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Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War


Like Saddam Hussein a decade and a half ago, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin have been repeatedly vilified in the Western media over the last five years, helping to mobilize popular support for the reemergence of a new Cold War.

Best-selling author Dan Talbot has called it in “one of the biggest fake news operations comparable to the yellow journalism promoted by the Hearst papers which sold military intervention in the Spanish-American War.”

This past Sunday, the British newspapers were filled with screaming headlines about a leading financier of the Brexit campaign’s alleged “Kremlin connection.”

Leaked emails allegedly show how Arron Banks, a millionaire businessman who helped fund Brexit, had been offered a business deal involving six Russian gold mines and had undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador to Britain – set up by a suspected Russian spy – and paid a previous unknown visit to Moscow at the height of the campaign.

Richard Kerbaj and a team of Sunday Times’journalists editorialized that “the revelations raise explosive questions about attempts by Moscow to influence the [Brexit] referendum results.”

The cover story featured a large photo of Donald Trump with Banks, a business associates, Andy Wigmore, and Nigel Farange, the right wing pro-Brexit leader.

The meeting was said to have been consumed over a “boozy lunch” with the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, who allegedly produced a bottle of vodka that “was one of the three in a batch made for Joseph Stalin personally.”

Banks said that “by mid-afternoon, everyone was quite merry and diplomatic protocols were rapidly falling by the wayside.”

Reporter Isabel Oakeshott, who helped break the story, warned readers that “warfare has never simply been about bombs and bullets. Our adversaries [also] seek to weaken us by cultivating relationships with political figures and attempting to turn them into agents of influence. Russia is expert at this. The offer of lucrative business opportunities is a typical tool.”

Oakeshott and her colleagues, however, produced no verifiable evidence that the meetings involving Banks and the Russian ambassador had anything more to do with business deals, which never actually went forward.

Oakeshott notes that Banks is married to a Russian and sympathizes with some of Putin’s political views, but the allegations of covert warfare and Kremlin manipulation of him and the Brexit campaign remain unproven, as does the insinuation that both Trump and Farange are Manchurian candidates.

The Times generally devoted almost its entire Sunday issue to warning about the Russian threat.

The main news review by David Dimbleby emphasized the authoritarianism and corruption pervading Russian society and describes his visit to a military center where Russian children as young as seven competed to assemble a Kalashnikov rifle.

A back page editorial “We Must Expose Russia’s Useful Idiots” seconded Prime Minister Theresa May’s warning about the Russian threat, and said that the new revelations, combined with some alleged tweets by Russian “bots’ supportive of Labor Party opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, show how Russia had tried to “influence the outcome of the EU referendum and last years’ general election [in Britain] as it had with the U.S. presidential contest.”

TheTimesopined that the “Kremlin had struck gold” in Banks and Wigmore who had been identified as “useful to President Putin’s geopolitical aims.” The “unexpected bonus for Russia was “that their newly acquired contacts were given access to Donald Trump.”

Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, warned in another column about the Kremlin’s adoption of a mass political warfare campaign that drew on the precedent of the Soviet era, when the Kremlin “financed communist parties in Britain and other countries, as well as the so-called ‘peace movement’ that campaigned for the West to disarm, but ignored the Soviet war machine.”

According to Lucas, Putin’s Russia poses a far more “potent threat to democracy than Leonid Brezhnev’s Kremlin ever did.”

Putin’s Russia has many problems, however, the Times reporting like that of its American counterparts is obsessive, one-sided, and sensationalistic.

It is part and parcel of effort to revitalize the mentality of the Cold War, and to scapegoat Russia for societal problems, which serves the needs of the ruling classes.

In Creating Russophobia: From the Religious Schism to Putin (Clarity Press, 2017), Guy Mettan points out that the charges of Russian political interference go back to at least the 18thcentury.

Russophobia resembles both antisemitism and Islamophobia in that “it exists first in the head of the one who looks not in the victims’ alleged behavior or characteristics. [It is] a way of turning specific pseudo-facts into essential one-dimensional values, barbarity, despotism, and expansionism in the Russian case in order to justify stigmatization and ostracism.”

This stigmatization and ostracism is in turnbeing used to advance a dangerous new arms race, interference in Ukraine and reinvigoration of the Cold War, which Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic should oppose.

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Jeremy Kuzmarov is the author of The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018). 

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