U.S. President Donald Trump was rightfully derided by liberal democrats – both supporters of liberal democracy and progressives in the U.S. Democratic party – when he infamously Tweeted that the fake news media were “the enemy of the people.” His choice of words was particularly cringe-inducing for experts from the post-communist world.
But, does President Trump have a right to question the media’s bias toward him and raise questions whether journalists have a political motivation to report stores in a light unflattering to the White House in hopes of ending his presidency? Increasingly, it seems the answer to both questions is yes.
Two recent examples typify the media’s increasing obsession in removing Trump from the Oval Office. The January 17 bombshell from BuzzFeed News that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Tower project was met with calls from Congress for Trump’s impeachment. This story prompted an unusual statement from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office refuting the BuzzFeed report, as “fake news”.
Days later, during the March for Life in Washington, media outlets breathlessly reported that video footage showed MAGA-hat-wearing Catholic School boys – like the “dastardly” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was – taunted Native Americans. The media called for the school to immediately expel the predominantly white students involved in this incident and labeled the teenagers racists. While the U.S. left was riled up and “outraged” that Trump-supporting students disrespected an Indian American elder, a full video emerged showing the adult instigated the incident.
However, the biggest “fake news” story with ramifications outside U.S. borders is the inaccurate reporting that the White House has had only a muted response to the Kerch Strait crisis and does not support Ukraine in its efforts to combat Russian military aggression. In its never-ending quest to tie Trump to all things Russia-related, some biased journalists are incorrectly diminishing the strength of US-Ukraine relations and falsely reporting that the Trump Administration is not tough enough on Moscow and Vladimir Putin.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said one Capitol Hill foreign policy aide who wished to remain anonymous. “Real Ukraine watchers in Washington understand that relations between the United States and Kyiv have never been stronger. Much of this can be credited to the hard work of the foreign policy team President Trump has assembled as well as the efforts of Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to steer his country on a path away from Moscow and toward the West.”
During the Trump presidency, the United States has demonstrated its full-fledged support for Ukraine since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in 2014. Examples of this support during the Trump presidency include:
- Ambassador Kurt Volker’s active diplomacy on behalf of a peace settlement and holding Russia accountable for its continued aggression;
- Strong sanctions unanimously supported by Republicans and Democrats and voted on by both houses of Congress;
- Pentagon agreement with Raytheon-Lockheed Martin for the production and export of Javelin anti-missile systems to Ukraine;
- Washington providing Kyiv with $1 billion in defense support since 2014, including a recent $200 million allocated in July 2018 for training, communications, and other non-lethal operational support;
- In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s U.S. Crimea Declaration, in which the United States reaffirmed its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims over Crimea.
- In November 2018, Secretary of State Pompeo reiterated support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, in addition to condemning Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine’s ships; and
- In October 2018, prior to Ukraine receiving autocephaly for its Orthodox Church, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declaration of America’s support for Ukrainians to worship as they choose;
- Once autocephaly for Ukraine’s Orthodox Church was announced in January, Secretary Pompeo once again stating S. support for religious freedom and for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Washington’s ongoing support for Ukraine’s sovereignty has included U.S. involvement in helping diffuse the Kerch Strait crisis well before Moscow illegally detained the Ukrainian sailors and seized Ukraine’s ships,” said one former U.S. government official with knowledge of diplomatic actions taken in the region. “It was not a surprise to anyone that Moscow would take such aggressive steps against Ukraine. Just because you don’t read about Washington’s back-channel diplomacy doesn’t mean the Trump Administration isn’t working very hard to end the crisis. Washington has made it very clear to the Kremlin that Moscow will face consequences should such aggression toward Kyiv continue.”
Many experts in Washington credit the Poroshenko Presidential Administration for not allowing the crisis to spiral out of control. Following Russia’s action in the Sea of Azov, President Poroshenko declared a state of emergency in regions bordering Russia and restricted the entry of Russian men aged between 18-60 into Ukraine.
“President Poroshenko has wisely rallied the Western community to continue action against Moscow,” said a former U.S. diplomat. “The West, especially Washington, has relied on back-channel diplomacy and tough, punitive actions against Moscow in order to change the Kremlin’s policies. No one wants to see military actions escalate, but Washington has helped prepare Kyiv should armed conflict worsens.”
With Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for March, the West is reportedly increasing back-channel negotiations with Russia in order to speed along a peace settlement between Russia and Ukraine. “No one in Washington knows what to expect should Yulia Tymoshenko win the election,” added the former U.S. government official. “With Poroshenko, the Trump Administration and Congress know it has a strategic partner who can be relied upon. Tymoshenko is considered a wild card who could waver between the West and Russia and therefore Washington doesn’t fully trust her.”
As the election cycle in Ukraine progresses, “fake news” reports in Ukraine should be considered commonplace. However, U.S. journalists should exercise caution when their “fake news” reports can negatively impact a strategically important country such as Ukraine of nearly 45 million people. Bias in reporting is understandable and sometimes unavoidable, but falsely reporting on Washington’s foreign policy towards Ukraine is dangerous and could lead to the election of a presidential candidate who may not be as friendly toward Washington as President Poroshenko has been.