MH17: Putin is learning the lesson George W Bush learned during Iraq invasion


The tweet above from Tom Nichols sums up the feeling about Putin’s ill-conceived mix of diplomacy and deception over the MH17 downing.

Essentially, television-era media messaging won’t work in the age of the Internet. During the rapid run-up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the White House used its considerable sway over mainstream journalists in the US to try to sell a war that had more questions about it than justifications. In the print and TV realm, the White House was largely successful.

I personally witnesses anti-war demonstrations in New York and Washington involving hundreds of thousands of protesters that, for all intents and purposes, never made it to TV. Imagine thousands of people marching into invisibility on the eve of a war. In print, the leads of the stories were overly qualified and the articles themselves buried on back pages of the newspaper. As any PR person will tell you, it’s all about working those editors and reporters.

But there was this thing called the Internet, on which you could publish an article and it could be shared via emailed by thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of people. This was before the time of social media, before DeanSpace, then MySpace. Back then a simple link on a site like BuzzFlash, Daily Kos, TruthOut, helped impede the White House warpath for Iraq.

I’m sure for Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove this Internet effect was not just disappointing – but dismaying. Didn’t the White House and its ‘senior advisers’ hold sway over the media? Is this what the elite exercise of power involves?

My favorite example of that time was a speech George H. W. Bush gave at Tufts University three weeks before the invasion of Iraq. Bush, the elder, said a peaceful resolution was possible.

“The more pressure there is, the more chance this matter will be resolved in a peaceful manner,” Bush told the 5,000 students, faculty, staff and guests.


There was a wire story on it – if I recall. But the New York Times didn’t run it online. The Guardian did. When I called the New York Times newsroom, they said they must just have missed it. The US was being marched to war, the father of the sitting president speaks up for peace only weeks before, and somehow the folks at the New York Times missed it.

I found that difficult to believe. And so did a lot of other people who compared the mainstream media with the news had access to online and which they could freely share. This is why net neutrality matters in the US, by the way.

Today the Internet is testing the propaganda machine used by Putin’s combination of international diplomacy and international deception over the MH17 crash. The idea that Putin can credibly shrug and feign innocence to the world just doesn’t jibe with what’s happening on the ground. What the Russians say at the UN will be compared immediately with what is being said and done on the ground in eastern Ukraine. This new media reality applies to everyone: Ukrainians included, for the record.

Naturally, this challenge of shaping reality is going to create even more incentive to wall off one country’s Internet from another’s. The walls are already coming up on the Internet. This Balkanized Internet also explains how authoritarian governments can spin such vastly different tales of the same events for their public.

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