US President Donald Trump has landed in hot water yet again when he told media that he respected Russian leader Vladimir Putin – in spite of (unfounded and sensationalist) accusations that the latter is responsible for killing journalists and political opponents.
Trump was being interviewed on Fox News by Bill O’Reilly, and while expressing respect for Putin as the president of Russia, his interlocutor interrupted with the terse assertion: «He’s [Putin] a killer, though. Putin’s a killer».
Unfazed, Trump replied: «We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?»
The program went on air Sunday ahead of the US Super Bowl football final, and so is sure to have drawn a record audience. Western media outlets also reported the interview in advance with outraged tone that Trump was offering an apology for the Russian leader, and equally as bad, that the president was making a moral equivalence with the misconduct of the US.
Britain’s Guardian headlined: «Donald Trump repeats his respect for ‘killer’ Putin».
The news outlet added: «Asked on Fox about the Kremlin chief’s bloody reputation, the US president said: ‘There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers’».
The Washington Post, among other outlets, noted that this was not the first time that Trump has appeared insouciant in front of interviewers who make claims about Putin’s alleged involvement in violent repression against opponents.
The Post recalled: «It wouldn’t be the first time Trump has brushed aside the topic of Putin’s political killings».
As with much of Western media coverage on Russia and its leader, there is an offending journalistic sloppiness that states allegations and even slander («Putin’s political killings») as if they are factual.
On one hand, Trump deserves a measure of credit for the way he handled the testy media questioning. He did not fully capitulate to the assertion about Putin being a «killer»; and, rightly, Trump reminded his interlocutor that American official hands are indeed covered in blood from the killing of countless human beings.
One can well imagine how other American politicians, including Trump’s defeated presidential rival Hillary Clinton, would have indulged in ramping up the allegations against Putin in a similar media situation.
However, on the other hand, Trump’s response was far from adequate. What he should have done was hold to legal principle and put his interlocutor on the defense, by asking for evidence to support such a sensational claim that «Putin is a killer».
While Trump did not jump on the bandwagon of denouncing Putin, he nevertheless through his response lent tacit credibility to the claim – a claim which actually could qualify as insulting slander against a foreign head of state.
Hence what we got from Trump’s inadequate response was the follow-up headlines proclaiming that Trump pays respect to «killer Putin».
The problem with Trump’s apparent apology for Putin is that it tends to substantiate the Western media demonization of the Russian leader.
In the Guardian report cited above, the article goes on: «According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 36 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, 23 since Putin first became president in 2000. Most famously Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006 while investigating torture in Chechnya».
The British newspaper, like other Western media outlets, insidiously conflates Trump’s apparent ceding to allegations against Putin – with the deaths of journalists in Russia being ascribed to the Russian president.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) does indeed list 36 journalists killed in Russia since 1992. (During the same period four were killed in the US.) But the CPJ does not imply that the Kremlin was involved in the killings. Most of the case studies, including that of well-known journalist Anna Politkovskaya, were related to Russia’s violent conflict zones of the northern and southern caucasus where there has been an ongoing Islamist insurgency. Still another category of journalist deaths in Russia is associated with media investigations into its notoriously dangerous criminal underworld.
There is no evidence that any of the deaths could be attributed to involvement of the Russian government, let alone Vladimir Putin.
What is commonly asserted in Western media is that deceased journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya were «critics of Putin». Such a qualifier is an absurd premise upon which to make the allegation that Putin is somehow personally responsible.
Another source relied on by Western media are assertions made by exiled Russians like the late Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko claimed that Putin ordered the killing of journalist Politkovskaya and also accused Putin of poisoning himself before Litvinenko died in 2006. Living in exile in Britain and working commercially as a «Putin critic», Litvinenko had plenty of self-serving reasons to make such claims. But, again, where is the evidence?
Alternatively, there are substantial grounds to believe that Litvinenko, as with Politkovskaya, may have been the victims of vendettas carried out by criminal gangs.
The point is that there is a dearth of facts but lots of innuendo in the Western narrative imputing crimes to Russian President Putin. Indeed, one can argue the case that this is just part of the Western propaganda campaign of Russophobia and demonization to project Washington’s geopolitical agenda of undermining Moscow.
American politicians like Senator John McCain are given ample media platforms to call Putin a «thug and a murder». But the same media do not question McCain on where he sourced his sensationalist claims, which more accurately should be termed as «slander».
During Congressional confirmation hearings of cabinet nominees for the Trump administration, Senator Marco Rubio again reiterated claims that Putin was a murderer. When pressing Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson to call Putin a murdering criminal, Tillerson, to his credit, said that he had seen no evidence to make such a claim. Rubio arrogantly retorted that the number of dead journalists and political opponents in Russia was the «proof» of Putin’s criminal responsibility.
Such reasoning is beyond fatuous, devoid of any legal or intelligent standards. It is simply anti-Russian propaganda that has become internalized by Western media and politicians, who then regurgitate on cue.
This is the kind of delegitimizing, demonizing and dehumanizing mindset that is cultivated as a prelude to launching war on a designated enemy.
One can be sure that if Vladimir Putin were an American vassal giving US capital rampant access to exploit Russian resources or facilitating Washington’s overseas illegal wars, then none of the tendentious smears against Putin would be ever vented.
Admittedly, it would be an extremely difficult position politically to take, but Trump should boldly challenge US media allegations/slander against Putin. He should make lazy journalists and politicians actually do work by obliging them to provide some factual evidence to back up their hysterical speculations. In short, they should be made to put up or shut up.
The trouble with Trump’s response to media claims about Putin is that it is misconstrued as an apology. This can then be used to beat up on Trump as an unscrupulous «Putin stooge».
As for the «moral equivalence» complaint, the truly objective answer is that there is no comparison between unfounded allegations against Putin as a «killer» and what US presidents actually do as a matter of routine.
Just this week, Trump reportedly ordered a raid by US navy commandos in Yemen which resulted in over 20 civilians, including a newborn baby, being murdered along with Al Qaeda militants. Trump’s predecessors, Obama and Bush, between them killed millions of innocent civilians in drone assassinations and illegal wars across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
The consternation expressed by Western media about Trump’s «moral equivalence» is a reflection of just how propagandized Western journalists and politicians are. Amazingly, they are blind to the glaring facts of mass murder committed by US presidents on an habitual basis. Yet they leap up and down with tendentious, unfounded allegations/slander concerning Vladimir Putin.