In Media critique, Roger Annis, Ukraine

By Roger Annis, Aug 3, 2014

Sabrina Tavernise is a reporter at the New York Times who has spent a lot of time in eastern Ukraine of late. She was with the first, small group of international reporters who arrived at the scene of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 hours after it came down on July 17. She was a guest on the Charlie Rose program on PBS on July 29 and she provided a highly informative, 16-minute interview. The interview is here; it begins at the 22’ mark (31′ mark on the screen below).

Tavernise brings her particular insights as well as her biases to the interview. She provides a fascinating insight into the people of eastern Ukraine who are resisting the murderous war being waged against them by the government in Kyiv.

Tavernise confirms that the self defense fighters in the region where the plane came down made no effort to stop international inspectors from reaching the crash during the time in which they controlled the site. Days after fighters turned the site over to the international inspection, blockage began on July 27 by the Ukraine army as it rampaged in the area, violating calls for a ceasefire. The blockage lasted for four days. No foreign journalist of which I am aware inquired into why access to the site was closed and what happened there during that time. As to the governments in Europe, North America and Australia that are supporting Kyiv’s war, well, it’s a fact that they did not ask questions or express outrage at the blockage.

Speaking about the rebel movement, Tavernise explains, “For the most part, they are indigenous people–coal miners, clerks, drivers of buses, just ordinary people living there who feel threatened by the Ukraine government bringing in tanks and planes to suppress their rebellion. For the most part, they are impoverished.

“For the most part, their pants are tied together with pieces of string [she gestures sympathetically]. They have one cow, they have one rifle. Many of them took pains to point out to us, to show us: ‘Look at my gun, look at when it was made’. And it would be 1945, 1952–very old pieces of equipment.”

She said there had been several “bombings” [artillery or aerial attacks] in the area by Kyiv forces prior to the crash, provoking “great hostility” to what is, as a result of attacks, now perceived to be a foreign government.

She was asked by Charlie Rose about the goals of the rebel movement, but her stated experience is with the rudimentary political base of the movement, not its leading cadre. So her answer is very partial. The program host quickly moves on to other matters, including speculative questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A contrasting and quite biased report from eastern Ukraine is provided by another journalist at the Times in a print report dated Aug. 1. Andrew Higgins reports from the city of Slavyansk, which was under siege and assault by the Kyiv government for two months beginning in May. The assault was spearheaded by barbaric shellings and fighter aircraft attacks on the city that eventually cut water, electricity and communications to the civilian population and caused much of it to flee.

Higgins doesn’t say a word about the bloody siege and assault by Kyiv. Instead, he is focused on convincing the reader of all the shortcomings and failings of the harsh and chaotic conditions under which the population sought to resist the military aggression.

An example of the subtle bias of the report is a quotation from the chief surgeon at the city’s Lenin Hospital. Arkady Glushenko says, “It was a horror, a total horror. Nobody wants a repeat of that.” But what is the “it” to which the surgeon is referring? Higgins sets it up to imply that the surgeon is referring to the chaotic rule of the rebels. But it seems rather evident that the surgeon is talking about Kyiv’s assault. We are left to guess at the exact truth.

Many of the quotations printed by Higgins are similarly vague and undefined. The aim, it is evident, is to marshall selected quotations to convince the reader that the self defense fighters are to blame for all the suffering and that local residents, indeed, hold them responsible.

Higgins inadvertently provides information in his article refuting his thesis of a population welcoming its liberators. He says the Ukraine army has “flooded” the city with soldiers and police, many of whom have little formal training. And he quotes rather ominously a Ukraine government police official as to the intentions of the new political rule that has been restored by Kyiv. He says, “We can’t just liberate these places by force of arms but need to change people’s thinking.”

The picture that emerges from Higgins’ account of Slavyansk during the Kyiv government assault is that of a city in chaos. Not surprising, considering the savagery of the attack. But the reader is told nothing of that attack, not a word. As to what it all means, who can trust the views of a journalist who says not a word of the brutal assault by Kyiv? He seems on a mission to discredit self-defense fighters as well as the local population who–surprise!–voice critical words about the self defense forces… now that they are living under an occupation by their conquerors.

*****

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