Is Vladimir Putin a “little, strutting Mussolini”? Is Ukraine “perhaps the final episode of the Cold War”? These are some of the sentiments enunciated by George F. Will in his latest column. They may be among the most virulent attacks directed against Moscow, but they are hardly novel.
Which is why it is now time to state the obvious—the Western and especially the American mass media have never aspired to give objective coverage to events unfolding in Russia after the fall of the USSR. Nor did they seek to offer an unbiased account of the motives of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy.
Consider the most recent example, the Sochi Olympics. A litany of problems, large and small, was lasciviously dwelled upon by the western media. They include the impending horror of potential terrorist attacks on both Sochi and all of Russia; looming criminal persecutions of Russian LGBT citizens, as well as of tourists and foreign LGBT athletes; the overblown disorganization of the Russian government in constructing the infrastructure for the games; the endless talk of monstrous corruption and wastefulness of billions of dollars in the construction process; illusory Russian threats to its neighbors born in the minds of Western media and “experts;” and the alleged anti-Western demarches of Russia’s diplomats.
Is it any wonder that Russians themselves have begun to view the West with more than a pinch of mistrust? Sadly, even without the Olympics, Russians and citizens of many other countries have tended to distrust foreign media in the past few years. Small wonder. For a very long time as they demonized Putin’s image, the media were not ready to admit that he and his country could create something grandiose; something magnificent; something to captivate Russians and foreigners alike. In their desperate eagerness to deprive Russian president Vladimir Putin of his triumph, they tried to paint Russia in the most lurid terms possible.
But Russians did not see the media attacks as attacks on Putin. Rather, they saw them as assaults on their country. The irony is that, with their anti-Russian, anti-Putin and anti-Olympic campaign, the Western media actually helped Putin’s triumph, Russia’s triumph and the success of the Sochi Olympics, as the Russian people at large began to see the American media and American propaganda as the equivalent of the Soviet propaganda of the time of Mikhail Suslov’s Agitprop (the head of Communist Party ideology under Brezhnev), which used to portray America as a caricature of itself—a place of lynching of Blacks, of mass unemployment, of homelessness and hunger, which was about to collapse any day under the weight of its unsolved social and economic problems and bring victory to the people united under Marxist-Leninist slogans and led by the U.S. Communist Party.
Unfortunately, the process has come full circle. Russian society in its attitude towards U.S. media has turned from utter adoration and unquestioned trust to complete mistrust and rejection. Yet without an understanding of what is occurring in one of the key global players, it will be impossible to solve major international problems or conflicts, and it will be futile to formulate a comprehensive/relevant policy toward Russia.
Even some Western journalists at the Olympics have begun writing that average Russians have started to feel insulted upon learning how Russia and the Sochi games were portrayed and what the Western commentary was on what happened in the country.
Since mid-2000s, the Russian leadership, elite and society have largely overcome the inferiority complex of the 1990s, become more confident and self-sufficient, and turned their concern from who loved or hated their country to who understood them and their policy. Today, Putin could easily repeat the words that Ronald Reagan said at the pinnacle of the Iranian crisis when he ran for President. Reagan said that he didn’t care who loved or hated America, but he would make them respect it.
The most surprising fact about the coverage of Vladimir Putin’s activity is not that it is negatively perceived among American neocons and liberal interventionists who expect the leadership of any country on the planet to bow to America’s dictates. Ideologists and strategists in these political circles hold the political regimes at any spot on the globe to standards set by Washington. Thus any smidgen of independence on the part of foreign regimes is perceived to be an act hostile to democracy and progress, a violation of international norms among the civilized world that are set by this very same clique, while the leaders of those other countries daring to oppose Washington are painted as ignorant of the true interests and aims of their own people, known of course only to the neocons and interventionists in Washington.
What is surprising is the reaction of a number of conservative figures to the recently published article in The Nation by Stephen F. Cohen called “ Distorting Russia .” Cohen called out the American media for what he called a veritable “tsunami” of distortions about Putin and Russia and for being “more conformist and scarcely less ideological” than they were during the Cold War. Charles Krauthammer, who has only a very foggy knowledge of what is happening in modern Russia, stated that Cohen is an apologist for Russia. He emphasized that if we can understand why in the past leftists would feel compelled to defend and apologize to the Soviet Union, as it represented an alternative to Western capitalism, it is mind-boggling why leftists would defend Putin, especially considering Krauthammer thinks he believes in nothing, created a personalistic regime, and governs a dictatorship.