How to screw up a war story
January 5, 2009 12:04 AM   Subscribe

What was so shameful and embarrassing to me, an American journalist whose own Moscow-based newspaper, The eXile, had just been driven out of existence [previously] by these same Kremlin bastards, is that Sasha was rightly frustrated. A Kremlin minder right and the Western journalists wrong? What has this world come to when the Kremlin has a better grasp of the truth than the free Western media?
How to screw up a war story: The New York Times at work
posted by Anything (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty old...
posted by 7segment at 12:53 AM on January 5, 2009

It surprises me that someone would suggest that the US media's ludicrous anti-Russia propaganda blitz was a mistake. It seemed very deliberate to me.
posted by pompomtom at 1:08 AM on January 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Great. The New York Times makes up the news, and insists on me signing up before I can read it.

The US media is just rotten. Iraq war. WMD. Nattalleee Holloway. Georgia. Palestine. etc. etc.
posted by mr. strange at 1:08 AM on January 5, 2009

Yeah, the MSM is pretty hideous.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 AM on January 5, 2009

This is pretty old...

No it's not, it was published on December 22nd. And it's a very good piece.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:35 AM on January 5, 2009

It all seems like some kind of perverted case of The Boy Who Cried Wolf...Russia are bastards so fucking often, everyone was all too willing to believe they were this time, too.
posted by Jimbob at 2:34 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Any paper that bills itself as "Mankind's only alternative..." can go and get fucked.

And it actually is pretty old.
posted by mattoxic at 3:18 AM on January 5, 2009

Old, schmold -- I thought it was a really good piece as well. On the basis of just watching the BBC's coverage of the event at the time, two things seemed pretty clear to me:

a.) Russia were not acting unreasonably in this instance, and
b.) There was a concerted attempt by the US, certain politicians and sections of the media to present them as tyranical bastards.

But after a while, you start to doubt your own reasoning. OK, so this was an unprovoked attack by a bunch of people who really want to get up their nose, join NATO, etc. and what Russia was doing was protecting its citizens, who the fuck is Bush etc. to be telling them that they need to be withdrawing from the border when that bastard is so far over the Iraqi border he's lodged in their colon, but repeat the lies often and you'll inevitably start wondering if perhaps he's got some kind of point?

So yeah, it's nice to know that you're not losing your mind.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:42 AM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Awesome, I missed this during the holidays, thanks Anything! At the time, I got all my information about the conflict from the NYT. Disturbing.

Obama's initial waffling response now looks a hell of a lot smarter than McCain's initial bellowing support of Georgia.
posted by intermod at 5:36 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Obama's initial waffling response now looks a hell of a lot smarter than McCain's initial bellowing support of Georgia.
posted by intermod at 5:36 AM on January 5 [+] [!]

I think the Georgians control both sides, didn't Biden make a point in the debate with Palin that "Saakashvili called me" during the invasion? Of course it seems that Saakashvili also called Rick Warren...funny how it seems so circular. I guess we really are all Georgians now, whether we like it or not.
posted by 445supermag at 5:52 AM on January 5, 2009

Back when this happened I knew that both sides were full of it. Georgia was trying to bully a smaller country and then Russia was trying to bully them. GOP in an ever so classless move tried to turn this into a Cold War, "Americans hate Russians" type of political move. I didn't buy it and voted Obama.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:03 AM on January 5, 2009

eXile's history with the NYT
posted by setanor at 6:37 AM on January 5, 2009

Obama's initial waffling response now looks a hell of a lot smarter than McCain's initial bellowing support of Georgia.
posted by intermod at 5:36 AM on January 5 [+] [!]

Obama was pretty strongly pro-Georgia:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama put out a statement condemning Russia for their escalation of the conflict with Georgia. “No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and invaded another country. Russia has escalated its military campaign through strategic bombing and the movement of its ground forces into the heart of Georgia. There is no possible justification for these attacks,” Obama said.

The Illinois senator called for the U.S. and Europe to strengthen their relationship with Georgia, “Going forward, the United States and Europe must support the people of Georgia. Beyond immediate humanitarian assistance, we must provide economic assistance, and help rebuild what has been destroyed. I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO, and we must continue to press for that deeper relationship.”
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:16 AM on January 5, 2009

I remember reading the very first article about this war in The Economist. And that article suggested that there were two sides to the story, and that maybe Georgia started the war with what it thought was tacit American approval. Ever since then their coverage has been fairly two-sided. So much so it seemed too complicated and I got irritated because I couldn't figure out what was true. You know, like the real world, instead of some little skirmish halfway around the world processed for our infotainment.
posted by Nelson at 7:40 AM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know about the article, but they seem to be having a two-for-one sale on Russian brides (google ad served to me YMMV). Ok, maybe not a the sale, but still kind of odd ad fodder for that article.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:45 AM on January 5, 2009

If you can get past the tone, War Nerd is actually an excellent column in The Exile, a real antidote to the rah-rah machismo of neocon warmongering.
posted by fatbird at 7:59 AM on January 5, 2009

In my opinion, the reason that Russia was treated so harshly is that no matter how we might make motions of condemning intra-state violence, in reality on the international arena all we really care about is violation of national sovereignty. As a result, the world has wrung its hands and done nothing numerous times when governments have oppressed their own people, but always jump to act on countries that cross borders.

The reification of states has led to a lot of prickly international legal issues, chief among them the self-determination of peoples. In theory, there is a right to self-determination. In practice, it was practiced only for colonies which already had defined borders. In essence, it was simply a transfer of governments from an external colonial one to the internal one. Furthermore, in most non-colonial instances where autonomy was apparently awarded, the international community made careful pains to avoid setting a legal precedent for self-determination. For example, when allowing East Timorese to vote on becoming independent from Indonesai, the vote was not "Would you like to separate from Indonesia?" but rather "Would you like to become part of Indonesia?" The no vote was a vote for independence. Similarly, when Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union dissolved, they kept more or less to the borders of the pre-existing regions.

Leading to the conflict in Georgia, I guess.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:04 AM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Plus, as I remember, Russia had claimed that it would support south ossetia (and the other one) independence as a comeback to american support of Kosovo. We didn't just pick Russia out as the bad guy for the hell of it.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 9:06 AM on January 5, 2009

Great link, thanks!
posted by smorris at 9:19 AM on January 5, 2009

Good article. Is this white wash receiving much press in the States? The pattern always seems to be a wall of one-sided reporting followed by a few drabs of truth getting in and very little recognition of what went wrong.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2009

If you all are interested the New York Times Standards Editor Craig Whitney sent a letter to the Nation (minor self-link, I work for the Nation, we ran this article also) rebuking these allegations.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2009

I don't know about the article, but they seem to be having a two-for-one sale on Russian brides (google ad served to me YMMV). Ok, maybe not a the sale, but still kind of odd ad fodder for that article.

not so weird if you are familiar with Mark Ames' oeuvre...
posted by geos at 10:36 AM on January 5, 2009

As I read, I saw this little gem...Downed US spy plane now
‘property’ of MILF rebels.

posted by ZaneJ. at 10:42 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

that letter in response by the New York Times is really weird:
But Russia, emboldened by windfall profits from oil exports, is showing a resolve to reassert its dominance in a region it has always considered its ''near abroad.''

The military action, which has involved air, naval and missile attacks, is the largest engagement by Russian forces outside its borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia escalated its assault on Sunday despite strong diplomatic warnings from Mr. Bush and European leaders, underscoring the limits of Western influence over Russia at a time when the rest of Europe depends heavily on Russia for natural gas and the United States needs Moscow's cooperation if it hopes to curtail what it believes is a nuclear weapons threat from Iran.
I have no idea how they can claim that there is no suggestion the NYT has taken sides...

but the thing here is that the NYT even responded to an article in the Nation of all places. I don't think they are embarrased because they got the story wrong, but because they didn't anticipate that the US would throw Georgia overboard so quickly. so they were caught out, pushing a line even when Condi was announcing her displeasure with Saakashvili.

in the end, the real question is still: How did a country whose government is as close to ours as that of Saakashvili instigate an aggresive little war with Russia? There is no way the Bush administration didn't know about it...
posted by geos at 11:01 AM on January 5, 2009

As mentioned in the article and elsewhere, Russia is clearly being a bunch of shits about so many things at the moment, so it's funny as hell that this was the one that the NYT and John McCain wanted to push us into WWIII over.

Funny in a depressing, scarey way.
posted by Artw at 11:18 AM on January 5, 2009

That's partly why people shrug off the details, though. "Well you know Russia" becomes a substitute for finding out if they're actually in the wrong in this particular instance. Many people don't actually care.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:31 AM on January 5, 2009

To my paranoid mind it sounds like the NYT's contacts with the Bush administration gave them the talking points they should use on the upcoming war. However, the Georgia military was incompetant enough that instead of capturing the capital of Ossetia and the crucial pass/tunnel, they got routed by Russia. So instead of a nice "wag the dog" story of "brave democratic Geoorgians successfully standing up to Russan Imperialism ", they got an American ally quickly getting its ass kicked around the block. Unfortunately, the NYTs editorial policy was set, and they couldn't change it quickly.

Whether that was the actual case or not, it was pretty obvious early on that the major newspaper's coverage of the war was designed to embarrass Obama and boost McCain. I wonder if this was supposed to be the administration's idea of an "October Surprise".
posted by happyroach at 11:32 AM on January 5, 2009

Of course the New York times has killed more people than Hitler.
posted by Artw at 12:49 PM on January 5, 2009

Neither side was innocent, but Russia had been harassing Georgia for months prior to Georgia's activity and essentially provoked the attack. In short, Russia IS still a big regional bully who wants to force it's former Soviet satellites to kowtow to the Kremlin will. The true facts of the short war of last summer does nothing to dissuade me otherwise.
posted by Atreides at 2:48 PM on January 5, 2009

Which makes fucking it up all the worse.
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2009

Excellent story, thanks.
posted by languagehat at 4:02 PM on January 5, 2009

At the risk of derailing a little bit, I see this as being of a piece with our larger screw-up with Russia. I hearken back to, of all things, Ross Perot's nasal bleat about how (back in the 90s) we should be showering Russia with money, because, compared to the Cold War, it would cost "pennies on the dollar!"

And, yeah, we should have showered Russia with money. Even *if* the topmost layer of Russian society was hopelessly corrupt. Even if we had to find an apparently more expensive and inefficient way of doing things, like shoveling cash through NGOs rather than through Yeltsin's regime. Instead, of course, we played it ridiculously cheap-- because the GOP only likes spending money when there's military hardware involved-- and the Russians are rather bitter... especially after the Former Yugoslavia mess.

One can argue that, hey, Russia doesn't matter much now-- the only ones that do matter, or will matter, are the Chinese and the Indians-- but in a way, that's sort of the point. When the Chinese do start running the show, it'll very much be in our interest to have a great deal of goodwill stored up among other nations... and memories of this kind of chauvinism won't exactly make things much easier.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:47 PM on January 5, 2009

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