Normally it’s difficult to assess whether a reporter is ignorant, lazy or self-consciously serving power. But when a journalist produces multiple one-sided pieces on a subject while ignoring context he’s previously reported, it’s pretty clear.
Since Washington/London/Ottawa instigated a wave of anti-Russia hysteria in December senior CBC military writer Murray Brewster has published a slew of reports that portray Canada/US positively and Russia negatively. Simultaneously, however, Brewster has failed to report information he’s previously revealed that undercuts the notion that Canada is on the side of angels in the Ukraine crisis.
In a recent psychoanalysis of President Vladimir Putin Brewster reports that “Putin wants to reassemble the old Soviet Union.” If that is the case the Russian leader is doing a poor job of it considering that North American troops are stationed in numerous former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact countries.
Rather than speculate on Vladimir Putin’s embrace of “Eurasianism”, Brewster would do his audience far greater service by simply repeating what he’s previously disclosed. In “Canadian embassy used as safe haven during Ukraine uprising, investigation finds” Brewster revealed that the protesters who overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 were stationed in the Canadian embassy in Kyiv for a week. In the article published a year after the US-backed coup that precipitated a violent separation of Ukraine, Brewster also reported that the embassy’s spokesperson was part of a group campaigning to oust Yanukovych.
Imagine if the Russian Embassy in Canada’s spokesperson was a prominent “freedom convoy” activist and their diplomatic outpost served as a base of that group’s operations in Ottawa. Then imagine they were successful in their plan to oust the government, which led to a civil war that prompted Québec to secede. Would Russian involvement in said development be background information readers could use?
Another fact that helps make sense of the current crisis — but dents the Canada/US good, Russia bad narrative — is the far-right ideology of many of those involved in the 2014 coup and subsequent war in the east. In 2015 Brewster published two stories about Canada possibly training the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which was then fighting in eastern Ukraine. These groups remain influential within Ukraine’s security establishment and their protests helped derail President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace efforts, which contributed to the current crisis.
Another factor driving today’s tensions is Ottawa and Washington promoting Ukrainian membership in NATO against the wishes of the two main continental European powers. In 2008 Brewster reported, “Canada ‘strongly’ supports putting Ukraine on track for NATO membership, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday in a move that puts him firmly on side with U.S. President George W. Bush. .… Hoping to avoid a crisis of their own with Russia, France and Germany indicated Wednesday they would block Bush’s drive to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.” The expansion of an alliance explicitly hostile towards Russia, which also undercuts German and French security initiatives, is another factor in today’s crisis.
In numerous recent articles about Ukraine and Russia Brewster has failed to report important background that would assist Canadians in making sense of Ottawa’s position today. But one doesn’t become “senior defence writer” at the CBC without understanding what is expected of you when the funders of your organization and their bosses in Washington are waging a massive information offensive.
Here are just a few examples: (See my book A Propaganda System for more details.)
- Since launching in the late 1930s the CBC has had close ties to the foreign policy establishment. The public broadcaster’s nine-person board included a general (Victor Odlum), colonel (Wilfred Bovey) and foreign policyadvisor (Leonard Brockington). For the 13 years after World War II CBC was led by Arnold Davidson Dunton, general manager of the Wartime Information Board.
- During the early 1960s UN mission in the Congo three CBC reporters traveled to the newly independent central African nation aboard RCAF aircraft and produced laudatory reports on Canada’s dubious mission.
- Leading CBC TV correspondent for decades, David Halton, reported close ties to the military. “I deployed to Vietnam with” the Canadian International Commission of Control and Supervision force, he wrote in a story in which he also noted: “I found it easier (and generally safer) covering a war with regular army units, as opposed to reporting independently.”
- The public broadcaster’s close ties to the military made it highly deferential, according to Mallory Schwartz in War on the Air: CBC-TV and Canada’s Military, 1952-1992. “When CBC-TV produced programs that raised controversial questions about defence policy, the forces or military history, it did so with considerable care. Caution was partly a result of the special relationship between the CBC and those bodies charged with the defence of Canada.”
While the public broadcaster’s independence from DND/External Affairs has increased over the years since its inception, the government still appoints CBC’s board and provides most of its funds.
More generally, Brewster has risen through the ranks of a media establishment that allows a narrow range of opinion regarding international affairs. He’s learned that when his bosses, their bosses and the ultimate bosses are determined to push a particular, singular narrative — Russia horrible, our side perfect — it’s best not to mention anything that might undermine that story.
On March 4 I will be participating in a panel on “Cutting through the Spin: Russia’s invasion, NATO’s provocation and Canada’s complicity”.