To say that Western journalists made a mess of their coverage during the Civil War in the former Yugoslavia is an understatement. Many journalists should have been convicted in The Hague for their gleeful abuse of their profession. When I was an undergraduate at the time studying psychology, I spent my Friday nights writing letters of complaint, as well as working my fax machine. I had amassed banker’s boxes filled with evidence that showed media reporters were wrong, exaggerated, and even fraudulent.
You may think I was looking at looney and fringe sources, but no. I read UN reports, for instance. I conversed with professors at various universities, reading their well-researched work. I found information through FARA. I talked to people who were in the region during the bloodiest of battles. I had video footage. I had pictures. I read trade publications for the intelligence community. I deliberately went through conventionally “credible” channels for a reason.
But I also vetted the so-called dubious sources. Some were out to lunch. You had people claim that Serbs were engaging in cannibalism. It was classic war propaganda.
And then there were other sources I went through that took a certain appreciation and mindset to digest, let alone try to verify.
From my research back then, I could say that the Western media got a sum total of one fact correct: that there was a war going on. They got everything else wrong. It was a shock to me, but it made sense.
Journalists covering the conflict did not speak the language. They were so poorly educated, that they could not even get the religion right of Serbs. I remember one ABC “special” that called Serbs Greek Orthodox.
Try Eastern Orthodox.
Speaking of religion, it was interesting how the press framed the issue: they called one side Muslims, one side Croats, and one side Serbs. They should have been consistent: Muslim, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, but then again, no one would dare pick any side if it were based on religion alone. It was a linguistic sleight of hand to dodge criticism.
It is extremely difficult to cover a war — any war. Journalists like to be pick sides, regardless that to have a war, all participating parties are killing each other. No babes in the woods here. I had relatives on all warring sides — and that is not unusual as the intermarriage rate prior to the war was high.
Of all the factions, Serbs took the biggest beating in the press coverage, mostly because Serbs did not have a PR firm representing them to the public, and the other two sides had several firms working to massage the optics. While Hill and Knowlton were the ones who got the US to invade Iraq during the first Gulf War, the Yugoslav factions upped the ante and had their full assault in the press.
It was no secret. I found out as a Canadian university student studying psychology. Journalists knew, of course, because they were getting press releases from those firms with their letterhead on it — and ever so conveniently, those same stories appeared on the news as is.
It was unprecedented. I was a witness to propaganda up close. I would always ask the same question whenever a news story broke out: who is the firm representing the factions? Whoever had the most money, always got to the hero halo, and it didn’t have to be a war for it to happen.
It is the reason people such as Harvey Weinstein got away with trollish behaviour and undeserved accolades and Oscars for years — he paid for the coverage and the accolades, and he got them.
Even these days, “Big Tech” is under fire — but the real question will always be who is paying for the press coverage?
It is pure capitalistic consumerism.
There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. When you know what you are doing, you are confident. If you don’t and have to wing it, you are arrogant.
A confident person admits that he doesn’t know everything, and is willing to learn, and modify or even change their theory, depending on the evidence. They are dynamic and active in thought. An arrogant person never admits he is wrong. He makes up all sorts of excuses and reasons why he is right, despite the evidence, and his thinking is static and passive, mistaking a hypothesis with fact.
The problem with the Yugoslav coverage was that you had journalists parachuted in and then look for cheat sheets. They knew absolutely nothing about the most basic stats of the regions, and it was that ignorance that skewed everything from the get-go.
In Bosnia, for instance, Serbs were more likely to be farmers. They had a smaller population, but owned a bigger percentage of the land. The other sides were city dwellers, more populous, but owned far less. We see this divide all the time: in my province of Ontario, for instance, there are many more Torontonians, but being stacked up in condos gives them a smaller spread of land, than let’s say, people who live in rural communities. One has numbers, the other has lots.
Now, if Toronto wanted to separate from the rest of Ontario, I am certain many people from the rest of the province would gladly throw them a good riddance party, but only if those in Toronto were content with leaving with the land they owned.
But what if Toronto decided they wanted the entire province for themselves because they also wanted to separate from Canada and declare themselves a country of their own?
That wrinkle changes everything.
Those in Hamilton, Kingston, London, Windsor, and Niagara Falls may scoff at the notion. Mississauga may wish to stay put as well, being happy to be Canadian.
But Toronto crowing it has more people makes them feel entitled to the lot of the province, and decides to drive people out of Ontario who are not from Toronto.
That was the Yugoslav conflict in a nutshell.
Will there be bloodshed? You better believe it. There will be panic, terror, and rage. You spend generations on a single parcel of land that strangers have now decided belongs to them.
And you had headless journalists jumping in and deciding those who didn’t want to lose their land or their citizenship were wrong and evil. The idea was insane.
If the coverage was accurate or sane, there would have been basic questions: who is funding the drive for separation? What is there to gain from declaring your rock a country? Are they actually entitled to do so? What happens to people who didn’t want to separate?
You look at the money trail. Nationalism is a feint and a cover to steal and plunder. We have seen countries get looted for their oil, for instance, but the cover of freedom and democracy downplays the spoils of war.
The Yugoslav conflict had nothing to do with nationalism, or “blood and belonging” as Michael Ignatieff mistakenly, and very naively believed — it was all about the Benjamins.
Yugoslavia was up to its eyeballs in IMF debt. It had a high unemployment, a worthless economy, and a currency that was essentially worthless. You had people with multiple university degrees who could not find stable work.
Yet they had natural resources, and plenty of it. Some of the regions’ leaders thought if they declared their rock a country, they could get the US to give them money as they dodged that crippling debt.
But Serbs wouldn’t play along. They never do. They are a people not impressed with the West. In fact, they do not impress with anyone as a general rule. They are seen as stubborn, but what they are is complicated and self-confident.
Their history is a bloody one where they were nomadic mercenaries. They made the trek away from the Ottoman Empire to the Hapsburg Monarchy to finally put down roots. They revere family because they have lost too many loved ones over time.
They also were victims of genocide during the Second World War — a genocide that has never been acknowledged by the West. Serbian children were placed in their own concentration camp, and the Ustashi were very proud of their barbarity, taking numerous photographs of their torture and murder of Serbs.
Many Western scholars do not understand the emotional literacy of a people who have known obstacles of that magnitude. Some of the more ignorant have some childish notion that Serbs see themselves as victims.
What they see is their history of losing their homes and lives. It would be akin to telling Holocaust survivors to suck it up, or tell African Americans to stop whining because their ancestors were slaves to whites who managed to erase the knowledge of their own history, or even to tell LGBT community to stop whining about being labelled as mentally ill in the DSM.
But Serbs are too exotic for Western patriarchal narratives. They have their own mindsets and independent narrative structures because they have spent hundreds of years separated from other Euro-centric cultures.
But Western journalism is not about plurality or acceptance of diverse mindsets. It saw an exotic people who were independent thinkers who reject a given script, and xenophobic reporters attacked. It would be the punishment for not sucking up to the West like good little foreign people were expected to do with a frozen smile on their faces.
When I was collecting the list of gaffes and lies coming from Western journalists, I was taken aback at how much of it didn’t make even physical or logical sense. Often, even their own footage contradicted what they were narrating. Places where Serbs allegedly “attacked” had their symbols all wrong.
That is not likely to happen to natives, but very likely to those not familiar with the culture, but trying to make their best guess at how it looks, and, not knowing the meanings, let alone nuances, widely missed the mark.
They misidentified soldiers as Serbian, even though Serbs weren’t wearing that uniform, but the other sides did. They misidentified mass graves as Muslim, even though Muslims in the region weren’t burying their dead with crosses or Cyrillic writing — bonus points as the markers had very Serbian names written on them — and then when confronted with the inconsistencies, you had culturally illiterate believers explain it away as some sort of “conspiracy theory” on the part of Serbs who would be in a position to know what they wore when they fought. I have even had people literally run away from me when showing them photographic evidence of their arrogant lunacy. All I had done was hold two photographs in my hands and asked them point blank to explain how their theory could explain that discrepancy.
There is no greater coward than a liar.
But those cowardly journalists had bigoted filters throughout the conflict, and had no clue what a Serb even was. They were told by vested interests that Serbs were the aggressors, and that was good enough for them. Serbs were willful, unruly, idiosyncratic, and unimpressed with American journalists. Serbs were a people who survived on their wits for hundreds of years, and could spot a disingenuous lightweight a mile away.
Journalists were running to the white tents set up by PR firms to feed them information, and never bothered to inform their readers and viewers of it. They didn’t understand mothers and fathers standing guard with their soldier offspring. American parents weren’t fighting alongside their grown children during their conflicts; and hence, the sight of a father with his children as their mother cooked and kept shelter was jarring and unnerving.
They did not ask a single important question. They didn’t know the region’s history, and had they been historically literate, they would have seen it.
They would have also seen that as the prisons in the former Yugoslavia were unguarded, the worst killers were out in the open, preying on everyone, and not particularly caring whose throat they slit.
They would have seen how many foreign mercenaries were parachuting in and hijacking the battles. I had seen videos of Serbian soldiers being tortured to death as their bodies were placed on a spit by the same terrorists who would eventually form Al–Qaeda, and later on, ISIL. Western soldiers trained those killers who returned the favour to their benefactors by slaughtering Americans.
And Western journalists stood by and let it all happen as they spewed their daily propaganda. When I had challenged more than one of these reporters on their coverage and gave my proof, they would retreat, and shrug it off with, “Well, the first casualty of war is truth.”
No, the first casualty of journalism was truth.
Sooner or later, truth gets her revenge. Journalists see their games in the former Yugoslavia as the good old days when their trusting audiences still believed a word they said. Had there been social media back then, I always said I could have easily posted the discrepancies online. I wouldn’t have bothered writing hundreds of letters to various media outlets. There would be no need.
Since then, journalism turned to the same rubble as what NATO had done in their punishing temper tantrum in their bid to gain strategic control of a region that had once been savvy enough to keep out of that organization’s clutches.
But now NATO is playing a new little manipulative game. They have “unfinished business” with the Serbs — the same people they maligned and bombed — and wouldn’t you just know it? they are still standing and rebuilding. Serbia had a hellacious time, but now they are on the verge of real breakthrough and renaissance — all without the West.
And without Western journalism drooling all over them.
But NATO needs an excuse to exist, and they never were competent enough to lift a finger unless they harmed other people who had things to take. But Western journalists never had the cunning or the courage to stand up to NATO, and so, they continue to parrot whatever that self-styled authority figure decrees.
In this case, it is all about trying to link Serbs with Russians without a shred of proof — but there is plenty of evidence that this is a propaganda campaign. It is also a bigoted attack against Orthodox Christians. The press’s “proof” is the mere say-so of authority figures who have vested interests in riling up the little people to do their bidding without having to give said little people anything in return. By trying to establish a link between the two nations, the game is simple: demonize the Serbs with some fake news, and perhaps people will sign up to die in the name of us.
But 2018 is very different from the early 1990s. For one, journalism is a dead profession. It has no respect, and it is a global problem, not just a Western one.
It no longer carries any authority.
CNN, once the world’s most energetic and powerful war propaganda machine, has become a repulsive joke, and those nerds of the news are in a bind of their own making. Their childish war against Trump makes it impossible for them to support any military action he could make against Serbs. They have already painted him as an extremist lunatic that Left-leaning people must fear and distrust, as has the New York Times, another hawkish media outlet.
But now there are outlets where alternative voices can step in thanks to the Internet.
It is not difficult, for instance, to find out who is funding this latest push against Serbs who are usually seen as allies to Russians, though Russians did not come to the aid of Serbs during the war, and it has not gone unnoticed. It is not the same landscape as was a quarter century ago. NATO has countries with their own ethnic and economic precariousness, and they do not have the same pull as they did during the Civil War.
Serbs in Bosnia and in Serbia proper are still more likely to be rural, and still hold more than just generational land: they have resources that many NATO countries could use to fill their own empty bank accounts.
Serbs are still exotic, unimpressed, rebellious, independent thinkers, and stubborn, as they are shrewd and many have learned their lessons from the last conflict. There is a sizeable Serbian population in the UK, for instance, that were refugees from the war. In an era of political correctness, painting an entire people as evil is not going to happen so easily, especially those who have a platform to remind a public of all of the misinformation the West had spewed the first time around with evidence to show the ridiculousness of those once serious claims.
There are other factors, but the most important one is that the tool of the hawk — the news media — has been destroyed by its own ignorance and hubris. When media outlets have become paupers begging for an audience and the funds to attract them, they lost face. They are not authorities anymore.
They are their own casualties. They cannot blame the Serbs for their own downfall.
They can blame their own arrogant nature, however, their rush to judgement, their gullibility, their dependence on authorities to tell them how to think, and their own sloppiness and narcissism. NATO is behaving as if it is the 1990s, and all they will have to do is bluster and make a decree as the media gets everyone to walk lockstep.
It is a world of anarchy. It is not the same landscape. Serbs do not have to play the villain for an intellectually inadequate press any longer.
And despite all the mud-slinging on the part of that dead profession, nothing is sticking, and the rest of the world spins along without paying any attention to their decrees.