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Back to the USSR: How to Read Western News

In the Cold War there was a notion going around that the Soviet and Western systems were converging and that they would meet in the middle.

Patrick Armstrong

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Authored by Patrick Armstrong via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The heroes of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers visit the fictional borough of Eatanswill to observe an election between the candidates of the Blue Party and the Buff Party. The town is passionately divided, on all possible issues, between the two parties. Each party has its own newspaper: the Eatanswill Gazette is Blue and entirely devoted to praising the noble Blues and excoriating the perfidious and wicked Buffs; the Eatanswill Independent is equally passionate on the opposite side of every question. No Buff would dream of reading the “that vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette”, nor Blue the ”that false and scurrilous print, the Independent”.

As usual with Dickens it is both exaggerated and accurate. Newspapers used to be screamingly partisan before “journalism” was invented. Soon followed journalism schools, journalism ethics and journalism objectivity: “real journalism” as they like to call it (RT isn’t of course). “Journalism” became a profession gilded with academical folderol; no longer the refuge of dropouts, boozers, failures, budding novelists and magnates like Lord Copper who know what they want and pay for it. But, despite the pretence of objectivity and standards, there were still Lord Coppers and a lot of Eatanswill. Nonetheless, there were more or less serious efforts to get the facts and balance the story. And Lord Coppers came and went: great newspaper empires rose and fell and there was actually quite a variety of ownership and news outlets. There was sufficient variance that a reader, who was neither Blue nor Buff, could triangulate and form a sense of what was going on.

In the Soviet Union news was controlled; there was no “free press”; there was one owner and the flavours were only slightly varied: the army paper, the party paper, the government paper, papers for people interested in literature or sports. But they all said the same thing about the big subjects. The two principal newspapers were Pravda (“truth”) and Izvestiya (“news”). This swiftly led to the joke that there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestiya. It was all pretty heavy handed stuff: lots of fat capitalists in top hats and money bags; Uncle Sam’s clothing dripping with bombs; no problems over here, nothing but problems over there. And it wasn’t very successful propaganda: most of their audience came to believe that the Soviet media was lying both about the USSR and about the West.

But time moves on and while thirty years ago 50 corporations controlled 90% of the US news media, today it’s a not very diverse six. As a result, on many subjects there is a monoview: has any Western news outlet reported, say, these ten true statements?

  1. People in Crimea are pretty happy to be in Russia.
  2. The US and its minions have given an enormous amount of weapons to jihadists.
  3. Elections in Russia reflect popular opinion polling.
  4. There really are a frightening number of well-armed nazis in Ukraine.
  5. Assad is pretty popular in Syria.
  6. The US and its minions smashed Raqqa to bits.
  7. The official Skripal story makes very little sense.
  8. Ukraine is much worse off, by any measurement, now than before Maidan.
  9. Russia actually had several thousand troops in Crimea before Maidan.
  10. There’s a documentary that exposes Browder that he keeps people from seeing.

I typed these out as they occurred to me. I could come up with another ten pretty easily. There’s some tiny coverage, far in the back pages, so that objectivity can be pretended, but most Western media consumers would answer they aren’t; didn’t; don’t; aren’t; isn’t; where?; does; not; what?; never heard of it.

Many subjects are covered in Western media outlets with a single voice. Every now and again there’s a scandal that reveals that “journalists” are richly rewarded for writing stories that fit. But after revelationsadmissions of biaspretending it never happened, the media ship calmly sails on (shedding passengers as it goes, though). Coverage of certain subjects are almost 100% false: Putin, Russia, Syria and Ukraine stand out. But much of the coverage of China and Iran also. Many things about Israel are not permitted. The Russia collusion story is (privately) admitted to be fake by an outlet that covers it non stop. Anything Trump is so heavily flavoured that it’s inedible. And it’s not getting any better: PC is shutting doors everywhere and the Russian-centred “fake news” meme is shutting more. Science is settled but genders are not and we must be vigilant against the “Russian disinformation war“. Every day brings us a step closer to a mono media of the One Correct Opinion. All for the Best Possible Motives, of course.

It’s all rather Soviet in fact.

So, in a world where the Integrity Initiative is spending our tax dollars (pounds actually) to make sure that we never have a doubleplusungood thought or are tempted into crimethink, (and maybe they created the entire Skripal story – more revelations by the minute), what are we to make of our Free Media™? Well, that all depends on what you’re interested in. If it’s sports (not Russian athletes – druggies every one unlike brave Western asthmatics) or “beach-ready bodies” (not Russian drug takers of course, only wholesome Americans) – the reporting is pretty reasonable. Weather reports, for example (Siberian blasts excepted) or movie reviews (but all those Russian villains). But the rest is some weird merger of the Eatonswill Gazette and Independent: Blues/Buffs good! others, especially Russians, bad!

So, as they say in Russia, что делать? What to do? Well, I suggest we learn from the Soviet experience. After all, most Soviet citizens were much more sceptical about their home media outlets than any of my neighbours, friends or relatives are about theirs.

My suggestions are three:

  1. Read between the lines. A difficult art this and it needs to be learned and practised. Dissidents may be sending us hints from the bowels of Minitrue. For example, it’s impossible to imagine anyone seriously saying “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon“; it must have been written to subversively mock the official Russia panic. I have speculated elsewhere that the writers may have inserted clues that the “intelligence reports” on Russian interference were nonsense.
  2. Notice what they’re not telling you. For example: remember when Aleppo was a huge story two years ago? But there’s nothing about it now. One should wonder why there isn’t; a quick search will find videos like this (oops! Russian! not real journalism!) here’s one from Euronews. Clearly none of this fits the “last hospitals destroyed” and brutal Assad memes of two years ago; that’s why the subject has disappeared from Western media outlets. It is always a good rule to wonder why the Biggest Story Ever suddenly disappears: that’s a strong clue it was a lie or nonsense.
  3. Most of the time, you’d be correct to believe the opposite. Especially, when all the outlets are telling you the same thing. It’s always good to ask yourself cui bono: who’s getting what benefit out of making you believe something? It’s quite depressing how successful the big uniform lie is: even though the much-demonised Milosevic was eventually found innocent, even though Qaddafi was not “bombing his own people”, similar lies are believed about Assad and other Western enemies-of-the-moment. Believe the opposite unless there’s very good reason not to.

In the Cold War there was a notion going around that the Soviet and Western systems were converging and that they would meet in the middle, so to speak. Well, perhaps they did meet but kept on moving past each other. And so, the once reasonably free and varied Western media comes to resemble the controlled and uniform Soviet media and we in the West must start using Soviet methods to understand.

Always remember that the Soviet rulers claimed their media was free too; free from “fake news” that is.

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Patrick ArmstrongBrad BensonOlivia KrothPlatonFlorianGeyer Recent comment authors
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FlorianGeyer
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FlorianGeyer

This excellent article by Patrick Armstrong says all that really needs to be said in order to understand the FUKUS and Friends childish propaganda to demonise Russia and Friends.

However, the problem arises that all too many of the citizens in the US stupidity club have the knowledge of babies and just nod their empty heads as they accept the ‘junk food they are fed with.

One thing is certain, there is about to be a ‘baby food fight’ before they grow up and the whole world risks getting splattered 🙂

Cudwieser
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Cudwieser

How to read western news. You don’t. You read/listen to the comments and ask questions. Ultimately you trust fact and instinct, not opinion, especially those of learned people.

Regula
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Regula

During the Soviet Union there was intentional double meaning in almost every cultural creation by Soviet annexed provinces like Poland, Hungry etc. Even children’s productions were used to inform western people as to what was really going on in the Soviet Union and what they – the conquered and annexed people – were planning to do against it. The Dickens story would readily be read as Nitpick and Satansville. A Prague puppet theater baptized its bird as Party Pris and the story was entirely political information camouflaged in an innocent children’s play. This type of reading – by inverting the… Read more »

FlorianGeyer
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FlorianGeyer

The tyrannical government apparatus is nearly complete in the USA 🙂
Americans will then have to adapt to living in fear for a few decades.

Platon
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Platon

There was such a phemomenon in the USSR as well. An understatement if ever there was one. Movies like Kin Dza Dza and the brilliant Tarkovsky come to mind. Especially Andrei Rublev and Stalker but quite frankly, everything he directed. And this is off the top of my head. I won’t even begin to list the musical achievements of Russian ‘classical’ composers of the almost century-long Soviet era who laid down a timeless, sinister soundtrack for the misrule of their Khazaro-Bolshevik ‘masters, which the world will never stop listening to. In literature, the finest novelist and playwright of the twentieth… Read more »

Platon
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Platon

Erratum: I meant to say “in the Russian USSR as well” though I truly hate apologetics.

Platon
Guest
Platon

Thank you Patrick. Back to elementary school for the fuckwits of the USA. Good idea. Yes, it is true that the late stage Soviets thought themselves so smart to think that everything about the USSR was a lie and everything about the US was true. They paid a heavy price for that facile delusion. The truth was somewhere in between, but tending more to the USSR and Russia. I have to add though that, also in the mid to late stage Soviet era, their Media, (press and TV) was head and shoulders above ours, and still is. Comrade Suslov saw… Read more »

Platon
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Platon

You know, Patrick? I live in a typical expat community of mostly privileged, mostly successful individuals ranging from mid to late-life. I have found that most, ostensibly political, discussion is a combination of virtue-signaling and what I call ‘canine anal sniffing’ – a bonding/mating ritual we have all witnessed but perhaps not registered. Any questioning that supposes otherwise leads soon enough either to a bewildered “I never thought of that” or “I don’t ever want you to speak to me again”. Most often the first response eventually and clandestinely conflates to the second and one finds oneself subjected to the… Read more »

Olivia Kroth
Guest

I like your comments, Platon. You seem to be a very thoughtful, intellectual individual. Are you British? I would like to comment on this: “The English never smash a face in, they just do not invite it to dinner”. This is so typically British! I think that getting my face smashed hurts a lot. If I do not get invited to dinner, it does not hurt. I just cook my own. The British upper class is quite snobbish about so-called society. Not being included hurts terribly. Coming from a different background, I can only laugh about this … But I… Read more »

Patrick Armstrong
Guest

Exactly put! Virtue signalling and canine sniffing.

Brad Benson
Guest

Excellent article. One quick correction in regard to the joke about the two Soviet Newspapers, Pravda (“truth”) and Izvestiya (“news”). The joke was NOT that “there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestiya”. The joke was that there was no Izvestiya (news) in Pravda, which called itself “truth”. Nor was there any Pravda (truth) in Izvestiya, which called itself news.

In short, there was no news in “Truth” and no truth in (the) “News” and NOT “no truth in “Truth” and no news in “News”. It was a double play on words.

Patrick Armstrong
Guest

Sorry. Got it wrong. I now remember the actual joke. But, forgive me. It’s been a while.

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RT

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