Bias and Distorted Media Coverage
Russia, Israel and Media Omissions
As is often the case with AP’s coverage of news having to do with Israel, there’s a serious omission in its reporting on the Russia-Israel connection even when it involves oil and the United States.
The day after the State of the Union Address, two Interpol fugitives attended the “National Prayer Breakfast” held in Washington DC. The day before that, these fugitives from the law were the guests of honor at an hour-long meeting of the International Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, invited by ranking Democrat Tom Lantos (Calif.)
You would think it would be hot news when wanted men being hunted by European police suddenly pop up in the US particularly on Capitol Hill and at events attended by the US president.
Yet, there was not a single AP story in the US on any of this. 1 Not a single national network television or radio news program even mentioned these facts. In fact, Google and LexisNexis searches four days after these events took place turned up only three newspaper articles on them anywhere in the entire country. 2
Who are these fugitives from the law, wanted by Interpol, who are meeting at the highest levels of the US government? And why didn’t we learn of them?
Therein lies the story. These two men, it turns out, are just the tips of a colossal iceberg. And this iceberg doesn’t just have 90 percent of its mass hidden under water; this iceberg is almost entirely submerged.
They are Mikhail Brudno and Vladimir Dubov, Israeli-Russian partners in the giant Russian oil company Yukos. They, along with a number of their cronies, are wanted by Interpol for allegedly bilking Russian citizens out of billions of dollars. To elude Russian prosecution, these men have taken up residence in Israel. 3
As the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz explains: “In recent years Russian authorities began investigating [Yukos], its managers and major stockholders, many of whom are of Jewish origin. The probes caused several of the managers to flee to Israel, and resulted in Khodorkovski’s [Yukos CEO] arrest and a Kremlin attack on Yukos.”
The fact is that Israel is an important factor in the ongoing, nation-shaking power struggle now going on in Russia. Yet AP virtually never reports this connection. For example, a few months ago in a typical AP story on this power struggle, “Report: Russia again charges Berezovsky,” 4 Moscow AP Bureau Chief Judith Ingram makes no mention anywhere that Berezovsky is an Israeli citizen, or of his many connections to Israel.
Such omissions by AP and large swaths of the American media leave Americans seriously disadvantaged in deciphering what is going on in Russia, and its profound significance for the world.
In order to make sense of this Russian power struggle, and to understand its importance to the rest of us, it is necessary to understand the usually omitted Israeli subtext. When this is understood, the friendship of such pro-Israel Congressional leaders as Rep. Lantos to fugitive Russian oil tycoons begins to make sense.
To explore this background it is often useful to turn to the Israeli press. In July a major Israeli publication, the Jerusalem Post, carried an article headlined: “Boris Berezovsky: Putin’s Russia dangerous for Israel.” Before describing what this contained, let us first go into a little of the background.
Boris Berezovsky is one of seven “oligarchs,” as they are known both inside and outside Russia: massively rich, powerful manipulators who through violence, theft and corruption acquired a mammoth percentage (reports range from 70 to 85 percent) of Russia’s resources, from its oil to the auto industry to mass media outlets.
At the same time, the group steadily gained control over much of the country’s political apparatus. Using extraordinary financial resources and insider dealing, the oligarchs handpicked prime ministers and governmental leaders and barely even bothered to do this behind the scenes.
In 1997 Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the group and Russia’s sometimes richest man (several of the oligarchs trade the top spot back and forth) told an interviewer before he was arrested and imprisoned by Putin last year:
“If we rank all the fields of man’s activity by profitability, politics will be the most lucrative business. When we see a critical situation in the government, we draw lots in order to pick out a person from our milieu for work in power.” 5
Almost all of these oligarchs, it turns out, have significant ties to Israel. In fact, Berezovsky himself has Israeli citizenship a fact that caused a scandal of Watergate proportions in Russia in 1996 when it was exposed by a Russian newspaper. 6
Do Berezovsky’s dual loyalties really matter? Yes. In the realm of global dominance, Israel’s interests and Russia’s are considerably divergent. It is in Israel’s interests to bring to power a regime in Russia friendly to Israel, rather than the current one under Putin, which Israeli leaders feel is supportive of its enemies. Not long ago, for example, Putin met with Syrian leaders an action highly disturbing to Israel.
Having an Israeli citizen at the highest levels of the Russian government is ideal, from Israel’s point of view. In Berezovsky they had such a man. The Jerusalem Post article mentioned above is revealing. It describes Berezovsky as “the Godfather of the Oligarchs’ and Kingmaker of Russia’s Politics’” and reports Berezovsky’s statement that “Putin’s Russia is dangerous for Israel.” Berezovsky goes on to assert that Putin “supports terror” in the Middle East through Russia’s previous relations with Iraq and current relations with Iran. 7
While Israelis may have been delighted at Berezovsky’s position in Russia, It is not surprising that Russian citizens were somewhat less so. Finding that a powerful leader and member of the Russian Security Council was an Israeli citizen was disconcerting, at best.
As a result of the media uproar over Berezovsky’s Israeli citizenship and other events, the Oligarchs’ connections to Israel are widely known in Russia and elsewhere. In Israel they are covered frequently, often with adulation, including a recent hit Israeli TV series called “The Oligarchs.”
“Some of its episodes,” according to Israeli writer Uri Avnery, “are simply unbelievable or would have been, if they had not come straight from the horses’ mouths: the heroes of the story, who gleefully boast about their despicable exploits. The series was produced by Israeli immigrants from Russia.”
Avnery writes that the oligarchs used “cheating, bribery and murder,” as they “exploited the disintegration of the Soviet system to loot the treasures of the state and to amass plunder amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars. In order to safeguard the perpetuation of their business, they took control of the state. Six out of the seven are Jews.” 8
According to a Washington Post story by David Hoffman, the group bought and controlled Russian governmental officials at the highest levels. After financing Yeltsin’s election in 1996, Hoffman writes: “The tycoons met and decided to insert one of their own into government. They debated who and chose [Vladimir] Potanin, who became deputy prime minister. One reason they chose Potanin was that he is not Jewish, and most of the rest of them are, and feared a backlash against the Jewish bankers.” 9
In Russia, the oligarchs are deeply loathed, considered villains who worked to bleed the country dry; during their reign many Russian citizens saw their life savings disappear overnight. A new term was coined for their dominance, “semibankirshchina” (the rule of the seven bankers), and they were widely known to have wielded small, murderous armies. There are rumors that Berezovsky, subject of the respectful AP article, was even responsible for the gunning down of an American journalist, Forbes Moscow editor Paul Klebnikov.
While no one has been charged with the murder of Klebnikov, who had written a book on Berezovsky, many suspect a Berezovsky connection. As a friend of Klebnikov wrote: “Experienced expatriates in Russia shared an essential rule: Don’t cross these brutal billionaires, ever, or you’re likely to go home in a box.” 10
The Chechnya Connection
There is evidence that Berezovsky’s responsibility for death and tragedy may be vastly greater.
“Berezovsky boasts that he caused the war in Chechnya,” Avnery reports, “in which tens of thousands have been killed and a whole country devastated. He was interested in the mineral resources and a prospective pipeline there. In order to achieve this he put an end to the peace agreement that gave the country some kind of independence. The oligarchs dismissed and destroyed Alexander Lebed, the popular general who engineered the agreement, and the war has been going on since then.
“In the end,” Avnery writes, “there was a reaction: Vladimir Putin, the taciturn and tough ex-KGB operative, assumed power, took control of the media, put one of the oligarchs (Mikhail Khodorkovsky) in prison, caused the others to flee (Berezovsky is in England, Vladimir Gusinsky is in Israel, another, Mikhail Chernoy, is assumed to be hiding here.)”
Yet, apart from the Washington Post, American media report on almost none of this. Instead, US coverage largely portrays Berezovsky and his crowd as American-style entrepreneurs who are being hounded by a Russian government whose actions are, to repeat the media’s commonly used phrase, “politically motivated.”
US news stories, even when they occasionally do hint at questionable practices, tend to use such phrases as “brash young capitalists” to describe the oligarchs. 11 For example, a long series co-produced by FRONTLINE and the New York Times referred to these men as “shrewd businessmen,” and asked “what it’s like to be young, Russian and newly affluent?” 12 Massive violence, dual loyalties, and control of resources are rarely, if ever, part of the picture.
When AP Moscow bureau chief Ingram was asked for this article about Berezovsky’s Israeli citizenship, she claimed to know nothing about it, a curious contention for someone who has been an AP news editor in Moscow since 1999. When Ingram was queried further, she hung up the phone.
An examination of Ingram’s reporting on the Berezovsky story cited above raises serious questions. Though she is located in Moscow, Ingram interviewed only two people for her news story: Berezovsky, who is in London, and Berezovsky associate Alex Goldfarb, in New York. One wonders why she interviewed none of the Russians residing around her.
Similarly, one wonders why not a single AP story has identified Berezovsky’s considerable connection to Israel.
Further, nowhere does Ingram’s article convey the ruthlessness of the oligarchs’ actions, or the significance of their holdings, including control of its media. Unnoted in Ingram’s report is the fact that her subject and fellow oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky have been two of Russia’s most powerful media tycoons.
Before Putin’s crackdown, according to the Washington Post, oligarchs had succeeded in seizing “the reins of Russia’s print and broadcast media, vital to the evolution of the country’s fledgling democracy and growth of its nascent civil society.” Berezovsky crony Gusinsky, who is close friends with Rupert Murdoch and was about the launch a satellite network, fled to Israel when it appeared he would be arrested.“ 13
Somehow, AP’s bureau chief seems to have missed all this.
Does this matter to Americans?
AP is the major news source for the thousands of news outlets around the country who cannot afford to have their own foreign correspondents. When AP chooses not to cover something, its omission is felt throughout the nation. When national news networks and others leave out the same facts, the cover-up is almost total.
Russia, despite its current turmoil, contains enormous power. Its natural resources are gargantuan: it possesses the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest oil reserves. It is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, the second largest oil exporter, and the third largest energy consumer.14 Russia’s significance on the world stage now, as in the past, is immense.
Similarly, the United States is currently the most powerful nation on earth. It is therefore essential that its citizens be accurately informed on issues of significance. Israeli citizens, Russian citizens, and citizens of nations throughout the world know the information detailed above. It is critical that American citizens be no less well informed.
For years, the neocons’ push for war against Iraq was largely uncovered by the US media. For even longer, the neocons’ close connections to Israel have gone largely unmentioned in mainstream American news reports. As a result, very few Americans know to what degree many of those responsible for the tragic US invasion and occupation of Iraq have been motivated by Israeli concerns.
The omission in coverage of Iraq has been profoundly disastrous, both for the Middle East and for Americans. In fact, it is quite likely that only history will show the true extent of this disaster. It is deeply troubling to see the same kind of omission occurring on Russia.
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IF AMERICANS KNEW