Seeing Evil in the New Russia

Amid the flag-waving in Sochi, U.S. commentators instructed American TV viewers on the evils of modern Russia in what looks like a reprised cold war. Left out of these denunciations was any balance from looking in the mirror at a litany of U.S. misdeeds, writes Danny Schechter.

By Danny Schechter

Olympics live for Heroes and She-roes — the “amateur” athlete winners whom TV sportscasters swoon over and companies later reward with lucrative endorsement contracts that, in turn,  push them into the celebrity elite, often with enough staying power to move effortlessly from competition to commentary.

This year, in Sochi, America’s sweetheart is an 18-year-old teenager – with doting and photogenic parents – who won hearts as she slalomed to Olympic Gold. It helps that Mikaela Shiffin is attractive and articulate, self-deprecating in an aw-shucks adolescent manner, and yet a model of iron discipline on the slopes. It was clear from the fawning video profile of her that she was destined to be the “got it” girl on her way to the glory of a gold.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the target of much U.S. media criticism around the Sochi Olympics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the target of much U.S. media criticism around the Sochi Olympics.

Shiffin has a way with words as well as skills on the slopes. She was upbeat and catchy in conversation with reporters, who, then, couldn’t say enough good things about her unaffected style. “There I was, I’m like, ‘Grrreat. I’m just going to go win my first medal,’” Mikaela enthused while the PR kept coming with non-stop florid descriptions and tributes to her “impressive balance and agilty” as she raced downhill.

NBC couldn’t get enough of her heroic alpine antics even as the network, which has never missed a Star-Spangled medal ceremony to dwell on, seemed less interested in covering events “next door” in Ukraine or, closer to home, by fully exploring the buy-out of Time Warner Cable by its own parent company, Comcast, which NBC also couldn’t be more adoring towards.

The FAIR Blog featured a snapshot of this “balanced coverage” about the merger on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show: “The February 13 broadcast of Morning Joe featured both sides–meaning the CEO of Comcast and the CEO of Time Warner Cable. The news segment was more PR than journalism, with hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough offering up softballs.

“Scarborough actually prefaced one question by saying, ‘It’ll sound like a softball question’; his question to Comcast‘s Brian Roberts was, ‘Comcast seems to be doing everything right over the past four or five years.’ Brzezinski closed the segment by congratulating the CEOs.”

Scarborough later explained: “We get our paychecks from Comcast. Obviously we’re not sort of cool and detached from this news.”

Then, to my surprise, after weeks of airing hot rumor after hot rumor about the inevitable apocalypse at Sochi, from terrorist threats to complaints by journalists whose toilets didn’t flush in a luxury hotel, NBC had something nice to say in prime time on Friday night about the Russian hosts of the games.

Suddenly, there were kind words about the management of the games and praise for the security forces for a job well done, even with some plaudits for the hospitality of the Russkies and the good vibes all around.

Perennial NBC Olympic host Bob Costas was downright complimentary, but there was a “but” coming. This thaw in the new cold war between the U.S. and Russia didn’t last more than a few minutes. It was a set-up for a thundering “on the other hand” political monologue blasting Russian President Vladimir Putin, no doubt in the spirit of “balance,” so hypocritically applied by network journalism.

The rant was so over the top that the Associated Press was startled into writing about it, calling it a “sharp if jarring” commentary that made the ultimate Olympic host the ultimate bad guy, bringing back memories of demonizing “evil empire” or “axis of evil” comments from Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Reported the Associated Press: “Costas said the Sochi Olympics had gone off better than many people feared going in, ‘all of which is truly wonderful, but should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria — and that’s just a partial list.’ While the games’ may burnish Putin’s reputation in some eyes, ‘no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities,’ [Costas] said.”

I thought what if an Amy Goodman or any progressive journalist would ever be in a position to report or comment on the American government in similar turns, as in the Olympics “should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons (substitute two million people, mostly minorities,) hostile to (substitute immigrants  and whistleblowers), sponsors and supports (substitute dictators and a global overt and covert military presence) — and that’s just a partial list. …

“While the games’ may burnish (substitute: Washington’s) reputation in some eyes, no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities.” Could you ever imagine an indictment of U.S. policies cast in such similar terms on a red-white-and-blue network that routinely insists sports and politics are worlds apart.

Costas has been outspoken before as when – on May 26, 2007 – he denounced the tragic “failure” of the Bush administration, but it was rather late, some four years after the invasion of Iraq. He later interviewed Bush deferentially at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Recall that Bush was knee-deep then in supporting an aggression by Russia’s neighbor, Georgia, against two rebellious provinces, an operation that Putin’s military stopped. At the time, Putin believed that the U.S was using the glow of the Olympics to distract attention from the war then building in Georgia. Could Ukraine be playing that role today?

So, as the skiers race downhill, also going downhill is U.S. relations with Russia, still remembered by many Americans as the USSR, and with Venezuela, where an opposition leader backed by the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy is now in jail as street protests escalate.

A face-saving deal in Ukraine was not given a chance to work as the U.S.-backed opposition went on the offensive consolidating control after the government stupidly opened fire on violent protesters. Increasingly, the events in Ukraine look like a coup.

Back in the USSA, as debate about raising the minimum wage festers, major institutions continue to raise the maximum wage. Writing on “Baseline Scenario,” James Kwak takes Google to task for giving its Chairman Eric Shmidt $106 million. (JP Morgan’s Jamie Diamond only got $20 mill.)

Writes Kwak, “voting the chairman of the board enough money to buy a Gulfstream 650 and an entourage of 550s is not a good use of shareholder money. And it’s shockingly tone-deaf in this age of rising inequality and cuts to food stamps.”

This charade in the suites is accompanied by more misery in the streets, as the Economic Policy Institute reports – facts yet to be cited by media cheerleaders at the Olympics: “Though six years have passed since the Great Recession officially began in December 2007 and four-and-a-half years since its official end in June 2009, U.S. workers continue to feel the impact of the recession and the very weak recovery through elevated unemployment and through suppressed wages  . . . low-wage earners — wage-earners at the 20th percentile — have experienced wage erosion in nearly every state.”

Back to Sochi: Have another Coke! Time for more flag waving!

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org and blogs at news dissector.net. His latest book is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.(Madibabook.com)  Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

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One comment on “Seeing Evil in the New Russia

  1. Joe Tedesky on said:

    What we are experiencing has nothing to do with political ideology or religion. These are the things that are held up as the reasons for why we do what we do. It’s really their 1% against our 1%. It has always been that way, and always will be. A person could simply choose sides based upon how one is doing within their current society. Kind of like, who should case the first stone, and then everyone starts throwing stones. Evidentially it becomes easy to lose sight of what we are even fighting for. We just need to win.

    Putin is no saint, but neither are our leaders saints. There is a big picture, but we are not allowed to see that picture. Instead we are told we are defending democracy. So the bad guys are just bad. They blow themselves up because they are crazy.

    As far as Comcast buying up Time Warner, what else is new? I mean these corporate guys have been buying up each other forever. This would not be so bad if this created jobs, but that isn’t happening.

    I take our news media with a grain of salt. The reporters are all slaves to their masters. Independent news is a commodity for sure.