As we wait to see how Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion against the Russian government turns out, it’s worth remembering that Walter Lippmann conceived of objectivity as a response to the Western press’ — and especially The New York Times’ — being guided by wishful thinking in its coverage of the Russian Revolution. And here we are again.
As Lippmann disparagingly observed more than 100 years ago, the thrust of Western coverage was that the Bolshevik forces and, later, the nascent Soviet state were bound to fall. In “Liberty and the News” (1920), Lippmann and his co-author, Charles Merz, wrote:
In the large, the news about Russia is a case of seeing not what was, but what men wished to see…. From the point of view of professional journalism the reporting of the Russian Revolution is nothing short of a disaster. On the essential questions the net effect was almost always misleading, and misleading news is worse than none at all.
We don’t know what’s going to happen in the hours and days ahead. Prigozhin has come out against Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, and so of course we hope Prigozhin might somehow prevail, even though his venality is at least the equal of Putin’s. If nothing else, it seems logical that chaos in Russia is good news for Ukraine.
As a number of observers have lamented, the days when you could curate a reliable news feed on Twitter are over — although Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has put together a good list of analysts tweeting about the Ukraine crisis. I’m also following live coverage at the Times (which is behind a paywall) and at BBC News (which is free). And hoping for the best.