NYT Shows How Propaganda Works

Exclusive: The U.S. mainstream media pretends it operates with professional standards of objectivity and fairness, but especially in its international reporting the only real standards are double standards, as the New York Times has shown on Ukraine and Syria, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In the multilayered double standards of its international coverage, the New York Times demonstrates how propaganda works: Outrage is the only appropriate response when an adversary breaks a rule but a shrug is okay when it’s “our side.” Plus, there must be perfect evidence to accuse “our side” of an offense but anything goes when it’s an adversary.

Recent Times’ articles illustrate how this hypocrisy works. Take, for example, international law, especially prohibitions against aggression. When the topic is Ukraine and the alleged violator is Russia, no extreme is too extreme in denouncing Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. But the concern about international law simply disappears when discussing Syria and the desirability of U.S. President Barack Obama overthrowing the government there.

Amid the crisis over Syria, President Vladimir Putin of Russia welcomed President Barack Obama to the G20 Summit at Konstantinovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Amid the crisis over Syria, President Vladimir Putin of Russia welcomed President Barack Obama to the G20 Summit at Konstantinovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In Ukraine, despite the murky circumstances surrounding last February’s coup d’etat ousting the elected president and unleashing war in the ethnic Russian east, the Times refuses to see any merit in the Russian side of the argument. It’s all about the sacred principle of non-intervention; the mitigating circumstances don’t matter.

However, when it comes to demanding Obama dispatch the U.S. military to take out Syria’s government, the Times forgets international law; it’s all about the mitigating circumstances that justify the U.S. bombing of Syrian government troops and paving the way for a rebel victory.

A good example of this is a Nov. 28 article by Times correspondent Anne Barnard that hammers Obama over the supposed inconsistencies in his policy of bombing Islamic State radicals inside Syria but not also turning the U.S. military loose against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Barnard writes that anti-Assad forces inside Syria “conclude, increasingly, that the Obama administration is siding with Mr. Assad, that by training United States firepower solely on the Islamic State it is aiding a president whose ouster is still, at least officially, an American goal.

“Their dismay reflects a broader sense on all sides that President Obama’s policies on Syria and the Islamic State remain contradictory, and the longer the fight goes on without the policies being resolved, the more damage is being done to America’s standing in the region.”

It may be a fair point that the U.S. military strikes inside Syria against Islamic State radicals, who have also seized territory in Iraq, is at least a technical violation of international law, but the Syrian government has acquiesced to these attacks since they are aimed at a rebel force that is widely regarded as terrorist. Thus, the bombings have some color of legitimacy.

However, attacking Syrian government forces is a horse of an entirely different color. That would be a clear-cut violation of international law. It would be a war of aggression deemed by the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II to be the “supreme international crime” because it “contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Yet, this important legal point is entirely missing from the Times article, which focuses instead on how Obama has offended Assad’s opponents by attacking the Islamic State, not Assad.

In effect, the Times is pushing the neoconservative line that the United States should first undertake “regime change” in Syria before it deals with the Islamic State. In making that case, the Times not only leaves out the question of international law but gives short-shrift to the danger that destroying Assad’s military might open the gates of Damascus to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda’s affiliate Nusra Front, the only two effective fighting forces among the Syrian rebels.

Addressing International Law

A more professional news article would have seriously addressed both the international law issue and the dangers inherent in a U.S.-driven Syrian “regime change,” including the very real possibility that a jihadist victory in the heart of the Middle East could force a full-scale U.S. military intervention, requiring hundreds of thousands of troops and costing hundreds of billions of dollars.

Indeed, the Times’ coverage of the Syrian crisis often looks like a replay of the newspaper’s gullible acceptance of the neocon-predicted “cakewalk” through Iraq in 2003. In the Iraq War, too, there was scant attention paid to the question of the United States violating international law and to the chance that the invasion might not go as smoothly as the neocons dreamt.

While ignoring the issue of U.S. aggression in a war on Syria, the Times presents the Ukraine crisis as a simple matter of Russian “aggression” by leaving out the context of a U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22 that forced President Viktor Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives and prompting resistance to the new order from eastern and southern Ukraine which had been Yanukovych’s political base.

As former Rep. Dennis Kucinich has written, this important background and the earlier expansion of NATO into eastern Europe would put the Ukraine story in a very different light: “NATO encirclement, the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine, an attempt to use an agreement with the European Union to bring NATO into Ukraine at the Russian border, a U.S. nuclear first-strike policy, are all policies which attempt to substitute force for diplomacy.

“Russia’s response to the terror unleashed by western-backed neo-nazis in Crimea and Odessa came after the local population appealed to Russia to protect them from the violence. Russia then agreed to Crimea joining the Russian Federation, a reaffirmation of an historic relationship.

“The Western press begins its narrative on the Crimea situation with the annexation, but completely ignores the provocations by the West and other causal factors which resulted in the annexation. This distortion of reality is artificially creating an hysteria about Russian aggressiveness, another distortion which could pose an exceptionally dangerous situation for the world, if acted upon by other nations. The U.S. Congress is responding to the distortions, not to the reality.”

Propaganda Vehicle

Another way that the New York Times makes itself useful as a neocon propaganda vehicle is by applying two radically different standards for proof when an accusation is made. If, for instance, anyone notes that U.S.-funded “non-governmental organizations” played a behind-the-scenes role in instigating the Ukrainian coup even though there is clear documentary evidence from the public reports of the National Endowment for Democracy and similar U.S.-funded entities that is deemed a “conspiracy theory.”

However, if you want to accuse the Russians of secretly financing anti-fracking groups in Romania, you don’t need any evidence at all, just vague assertions. So, on Dec. 1, the Times published a lengthy article by Andrew Higgins promoting the Romanian government’s suspicions that local environmental groups which have blocked Chevron’s use of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas are fronts for Russia’s energy industry.

The article acknowledges that “this belief that Russia is fueling the protests, shared by officials in Lithuania, where Chevron also ran into a wave of unusually fervent protests and then decided to pull out, has not yet been backed up by any clear proof. And [Russia’s] Gazprom has denied accusations that it has bankrolled anti-fracking protests.

“But circumstantial evidence, plus large dollops of Cold War-style suspicion, have added to mounting alarm over covert Russian meddling to block threats to its energy stranglehold on Europe.”

It’s not exactly clear what the Times’ “circumstantial evidence” is either, but the article next turns to more unsubstantiated accusations aired in September by then-NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who “pointed a finger at Russia” by citing its alleged support for NGOs, another hypocritical twist because many NGOs are actually funded by the U.S. government and are deployed to disrupt or destabilize adversaries around the world.

Ignoring this hypocrisy, Rasmussen declared: “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations, environmental organizations working against shale gas, to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.”

Again, the Times notes that Rasmussen presented no proof, saying that his judgment was based on what NATO allies had reported. Yet, despite this admitted lack of evidence, the Times still devotes portions of two pages to this Russian-hand-hidden-behind-the-anti-fracking-cause hypothesis. If such flimsy speculation were aimed at the United States, it would be laughed off as a paranoid conspiracy theory or labeled “disinformation.”

Also not noted in the Times article is Rasmussen’s record for getting facts wrong. As Danish prime minister in 2003, he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and famously declared that “Iraq has WMDs. It is not something we think; it is something we know. Iraq has itself admitted that it has had mustard gas, nerve gas, anthrax, but Saddam won’t disclose. He won’t tell us where and how these weapons have been destroyed. We know this from the UN inspectors, so there is no doubt in my mind.”

Of course, pretty much everything that Rasmussen declared about Iraq’s WMD was wrong, but it succeeded in tricking the Danish parliament into voting to join Bush’s “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. Rasmussen was later rewarded for his role in this aggressive war against Iraq by getting a plum job as NATO secretary general where he similarly has hyped alarms about Russia.

Yet, the New York Times ignores this history as this “newspaper of record” applies its endless double standards to ratchet up tensions in Syria and Ukraine.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

14 comments for “NYT Shows How Propaganda Works

  1. Erin
    December 5, 2014 at 21:12

    If you want to know what’s going on in the world, don’t read the NY Times, fer Christ’s sake! Alternative media and citizen journalists put out the most reliable news now.

  2. Chet Roman
    December 4, 2014 at 21:53

    More accurate reporting from Parry. I think everyone reading some of the progressive websites like consortium news.com understands that the Washington Post and NYT are propaganda tools of the government but, even more so, the neocons. What I would like to see is more investigative reporting on the who is causing this to happen and why. Naming reporters is useful but they only do what they’re told. Pulling back the curtain and naming names is a good step to revealing who is really controlling this country.

  3. Carroll Price
    December 4, 2014 at 19:29

    Other than being a “brutal dictator” (MSM’s description), will someone please explain exactly what Assad did to earn an obvious death sentence from Israel and the US? Or is Syria just a missing part of Greater Israel that God bequeathed to the Chosen Ones?

    • John the Ba'thist
      December 5, 2014 at 20:18

      It is not just Bashar or his family that Israel hates. Syria represents something that is inimical to Zionism and Israel as they now exist – a secular Arab state that has refused to capitulate to Israel or to Western imperialism.

      Israel is often described as secular simply because its culture seems liberal and Western, and because some of its political and legal institutions have non-sectarian provisions. However the larger reality of Israel is that it is as sectarian in its own way as the Saudi kingdom or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Israel did not make sense in the old Arab Middle East, but it could make sense in a new Middle East region where all of the neighbors are also small states defined primarily by a religious identity, rather than the traditional post-Ottoman Middle East whose citizens were defined and unified by the common language, Arabic. Israel is already the military superpower of the region. In a sectarianized Middle East it would be not superior, but at least politically equal to its neighbors.

      Lebanon was shorn from Syria and created as a sectarian political entity by neo-colonial France. After the 2003 invasion Iraq was transformed under US occupation from a secular Arab unified state under central control into what is becoming three smaller statelets where the Arabs are divided by sect, and a non-Arab Kurdish statelet. Unless the government of Syria can defeat the conspiracy, it will face an even worse vivisection than Iraq is enduring.

      There are huge dangers though for Israel in the sectarianism that threatens the Arabs. The violence has made it obvious to all thoughtful observers that sectarianism is the greatest evil, and by the same token, that separation of politics and national identity from religion is a most efficacious remedy. A regional backlash against sectarianism and theocracy that will surely come if Syria emerges from the current proxy war victorious and intact. That will be huge defeat for not only Israel, but a big insult to the Saudis, to the other Gulf monarchies, to the neo-Ottoman Ikhwan party in Ankara, as well as the to foreign policy elites of the US and Europe.

  4. Don G.
    December 4, 2014 at 15:38

    And so how can we fight against the propaganda. If it came close to appearing as if the antiwar movement was becoming successful then a small staged terror attack on the US would immediately bring the sheep back in line with the gov and MSM agenda.

  5. Dan R
    December 4, 2014 at 10:15

    I think it is important to understand the overall function of mainstream media in a corporate propaganda culture such as the US.

    As dominant sources of information the general role of the mainstream media, such as the NYT, is to control (=bias) the flow of information the wider public is exposed to.

    The military-governmental-industrial complex isn’t the only client of the information gatekeepers. Other big corporate industries are grateful receivers of benefits.

    Take the medical industry. Recently, a prominent anti-mammogram scientist had an article published (The Screening Myth by Anthony B. Miller, released at project-syndicate.org) which almost entirely got ignored by the corporate press. Yet just a few days ago a pro-mammogram study by Per Skaane, etc (“Comparison of Digital Mammography (FFDM) and FFDM Plus Digital Breast Tomosynthesis in Mammography Screening for Cancer Detection According to Breast Parenchyma Density”) where all of the study authors have financial vested interests to a screening technology maker has been disseminated by big mainstream media outlets such as ‘Time.’

    The mainstream media has also been a profiting ally in spreading the corrupt ‘war on cancer’ by the medical-governmental-industrial complex ( read the afterword of this article on the war on cancer: http://www.supplements-and-health.com/mammogram.html ), having helped to misguide the public systematically about the real facts about cancer.

  6. Zachary Smith
    December 4, 2014 at 02:41

    What if Germany’s actions were defensive, to build herself quickly into a power able of repelling the combined attacks of the capitalist and the communist world powers, which agreed on one thing, that Germany’s experiment in socialism must be annihilated?

    You’ve posted an interesting collection of horse ****. WHAT IF that’s on account of your examining nothing other than neo-nazi crapola?

    • jojo
      December 4, 2014 at 09:29

      Smihie! I suggest you read up in why Germany invaded Poland 1937 and why 1938 did France England declare war on Germany and unleashed aerial fire bombings on German cities.
      Over 32,000 German citizens were being slaughtered by Christian Pollocks.Why? wise one?

    • dahoit
      December 4, 2014 at 10:35

      Well,one might call his take on WW2 propaganda,but since the same real propagandists today are the lineal descendents of those of yesteryear,one with a really inquiring mind might agree with his take on German intentions and actions,with the obvious war criminal Wests track record of depravity.
      Such is the power of reality, serial liars should be exposed for what they are.

    December 2, 2014 at 21:50

    The Nuremberg Tribunal’s declaration that a supposed “supreme international crime…contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” was a way of saying that the atrocties inflicted against Germany by the Alles were morally correct because Germany “started” the war.

    At Nuremberg the German defense counsel Otto Kransbuehler argued that in launching and continuing total war against Germany, Britain and her allies deliberately and systematically ignored the rules of the Hague Convention, which had been adapted in 1922 to establish laws for conducting land warfare. In consequence of her enemies’ lawlessness, Germany, he said, was relieved of the Convention’s obligations regarding the conduct of war. This included the protection of civilians in war zones and other occupied areas when military or economic necessity required it.

    This defense was, not surprisingly, rejected. That RAF night-time bombing raids on German civilian targets began in May, 1940, the day after Churchill became Prime Minister, and continued every night for the next five years, was ruled to be inadmissible evidence for the German defense.

    The Tribunals also rejected the age-old tradition of immunity from criminal prosecution of sovereign nations. The Allies discarded basic principles of Western jurisprudence, perhaps most notably the well-established principle that in the absence of a law there can be neither crime nor punishment. Instead, the Tribunal established new laws for the occasion, which were applied not only retroactively, but uniquely and exclusively to the German defendants.

    I find it remarkable that progressives, among other who should, perhaps, know better, so completely swallow the World War II era propaganda line about Germany. We are told that a nation of seventy million people was ruthlessly determined to conquer and enslave the three billion people on earth. What if Germany was in truth mortally fearful of its survival in a world dominated by the billion-strong British Empire, plus the rising international might of the USA and USSR, with 320 million people and almost limitless war resources between them? What if Germany’s actions were defensive, to build herself quickly into a power able of repelling the combined attacks of the capitalist and the communist world powers, which agreed on one thing, that Germany’s experiment in socialism must be annihilated?

    • Auntiegrav
      December 6, 2014 at 20:01

      But Germany’s experiment wasn’t with socialism. It was with corporatism and state-sponsored egotism. It had really nothing to do with cooperative living by people for the good of the society, and instead was all-in for the profits and growth of the state and its most favored companies: many of them American and British, and all based on conquest and theft.
      It’s quite easy to imagine Hitler as just another desperate leader trying to save his country if you only read history from the Western point of view. Once you start counting the dead Russians and Chinese (Japan), however, there is no sensible way to justify the Axis slaughter. That’s before we even begin to talk about the Holocaust aspect.
      The bottom line is that Evil is an action taken based on an unquestioned belief. It doesn’t matter what you use to justify something after the fact, because taking action without truly questioning your motivation is just another “the end justifies the means” bullsnit. There is no end to human imagined reasons for action, so daily activities ARE who and what we are as a species. Tomorrow never comes, so it isn’t a justification for bad behavior. God never shows up in court, and the children are not OUR future: they are THEIR future, and we should not get any claim to it (debts).

  8. Murray Polner
    December 2, 2014 at 18:51

    Right you are! Badly missed is the NYTimeseXaminer.com (NYTX) which was a true and faithful NYTimes watchdog (I was one of their regular columists) but which died when the money ran out. Anyone else want to try? If so, check out their website.

  9. onno
    December 2, 2014 at 17:41

    Mr. Parry you prove how powerful MSM propaganda really is and it seems the people in USA and Europe take this all for granted. The question is of course whether the western public is getting bored with these repetitive messages whether it concerns Iraq/Syria or Ukraine/Russia. Bot issues and targets are far away from the USA so the public probably ignores the issues unless the body-bags are getting home like during the Vietnam war which waked up the US population at Universities and protests.
    Today all is forgotten and so are the Pentagon Papers revealing the dirt behind the Vietnam War which left 55.000 GI dead and many young American lives destroyed through severe injuries and then I am not talking about the trauma’s. Also Vietnam started with bombing, then military advisers and full blown army into a war that couldn’t be won. The French army tried it before and ended at Dien Bien Phu.
    Now Wasington is doing it again but this time at 2 fronts Syria/Iraq and Ukraine/Russia without a clear objective. And with a President in the White House who cannot or will not make any crucial decisions it sure will become a lengthy war with enormous suffering by the civilians mostly children who are traumatized and growing up hating Americans for their entire life.
    Another reason why the USA is becoming more and more isolated and President Putin of Russia and president Xi Jinping of China and even Modi of India realize that and leave the Americans in the dust going nowhere.
    TTIP between USA and EU is based on empty presumptions, carried out by incompetent politicians living in a dark room. Combining 2 losers doesn’t make a winner! USA/NATO wars and threats are the last convulsions of what was once called Western superiority, now it looks more like a old man (Obama) and woman Merkel who don’t realize they are mostly talking to themselves but the world doesn’t listen any more!

  10. December 2, 2014 at 16:41

    Wise and substantial analysis!
    There are latest articles on American foreign policy and US-Russian relations.
    American foreign policy in thrall to stereotypes (http://peacekeeper.ru/en/?module=news&action=view&id=22886)
    “Polite force” of Moscow against US “rap”
    There is something on Mh 17 tragedy
    http://peacekeeper.ru/en/?module=news&action=view&id=22707 and see section experts with military experts interviews.
    So, looking forward to your commentaries

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