Throughout the day before the summit in Helsinki, the lead story on the New York Times home page stayed the same: “Just by Meeting With Trump, Putin Comes Out Ahead.” The Sunday headline was in harmony with the tone of U.S. news coverage overall. As for media commentary, the Washington Post was in the dominant groove as it editorialized that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is “an implacably hostile foreign adversary.”
Contempt for diplomacy with Russia is now extreme. Mainline US journalists and top Democrats often bait President Trump in zero-sum terms. No doubt Hillary Clinton thought she was sending out an applause line in her tweet Sunday night: “Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”
A bellicose stance toward Russia has become so routine and widespread that we might not give it a second thought – and that makes it all the more hazardous. After President George W. Bush declared “You’re either with us or against us,” many Americans gradually realized what was wrong with a Manichean view of the world. Such an outlook is even more dangerous today.
Since early 2017, the US mass media have laid it on thick with the rough political equivalent of a painting technique known as chiaroscuro – “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition,” in the words of Wikipedia. The Russiagate frenzy is largely about punching up contrasts between the United States (angelic and victimized) and Russia (sinister and victimizer).
Countless stories with selective facts are being told that way. But other selectively fact-based stories could also be told to portray the United States as a sinister victimizer and Russia as an angelic victim. Those governments and their conformist media outlets are relentless in telling it either way. As the great journalist I.F. Stone observed long ago, “All governments lie, and nothing they say should be believed.” In other words: don’t trust, verify.
Often the biggest lies involve what remains unsaid. For instance, US media rarely mention such key matters as the promise-breaking huge expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the brazen US intervention in Russia’s pivotal 1996 presidential election, or the US government’s 2002 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or the more than 800 US military bases overseas – in contrast to Russia’s nine.
For human survival on this planet, an overarching truth appears in an open letter published last week by The Nation magazine: “No political advantage, real or imagined, could possibly compensate for the consequences if even a fraction of US and Russian arsenals were to be utilized in a thermonuclear exchange. The tacit pretense that the worsening of U.S.-Russian relations does not worsen the odds of survival for the next generations is profoundly false.”
The initial 26 signers…