The MH17 Downing: Won’t Get Fooled Again

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We share the horror and revulsion at the loss of 298 innocent lives in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. And we believe It is imperative to ask inconvenient questions about a tragedy that has brought the world to the edge of a new and, indeed, very Cold War.

We also think everyone needs to become a smart news consumer. That means taking into account the history of disinformation foisted upon the public. It means recognizing that while our instinct is to accept stories where the “other” is the bad guy, things may be more complicated. And it means reminding ourselves of the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about—and how our “public servants” operate under constant pressure from wealthy interests with a stake in particular outcomes.

Surely as we look into the eyes of those who lost their lives, we know they would not want to be pawns in the cynical calculations of money and power. They would want the truth to come out, whatever it might be.

The shoot-down of MH17 must be viewed in the framework of a struggle that could affect the world’s power dynamic for years to come. Russia, China, India, Latin America and other players are cooperating more and more in ventures that have little room for the traditional domination by the U.S. Institutions like the World Bank are threatened by alternative bodies, and the Western fossil-fuel establishment is facing increasing competition from state-run oil companies and others outside its usual spheres of influence.

And here is something even more dangerous: The U.S. military has been concerned about losing its ability to “project strength for U.S. interests” ever since the end of the Soviet Union sent the neocons in search of new “threats” to justify an ever-expanding U.S. military.

Without question, in the current international arena the downing of MH17 is a possible game changer. And game changers need to be rigorously examined.

Thus, while we allow for the very real possibility that the “authorized” version of the crash may prove true, we cannot ignore the larger picture—and the way in which this story has unfolded.

Rapid-Fire Conclusions

At WhoWhatWhy, we have a longstanding concern about the effectiveness with which the U.S. governments can quickly persuade Americans to rally around some simplistic narrative. From the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11, our media and political establishments have failed to ask tough questions.

Within days of the Boston Marathon Bombings, we warned about a rush to judgment at a time when the authorities insisted they knew exactly what had happened, and that the investigation and questions about it should come to a halt. What gives us hope is that a significant minority, armed with memories of past fabrications and spin, refuse to simply accept what they are told. Perhaps that is why our first article on the bombings received more than 18,000 Facebook likes, quite a lot for a small site like ours.

With the MH17 crash, we were struck by the certainty with which U.S. and Western officials affixed blame, insisted that the plane had been brought down by a missile, and, moreover, asserted which “side” had fired it. Contrast that with TWA Flight 800 in 1996, where eyewitnesses stated they saw a projectile heading toward the plane before it exploded over Long Island. In that case, the government and media rushed to divert the public away from such claims—one of which implicated a U.S. Navy missile test gone awry.

(In an interesting sidelight to that continuing controversy, click here to watch CNN’s Anderson Cooper compare the MH17 incident to TWA 800, which he said had been “shot down”—Cooper returned shortly after to offer an apology for “misspeaking.”)


In all such events, the conclusions you draw depend largely on whom you listen to. When the State Department alleged that Russia was firing across the border into Ukraine, most Western media quoted U.S. officials without expressing any doubts. Predictably, the Russian network, RT, had a different take, citing one of the rare American journalists who refuses to simply parrot claims.

On its website, under the headline “State Dept. accuses Russia of firing artillery into Ukraine, refuses to provide any evidence,” RT wrote:

Matthew Lee, a veteran AP journalist known for his frequent showdowns with spokespeople during U.S. State Department briefings, raised questions about the latest claims during Thursday’s scheduled press conference.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters during the Thursday afternoon briefing.

When asked by Lee for any evidence, however, Harf said the State Dept. is unwilling at this time to disclose further details because doing so could expose the secret intelligence operations involved in making such claims.

“I would like to know what you’re basing this new evidence that the Russians intend to send any heavier equipment,” Lee asked.

The details, Harf responded, are “based on some intelligence information.”

“I can’t get into the sources and methods behind it,” Harf insisted to Lee’s chagrin. “I can’t tell you what the information is based on.”

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