Recently FAIR ran a report concerning the coverage given the incipient genocide in Yemen by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post. It seems that both news organizations covered the crisis without ever mentioning the support given by the United States to the Saudis. We are responsible— no one who actually covers the issue honestly bothers to deny that. What they do instead is forget to mention it.
The New York Times has done a better job and was recently praised by Mark Weisbrot on the Real News Network for acknowledging US complicity in war crimes while they are happening, something the Times rarely does, albeit in an editorial. But if you read the editorial in question, it is less than overwhelming in its honesty. Congress is praised by the New York Times editors and Trump is condemned, but the legislation was a toothless measure. It is a step forward but it was also a compromise. Nothing was actually done to stop American aid to the Saudis. Our complicity continues. Weisbrot points out that it might eventually lead to more debate and a final end of US complicity, but it hasn’t happened yet.
And in a more recent story the New York Times follows the lead of the Post and 60 Minutes and simply omits US complicity, writing as though the crimes were all the fault of the Others, as we wring our hands wondering if they could be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, Russiagate continues to outrage mainstream American liberals who are shocked, shocked, that an American President might be tied to Putin. Putin, you see, is a thuggish person. We can’t have our foreign policies dictated by such a person… though one wonders if Putin is the one telling Trump to pick fights with Iran, given that Iran and the Russians are aligned together in the Mideast.
The Russiagate storyline is very confusing, until you realize it is being put forward by people who are studiously ignoring actual, out in the open, bipartisan Presidential collusion with one of the worst regimes on the planet as it murders children in Yemen.
Note the outrage directed at Russia in the comments following this Times story. The thrust of the article is that Russian dissidents who despise Putin think Americans are being ridiculous concerning the meddling; but the Times readers will have none of it. How many of these people have been following the story in Yemen? How many question the push to war with Iran or wonder how that is supposed to tie in with Putin as puppet master? I don’t know, but I would bet there is little overlap between those who are outraged about US involvement in Yemen and those obsessed with Russiagate, because one story makes the other seem absurdly trivial.
When you read liberals in comment threads or hear them in real life it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the simplest, most insultingly stupid forms of propaganda actually work. And they work on well educated liberals. The New York Times does from time to time condemn U.S. complicity in Yemen, but in a way that is almost certainly designed to minimize it or make it seem anomalous or tangential, just another bad thing Trump does. During the Obama era they reported concern on the part of some lawyers in the State Department that we could be complicit, but it was never given front page attention or a constant drumbeat of editorial outrage. Obama’s State Department spokesman defended the Saudis, claiming that their bombing of civilians was accidental, unlike what the Russians did in Syria. Lying about Saudi war crimes and our complicity didn’t merit any outrage in the New York Times. There is just enough honesty in the paper so they can say they covered the issue, but not enough to signal to their readers that the issue matters.
Of course the readers shouldn’t need that signal. But obviously they do. A torrent of stories has convinced them that Russiagate is a moral outrage, the great issue of our time. Yemen is a sort of boutique issue, something you might mention once in a while and if so, you blame Trump or simply blame the Saudis. But nobody obsesses about it and nobody asks what form of moral or financial corruption has led us to this point or asked whether the whole political system seems designed to obfuscate our guilt when we participate in mass murder. It deserves the occasional story. Our killing of civilians in our own bombings receives some mention— the New York Times carried a great story on civilian casualties of airstrikes in Iraq a month ago which seemingly had no impact whatsoever.
Then we go back to what really matters, which is Russiagate.
It’s not exactly clear why it matters. What has Putin persuaded Trump to do? Is it a bad thing that we might not arm Syrian rebels? Should we be imposing a no fly zone in Syria and killing Russians and Syrians in the process? Did Putin stand in the way of America exerting its will in the world as God intended? Nobody spells it out. Or rather, it seems to change. Right now the moral outrage is that Trump interfered with US foreign policy before taking office. This is the sort of thing Republican usually say about liberal Democrats when they oppose some Republican war. I despise Trump, but when Flynn met the Russians on behalf of Israel he was acting like most of Congress, except it was the Russian factor that makes it outrageous. If liberals cared that much about the Israeli occupation they wouldn’t need Flynn’s Russian lobbying to be angry. And I seriously doubt we will see Israeli connections investigated. How many FBI guys would we need to do that?
When you consider how much news coverage we have from organizations that pride themselves on their professionalism, a person from Neptune would find it remarkable that so many American liberals are so indifferent to the fact that we are complicit in a crime against humanity. This isn’t a secret. It isn’t something hidden in the ultra classified files of the NSA waiting for some Snowden to leak or for some British spy to uncover. There is just enough coverage so that no one somewhat interested in politics could deny knowledge, and yet it continues because we all know it just doesn’t matter that much. We may eventually stop helping the Saudis murder children, but there won’t be an investigation and something like it will happen again. Maybe the press is the way it is because it reflects the values of its readers
We act this way because we are a superpower and we can squash people like bugs without serious consequence to ourselves if it happens to be convenient; and so this is what we do. The upper ten or twenty percent, the educated consumers of the liberal press, have up to this point benefited from the system in place. I don’t know how much of our GDP requires the murder of people overseas but obviously some powerful people benefit from US imperialism and this corrupts both our politicians and the mainstream press which does just enough reporting so they don’t look like total liars, but without ever digging too deeply into the rot that permeates the whole.
For the educated liberal it is convenient to believe that whatever is really wrong can be identified with the Republican Party, so if we just win elections for the Democrats everything will be fine. Russiagate is utterly irresistible. Some bad foreigner helped the worst imaginable Republican. Liberals get to be liberal and wave the flag.
Stories like what we or our allies do to Gaza or Yemen or other places contradict the narrative and make us uncomfortable, as it involves us all, so we ignore them the way people ignore the sexual abusers if acting against them would threaten their jobs. We should stop doing this. But it is hard to see what will make us stop doing this.