When called to account for an apparent inaccuracy in a broadcast pinning the MH-17 shoot-down on Russian President Putin, Australia’s “60 Minutes” responded with insults and dissembling. But that behavior has been typical of the propaganda wars around the Ukraine crisis, writes Australian Greg Maybury.
By Greg Maybury
The following anecdote may or may not be apocryphal, but either way given the geopolitical zeitgeist, the “moral” of the “fable” is a telling one. The story goes that during the 1980s a group of American journalists were hosting a visit to the U.S. of one of their Soviet counterparts. After proudly showing their visitor the “ropes” as to how it all works stateside, most of them expected their guest to express unbridled envy at the professional liberties they enjoyed in the Land of the Free Press. Later, whilst comparing notes about how they respectively went about plying their trade, the Russian scribe was indeed compelled to express his unabashed “admiration” to his hosts but it was for the “superior quality” of American “propaganda.”
Now it’s fair to say his hosts were taken aback by what was at best a backhanded compliment. After some collegial argy-bargy about the stereotypes customarily associated with Western “press freedom” versus those of the controlled media in the Soviet system, one of the Americans called on their Russian colleague to explain himself. In fractured English, he replied with the following:
“It’s very simple. In Soviet Union, we don’t believe our propaganda. In United States, you actually believe yours!”
Many people familiar with this relatively obscure yarn might this week have once more been reminded of its enduring pertinence in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 eras with the airing last week on “60 Minutes” Australia of a report claiming to have solved the mystery of the Malaysian Airlines MH-17 shoot-down disaster last July 17 over eastern Ukraine.
This would especially have been the case with those of us who’ve had singular difficulty with the official Western position on who was actually responsible for the incident, one to which the “60 Minutes” segment seemed to go out of its way to give its seal of approval.
Along with reviving a major international story that for almost six months now has all but gone missing in media action, the “60 Minutes” crew ostensibly have added fuel to the fire that still attends the broader Ukraine situation, along with that of the resultant standoff between Russia and America and its Western allies, over what is happening in that country. In this context the introductory anecdote (above) takes on additional resonance.
I will return to the actual “60 Minutes” segment shortly along with some reactions to it. However, given the long dormant status of the story, it is necessary to revisit some of the key aspects of this international tragedy, one in which Australia lost 38 people, second only to the Netherlands, which lost 193 nationals.
The significance of the MH-17 story cannot be underestimated, despite or indeed because of its extended absence from the news cycle. This, not least because of the large number of family members and friends both in Australia and worldwide of those who perished and who themselves are still, some 10 months later, looking for answers and some closure. Moreover, the very fact this incident took place within the supercharged geopolitical atmosphere that is the Ukraine crisis, one even more charged now than it was then, is also of considerable importance.
From the outset, Western governments and politicians from across the political spectrum led by the nose by the neoconservative cabals in Washington and dutifully buttressed by their propaganda shills in the corporate or mainstream media (MSM) relentlessly sought to assign blame to Russia for the shoot-down. This was a textbook media case study reinforcing the old adage about never letting the facts get in the way of a good story. In the course of doing so, they recklessly inflamed an already intense standoff between the two countries over the Ukraine crisis, one that it has to be emphasized, is largely of America’s own making.
Despite official denials from Washington, this “crisis” we now know was custom-designed and purpose-built by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and her posse of “regime changers” in the State Department, dutifully backed up by their neoconservative cronies (including Nuland’s husband Robert Kagan), to say little of the “liberal interventionists” in the Obama administration and in the broader Official Washington community.
As for what actually happened to MH-17 and who was responsible, Washington and the MSM in the West continued to maintain their rage for Russia despite being unable to provide concrete evidence of their claims, all the while singularly failing to provide news consumers and the general public with the full story, at least to the extent it was known.
If nothing else (and with this story there is plenty “else”), the MH-17 fallout was emblematic of the MSM’s long, well (if not fully) documented, and not so illustrious history of venal complicity in blindly validating Western governments’ approved narratives, along with sanctioning their official agendas and, whether through sins of omission or commission, suppressing their secret ones.
This is not conspiracy theory; it’s conspiracy reality. In fact it remains one of the key reasons why the generic MSM brand is in such decline among discerning news consumers seeking timely truths and authentic realities about the world in which we live and the forces which shape it.
For those folks highly skeptical, even dismissive, of the official narrative of the events leading up to and attending the MH-17 disaster, it was and has always been a “put up or shut up” proposition. This is something even the “60 Minutes” folks would have known from the start. And although we can say those promulgating this official narrative were unable to “put up” (albeit not for the want of trying), they eventually did “shut up.”.
The Blame Game
It seems then the politicians and their praetorian guard-dogs in the MSM were unable to sustain the breathlessly hysterical, one-sided “blame game” they collectively indulged in with respect to Russia, all the while reserving particular animus for its President Vladimir Putin. The “blame game” then was called off, though it was always something of a “shell-game” in disguise.
The hypocrisy was breathtaking in its scope, duration and intensity. Indeed, so “hysterical” was the backlash, Western leaders appeared to be outdoing themselves in carrying the can for Washington, with arguably Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott leading the pack by earlier threatening to “shirt-front” the Russian president over the issue during his official visit to this country last November for the 2014 G20 meeting in Brisbane.
Coming from a national leader on the world stage, this unprecedented, petulant outburst was something to behold. But such was the fervor of the times regarding MH-17 especially, and more broadly, the anti-Russian mood that prevailed earlier in the year over Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine in the aftermath of the U.S.’s prefabricated coup d’état.
Yet even putting aside the reality, Abbott was doubtless playing to local audiences given the number of Aussies killed in the shoot-down (to say nothing of his rock-bottom domestic political stocks at the time), it was clear from this moment the anti-Russian mood across the West at least within official circles if the effective G20 snubbing of Putin was any indication had indeed reached a crescendo if it hadn’t taken on a life of its own.
The MH-17 incident proved to be a powerful lightning rod through which the bear baiting could effectively be channeled by all and sundry. It was the gift that kept on giving for the neoconservatives and their interventionist confreres, along with those American allies wanting to ingratiate themselves with the Beltway Bandits on both banks of the Potomac.
Then, after the G20 in Brisbane, the collective Western umbrage died out. The intensity and duration of the ongoing anti-Russian feeding frenzy was completely at odds with the abruptness with which the MH-17 matter disappeared from the news cycle. The silence on MH-17 might have been deafening, yet it spoke volumes at the same time, and still does. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Danger of an MH-17 ‘Cold Case’” and “US Intel Stands Pat on MH-17 Shoot-down.”]
That said, in retrospect it seems it was only a matter of time before someone somewhere sought to revive the story complete with the “Putin did it” narrative. Cue here “60 Minutes” Australia!
The Dogs Not Barking
Now we can only surmise that this recent revelation purporting to be the definitive account of what actually happened to, and who was responsible for, the MH-17 shoot-down was the end result of a decision by the “60 Minutes” folks to boldly go where their colleagues in other MSM outlets feared to tread, fears based one suspects on the old adage that it’s better to let sleeping media dogs lie after all.
Moreover, one suspects this may have been an attempt by “60 Minutes” at brand “rehab,” since for those of us with a more nuanced view of how the MSM really works have known for some time said “brand” has become somewhat shop-soiled over the years. And given “60 Minutes” status as a flagship MSM name whether in Australia or in the U.S. going down this path was always going to attract people’s attention. For this reason alone it was fraught with peril, so they just had to get this one right!
Which is to say, this was the only way they could go if they were attempting to revive the MH-17 story. Considering the basic laws governing the media news-cycle, efforts to do so had to be accompanied by some groundbreaking new insights, or at least the next best thing. And one can only wonder what the “next best thing” might have looked like short of finding the “smoking gun” (or should we say, “smoking BUK”) and identifying the persons who fired it. This was especially the case given the hammering the same media gave the issue from the outset.
But in declaring unequivocally they had indeed done all this, in the process correspondent Michael Usher and his intrepid “60 Minutes” team of investigators may have not only opened up a can of worms, they might also have bitten off more than they can chew and dug themselves into an even deeper hole in one fell swoop. They are going to look awfully silly if they aren’t able to sustain the narrative they have assembled from their investigations.
The proof will be in the pudding going forward one imagines, the “pudding” in this case being largely whether the general public in Australia or anywhere else accepts their conclusions, and whether other MSM outlets pick up on the story and continue to run with it. And as of this writing, there appear few signs their MSM confreres either in Australia or in the U.S. are chomping at the bit to do so.
With this in mind, if Robert Parry of Consortium News has anything to do with it, rather than gaining any ongoing traction, the story as it stands will be stopped in its tracks. Although his profile Down Under may not be high, Parry is one of America’s most respected investigative journalists working in the alternative, independent media space. He’s also someone who has taken a very strong interest in the MH-17 incident, and in the broader situation in the Ukraine. After viewing the “60 Minutes” report, he was to put it mildly less than impressed with Usher and Co.’s “findings.”
Now because readers can decide for themselves by viewing the various links herein and doing their own research if so inclined, there’s little point rehashing the minutiae of the “60 Minutes” revelations or providing a blow-by-blow account of Parry’s own responses. It is however worth noting some of the key points.
The Video Mismatch
To begin with, Parry suggests that “60 Minutes” might have “faked” a key piece of evidence in arriving at its conclusion in claiming that it had located the spot where a video was taken after the MH-17 shoot-down and showing what appears to be a BUK launcher making a getaway. The “60 Minutes” team claimed the spot was in rebel-controlled Luhansk and the launcher was fleeing back to Russian territory. However, Parry noted that the scene in the earlier video didn’t match the site shown by “60 Minutes.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Fake Evidence Blaming Russia for MH-17?”]
Further, Parry pointed to one of the main bones of contention for those of us who have had great difficulty accepting the official position, that being “the dog-not-barking question of why the U.S. government has withheld its intelligence data.” This is a not unimportant consideration by any means and one to which we’ll return.
Not unexpectedly the “60 Minutes” folks in response took considerable umbrage at Parry’s suggestion they were engaging in journalistic “sleight-of-hand” in the way they had framed their narrative and presented their “ground-breaking new insights.” One member of the investigative team tweeted that Parry had made a “huge and embarrassing mistake” but didn’t say what it was.
However it was the segment’s producer Stephen Rice who adopted an especially righteous stance. Describing Parry’s claims as “nonsense, and demonstrably wrong,” he then went for the journalistic jugular by declaring Parry’s piece “an amateurish attempt to discredit our story, embarrassing even for him.” Now the loaded phrase “even for him” is a measure of Rice’s “umbrage” to be sure, and suggests that for reasons about which we can only speculate he had little regard for Parry’s journalistic integrity even prior to his outburst.
There was certainly a whiff of the “methinks he doth protest too much” about it. Yet one is left wondering if Rice is so convinced they got their story right and that the facts speak for themselves, whether this decidedly nasty additive at the end of his salvo was actually necessary, or for that matter was becoming of any self-respecting journalist.
But they left themselves wide open to Parry’s follow-up response, again noting that the two images one from the night of July 17 and the other from the “60 Minutes” show simply don’t match up and that all the hostile rhetoric won’t change that fact. Parry again published the side-by-side images with an invitation to readers to decide for themselves. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “You Be the Judge.”]
And in respect to any further consideration of who the real culprits were and as to what actually happened to MH-17 the sole focus of the “60 Minutes” story the significance of the “question” regarding why U.S. intelligence data has been withheld cannot be overstated. With this in mind, in the course of their investigation, why didn’t the “60 Minutes” folks seek out someone from the U.S. Government to provide corroboration or otherwise from their own intelligence data as to the veracity of their findings?
Or to put it in even simpler terms, why didn’t “60 Minutes” ask the U.S. Government point-blank why they have thus far refused to release all the satellite imagery and related intelligence data on the MH-17 shoot-down that by most objective accounts would put the matter to rest once and for all? We might safely surmise herein this is because of the same reason there is still much evidence yet to see the light of day regarding the JFK Thing, or the 9/11 Thing, or the Iran/Contra Thing or any number of other memorable “Things” for which full explanations and revelations from the U.S. government remain outstanding.
More Revelation, Less Accusation
Taking then a broader view, there are a myriad range of other issues and angles to be considered for anyone revisiting the whole MH-17 tragedy: the geopolitical milieu in which the MH-17 incident took place and the narrative framework in which its story continues to play out the ongoing Ukraine crisis created by Washington; the West’s diplomatic marginalization of Russia coupled with the economic sanctions; the incessant saber-rattling and continuing encroachment by NATO around Russia’s borders; the resentment and suspicion that America through its belligerent foreign policy machinations is fomenting with nations such as Iran, China and others all has the potential to determine the fate of nations and the geopolitical landscape for years to come. And not it needs be said, in a good way. And that’s without considering the “nuke” factor!
In this context then, the MH-17 disaster in realpolitik terms may not even matter that much anymore. This may explain why the story disappeared so quickly from the media radar. In reality and again with the benefit of some rear-view-mirror gazing, the MH-17 tragedy was always a geopolitical football from the beginning, and in that sense it has long since served its purpose.
To underscore this and at the same time point to some of those myriad issues and angles regarding the MH-17 shoot-down that have all been swept under the carpet including it should be noted by our intrepid “60 Minutes” journalistic “gumshoes” the documentary by Peter Vlemmix is a must watch.
To be sure, there are “plenty” of other folks who have questioned and indeed openly challenged the rationale for the official response from Western politicians and the MSM. But Vlemmix’s film is as good a place to begin for those looking to gain a more complete and more dispassionate perspective. And for those wishing to explore an alternative summary of the evidentiary minutiae specifically addressed by “60 Minutes,” the link herein is also highly recommended.
Further, it may also be instructive to consider the following. Over three months ago and well after the MH-17 story disappeared from the radar, I personally sent to Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop an email presenting her with a number of queries regarding the Australian government’s official position on MH-17 at that point. These are some of the questions I asked the Minister then, and they remain pertinent now:
- What countries are currently involved in [the MH-17] investigation, and what specific role is Australia playing? At what stage is the investigation itself and when does the Minister expect that it will be completed and a report available?
- Can the minister confirm or deny speculation/reports that the findings of the investigation will not be released? If they are not to be released as has been reported, can the Minister please explain why this is the case?
- If it is found the Ukrainian separatists were responsible – which seems to be the official position of most stakeholders – will this change the position of the countries involved as to whether the findings indeed will be released if at this stage there is – as reported – no plans to do so?
- If the report is not to be released, will the relatives of the victims be privy to the findings, regardless of the outcome of said findings? If not, why not? If so, what conditions might be placed on them re: confidentiality if indeed the report is not going to be released in full un-redacted? Will they still be able to seek compensation from those responsible, regardless of who that is?
- If it is found that the Russian separatists were not in fact responsible for this disaster, will the Australian government lift the sanctions imposed on the Russian government in the wake of the disaster? Will the Australian Prime Minister also apologise to the Russian president for both the imposition of the sanctions, and the manner in which he was treated during the Brisbane G20?
- If in fact it is found that the Ukrainian regime was responsible, will the Australian government seek compensation for victims and reimbursement for the cost of the recovery operation and investigation? Will it seek an official apology from and/or impose economic sanctions on the Ukraine regime in response? Will the relevant members of the Ukrainian regime face possible criminal charges in international courts?
Now there was no response from the Minister’s office despite a follow-up query, which for most may not be surprising. And we can only speculate as to whether I might have received a reply had I been a “60 Minutes” investigative reporter. For others, especially after all the brouhaha surrounding MH-17, the no-reply might also be something of a fashion statement.
But the point herein is this: As with all incidents useful to Western governments, the MH-17 tragedy had served its purpose. There was no political dividend in continuing to flog the proverbial dead horse.
The Perpetual Siren Call of Realpolitik
As brutal as it sounds, the Australian government’s priority was not finding closure for the victims’ families, determining the real cause of the tragedy, or ensuring as far as is possible those responsible faced justice, and it would appear that the Netherlands is no different in this respect.
In response to the additional controversy over the release of a report on the investigation and as to who would actually get to see it, the Dutch Prime Minister’s office issued a statement late November 2014 that said the following, which wasn’t much in words, but spoke volumes in meaning: “.the benefits of disclosing information about the MH17 investigation were outweighed by the risk of damage to the Dutch state’s relations to other states and world bodies.”
Although no one has yet coughed up hard-core evidence against the Kremlin (including it would seem most key figures in the U.S. intelligence community), the Western powers led by Washington have flagrantly exploited the disaster in order to bolster their propaganda campaign against Russia. This is, after all, the Washington Way. Within the geopolitical realm though and in the final analysis, the perpetual siren call of realpolitik dictates that there are more often than not bigger fish to fry.
Moreover, with the possible exception of the consideration the Russian separatists did shoot down the airliner deliberately and did so at the Kremlin’s instigation (a scenario that no one takes seriously), regardless of what happened and who was responsible for the disaster, the Americans themselves have to shoulder most if not all the blame for this lamentable, avoidable tragedy. Their track record of “regime change” is one that is well documented, with the commensurate blowback from such interventions constituting a narrative deep, wide and long enough to justify its own unique classification and index number within the Dewey library catalogue system.
In this context then the MH-17 tragedy appears to be the direct outcome of another of those interventions, collateral damage as a direct consequence of playing the Great Game in the relentless pursuit of empire. For that matter, Ukraine itself may also be destined to take a back seat in the Great Game going forward. This observation was underscored by Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times recently, wherein he reports on an apparent thaw in the U.S.Russia relationship, one instigated by America.
As for the “60 Minutes” folks, they may or may not have had the best intentions in their fearless efforts to uncover the truth. And they may or may not have covered all the bases and considered all the relevant facts, evidence and issues in delivering their final verdict. If they haven’t then, this would not be the first time by any stretch one of the MSM’s flagship brands has been caught short and found wanting in any or all of the above criteria.
As far as the “60 Minutes” brand itself is concerned, in this respect we only have to recall “Rathergate”. This referred to the Dan Rather imbroglio in 2004 resulting from revelations about George W. Bush’s National Guard duty in the lead-up to the presidential election of that year, “revelations” which were based in part on questionable documents. The botched story it should be remembered culminated in the veteran newsman’s downfall, along with the firing of several lesser known colleagues.
In concluding then, for the moment and for the sake of argument, let’s give the “60 Minutes” crew the benefit of the doubt. They may have approached their investigation with an open mind from the start and then even genuinely believed when they went to air the program they were on the right track. Yet such was the nature of this story that that in the final analysis was never going to be enough. Their findings had to be more than convincing, even more than conclusive; they had to be bulletproof.
For his part Robert Parry has raised sufficient doubts, enough to render their findings significantly less than conclusive if not indeed less than credible. It is difficult then to accept that this high-wire adventure in investigative journalism had less to do with arriving at a truth or reality that most of us could get our heads around. It was more about reinforcing an official narrative one that has never been explained or evidenced satisfactorily by those who were best positioned, and upon whom it was always incumbent, to do so and more to do with journalistic one-upmanship, MSM grandstanding and brand refurbishment.
And judging by the singular lack of interest from other MSM outlets in taking up the “60 Minutes” story, even their own colleagues apparently aren’t that convinced they in fact, did get it right. Until and unless this happens, Messrs Usher and Rice and their crew it seems will have two options, neither of which one imagines would be very palatable for Brand “60 Minutes.” They can dig in their heels, “maintain the rage” on their Pat Malone, or stop “mentioning the war.”
Doubtless though, it will be fascinating to see which path they take going forward. Tick, tock! Tick tock!.. Tick tock!…
Greg Maybury is a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia.