How The Mass Media Manipulates Protest News

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The Good Kind of Protesters–and the Bad Kind

Good protesters.

Good protesters.

It’s fair to say that the complex anti-government protest movements in both Venezuela and Ukraine were boiled down by US corporate media to send a clear message to their domestic audience: These are the good guys.

In Ukraine, the takeaway was that there are two sides, and the people seeking to topple the government (successfully, as it turned out) wanted to be more like us. On NBC Nightly News (2/18/14), correspondent Richard Engel explained: “The Ukrainian government is backed by Moscow. The protesters want closer ties with Europe and the United States.”

ABC World News correspondent Terry Moran (2/19/14) framed it this way:


Not good.

Will this country of 46 million people turn West toward the US and Europe and democracy, or turn East to Vladimir Putin and Russia, which ruled here for centuries?”

And ABC anchor Diane Sawyer(2/20/14) called it

an unremitting duel between protesters who say they want Western freedom and police enforcing the alliance with Russia and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and all that he represents.

This casting of the conflict is obviously simplistic. There is a case to be made that now-deposed Yanukovych spurned an economic deal with the European Union–one that he seemed inclined to accept weeks earlier–because it was insufficient to deal with the scale of the country’s economic problems (Reuters12/19/13), which made Putin’s offer more attractive.

That is not to suggest that anti-government protesters do not have serious grievances with the state of their country. Likewise, it has to be said that, for all the portraits of a movement that wants US-style freedoms, a substantial minority of the protest movement is drawn from fascist and neo-Nazi factions (Guardian1/29/14Slate2/20/14).

In Venezuela, meanwhile, demonstrators are similarly labeled. Here’s Mariana Atencio on ABC World News (2/23/14):

It’s been 12 straight days of violent clashes here in Venezuela. On one side, students and the middle class. On the other, police and pro-government groups, followers of the party of anti-American President Hugo Chavez.

So it’s students versus people who support the “anti-American” government–not difficult to figure out whose side you’re supposed to take. Nor didNewsweek (2/21/14) leave much doubt when it described protest leader Leopoldo Lopez this way:

With twinkling chocolate-colored eyes and high cheekbones, López seems to have it all: an attractive and supportive wife, two children who get along with each other and impossibly adorable Labrador puppies. He is charismatic, athletic and good-looking.

In the Washington Post (2/26/14), the Venezuelan protests were portrayed as a reaction to the country’s “hangover from 14 years of Chávez rule: a country with not enough milk or sugar in the supermarkets and far too many carjackings and murders in the streets.”

If that were the most important legacy of the past dozen years, you’d expect the entire country to be protesting–and it’d be hard to fathom how Chavez and current president Nicolas Maduro managed to win numerous elections. But in truth, by many indicators, life for poor Venezuelans sharply improved during the Chavez years (FAIR Media Advisory3/6/13), which explains their support for his party.

But the lesson is these are protest movements–despite adopting militant and in some cases quite violent tactics–that US media by and large were cheering.

In the midst of these conflicts, a new report from Amnesty International (2/27/14) on Israeli violence in the West Bank “documented the killings of 22 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank last year, at least 14 of which were in the context of protests.” The report received minimal coverage in the US press, though–and perhaps because–it raised profound questions about how a close US ally attacks protesters against military occupation.

Would the US press champion the cause of Palestinian demonstrators, or criticize harsh Israeli response to dissent? How about actually cheering on violent Palestinian resistance? It is simply unfathomable–Palestinians are the wrong kind of protester.

  • novictim

    Pardon me. Yes, it is true that the US media almost always sides against pro-socialist forces in the Western Hemisphere. Totally agree. That is the corporate spin job and anti-union stuff we have to deal with in our “democracy”.
    But can you claim that the coverage of the Ukraine is biased toward the West per se for the sake of this bias alone? NO! Not in this case. Current events have clarified what was and is going on there.

    I think that this particular report and thesis is a great example of a failure in reductionist logic. It goes like this: Venezuela’s right wing, capitalist elites are praised as being needed reformists and underdogs by the US media so, therefore, the praise for the Maidan Protests and revolution must be suspect as being also fascist and right wing.

    But the truth is that you cannot compare Venezuela to Ukraine.They require separate analysis.

    The legion of reporters from all over the world are reporting a clear picture in Ukraine right now! It is one of a rather bloodless revolution (>100 protesters killed, several police killed), massive theft by the former President who seems to have stolen around $37billion or so over his 3 years in office via wire transfers and phony shell companies, selling his house of $100k for $17million, etc, then the same President calling for the invasion of his home country from a comfortable set-up in Russia…talk about a Quisling or Benedict Arnold!…and now we see Russian troops wearing balaclavas intimidating reporters in the Crimea…clearly in invasion mode…yet few if any reports of Russian speakers being injured or beaten or imprisoned…

    Come on. A faction of the “progressive left” has bought this story of fascist takeover in Ukraine hook-line-and-sinker…It is time to spit out this bait, don’t you think? If you keep swallowing this embarrassment and worn-out story line then who will take you seriously on legitimate topics such as NSA spying, Wealth Inequality, Global Climate change???

  • cruisersailor

    I quit watching the major network news programs. I watch BBC World News channel daily. I also watch Al Jazeera America’s evening news. I subscribe to The Guardian Weekly and many Left print periodicals to keep informed.

  • Proudscalawag

    They criticize, yea to the point of hypocrisy, Israeli responses to those who lust for a second Shoah!!

  • gbossa_25

    Nice piece of disinformation, but reality is a bit more complex than your oh so confident categorical pronouncements might suggest. Some of us in that “faction ” of the “progressive left” actually correctly suspected Maidan factions were the snipers killing police and protestors because we actually know the history of such Western supported intelligence operations and do not depend for our point of view upon a “legion of reporters” painting their “clear picture” for Western audiences to swallow, as you put it, “hook-line-and-sinker.”

  • novictim

    Thanks, I am so glad you thought it was nice. Since you are the only other person who reads this blog, I really appreciate it.

    Hey, when are you heading over to Ukraine to take on this story?

  • jemcgloin

    “Correctly suspected Maidan factions were the snipers…” implies that this has been proven. Where is the proof? Just because it has happened before is not proof. Plenty have governments have killed protesters so that is the more likely scenario until proven otherwise.

  • novictim

    “…correctly suspected…”
    Wow…boy did you get it wrong. Soooo very wrong. I chuckle when I look back on this meme some of you folks were promoting, calling the Ukrainians “fascist” for getting rid of the kleptocrat. What dunces.

    You phony “progressives” are simply gullible rubes. You are soil for any “the CIA did it(!)” rambling nutter who chooses to take a dump in you.

    Separate question: How many leaders (self appointed) of our progressive rallies have you seen FIRED?
    Any? Shouldn’t they be?
    We are going on 40years of absolutely no success in the tactics used by the regressive-progressive leadership. Yet the Ukraine accomplished what we can only dream of. No wonder the leadership of the American left throws stones at them…Maidan was embarrassingly successful.

    (Oh, let me guess…now you are going to talk about how the Russian invasion “proves” they were NOT successful. Figures.)

  • kevinzeese

    That right, re Ukraine and Venezuela being different. In Ukraine the kleptocrats were the rich stealing from the poor and that will continue with the new government which has not ridded itself of the oligarchs but now will have the EU, IMF, US stealing from them as well!

    In Venezuela, the poor tool from the oligarchs by nationalizing the oil industry. The result has been a rapid shrinking of the wealth divide (now the lowest in the Americas), decrease in poverty, decrease in illiteracy and increased access to health care.

    In Ukraine, the US admits to having spent $5 billion to create an opposition movement. In Venezuela the US has only spent about $100 million.

  • kevinzeese

    Did they get rid of the oligarchs that were profiting from the previous government? Did they rid themselves of neoliberalism? It looks like they got rid of one corrupt ruler, but the oligarchs remain, now they can add the fascists and the western thieves to their government. It is not clear they have improved the situation for most Ukrainians.

  • kevinzeese

    This blog gets about 10,000 readers a day.

  • novictim

    “…that will continue …” That is possible but you really don’t know that.

    Hey, maybe the British will retake the USA, too. Ya’ never know.

    But, Kevin, for now they got the bad guys out.

    I have to say that the Kremlin propagandist outlets are now widely discredited on the topic yet are still having a vast influence both in the Eastern Ukraine and among left and right circles in the USA. You have to pay good money for that kind of influence…and the Russians hired more than one excellent US PR firm to spread their point of view. Money talks. We know this from our own corporate Campaign finance nightmares.

    Why are you so reticent to applaud the Ukrainians? What have you learned that I haven’t that makes you think the Ukrainian revolution was illegitimate? Or is this the “first impression” effect where the lies and distortions coming from Common Dreams and others has set the impression even after the more recent facts. I mean, it is crazy to still think the Ukrainians are “fascist thugs” given the numerous reports on the ground.

  • novictim


  • novictim

    First, none of the parties in office describe themselves as fascist. And even these mere allegations are growing dimmer by the day. It’s just this, Kevin…the facts don’t support this concoction that claims the revolt was fascist in origin. And we should now most certainly question how much of this smear campaign was paid for with rubles, laundered or otherwise.

    Regarding oligarchs, as Howard Dean once said, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. And, Kevin, don’t fall for this fallacy of composition; of course a few bad apples still remains but this should not persuade us that, therefore, there was no reform achieved.

    Regarding the removal of “one corrupt leader” being minimal or insufficient. That one guy along with this family and cronies stole what some are claiming as upwards of the equivalent of $15 billion. That is nearly one third of the countries total debt! What we could do in the USA if we could put one third of our national debt back into social spending and infrastructure?

    And finally, regarding the IMF and “foreign thieves”, as a supporter of Keynesian solutions to the central problem of Capitalism, insufficient consumer demand, I am heartened to know that the IMF has gone 180degrees on their Austerity policies. They now KNOW this policy will wreck any struggling country and compound the problem of failed consumer demand. And they are also now pushing the thesis that wealth inequality decreased GDP growth. Remember, Marx is appreciated by the majority of economists as having correctly stated his Crisis theory of Capitalism.

    Expect the IMF to insist the Ukraine up grade its energy sector, its production facilities, it’s agricultural facilities. Those can be very good and necessary things to do.
    Of course, the IMF will also ask them, at some point, to allow for relaxing capital controls and the Ukrainians should say NO to this as this would lead to capital flight…ie USA economy after NAFTA. And eventually, the Ukrainians will be asked by IMF to merge their currency and again they should decline…Greece should be their guide for what not to do. (Iceland would be the best model).

    Too much talk on my part, Kevin, but you got me started!

  • kevinzeese

    I don’t know if you are a propagandist for the US

    sponsored coup or really believe what you write. You don’t see the evidence of the fascist thugs? Really? Maybe these videos will help you see them.

    Brownshirts from the Right Sector attack a couple on the street:

    Thugs from the Nazi Svoboda Party (aka “Socialist-National” Party) beat up a TV channel director and force him to resign: You can get more details about this incident here:

    These right wingers are even given official positions in government.

    They did not get the bad guys out. The oligarchs still rule, they just have different front people!

  • novictim

    Your videos are a cartoon version of reality at worst and a Rorschach test for “the truth” at best. Even from within the context of the videos themselves, one is forced to willfully project one’s own fears onto these slogan yelling youth in order to get –“fascism!”– out of it all.

    Truth does exist. The non-biased mass of European and American (for instance, rock star Richard Engel!) reporting from Ukraine refute the fascist narrative, Kevin.

    Come on, Kevin! I’ve seen many videos of Maidan demonstrations. There is some tough stuff going on there These acts of courage and defiance make you think these people are for real…in a way that is entirely absent in every protest rally and march I’ve ever participated in in the USA.

    And I’ve seen many demonstrations in my life in the USA and Britain. Black flag protesters and OWS protesters…equally useless and “scary”…easy to turn them into whatever villain you want. And I’ve seen gangs of thug-youth beat people within many differing contexts (ie Soccer games and plain old riots). I’ve seen hooliganism in all its forms. In other words, I’ve seen the fringe and the mob.

    Video taping the fringe proves nothing.

    Now Kevin, these few, selective videos are so far from a “proof” of some Nazi-Fascist movement in Ukraine I have to now question if any critical thinking is in operation here. Still, there are Crimean Ukrainians right now who are convinced, ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED, that ethnic Russians are being hunted down and killed all over Ukraine. But the reporters from the West, know this is not the case.

    It’s all a picture provided by BIG MOTHER. RT television, the Russian state media has been vomiting a mass hysteria campaign …but we-YOU and I- have good, honest, decent Western Journalists, a wide range of viewing and news options– and writers and historians on the ground telling us that there is NO POGROM against Russians actually taking place. Wake up! Maybe we need to check it out for ourselves?