Ukraine and the Hypocrisy of US Corporate Media
Jax Nicoloff / The Peace Advocate
(July 2022) — Last month, NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd ended his conversation with reporters from the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the National Review with the following assertion: “When it’s good versus evil, you have to sometimes, when you’re on the good side, have some ambiguity about discerning the real evil from the somewhat evil.”
In these closing remarks referencing the war in Ukraine, Todd refers to Russia as “the real evil’’ compared to a “somewhat evil” China, both confronting a “good” United States. His guest, Peter Baker, New York Times White House correspondent, nods in agreement before describing the Russian president’s “control over the information space.”
Since Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, the United States government and its corporate media outlets have loudly condemned Putin’s “authoritarian” and “oligarchical” control over its people and the Russian government’s dissemination of a carefully crafted narrative justifying its military action.
The US State Department and American corporate news media have routinely depicted Russian mainstream media as an “Orwellian” system of “disinformation and propaganda.” What the pundits ignore is the US media’s role in protecting corporate interests, advancing an imperialist foreign policy, and creating a false, self-serving narrative of world events.
Chuck Todd’s remarks on “Meet the Press” illustrate effectively the good versus evil narrative consistently disseminated across US corporate news outlets and intensified during coverage of the war in Ukraine. The narrative is an old one, heralding the role of US democracy in leading the charge against genocidal authoritarianism; it conveniently ignores other recent forms of deadly authoritarian violence, including US-backed atrocities in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.
In the first week of coverage of the Ukraine war by ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, frequent airing of Ukrainian voices in short person-on-the-street style interviews quickly whipped up sympathy for the victims of Russian aggression.
Where are the comparable stories of victims of American aggression in the Middle East? During the US invasion of Iraq, for example, Iraqi civilian sources constituted only 8% of total coverage provided by these three networks. Regarding the US-led coalition’s 2017 assault on Raqqa, Syria, (reported by Amnesty International to have killed 1,600 civilians), only 18 segments across the networks mentioned civilians during 5-months of coverage.
US attack on Raqqa killed an estimated 1,600 civilians.
In Palestine, civilians resisting violent US-funded occupation by Israel are routinely portrayed as violent soldiers involved in “clashes,” while Ukrainian civilians are glorified for their efforts to defend themselves from invasion. By honoring citizens experiencing violence from “evil” countries but ignoring those victimized by the US and its allies, corporate news outlets effectively conceal US war-making and imperialism destroying millions of innocent lives.
Corporate media’s function as a mouthpiece for American imperialism is enabled by weak antitrust laws allowing news outlets to be consolidated into six giant conglomerates with massive lists of subsidiaries and the power to reach billions. Comcast, Walt Disney Company, NewsCorp, National Amusements, and Warner Bros currently own nearly all the media Americans consume. [Note: According to other sources, the top six US media conglomerates — as of July 2022 — were: AT&T, Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, Netflix, CBS, and Facebook, with Fox News coming in seventh. — EAW]
Interlocking directorates and joint ventures among these powerful corporations consolidate further the power of the ultra-wealthy, the country’s homegrown oligarchy. In 2018, 34 companies owned more than 1,400 local news outlets across the country; the largest 25 companies controlled nearly one third of the newspapers. Facebook and Google dominate social media, accounting for over 70% of users directed to major news websites.
The connection between extreme consolidation of power in news media and the massive influence of arms manufacturers is what forms the military-industrial-media complex. The most obvious connection is outright ownership of media by corporations in the arms industry, such as General Electric’s past ownership of NBC. However, other more subtle factors operate, like revolving doors among US governmental agencies, the Pentagon, military contractors, and corporate media, and interlocking board memberships with clear conflicts of interest.
The words of Peter Baker on “Meet the Press” seem to fit the US State Department’s own definition of disinformation — i.e., crafting oversimplified narratives designed to turn the public’s attention away from the atrocious imperialism of the “good” United States. Ultimately, corporate control of US media appears to be associated with sins identical to those described in the villainized portrayal of Putin’s authoritarian- controlled media, including protecting the interests of powerful elites.
The crisis in Ukraine should remind us of the value of independent media in the US, Russia, and elsewhere. As Americans, our focus should be on questioning our own corporate media’s ongoing narrative of a free and fair US. We must not let US media finger-pointing cover up its role in our military-industrial complex, benefiting American oligarchs while defending a foreign policy of murderous imperialism.
Jax Nicoloff is an intern at MAPA and student at Northeastern University studying politics, philosophy, and economics. Photo: @DDERSS on Twitter, Aug 26, 2019. Original illustration by Tom Gauld.