Shell Game

Shell Game

cross-posted from Afflict the Comfortable

Government and Media Manipulation of Ukraine and China News

Governments lie and issue propaganda which are generally repeated by friendly media all over the world, at all times. That’s no secret. For the past year there’s been an uptick in what one might even call “fake news” (the real fake news, not Trump’s contortions) especially regarding the war in Ukraine and escalating U.S. tensions with China. So yesterday, March 20th, a couple of stories almost on top of each other on the Washington Post (WaPo henceforth) website offered a great, small example of the way the Biden Administration and influential media are shaping the national discourse driving the war in Europe and growing conflict over a host of issues in Asia, Taiwan in particular.

With Xi Jinping visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the mainstream media has gone into full-on 24 hour coverage mode, and WaPo in particular has had round-the-clock coverage, including a page with articles filed minutes apart stacked on top of one another so the reader can learn all the essentials without leaving that particular page.

So at 3:50 p.m. EDT on Monday, 3/20, the headline read “China has considered sending Russia artillery shells, U.S. officials say,” with a stark black-and-white photo of missiles strewn about on cold, snowy terrain. The lede is jolting: “China is considering sending Russia lethal military aid in the form of artillery shells as President Vladimir Putin’s army rapidly depletes its supply of ammunition a year into his invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials said, a prospect that has alarmed those in the Biden administration who believe Beijing has the ability to transform the war’s trajectory.”

However, the very next paragraph begins “There is no evidence that any weapons transfers have occurred, these officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. government’s assessment.” Then there are the obligatory U.S. warnings that China should avoid aiding Russia and that such help would violate the spirit of a peace plan that Chinese leaders had crafted.

Finally, after instilling concern, fear, anger or whatever emotion the reader might feel, the article pointed out that President Biden did not expect China to send weapons to Russia–“I don’t anticipate — we haven’t seen it yet — but I don’t anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia,” he said in an interview with ABC News. When asked if any future support would cross a red line, Biden said that the United States “would respond.”

If one were to only read the headline and opening lines, then a very important point would go unknown–the March 20th article warning that China might send weapons to Russia was in fact a verbatim excerpt from a February 24th WaPo article with essentially the same title, “China considers sending Russia artillery shells, U.S. officials say.”

But wait! There’s more! Just two days after that article, on February 26, WaPo posted a story titled “After warnings, no evidence China is supplying arms to Russia, U.S. officials say, in which “top adminstration officials” admitted they had no evidence of China sending lethal military aid to Russia, a position echoed by Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, and William Burns, the CIA Director, on the Sunday talk show circuit.

So on March 20th, nearly a month after its initial story about China potentially arming Russia which WaPo itself rebutted two days later, it reprised the “Chinese shells to Russia” story with a dark and foreboding photo along with it, and the message about Chinese-Russian complicity and pefidy was clear.

But WaPo wasn’t done playing its shell game on March 20th. At 5:00 p.m. EDT it posted a story titled “E.U. to Send Ukraine 1 Million Artillery Shells” with a much different presentation than the Chinese shells story barely an hour earlier. It’s a colored photo, with a small pile of shells being handled by a ruddy Ukrainian soldier with a cigarette dangling from his mouth–it could be described as a photo of a brave GI in World War II and it would be believable.

And the message of the article is quite different too. Seventeen E.U. states, and Norway, had agreed to send Ukraine a million shells over the next two years, with other states interested in joining an expanded program in the future. WaPo writers featured the words of Estonia’s Defense Mininster, Hanno Pevkur, who showed off his can-do spirit by explaining, “There are many, many details still to [be] solved but for me, it is most important that we conclude these negotiations and it shows me one thing: If there is a will, there is a way.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky got the last word, and praised the agreement in his nightly address.

In a separate article published the same day titled “EU’s top diplomat hails deal on artillery shells for Ukraine” WaPo writers continued to tout the shell transfers to Ukraine, with EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell adding that the organization had begun fast-tracking the delivery of the shells to Kyiv and that the EU was also providing 1 billion euros to member states to provide existing artillery or to manufacture new ammunition. The EU was also ramping up production so new orders for weapons to be sent to Ukraine could be places by this spring if the plan is approved quickly.

The third track of the program involves support to Europe’s defense industry. so that it can ramp up production in the longer term. EU officials have said that new joint orders could be placed by May if the plan is endorsed in its entirety. “We are taking a key step towards delivering on our promises to provide Ukraine with more artillery ammunition,” Borrell explained.

At the same time, the U.S., which has already send billions in aid and weapons to Ukraine, announced another transfer of $350 million in weapons and equipment, including various types of ammunition, such as rockets, and an undisclosed number of fuel tanker trucks and riverine boats.

These stories are not shocking or earth-shattering. In the old days we’d say they were just part of “Journalism 101,” but today it’s just a basic lesson in “Communications.” But the stories, the photos, and the messages side-by-side do provide an important lesson in the way information is delivered to the American people. Chinese shells going to Russia are dirty and part of a dark and evil plan, while EU shells, and U.S. aid, to Ukraine is done to benefit the people there.

The media is always playing shell games with us, and some, like these, are just a little more obvious than others.


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