As a legendary liberal franchise, Frontline has frequently produced interesting and even controversial reports on a variety of topics, including the NRA’s intransigence to gun control, the abortion wars, JFK’s assassination, the modern KKK, “Bush’s War” (somewhat critical of the Iraq War’s genesis as something of a botched, incompetent affair, but not scandalized by its sheer immorality, arrogance, systemic roots or broader purposes), and a host of other issues, but when it comes to foreign policy questions in which the American empire is again competing with some invidiously designated foe (these days the villains are again Russia and China), it behaves, conceits aside, like the rest of the conformist pack, as little more than an stenographer to power.
The proof that this is the case can be found in Frontline’s recent hatchet job on Vladimir Putin (Putin’s Way, Jan. 14, 2015).
The show’s tagline promptly gives its true intention away:
“An investigation of Vladimir Putin. Included: the claims ofcriminality and corruption that have accented his reign (sic) as Russia’s ruler.”
Just reflect for a moment why the producers picked such poisoned words to define their subject: What do these words have in common, singly and jointly? They all connote bad things. Obviously in any random description of an important leader, when such threatening terms crop up the prudent reader will be well advised to run for cover.
The Frontline crew doesn’t dare say it openly, in a full sentence, as that would supposedly tarnish them, perish the thought, as “non-objective” journalists. So they simply let our brains do the logical collating of the hinted meanings. The upshot is that Putin, so described by invidious associative terms does not come out very cuddly.
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It’ clear that from the start—and I would really like to know how this program was incubated, who proposed it and why—the idea was to present Putin as a ruthless opportunistic climber; an autocrat (they call his government a “reign”), bent on personal aggrandizement, saddled with a pathetic Napoleonic complex that propels him to see himself as the savior of Russia, and therefore a believer in the logic of authoritarianism. His personality—intimates the show— is an apt prop for the reconstruction of the Soviet Union project, an unexplained danger to the world that all “democracy-loving” people must help defeat in its crib. Why the triumph of the American hegemon does not present such danger to the world is naturally left out of the narrative. Haven’t we seen this self-approving claptrap before?
Given that thinly-veiled script, it doesn’t take long for the show to deliver an unrelenting cascade of innuendo against Putin. Apparently the show’s producers could not refrain from vacuuming up and regurgitating just about every negative cliché disseminated by the Western media since the official demonization of the Russian leader began, except that in this case, Frontline being Frontline, the closest equivalent to the New York Times on television, the weapon of choice is not so much the bludgeon favored by Fox News’ crude propagandists, but the scalpel and the stiletto, the half-truths and omissions of truth, and the decapitation of context, in short the far more subtle, insidious and highly effective natural tools of the centrist corporatist liberal.
The first few minutes set the tone:
ANDREY ZYKOV, Former Police Investigator: [through interpreter] Well, of course, there has always been corruption in Russia, but building it into such a meticulous system was something only Mr. Putin has managed to do. Could Putin be held criminally responsible based on the evidence that has already been gathered? Absolutely, yes.
From that point on, it only gets worse.
Students of American propaganda usually have a problem: not the scarcity of items to prove their case, but precisely the opposite, the overabundance of material. Practically everything said or shown on mainstream media that concerns American foreign policy, especially on television, is riddled with so much bias and outright falsehood that codifying and answering such outrages on a case by case basis is simply an impossible, gargantuan task, a fact that —besides their monopolizing the mainstream media—prevents any meaningful or timely response by genuinely impartial observers.
Frontline’s demolition job on Putin is but one of the latest examples. The producers of such an august program ought to be ashamed, but I suppose shame is not exactly the most likely feeling among these hard-working, comfortable, and largely insulated “journalists” who enjoy so much the perks of serving the Empire.
Patrice Greanville, publisher of America’s first radical media review, Cyranos’Journal, is founding editor of The Greanville Post.