You may not have noticed it, but a couple of weeks ago, the New York Times slipped in a story that completely contradicted a narrative that it had been building up for two straight months, one that was leading America into another war–a so-called “New Cold War.” The article exposed the awful authoritarian reality of Georgia’s so-called democracy, painting a dark picture of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s rule that repudiated the fairy tale that the Times and everyone else in the major media had been pushing ever since war broke out in South Ossetia in early August. That fairy tale went like this: Russia (evil) invaded Georgia (good) for no reason whatsoever except that Georgia was free. Putin hates freedom, and Saakashvili is the “democratically elected leader” of a “small, democratic country.”
Yes, it was only a month ago that we were stupid and crazy enough to think that the United States had no choice but to launch a costly new cold war against a nuclear power, even though we still haven’t closed the deal on a couple of mini-wars against Division-III opponents, and we were on the verge of bankruptcy. Ah, to be blissfully naïve–and bloodthirsty at the same time–wasn’t it wonderful?
As the South Ossetia war raged in early- and mid-August, the Times published an editorial labeling Georgia’s invasion as “Russia’s War of Ambition“; it also published a series of hysterical op-eds, including William Kristol’s comparing Russia to Nazi Germany (Hitler’s charred skull must be spinning in its museum case from being turned into the cheapest cliché in the hack’s analogy box), and another from Svante E. Cornell of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins–the same corruption-plagued institute that ABC News discovered was taking money from Kazakhstan’s tyrant for issuing positive reports about that authoritarian oil-rich country.
Cornell ‘s piece argued that Russia attacked Georgia not in response to Georgia’s invasion of the breakaway South Ossetian province but rather because Russia was just plain evil–and, in the style of evil villains everywhere, Russia had no motive other than to show “the consequences post-Soviet countries will suffer for standing up to Moscow, conducting democratic reforms and seeking military and economic ties with the West.”
The hysteria of two months ago already seems so dated and even bizarre, from our mid-meltdown vantage–as if reading the hysteria from a black-and-white era.
And yet even as the hysteria gave way to serious questioning, and that dangerously simple narrative crumbled, the Times never recanted or corrected itself, never even had a fake mea culpa moment as it did after Iraq–an admission that came years too late. Instead of recanting, the Times took the sly road, slipping an article in between the meltdown stories that essentially told its readers, “Yeah, we screwed the pooch on Georgia, hope ya didn’t notice, and, uh, have a nice day.” Here’s a taste, from October 7, 2008 (“ News Media Feel Limits to Georgia’s Democracy,” by Dan Bilefsky and Michael Schwirtz):