Antony Penaud: Are we like the frog? The responsibility of Western media

Satellite Dishes

Subject: Are we like the frog? The responsibility of Western media
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2015 11:32:16 +0000
From: Antony Penaud <>

Antony Penaud received his DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2000. He is French and lives in London. His essays on the Ukrainian crisis can be found on

Are we like the frog? The responsibility of Western media

In an article called “The women fighting on the front line in Ukraine” (5 March 2014) the Guardian makes a moving portray of six women of the pro-Kiev Aidar battalion – but “forgets” to mention one detail. []

All the reporting is designed to make the reader feel sympathetic towards these women and see them as heroes: “I fight for freedom and the territorial integrity of my country” says one. She adds that the humanitarian convoys from Russia are in fact delivering arms., before saying that she “dreams of peace”. Another woman: “We have buried so many decent people. Some of the boys were 18 to 19 years old”. Another young woman is a “baby-faced 19yr old” who “says that her mother is very worried about her and phones several times a day”, and yet another one misses her boyfriend and “hopes to get married and have children. She also wants to work as a play therapist”.

The only references to nationalism in the article are in the introduction: “The volunteer battalions fighting alongside Ukraine’s army are known for being fearless on the battlefield. They also have a reputation for fierce nationalism and far-right views” (note that this doesn’t say anything specific about Aidar), and in one individual portray it says: “Her experience and committed nationalism”.

Now, in one of the picture that goes with the article, a young woman pauses in front of a van, and the caption says “Anaconda says she is well treated by the men in her battalion, but is hoping that her war will end soon”.

On the van are painted four large numbers: “1488”.

1488 is a neo-Nazi slogan that according to Wikipedia combines the 14 words “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children” with “Heil Hitler” (H is the 8th letter in the alphabet). 14 also refers to a paragraph in Mein Kampf.

At this point we should remember the French edition of ELLE of mid November 2014: they had also made a moving story about the women fighting in the Aidar battalion, in which they were portrayed as heroes.

The social network page of one of the young women was later found: she had put online a picture of her doing the Nazi salute and on another one she was wearing a T-shirt with the Svastika.

ELLE then issued an apology (but how many people read it?).

So how did that Guardian story happen?

Is it possible that the Guardian just didn’t notice? Or did the Guardian made the conscious decision to deceive its readers?

I’m not a professional journalist, yet I knew about the Aidar battalion and about the ELLE story.

Is it possible that a journalist does a story about the women of the Aidar battalion without knowing anything about them or about the ELLE story?

Is it possible to spend some time with them and not notice anything, when one can see it just from one of the published pictures?

Do the people who decided to publish the story know anything about those battalions?

We are left with only 2 possibilities for the Guardian: gross incompetence, or conscious decision to deceive its readers.

A few days ago (2 March), Glenn Greenwald (the journalist trusted by Snowden who happened to work at the Guardian at the time) published an article in The Intercept about the UK media regulator threatening RT, and about the hypocrisy of those who lecture about press freedom (The Guardian was probably one of those he had in mind, and he actually cited it in his article).

Just after Greenwald put his article online, a discussion started on Twitter between him and Miriam Elder (who was working as a Guardian’s Moscow correspondent until recently). Greenwald repeatedly asked her if she was in favour of banning RT, and she refused to give an answer. Her last words were “I don’t think Russia Today is a media outlet”.

At about the same time she put online her latest article in which she tried to discredit a journalist of The New York Observer whom she accused of spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda (it is ironic that the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine is often described as Kremlin propaganda).

In a recent piece called “Ukraine crisis: a reverse Cuban missile crisis”, William Polk, who was one of the 3 members of the Cuban crisis committee, opens with “In a rather ghastly Nineteenth Century experiment, a biologist by the name of Heinzmann found that if he placed a frog in boiling water, the frog immediately leapt out but that if he placed the frog in tepid water and then gradually heated it, the frog stayed put until he was scalded to death.

Are we like the frog? I see disturbing elements of that process today as we watch events unfold in the Ukraine confrontation.”

The one sided (and hysteric) reporting of the western media is partly responsible for the current situation. Would Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton and others have compared Putin to Hitler if the western media had offered a more balanced view (including the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine)?

Would the same political decisions have been made?
Would we hear every day that it is a “Munich moment” and that “Putin must be stopped”?
Would we sometimes hear and read hateful russophobic comments by Westerners that I do not even dare to repeat here?

Western media should think less about Russian media (1), and more about informing well their readers – they include decision makers.

Following many comments (2) in the article pointing at the 1488, the Guardian finally decided to react this morning (about 24 hours after it first published the article).

Did the Guardian apology for having portrayed neo-nazis as heroes?

No. They deciced for the banalisation of neo-nazism instead: they replaced the caption by “Anaconda alongside a van displaying the neo-Nazi symbol 1488. The volunteer brigade is known for its far-right links.”.

The story was not on the main page any more, but there was a new Russia story on it. Its headline was “The killing of my friend Boris Nemtsov must signal the end of appeasement”.

(1) The antipathy of some Western media journalists towards RT is quite fascinating. Do they realise that when they look at Russian media, they see their own reflection, with everything reversed?

(2) Chris Elliott of the Guardian wrote a piece in May 2014 in which he says that Guardian journalists believe that comments sympathetic to the Russia position are made by people paid by the Kremlin…