When is the last time you questioned what the reporters on the nightly news said?
When is the last time you said “I know that information is wrong and I am going to do something to correct it”?
When is the last time you paid as much attention to the media you consume as the food you put into your mouth?
If you’re like the majority of people, then your answers are probably a bit disconcerting.
Lately, I’ve been delving into mainstream media (MSM) and the Russian/American relationship reflected in it, and both topics are quite interesting. MSM and international relations are both uniquely complicated because there’s nothing automatic about them.
Two media sources can oppose each other simply because they wish to remain polar opposites. Two media sources can report the exact same events and ideas in completely different ways. The media can control and impair the people it supposedly serves, yet we keep ourselves apprised of the lies the media spews, unconsciously allowing those lies to infiltrate and affect our day-to-day lives.
In the same way, two politicians, even those who identify themselves as in the same party or proclaim the same ideals, can represent that party and those ideals in divergent manners. The disparities among politicians only increase in severity when international politics come into play. When you combine the media, politics, and the whole of the international community, the situation becomes a twisted and dangerous game of selling lies and buying support.
In American MSM, there is a decidedly negative attitude toward numerous foreign nations and governments. The Palestinian National Authority, Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran may top the list for “most disliked” amongst American media, but Russia is also regarded extremely negatively and with frequency enough that media consumers should take note.
The issue with this negative attitude is that it only leads to even greater negativity and decreases the likelihood of international cooperation. Simplistically: people count on the news for information, people form opinions based on that information, and those opinions lead people to develop negative relationships with other people.
This is the result of the flaws, inaccuracy, and incompleteness of MSM. It doesn’t matter how an individual or media source is aligned because liberal, conservative, populist, and libertarian sources alike will claim to be unbiased and truthful when they’re likely not. That is the nature of politics and life–everyone thinks they’re “right.” Amidst all of these proclamations of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” the facts are forgotten or wholly altered, and the news effectively becomes as true as a fiction novel. Yet, even knowing this, it is difficult for readers to cast media lies aside.
The late novelist Michael Crichton spoke about this reality and predicament in “Why Speculate?” (2002) when he described the so-called “Murray Gell-Man Amnesia effect”:
“You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well…You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect…when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.” (Source 2.)
This situation or “amnesia” is due, at least in part, to historical ideas, nationalism, lackadaisical reporting, biased media, unreliable sources, and ignorance.
In terms of Russian/American news, ethnocentrism and sheer reluctance to accept other potentially powerful nations as equal to America (i.e. American exceptionalism) is also a factor, not to mention there is a certain personal animosity between Obama and Putin. (The individuals over at The Russia Debate made some insightful comments on this notion just last year.) But, regardless of the exact reasoning or cause, western bias undeniably exists and impacts international relations.
At present, American (and even European) media is acting rather unilaterally. It would seem that even the more conservative people are cautious of Russia because of its Soviet past, while the most liberal people are outright infuriated at perceived social injustices and complicated notions regarding “being the world’s policeman.” In essence though, within all MSM, Russia is a universally accepted suspect.
No matter what Russia does, there seems to be a MSM-finger pointing at them, with the American MSM acting as though Russian/American relations are purely “them against us.”
There have been dozens of examples of this lately, but the most recent evidence can be found in MSM’s dealings with LGBT rights, Syria’s chemical weapons, Edward Snowden‘s Russian asylum, and the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:
- Olympics: The Russian government and military take actions to prevent violence and security issues at the Olympics and Western media calls it “unconstitutional” and “denying freedom of movement,“ resulting in the ban being eased to appease the global community. Yet, now that demonstrations will be allowed, foreign nations are warning about the dangers of visiting Russia at all. While MSM dismisses violence or discord in America, everything and everyone in Russia is a threat. (Dr. Mark Galeotti has some interesting thoughts regarding Sochi’s security.)
If there is backlash no matter what Russia does or says, then why should anything change? Constant, unending MSM rejection only inflates international discord.
The ironic part of all of this russophobic and generally negative information in MSM, as well as “them (foreigners) against us (Americans)” ideation, is that, at present, the majority of Americans identify as socially and economically conservative in just the same way that Russia touts “traditionalism as the heart of Russia’s national identity“ and favor “patriots” of the United Russia party over other politicians.
As the second graphic shows, even when degrees of economic and social conservatism/liberalism are taken into account, conservatives and moderates represent the national majority in America. Therefore, despite all of the MSM’s protestations, Russia and America are more similar than one might think.
In theory, this similarity between Russia and the United States of America should lead the two nations to be somewhat more accepting of each other because the majority of Americans would be against costly military action, the loss of “traditional values,” and the threat of violence at an international athletic event. Yet, in defiance of theory and reasoning, no such social, economic, or overall political accord seems imminent or even quite possible.
Given how American MSM pervades everyday life in printed and virtual forms, it is only logical to hypothesize that media is affecting international relations and disallowing a more positive attitude toward Russia and Russian individuals. Of course, such disagreement is not one-sided, as evidenced by the fact that certain Russian media says that “western media prefers to shriek like spoiled brats”; however, the Russian MSM is not the subject of this particular post.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which side of the media (or world) is pulling the information strings; only the sad fact that it is happening and negatively affecting the world is truly important.
As media consumers, we must learn to recognize the inherent bias of media and the way in which it can affect us, with or without our awareness. Such recognition is especially important if our nation and the people within it have any hopes of maintaining positive international relations with our allies and building up relations with others, as is necessary to remain a world power. Additionally, as media sharers, bloggers, and social commentators, we must call for unbiased truth and untainted facts that we can evaluate and spread in whichever way we (individually) see fit, and then we must become media contributors.
With regards to Russia and current events, it would bode well for media consumers to remember that, as Anatoly Karlin of Da Russophile asserts in his thesis, although “there are certainly plenty of things to criticize about Russia and Russians,” the “Western media coverage of Russia [is] woefully biased and frequently malicious.” In essence, individuals must learn to see the biased attitudes of the media and the American government in our ongoing relations with Russia, and make up their own minds about who and what is to be trusted.
Proper media consumption is a lot like eating healthy: processed and predisposed MSM is not all that is out there, and if individuals put in the effort to find and consume better sources of energy and information, everyone will ultimately be healthier. Here’s to healthy consumption and a fresh world view!
(Disclaimer: I assert that no particular media source or political leaning is more correct than any other, and that all media and political positions must be approached with care, and the understanding that everyone/everything is biased, including my own sources. Additionally, despite being American, I believe that all nations are essentially equal and this article is not a defense of Russia or America, but rather a call for practical thought and discussion.)