National Commentary

The Press’ Signal Role Exposing Putin’s Crimes in Ukraine

Tuesday this week is being touted as a turning point in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A meeting was held in Germany involving over 40 nations aligning with Ukraine, NATO and Europe against the criminal, murderous, unprovoked aggression of Putin. If Putin thought that his invasion would drive a wedge into NATO and its allies generally, it has not turned out that way. On the contrary, as Gen. Mark Milley said in an interview Tuesday, the world’s nations, including non-Western powerhouses like Japan and Australia, are now more resolutely united against a common foe than at any time since the end of World War II.

Gen. Milley was right to take time at the onset of his interview to thank CNN and the Western news media in general for its indispensable role in this development. Truly, it has been the images of the Russian assault as televised by CNN and the others, that have catalyzed so strongly this new global alliance against such a crass and inhuman assault.

This cannot be stressed enough. It was and is the media, the free press, which has proven indispensable to this end, despite its relatively minor flaws. Who knew it would be the pen, and not the sword alone, that in the end would save civilization! Let that buoy up the morale of the Fourth Estate, which always manages to take more than a fair share of lumps in the struggle against tyranny, even as, for example, CNN’s David Culver, a product of Northern Virginia who just a couple years ago was dodging snowballs reporting on the weather for a local Washington D.C. area news show, now is reporting so brilliantly from behind his locked doors during the latest Chinese Covid lockdown in Shanghai.

Among Putin’s extreme miscalculations, it seems, is his apparent perception that the media in the West was sufficiently discredited by his agent Trump and that pathetic movement of his as to be rendered ineffective in the face of pro-Moscow counter narratives. Putin has apparently believed that his own media blitz through his agencies of influence in the West, including Trump and Fox News, would work to counterveill honest reporting by legitimate news organizations such that the net result would be confusion and discord everywhere.

But no way. Legitimacy has carried the day in the media of the non-Putin world, strengthened by the courageous reporting and filming of the Russian invasion by scores of honest and dedicated journalists. This cannot be taken for granted. It is the signal strength of democracies, and has also shined in its greatest test since World War II, not that I was around then, myself.

I was born just months before D-Day in 1944, and the same week that I happened, one of America’s great newspapermen, William Allen White, died. I had a passion for newspapering from my earliest days, creating my own newspaper in my bedroom with the help of a hectograph (who remembers them?) acquired by means of no small arm twisting by my mom at the school dispensary in our small California fishing town. My headline of a boy falling off our town pier helped me sell those papers to about a dozen neighbors whose homes I went around to at a nickel apiece.

I’ve often started talks at local Rotaries, etc., by recalling that and, in light of my now 30 years running my own weekly general interest newspaper, by saying “Either I was born with printer’s ink in my veins, or I’ve just never grown up.” The standard reply was “probably a little of both.”

News, accurate news, was in all our veins coming out of World War II, and even as there’s been no shortage of lying and deceit by public officials ever since, the careers of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and their like were built on a popular national patriotic zeal for truth telling in the press.

As hard as Putin’s Trump tried to discredit the “lying” U.S. press during his four years in the White House, it failed to stick much beyond his own lunatic fringe element, such that the important coverage in Ukraine is now again saving democracy.