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12 Jan

Misreporting the ‘New Cold War’

Misreporting the ‘New Cold War’

The Nation.

By Mark Ames

December 19, 2008

Full Article: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090105/ames/print

From the moment Georgia launched its invasion against the breakaway region of South Ossetia this past August, sparking a wider war with neighboring Russia, the New York Times’s news coverage depicted Georgia as an innocent victim of Russia’s neo-imperialist evil. In doing so, the Times engaged in the sort of media malpractice that it promised its readers wouldn’t happen again after its disastrous coverage of the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Mark Ames: So many news organizations got the story of the Georgia-Russia conflict in South Ossetia right. Why did the New York Times get it wrong?

Probably no article captures how the Times took on the role of Georgia’s public-relations conduit better than correspondent Andrew Kramer’s puff piece on Georgia’s leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, “Rebuke of a President, in the Boom of Artillery,” published just four days after Georgia invaded South Ossetia.

The article glorifies Saakashvili’s alleged bravery under fire, claiming that his biggest fault was that he loved America too much, glossing over his widely criticized crackdown on opposition media and protesters; worse, Kramer claims that Saakashvili used only “soft power,” while Russia wielded “all the hard power,” in the war.

The Times stuck to its version of events for three months. It wasn’t until the November 7 front-page story, ” Georgia Claims on Russia War Called Into Question,” that the newspaper essentially retracted its earlier reporting:

Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.

Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.

Indeed. What the Times really should have asked, but so far hasn’t, is this: with so many reporters on the ground during the war, why did it take three months for the paper to get to the true version of events?

I can answer at least part of that question, because I was in South Ossetia covering the war for The Nation and Radar magazine. I saw how the Times generated articles from the Ossetian front and how its pro-Georgian slant drove its news reporting. And here is what I can tell you about the way this extremely important foreign story was framed…………

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