Bombing Journalistic Integrity
Media coverage of the Nord Stream sabotage has been another episode of journalistic misconduct.
The slavish willingness of the New York Times and other establishment news outlets to help authorities track down Jack Teixeira, the apparent source of leaks revealing that U.S. and NATO officials had lied about the Ukraine war and other matters, has brought journalistic integrity to a new low. Unfortunately, it also has eclipsed another episode of gross journalistic malfeasance that began months earlier but continues to the present day: defective coverage of the Nord Stream pipelines bombing.
It is imperative not to forget the wretched performance of the press with respect to that incident, however, because it highlights just how willing Western (especially American) journalists are to parrot even the flimsiest government cover stories with respect to foreign policy or national security issues. Even reasonably independent and competent press outlets should have raised serious questions about the Biden administration’s assertions that Russia likely was responsible for the September 2022 bombing. Predictably, though, the New York Times quickly echoed the administration’s suspicions. Other elite publications followed suit, with some expressing no doubts whatsoever about the Kremlin’s culpability.
There were multiple reasons to have severe doubts about that allegation, and even administration officials eventually conceded that there was no “conclusive evidence” that Moscow was guilty. The first question good investigators ask about any crime is cui bono? (Who benefits?). Russia would have been far down the list of suspects on that basis.
Russian investors had poured billions of dollars into building Nord Stream 1 and the just-completed Nord Stream 2. Now, those pipelines were useless pieces of metal at the bottom of the North Sea. Russophobic hawks in the United States contended that, despite the short-term damage to Russia’s economic interests, Vladimir Putin took that step to cut off the flow of natural gas to European countries and demonstrate the pain he could inflict if they continued to support Ukraine’s war effort. However, officials and analysts who embraced that theory did not explain why Moscow would destroy its own valuable infrastructure when the Kremlin could achieve the same result by closing the valve on its end of the pipelines. Worse, very few journalists asked them that question, much less pressed them for a coherent answer.
Posing the cui bono query might not have eliminated Russia as a suspect, but other parties would have been much higher on the list. Among them were alternate possible suppliers of natural gas to the continental European markets. Such NATO members as the United Kingdom and Norway fit that description, as did the United States. Ukraine also was a plausible suspect in terms of motive, since the country was mired in an extremely destructive war with Russia. Anything that weakened its adversary economically and diplomatically clearly benefitted Kiev. The main counter-argument was that Ukraine apparently lacked the necessary capabilities to execute such a sophisticated attack.
The prime suspect emerging from any competent journalistic investigation would have been the United States. Indeed, the amount of evidence pointing to Washington—either alone or in concert with a small number of NATO allies—was considerable. Nevertheless, the bulk of the news media peremptorily dismissed that theory as nothing more than Russian propaganda. Fox News host Tucker Carlson was a rare prominent journalist to dispute that narrative and ask relevant questions.
However, Washington’s adamant opposition to the existence of any and all Russian energy pipelines to the rest of Europe went back more than four decades. Ronald Reagan’s administration vehemently opposed West Germany’s decision to approve the building of such pipelines, believing that the move would make much of noncommunist Europe increasingly dependent on energy supplied by a geostrategic adversary. In their memoirs, both Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz recalled the administration’s frustration at not being able to convince the European allies to change course. Indeed, Weinberger was borderline fanatical in his desire to halt European energy dependence on the USSR.
Washington’s discontent did not dissipate with the passage of time. Donald Trump’s administration sought to block completion of the newest and biggest of the natural gas pipelines, Nord Stream 2, and the Biden administration initially did so as well. Nord Stream 2 was considered especially objectionable because it directly linked Russia and Germany, bypassing the Baltic republics and other loyal U.S. dependents in Eastern Europe—with especially devastating effects on Ukraine’s revenues.
Not only was Washington’s long-standing policy consistently hostile to the Nord Stream pipelines, the Biden administration’s rhetoric in the months leading up to the explosions was unrelentingly menacing. Even before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Biden stated flatly that the United States would "bring an end” to Nord Stream 2. When a reporter pressed him to explain how he could be so confident, since the decision was in Germany’s hands, Biden responded with an outright “promise” that Washington would achieve that objective.
Although most prominent American news outlets echoed the administration’s position that Russia was the primary suspect for the subsequent sabotage, their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere in the world expressed greater skepticism. That wariness became even more pronounced when renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a blockbuster story in February 2023 presenting evidence that Washington (in partnership with Norway) was responsible for the attack. The White House immediately denounced his story as utterly false, and it was striking how so much of elite U.S. press initially gave Hersh’s revelations surprisingly little coverage and even less respect.
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His report apparently had enough resonance with publics in Europe and the United States, though, that Washington changed its cover story. The administration then advanced a theory that rogue Ukrainians—with absolutely no connection to Volodymyr Zelensky’s government—had sabotaged the pipelines. Such a story lacked credibility from the outset. The notion that a small number of freelance amateurs operating from a private yacht could have carried out such a sophisticated operation without being intercepted by intelligence services in multiple NATO countries barely passed the laugh test.
Nevertheless, key members of the elite news media obediently echoed the U.S. government’s revised version of events. Most of the holdouts consisted of hawkish types who still insisted on blaming the Russians, regardless of the facts.
Coverage of the Nord Stream sabotage was another episode in a long series of examples going back decades in which supposedly independent journalists seem content to be little more than conduits for U.S. government narratives. It characterized too much of the coverage of Washington’s humanitarian crusades in the Balkans, the forced regime-change wars in the Muslim world, and the escalating provocations (such as NATO expansion) directed against Russia. The lack of intelligent inquiry and scrutiny has now reached truly disgraceful levels.