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Ukraine: RT’s Peter Lavelle vs CNN’s Chris Cuomo

Opinion pieces by Peter Lavelle, the host of RT's shows CrossTalk and On the Money, who was also the anchor of the review programme In Context and the commentary series IMHO.

Published time: July 25, 2014 18:36
A piece of the wreckage is seen at a crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Petropavlivka (Petropavlovka), Donetsk region July 24, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

​MH17 tragedy used to fight an information war.

There is a real civil war being fought in Ukraine. The fabric of social life is collapsing and war crimes are being committed. The downing of Malaysian flight MH17 is a tragedy that should have never happened.

These are all facts and almost all of us in media covering this conflict can find common agreement regarding these points. Sadly, this is where agreement comes to an end. Ukraine’s calamity is victim of an information war and propaganda.

I can’t think of a better example of this than from my appearance on CNN’s “News Day” being questioned by Chris Cuomo. Commentary on our encounter to date describes it as a “battle,” “shouting match,” and a “brawl.” All of these appellations apply if one only focuses on how the “interview” appeared in form. What is more important - and not commented on - is the content of the “give and take” slug match.

Being the interviewer, Cuomo from the outset forcefully attempted to frame the interview – and that framing was to blame Russia for the downing of MH17. He appealed to emotion using moral indignation. I refused to participate in his charade. In fact, I was determined to rely on facts as much as possible. This is what generated all the fireworks.

As soon as it was reported that MH17 was brought down, Western media immediately pointed the finger of blame at Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

A Malaysian air crash investigator works at a crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), Donetsk region July 24, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

Over the next few days, media outlets went into a hysteric frenzy portraying Russia in the most horrific fashion. This is not particularly new – Western media is well known for its anti-Russian editorial lines. What I found extremely distressing this time around was that this hysteric frenzy was unleashed based on little or any facts to draw conclusions about MH17. Cuomo, CNN, and other Western media outlets again committed massive journalistic malpractice.

My take coming away from the interview was Cuomo conducted himself like a “drama queen” appealing to emotions and probably his sense of moral justice. However, emotions and any sense moral justice are not substitutes for facts. As journalists it is incumbent on us to report on the facts and only the facts. Cuomo appeared unable to marshal basic facts about what has been happening Ukraine over the past half year.

He also appeared unable to put the tragedy of MN17 into context. This constitutes epic failure on the part of CNN.
Additionally, Cuomo’s fixation on my place of employment was a cheap shot and a desperate attempt to “shoot the messenger”, because the “message” challenged the mainstream media’s hastily assembled narrative on Ukraine in general. I work at RT as host of the debate program called “CrossTalk.” Unlike CNN, at “CrossTalk” we have real and often very heated debate. As host of the program I may not like or agree with a guest’s point of view, but all points of view are given a fair hearing. And ad hominem attacks are not allowed.

Lastly, I am convinced I was asked to appear on CNN for the sole purpose of discrediting RT and myself. Well, it backfired and badly so.

Cuomo’s performance was sketchy, his knowledge questionable, and his professional responsibly to establish facts absent. To sum up my experience with CNN, I propose readers and viewers answer the following questions: Who uses tragedy to fight an information war? Who is the propagandist willing to say anything to frame a story?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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