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It’s different, they’re white: Media ignore conflicts around the world to focus on Ukraine

A MintPress News analysis found that in a single week Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC ran almost 1,300 separate stories on the Ukraine invasion, two stories on the Syria attack, one on Somalia, and none at all on the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

by Alan Macleod 

Part 5 - “First major war between civilized nations”

Although the disparity in quantity of coverage is stark, it is also important to note the huge differences in tone and outlook. Media is festooned with pictures of the targets of Russian aggression. For the first time, we are being invited to view the war from the side of the victim. Furthermore, the coverage is not dry and matter-of-fact, but emotive and full of outrage. This is virtually unheard of when reporting on Western wars, and is a conscious decision taken by those at the top.

Weeks after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, for example, the chairman of CNN sent a memo to all staff advising them in no uncertain terms to downplay the suffering of Afghans, stating that it “seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan. Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange went to prison for releasing images of victims of U.S. wars. Yet Russia’s victims are front and center, with media even going so far as to approvingly report on Ukrainian civilians making and using Molotov cocktails on Russian forces.

This, for Palestinian journalist Mohammed El-Kurd, was a revelation. “It is insanely surreal to realize that mainstream news outlets — and settler politicians alike — possess the linguistic capacity to call occupation by its name. A capacity that is made staggeringly absent in the context of occupied Palestine, often under the guise of objectivity,” he said, adding:

    ‘Hypocrisy’ doesn’t describe this adequately. The appropriate word is psychosis. They live in a parallel universe where Europeans, who take up arms to defend their lands and families, are called resistance fighters but Palestinians doing the same damn thing are ‘terrorists.’ There is a separate set of rules for different people.

For many, this disparity is simply about racism. “Ukraine is not the worst act of war since World War II. It’s not even the worst war going on right now,” wrote Sri Lanka-based journalist Indi Samarajiva, referring to Syria and Yemen; “It’s just the worst to happen to white people.

Certainly, there has been a shocking amount of casually racist commentary on corporate media. “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen,” said CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata from Kiev.

Al-Jazeera English presenter Peter Dobbie made similarly Orientalist remarks, expressing his concern for wealthy Ukrainian refugees fleeing, while also demonstrating his contempt for poor non-white people in the same circumstances, stating:

    What is compelling is that just looking at them, the way they’re dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people, these are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa; they look like any European family that you would live next door to.

Others made similar remarks. “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed,” said Ukraine’s former Deputy Chief Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, while talking to the BBC, which did not challenge him on the statement. “The unthinkable has happened…This is not a developing, third-world nation; this is Europe!” exclaimed ITV News reporter Lucy Watson in a tearful explanation as to why we need to help the refugees. “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking,” wrote former Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan in The Daily Telegraph. “War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone,” he added.

Summing up the orgy of casual prejudice was Daily Wire journalist Michael Knowles, who tweeted, “It just occurred to me that this is the first major war between civilized nations in my lifetime.

The sheer number of media personalities expressing their shock at seeing “civilized” people in this predicament led a number of press associations from the Global South to release statements of protest.

This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected,” wrote The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association.

The idea that war is a thing that happens in lands outside of the West is beyond myopic. It is a gross misrepresentation of the entirety of human history. People who are not white are not more innately prone and habituated to violence and suffering,” added the Foreign Press Association, Africa.

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