WikiLeaks Shows Diplomats Lie to Themselves Before They Lie to Journalists

Today (12/2/10) the New York Times has another report based on the latest WikiLeaks cables. The focus is on U.S. policy toward the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and the upshot is that diplomats based there exercised little to no scrutiny of the claims made by Georgian government regarding South Ossetia and Russia. The conflict there led eventually to a brief war in 2008, which was often inaccurately portrayed in U.S. media as unprovoked Russian aggression against a U.S. ally. The Times reports:

The cables show that for several years, as Georgia entered an escalating contest with the Kremlin for the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway enclaves out of Georgian control that received Russian support, Washington relied heavily on the Saakashvili government’s accounts of its own behavior. In neighboring countries, American diplomats often maintained their professional distance, and privately detailed their misgivings of their host governments. In Georgia, diplomats appeared to set aside skepticism and embrace Georgian versions of important and disputed events.

By 2008, as the region slipped toward war, sources outside the Georgian government were played down or not included in important cables. Official Georgian versions of events were passed to Washington largely unchallenged.

The last cables before the eruption of the brief Russian-Georgian war showed an embassy relaying statements that would with time be proved wrong.

The conventional storyline at the time was that Georgia was attacked by South Ossetian forces, and thusforced to retaliate, which brought a Russian onslaught. The U.S. embassy’s line–that the Times says “would with time be proved wrong”–was echoed in the media, as FAIR documented at the time. There was little skepticism shown toward Georgian claims, or its shelling of civilian areas of South Ossetia (which Russia pointed to as a justification for its military intervention).

The fact that U.S. diplomats and U.S. media were mostly in step is not a coincidence. It reminds me of that Karl Kraus quote: “How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print.”

In this case, the WikiLeaks cables provide the basis for a useful corrective. And anyone who thinks theWikiLeaks cables mostly show that U.S. diplomats are doing good work should note this story as an example of just the opposite.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.