment that it was showcasing a story from NBC News entitled, “Why Does Russia Want to Invade Ukraine Now?”
Obviously, this made me laugh a little. The fact that NBC News was just now getting around to asking that question spoke volumes. Still, curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the link, which took me to YouTube. I’ve pasted the story below, and I highly recommend watching it. This two-minute video serves as a shining example of what author Walter Kirn once described as, “The Bullshit” in his legendary essay here on Substack.
The story begins with a short history of Russia-NATO relations, which it presents as the “perspective” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But whether or not we like to admit it, Putin’s perspective on his country’s recent past is actually quite accurate. It begins in the early nineties, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the U.S. promised Russia that it would not expand NATO. But as soon as Slick Willy saxophoned his way into the White House, the U.S. immediately broke its word and expanded NATO to within three inches of Moscow. That’s why on December 5, 1994, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin publicly lost his shit during a press conference in an incident known as “The Budapest Blow Up,” where he excoriated the U.S. for “trying to split [the] continent again.” And according to the renowned geopolitical expert, George Friedman, the only difference between Russia’s grievances back then versus today, is that Russia now has the capability to do something about it.
The NBC News piece then presents the counter argument to Putin’s “complaints,” in the form of Ambassador Michael McFaul. McFaul served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama, and now serves as an intellectual-for-hire providing partisan talking points on demand to the likes of MSNBC and The Washington Post. (Speaking of The Washington Post, McFaul wrote a charming little article for them in 2019, where he clearly—although not explicitly because he’s not that stupid—admires the Chinese Communist Party as “an attractive, alternative model to the U.S. system of government.”)
NBC News anchor, Jose-Diaz Balart, asks/states, “Putin has said that the West, the United States, is provoking us, provoking me.” McFaul then responds in a manner similar to how one might imagine former Idaho Senator Larry Craig responded when he was first accused of soliciting gay sex in a public restroom—i.e. chuckling nervously while insisting, “That’s ridiculous!” Apparently, McFaul had never heard anything so silly as the idea that the U.S. could provoke Russia.
Also, pay attention to the way Balart says the last two words of his question, “provoking me,” almost like he thinks Putin is a child throwing a tantrum. This seems to imply that the Russian president is motivated more by personal animus than legitimate national concerns. And to the best of my knowledge, which admittedly is limited, Putin has never said, “Stop provoking me!” Plus, the guy doesn’t strike me as the AOC-type of politician who always “makes it all about himself.”
Next, the NBC News piece provides a quick infographic that so dramatically oversimplifies the process of NATO expansion following the Cold War that I nearly fell out of my seat. But skipping past that—as I wouldn’t even know where to begin—McFaul reenters the scene with another soundbite: “Too many people are believing that this is somehow about NATO expansion,” he says, “when it’s really about an unprovoked military invasion.”
Really? Is that all it is—just a totally unprovoked military invasion for no reason whatsoever? Christ, McFaul, how much do you get paid for this?
Then Balart finally asks the titular question, “Why Ukraine and why now?” to which McFaul answers, “Because President Putin has been obsessed with bringing Ukraine back into subjugation.”
First of all, that does not answer either question. Second, it does not address why Putin is “obsessed” with bringing Ukraine back into “subjugation.”
So, perhaps the following passage from geopolitical Jedi Master, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, 1997 book, “The Grand Chessboard,” will shed light on the situation:
“Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire. Russia without Ukraine can still strive for imperial status, but it would then become a predominantly Asian imperial state, more likely to be drawn into debilitating conflicts with aroused Central Asians, who would then be resentful of the loss of their recent independence and would be supported by their fellow Islamic states to the south. China would also be likely to oppose any restoration of Russian domination over Central Asia, given its increasing interest in the newly independent states there. However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as its access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.”
In other words, Ukraine is absolutely vital to the preservation of Russian power, just as controlling the world’s oceans is vital to the preservation of American power. (The U.S. is also extremely interested in preventing a single power from dominating Eurasia, i.e. the Cold War, and, very likely, this current conflict in Ukraine.)
Lastly, the piece concludes with one of the most shameless things I’ve ever seen in TV news, and given the state of modern media, that’s saying something.
Balart reappears on camera—now standing—and issues a dire warning about your stock portfolio. He explains that due to the elevated tensions over Ukraine on Friday (February 11), the S&P 500 fell by 1.9 percent, which translates into a $2,500 dip in the “average American’s 401(k).”
A few things about that…
First, there is no evidence that the S&P 500 fell as a direct consequence of Ukraine. And if Wall Street analysts were convinced that Ukraine was the cause—even though they can’t prove it either—then Balart would’ve said something like, “Analysts on Wall Street believe that XYZ,” but he didn’t. So, my guess? He just totally made that shit up.
Second, the stock market fluctuates up and down—often by several points—every day. That’s how stock markets work. So who cares if the S&P 500 is down by 1.9 percent on Friday when it could just as easily go up by 2.3 percent on Monday? There is no story there.
And third, the part about the 401(k) was pure scare tactics. When markets fluctuate, as they always do, your 401(k) is constantly gaining or losing money—and sometimes by large amounts. That’s why there is no point in checking it every day, otherwise you’d go insane. So, by showing the dollar amount for a single day’s fluctuation, NBC News is merely trying to alarm, but not inform, its viewers.
The piece then concludes with a final nugget of wisdom from McFaul, who explains, with a straight face, “I think the mistake we make in the West sometimes is we think that Putin is some kind of rational actor, calculating the cost-benefit analysis of invasion, when in fact he’s thinking about his place in the history books.”
Is that so, McFaul? And how exactly do you know that? Are you in Putin’s mind? Are you psychic? Are you a member of his inner circle, his closest confidant? Do you guys complete each other’s sentences? Are you BFFs 4 Life and you know him better than he knows himself?
Then shut the fuck up about what he is thinking.
You have no idea.
It is also fair to say that no one involved in the making of this news story had any idea what they were talking about at any point. Not Balart, not McFaul, and not the nameless producer who wrote the script.
Now thankfully, I never watch the NBC Nightly News—I’d rather swan dive into a vat of green, bubbling acid. But apparently several million people still tune in to NBC every night, and listen to guys like Balart and McFaul, even though Balart isn’t a journalist, and McFaul—no matter his credentials—is not an expert.
But do you know what they really are?
I’m old enough to remember the bipartisan drumbeat for war that proceeded the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I remember all the bullshit—the graphics with Saddam’s face in the crosshairs, the “embed” reporters trying to act like soldiers, the “cool-looking” night vision shots of bombs exploding and the robotic morning show anchors nodding like idiots while some neocon like Cheney or Rumsfeld explained things to them. That stuff was on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, all the networks and all the major newspapers 24/7. American journalism spoke with one voice, and it said, “trust us.”
Well, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.”
You’re goddamned right, Bush. I learned my lesson. Except now, I don’t have any choice but to get my news from the guy who used to host “Fear Factor.” And I really wish I was joking about that. But I’m not.
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