Last Wednesday, US Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Iowa, came to the Senate floor holding photographic “proof” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Unfortunately for Mr. Inhofe, he was duped. We’ve covered this already at Russia Insider, but the media reaction to the incident deserves further scrutiny.
Inhofe was provided with the photographic “evidence” that Russian troops had entered Ukraine by a delegation from Kiev while they were in Washington. He later recalled that the delegation had given his office the photographs in print form, as if they came “directly from a camera”.
The senator claimed that his staff had worked to “independently verify and confirm” the authenticity of the photographs, and, happy with the results of their investigation, had provided them to the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative blog.
Twitter users and bloggers immediately identified some of the photos as dating from the 2008 conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, in which Russia became involved. This puts a serious question mark over the not-very-precise methods Inhofe and his office used to “verify and confirm” their authenticity.
Did Inhofe, excited by hitting the Russian invasion evidence jackpot, simply hope no one would notice? Or did he really believe they were authentic?
The Washington Free Beacon reported that the photographs could “bolster the case” for legislation, sponsored by Inhofe, to provide lethal military aid to Kiev’s forces.
Numerous news outlets, notably Gawker, The New York Times and BuzzFeed, picked up the story and slated Inhofe for his mistake—but they were less vocal about Kiev’s part in this charade.
An incident like this—a blatant attempt by Kiev to fool the United States into offering military support—should raise serious concerns about Petro Poroshenko’s government and the extent to which it will go to manipulate support in its favor. But the Western press, for the most part, glossed over this, choosing instead to use the opportunity criticize Russia—again.
Gawker made sure to note the fact that just because Inhofe was fooled this time around, doesn’t mean that Vladimir Putin’s army isn’t committing “grave violations in Ukraine” and lying about it.
We’ll give them that. It does not prove that Russia’s forces are all still in Russia—but it does prove that members of the Kiev government are providing US senators with completely false information—and by failing to focus on that little nugget, the author makes his position entirely clear.
The article goes on to say that the photos, because they were taken during the conflict with Georgia, are still a reminder that Russia has “regularly been aggressive and imperious” in a “variety of lands” in its near abroad.
In other words, Gawker is asking its readers to forget the lies of Kiev today, in favor of remembering the events of six years ago during a conflict which independent reports have actually blamed Georgia for provoking and instigating.
The New York Times report does a somewhat better job of criticizing Kiev, admitting that it is not the first time they have presented photographic evidence of a Russian invasion which later turned out to be false.
The article even goes as far as to mention a BBC report from last week, which found that security forces at the Maidan protests in Kiev last February may have used deadly force only after they were first shot at by pro-EU demonstrators—something which was reported on (but dismissed) a year ago by the much-disparaged RT.
BuzzFeed used its report on the Inhofe episode to point out that the Ukrainian delegation that provided the photographs “does not include high-level government officials” …which seems to be a blatant effort to make excuses for Kiev.
With all the misinformation flying around about Ukraine—from both sides—Inhofe’s mistake should give Western journalists reason to pause before automatically swallowing whole the claims from Kiev while trashing anything that comes from Moscow.
Time and time again, Poroshenko’s government has made claims about the presence of Russia’s military in the East—50 Russian tanks here, 9000 Russian troops there—and multiple Western outlets have echoed them, not as unconfirmed reports, but as absolute fact.
Every day of the week, direct and unvarnished criticism is leveled against the Russian government over these unproven claims—and yet when the same journalists are given the opportunity to question Ukraine’s government over outright falsifications, there is mostly silence.
Is a caught-in-the-act moment like this not the perfect time to question and publicly criticize Kiev for this lie?
One can only wonder how State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki would try to explain this away if any reporters bothered to ask her (Matt Lee and Gayane Chichikyan, we’re looking at you).
- Who, specifically, supplied Inhofe with these photographs — and where did they get them from? Google? Higher-ups in the Ukrainian government?
- How does the State Department feel about the fact that members of Poroshenko’s government are supplying US senators with false evidence in an attempt to dupe Congress into promoting a potential military clash with Russia?
- Is it likely that Poroshenko himself is aware that these photos were taken to Washington as evidence?
These are the very questions that would be blasted out in headlines without hesitation had the Russian government been caught in such a lie.
Instead, we see Gawker attempting to whitewash the lie by harking back to Georgia in 2008 and BuzzFeed attempting to offer Kiev’s government a way out by noting that the officials were not “high-level”.
Would they be concerned with how high or low-level these officials were if they were Russian? It’s hard to imagine that they would. The headlines about the horrible, lying Russians would practically write themselves.
If the current ceasefire fails to hold—and unfortunately there are plenty of reasons to believe it won’t—there is a serious risk that this conflict will escalate further, particularly if the US decides to send lethal aid.
The Kiev authorities have proven themselves willing to lie in order to fool members of Congress and indeed the American people into supporting deeper US involvement in Ukraine.
This is not something that should be glossed over or explained away—but the fact that so many journalists are willing to do just that speaks volumes.