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Distorting Russia: Media Cold War Propaganda Revisited

As tensions between super powers grow due to the crisis in the Ukraine, US media outlets fan the flames of conflict with a full front of propaganda to vilify Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin. As Stephen Cohen reports, from coverage of seemingly dystopian, third world living conditions and high terror tension at the Sochi Olympics to the bullying cruel regime of Putin and its strong arming of Ukraine, the US corporate media have painted Putin and Russia as public enemy number one, reviving Cold War rhetoric and tactics.

For example, even before the Sochi Olympics began, the New York Times headlines read “Terrorism and Tension, Not Sports and Joy.” Almost unanimously, US reports claimed that Putin had squandered a record $51 billion on the Olympics, proving his regime to be corrupt.

As for the Ukraine crisis, Putin and Russia are depicted as militant bullies, rather than a leader and a country trying to maintain control over strategic oil assets to maintain the country’s sphere of influence. The corporate media’s coverage of Putin and the Ukraine is part of a larger pattern of bias identified by Cohen. He describes the positive US press coverage enjoyed by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, at a time when “the US media adopted Washington’s narrative that almost everything President Boris Yeltsin did was a ‘transition from communism to democracy’ and thus in America’s best interests.” Whereas the US media presented Yeltsin as pursuing legitimate politics and national interests, the frame that US media now use to portray Putin and Russia is that Putin’s Russia has no legitimate politics and national interests, even on its own borders, as in Ukraine.

Assessing corporate news coverage of the Ukraine crisis, Cohen concludes that, “American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War.”

Source: Stephen F. Cohen, “Distorting Russia: How the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine,” The Nation, March 3, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/178344/distorting-russia.

Student Researcher: Bryan Brennen (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)

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