Biden, Ukraine and the Corporate Media

Thursday 20 January 2022

I have very few illusions about the corporate media. 

I wrote a book in the early 90s about the media coverage of the invasion of Panama, an invasion which the military manipulatively named “Operation Just Cause.”  Within hours of what was clearly an invasion, NBC reporters were no longer calling it an invasion.  They were instead using the military propaganda term Operation Just Cause.  News anchors might as well have donned cheerleader outfits and jumped up and down with pompoms.  It was appalling.

In 1989, they took what was a clearly outrageous intervention in the affairs of another country and the kidnapping of a head of state, and a violation of international law and turned it into a celebration of American might.

Since this occurred in 1989, you would have thought I would have been worn down by now, that nothing could surprise me.  But, I don’t think I will ever lose my capacity to be appalled and disgusted and offended by the deliberate manipulation of the corporate press. 

A more recent high (or low) point in corporate media manipulation was the coverage by MSNBC of the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.  I blame Sanders, by the way, for dragging me back into some kind of emotional investment in electoral politics.  I thought I was too cynical to fall for it again.  I was not.

Sanders was a candidate who not only had good policy as part of his platform, he was not ashamed of being a democratic socialist, and on top of that was a man of integrity. 

I watched with horror as MSNBC anchors and commentators lied, distorted and ridiculed Sanders.  There was no limit to their disparagement.  Chris Matthews charged on his program that Bernie Sanders wanted to have people like him executed in Times Square (Feb 8, 2020).   Another MSNBC commentator, an attorney and supposedly professional, said that no woman could ever vote for Sanders, he “made her skin crawl.”   Jason Johnson called the women who worked for Sanders an “island of misfit black girls.”  Commentators and hosts alike blithely maintained that Sanders couldn’t appeal to minority voters.  Then, Sanders won the Nevada primary on February 22, 2020.  Neoliberal democrats went into a panic.  Terrified by Sanders’ ability to appeal to voters of all stripes, MSNBC anchors (especially Joy Reid) went crazy. 

The DNC orchestrated a mass bow-out of all the corporate candidates in the race and bribed them to endorse one of the worst candidates of the lot, Joe Biden.  And the corporate press reacted as if it was a civil rights victory.  Rather than telling the truth, that the powerful in the party prevented regular people from choosing a candidate (as they had done in 2016) and installed their own, the corporate media gushed.

Then followed what I consider one of the most embarrassing examples of political theatre in decades, the Democratic National Convention.  It was a fawning, ass kissing, slavering, emotionally cheap People Magazine, full of personal melodrama (Biden’s dead wife and children, Biden’s dead son, Harris’ biracial upbringing, etc., etc., etc.)  (Note: One of the very lowest points was when Tammy Duckworth spoke and the speech began with the camera focused on her prosthetic legs). 

I do not like emotional manipulation of any sort and this was the cheapest, crassest display of emotional manipulation.  And, it went on for days.  There was virtually no policy, no serious discussion or debate.  But, there were hours of “inspiring” personal stories.  I thought if I heard another word about what a beautiful marriage the Biden’s had I was going to literally vomit.  But, the corporate press (MSNBC and CNN) couldn’t get enough of it.

The corporate media was in love with Biden, the fictional character they created for Biden.  Biden’s mediocrity, his ineptness as a political candidate (Obama didn’t even want to have him as a nominee), his slavish serving of banking interests, his anti-civil rights history mattered not at all.  And, here we are.

To anyone with an open mind, yesterday’s performance at the press conference, the second since Biden took office, was terrible.  Biden has a hard time talking, holding thoughts in his mind, staying on subject, and also confining himself to the talking points he’s been given.  Were he not facing an almost equally inept press, he would be trying to pull himself out of a greater disaster today.

But, just as the corporate media joined in enthusiastically to the love affair with Biden before the election, they protected him from the criticism he deserved for his performance yesterday.  Instead, they lauded him for speaking for almost two hours, the longest presser in the history of the world, according to them.  They praised him repeatedly for just not being Trump, a low bar.  And they dealt with Biden’s worst gaff (that a “small incursion” might be met with lesser sanctions) by simply ignoring it.

The general theme today in the media coverage was that Biden was being treated unfairly.  The line was: Biden just said what everybody already knew, that the European allies were not in complete agreement about what to do with regard to Russia’s impending invasion of Ukraine.  But, this was not the real gaff.  The corporate commentators talked about this to distract from what Biden really said that sent shock waves across Europe.

What Biden said was that there might be a calibrated reaction to a “small incursion” of Ukraine.  This was not what everybody already knew, especially not the Ukrainians.

Ukrainian officials were reported last night by CNN as being “shocked” by Biden’s statement.  And, as they pointed out, it almost gave the green light for Putin to conduct a “small incursion.”  Why would Biden talk about unprecedented sanctions and then admit that the U.S. was willing to look the other way over a “small incursion.” 

As Ukrainian president Zelensky tweeted today, there are no “small incursions” for Ukrainians.  We are talking about people’s lives and we are talking about aggression from the Russian state that hasn’t been seen since WWII.  And, we are talking about the West’s resolve in the face of authoritarianism and military intervention.

But today, the corporate media is writing this off (if they talk about the statement at all) as a small slip of the tongue.  Nothing to see here, move on.  It is unconscionable.  What Biden is talking about is trading off parts of Ukraine to appease the Russians. 

In addition, while the Biden administration is still acting as if unprecedented sanctions will be implemented if the Russians invade, he has already taken off the table excluding Russia from the SWIFT financial system.  Not one reporter, not one asked him about this.

So, Biden has taken off the table both military support to Ukraine and excluding them from the international economic system and now he is trading off parts of Ukraine to appease Putin.  It is unconscionable. 

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