Media Rewrites Ukraine’s Dark History
Video transcript: Plus, an interview with journalist David Zweig on his reporting of the new files that show how Twitter rigged the online debate surrounding COVID
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In this episode, we examine how the Western media has completely rewritten the vast majority of their own reporting about Ukraine, reversing everything they spent the last eight years saying the minute Russia invaded back in February, engaging in one of the most brazen examples of the exact type of government and media propaganda George Orwell's 1984 was designed to warn about: we've always been at war with Eastasia.
Then, for our interview segment, I'll speak with David Zweig, the latest reporter to reveal the Twitter Files. His reporting today focused on how the Biden Administration and Big Tech united to manipulate the debate over COVID and ban any dissent – even from the most credentialed scientists – to the latest decrees of the public health establishment at the CDC, Dr. Fauci, and the World Health Organization. No matter how true we already know many of these things to be, the Twitter Files have been vital in providing definitive proof and showing exactly how all of this was done.
Tonight, I'd like to speak to you about the war in Ukraine, but before doing so, I have a request to make of you. Try as hard as you can to set aside your views of whether the U.S. should or should not be intervening in that war by lavishing Ukraine with $100 billion and counting, and all sorts of sophisticated weaponry, as it treats the border conflict between two other countries on the other side of the world as its own proxy war.
And even try to leave aside your views about whether you believe Russia invaded Ukraine without any provocation or justification, or whether you believe that the U.S. and the EU – deliberately or otherwise – provoked the Russians by continuing to hint about Ukrainian membership in NATO, or helping to change the regime in Kyiv in 2014, from a pro-Moscow to a pro-EU government, or in general running amok and all but governing this vital country right on the most vulnerable part of the Russian border. The reason I ask you to leave all that aside is because it does not - or at least should not – affect the subject I'm about to examine, even though it's nominally about the war in Ukraine.
It's similar to how I always request that people try to leave aside their views about a particular person or opinion when considering whether that person or view should be censored. What I want to focus on is not so much about the war in Ukraine itself but the propaganda tactics used by the Western media outlets to cover this war, in part because it's so revealing about their paramount loyalty – not to left or right-wing ideology but to the Western Security State agencies -- and also, because it's so alarming to watch them completely rewrite history, reverse and erase everything they had been saying for years, as soon as a war begins, and everything they had been saying suddenly becomes inconvenient to the government’s agenda.
Since at least 2013, when the U.S. and the EU began working to change the government of Ukraine, that nation has been of great interest to the West – for all sorts of interesting – though not necessarily valid – reasons.
You likely recall Victoria Nuland, the chameleon who somehow always manages to end up in power no matter which party Americans vote for: part of a leading neo-con family by virtue of her marriage to long-time neocon DC operative Robert Kagan, Nuland occupied a senior position in Bill Clinton's State Department; then became Dick Cheney's primary foreign policy advisor, especially for the War in Iraq, War on Terror; and then reappeared, as if nothing had happened, in the Obama administration as a top official in Hillary Clinton's State Department, finally running Ukraine policy for Obama. Like so many top neo-con operatives in DC, she had a short stint out of power during the Trump years but has now reappeared running Ukraine yet again, this time for the Biden State Department.
In 2014, Nuland got caught on tape essentially choosing who the new Ukrainian President would be, as part of their new "democracy" installed after the U.S. and EU helped Western Ukrainians dislodge their former president. And it is not an exaggeration to say that the U.S. government has been running Ukraine ever since.
That's why when the Ukrainian energy company Burisma ended up confronting all sorts of unpleasant legal difficulties, they decided to pay $50,000 per month not to the son of an influential Ukrainian politician, but to the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, as Vice President Biden was essentially governing Ukraine as an imperial overlord or consul, micro-managing that country to such an extent that he was picking and choosing which prosecutors should be hired and fired.
So if you were Burisma, it made sense to pay the son of an American politician since the U.S. Government, for whatever reasons, was deeply interested in Ukraine to the point of governing it – even though, as I've shown you many times before, former President Obama expressed the standard view for decades in Washington that Ukraine was not and never would be a vital interest to the U.S. because it has no oil or other resources nor geostrategic importance.
Its only value seems to be its proximity to Russia and its use as a proxy to weaken Moscow. Regardless of whether it should have been done, Ukraine was deeply important for close to a decade to the U.S. and the EU before this war, and as a result, it received a great deal of coverage in the Western press. And what is most striking is that there was a consensus on how to think about Ukraine since at least 2014, when the government was changed.
And yet, as soon as Russia invaded, you can see – in real time – how the Western press completely abandoned and rewrote its own history about Ukraine, on virtually every issue of importance regarding that country: they did a complete 180-reversal, where they stopped saying what they had been saying for a decade – as long as those truths undermined U.S. and EU interests in the war in Ukraine – and often began asserting exactly the opposite and render their own reporting off limits to utter.
It's difficult to recall a more brazen illustration of how media war propaganda functions – at least without going back to the 2002-2003 debate over whether to invade Iraq -- in exactly the way that George Orwell so often predicted and warned about – especially in his very famous novel “1984” about how tyranny functions. The Western media simply insisted that the exact opposite of what they told you three months earlier was true. They disclaimed everything they had said before.
That a union of government and media will radically revise history in order to maintain popular support for a war was central to how Orwell's dystopian, totalitarian government of Oceania functioned in that novel. Whenever Oceania's leaders subtly redirected the hatred of the citizenry from longtime enemy Eurasia to new enemy Eastasia, the messaging to the citizenry brazenly changed, all based on the propagandistic premise that nothing had changed. As Orwell wrote: “The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.”
And just like that -- presto! -- everything that the citizenship was told previously was no longer applicable. A brand-new reality – suited for the needs of the new war – was in its place. In a process that should be very familiar to Americans who lived through the wars in Iraq, then Libya, then Syria, and now Ukraine, what was until very recently declared to be a loyal friend and partner could switch on a dime to be not only an enemy, but an enemy that we have always opposed, and vice-versa. As Orwell wrote in that book, using his protagonist Winston Smith: “The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia.
He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past’, ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'. And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'.”
Thus did Saddam Hussein go from close American ally, in the 1980s, against Iran, to incomparable Hitlerian evil who must be vanquished, including because he had gassed his own people -- indeed an incredibly evil thing to do, albeit something he did when he was still a close U.S. ally with whom Donald Rumsfeld was shaking hands. The same thing happened with ally-turned-enemy Muammar al-Ghaddafi, of Libya, when it came time for that regime-change war and the same thing with ally-turned-new-Hitler Bashar al-Assad.
It wasn't that our government and its media alleged that anything had changed. It was that everything just started being rewritten and revised to imply that nothing had changed. That it had always been this way. And we are seeing this propagandistic framework more vividly than ever in how Ukraine is now talked about in the West, versus how they were discussing their country for eight years before Western populations needed to be convinced to send arms and massive amounts of their money there, even if it meant a proxy war or risking a direct hot war over Ukraine with a nuclear-armed power.
To begin with, consider this documentary from the BBC (6:00-8:30), in 2014. Its title assumed – as if it weren't debatable – that in fact, it was a basic truth, namely, many Ukrainians do not want to live under the rule of Kyiv or even be citizens of Ukraine at all. Instead, they are Russian-speaking, ethnic Russians, whose families, for centuries, have self-identified as Russian. They would much rather live under the rule of Moscow than Kyiv, especially, once the Ukrainian government was changed with the help of Victoria Nuland and her friends and became pro-EU instead of pro-Russian.
Now, that may not be your choice if you lived in Ukraine. I can certainly understand when I heard Ukrainians - particularly those in the West whose first language is Ukrainian – say they'd rather have democratic autonomy and pick their own leaders than live under the rule of Moscow. But it doesn't matter what I want or what you want if you are in Ukraine. The indisputable fact of the matter is, as the Western media always acknowledge, that a large number of Ukrainians - particularly in the eastern part of the country – would rather be annexed by Russia or at least be declared independent of Kyiv.
That is why – unbeknownst to so many in the West, since it interferes with the preferred narrative – so many of them have, since the change of government in 2014, been fighting a civil war against the central authority in Kyiv. They are separatists who are backed by Russia. Recall that when the Clinton administration's involvement in the war in Yugoslavia grew deeper and deeper, especially by the end of the 1990s, a central war demand of the U.S. -- and why are we involved in this war at all? -- the demand became that the province of Kosovo, which had long been part of Serbia and subject to the central rule of Belgrade, much like eastern Ukrainian provinces are subject to the central will of Kyiv, should instead be declared independent. And the argument of the West was that the people of Kosovo did not want to be part of Serbia, and that was largely true. And so, the U.S. and NATO pressed the case until Kosovo won its independence.
At the time, Vladimir Putin – who, with Russia, as a long-term ally of Serbia and someone who believed in the stability of the post-World War II order – warned that granting independence to Kosovo would be deeply destabilizing, since many provinces in Eastern Europe were shoved into countries with which they did not identify and from whom they wanted to be independent.
But that warning was ignored. And thus, Putin decided to use that precedent, the one that gave independence to Kosovo, to justify the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, based on the argument – again, a true one – that the vast majority of people in those two Georgian provinces, South Ossetia and Azkhabia – despised the Georgian president, someone who had been selected by and was beloved by American neocons and were demanding Russian passports and citizenship instead. The same thing happened in 2014, when Russia held a referendum in Crimea, and over 90% of the citizens of that province voted in favor of becoming part of Russia.
There are valid criticisms of how that referendum was conducted -- given that Crimea still had Russian troops on its territory when the voting was held – but nobody seriously doubts that the vast majority of the people in Crimea identify as Russian and prefer to be ruled by Moscow rather than Kyiv. Close to 85% of people in Crimea speak Russian as their first language while only 3% speak Ukrainian. And the same is true – and has long been true – of people in the provinces of Eastern Ukraine, including in the Donbas region.
But how often do you hear that admission now from Western media outlets? Almost never. To listen to them, all Ukrainians are the victims of Russian aggression, because they crave their sovereignty and their democratic government in Kyiv. But that's just false - a large minority of Ukrainians, and a majority of them in Donbas, want to be part of Russia or be independent. And that’s what makes that BBC documentary so fascinating is that it uttered this truth in unflinching form, and even sent a reporter to Eastern Ukraine to interview the people in that region about why they wanted to be part of Russia or are very hostile to the central government of Kyiv.
You can see in the documentary that he was expressing a view held by, as the BBC admitted, a large number of Ukrainians in the east. And that is why – for all the talk about how a diplomatic solution is impossible – one solution has always been clear. Hold a fair and free election or referendum in those provinces – supervised not by Russian forces but by UN peace-keeping and other forces – and allow the people of those regions to decide for themselves what they want their fate to be, using the precedent of Kosovo and the independence granted to it by the West.
What the BBC said and showed in 2014 was not controversial at the time because it's undeniably true. But now, anyone pointing out that many Ukrainians prefer to be part of Russia would be instantly accused of being a Russian propagandist, and you'd be hard-pressed to find such admissions in any Western outlet. It’s been all declared off-limits.
Now, the question of what people in Eastern Ukraine want is by far not the only topic where everything has changed. Let's take a look at the ‘hero's welcome’ that President Zelensky just received when he spoke to a joint house of Congress. They draped the dais of the House of Representatives, not with the American flag, but with the Ukrainian flag, and he was heralded as this noble leader, this person who deserves all of our admiration, someone fighting for good government and democracy in Ukraine.
And let's compare it to what has been said about him over the last several years since he emerged in power. First of all, let's start with this Guardian article. As you may recall, there was a leak of millions of documents a decade ago called the Panama Papers, which revealed how rich people hide their wealth in offshore bank accounts, where it's free from accounting or detection, or taxes. And there was a subsequent sequel to that, called the Pandora Papers, which did much of the same.
This Guardian article, in 2021, just six months or five months before Russia invaded Ukraine, and it became prohibited to say anything negative about Zelensky in the West, as the Guardian noted, “Revealed ‘Anti-Oligarch’ Ukrainian President's Offshore Connections”. They put ‘anti-oligarch’ in quotes because they were mocking the fact that Zelensky was posing as someone opposed to oligarchy and corruption when he himself, as revealed by these papers, had all sorts of offshore accounts. The article read: “On the campaign trail, Zelensky pledged to clean up Ukraine’s oligarch-dominated ruling system. And he railed against politicians such as the wealthy incumbent […] who hid their assets offshore. The message worked. Zelensky won 73% of the vote and now sits in a cavernous office in the capital, Kyiv, decorated with gilded stucco ceilings. Last month, he held talks with Joe Biden in the Oval Office”. […] “The Pandora papers leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with The Guardian as part of a global investigation, however, suggests Zelensky is rather similar to his predecessors.”, the corrupt oligarchs. “The leaked documents suggest he had -- or has -- a previously undisclosed stake in an offshore company, which he appears to have secretly transferred to a friend weeks before winning the presidential vote. Before becoming president, Zelensky declared some of his private assets. They included cars, property, and three of the co-owned offshore companies. One, Film Heritage, which he held jointly with his wife, Olena, a former Kvartal 95 writer, is registered in Belize.” […] “But the Pandora papers show further offshore assets that Zelensky appears not to have revealed. Film Heritage had a 25% stake in Davegra, a Cyprus holding company. Davegra in turn owns Maltex Multicapital Corp, a previously unknown entity registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands”. Weird places, if you're Ukrainian, to keep your wealth: Belize and the British Virgin Islands. “Zelensky, the Shefir brothers, and Yakovlev, each held a 25% stake in Maltex”.
[…] “On 13 March 2019, two weeks before the first round of voting in Ukraine's election, Zelensky gave his quarter stake in Maltex to Serhiy Shefir, documents show. It is unclear if Shefir paid Zelensky. Bakanov witnessed the secret transfer and signed the offshore papers”. […] “Since entering politics, Zelensky has been dogged by claims that he is under the influence of Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire whose TV channel screened Zelensky’s show. During the campaign, Zelensky’s opponents alleged $41 million from Kolomoisky entities found its way between 2012 and 2016 into offshore firms belonging to Zelensky and his circle, including Film heritage”.
Are you comfortable yet with $100 billion and counting that the United States is sending to Ukraine under the care of these people?
Here is a chart prepared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists about those papers. And you can see here the countries most mentioned in the Pandora papers, documents that prove how extremely wealthy people in politics hide their wealth because they don't want it to be detected. And there you see Ukraine has the lead by far as the most mentioned, as the country with the most politicians named in these papers, with 38, and Russia, who we never stop hearing about in terms of their corruption, corruption, and oligarchs, has exactly half, 19. And then there are the rest of the countries.
So, before we get to the U.S. Department of State, what we're being told is that Zelensky is this noble figure who fought off oligarchs. People will acknowledge that Ukraine is still corrupt, but they say that he has been elected on a platform of reform to fight oligarchy. And yet, just six months before the war, it was perfectly acceptable. People were reporting that he himself is essentially corrupt, that he has enormous amounts of wealth, that you don't get just from being the host of a TV show or a comedian, stored, including investment funds that own some of the richest real estate in London. But if you now stand up and try to report any of this, this has disappeared from Western discourse because we need to convince Western populations that they can keep sending tens and tens of billions of dollars of their own money to Ukraine, where it will be safely and responsibly shepherded.
Now, the other claim we hear about Zelensky is he's a great Democrat. He's someone who has restored democracy to Ukraine and, therefore, this war is a war between democracy on the one hand, in Ukraine, and authoritarianism and despotism on the other, in Russia. That is something that we hear constantly, but it's not something we heard until Russia stepped foot into Ukraine, in 2022, and the West saw an opportunity to weaken Russia by backing Ukraine.
Here, for example, is the report of the Department of State, in 2021, under Joe Biden, and it reports on the practices in Ukraine. Again, this is a government -- the United States -- already very favorably inclined to Ukraine. It was governing it. It picked its leaders. It was arming and supporting it, even while it was doing that. This is what they were willing to say about Ukraine prior to the Russian invasion: “Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents, torture, and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees by law enforcement personnel; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in Russia-led conflict in the Donbas, including physical abuses or punishment of civilians and members of armed groups held in detention facilities; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and censorship; serious restrictions on Internet freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minority groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor”. That's Zelensky’s Ukraine.
The US government went on: “The government of Ukraine generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The government took some steps to identify, prosecute and punish officials involved in corruption”. […] “There were reports indicating that the government or its agents possibly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Bureau for Investigations is responsible for the investigation of crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies.” […] “Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths due to the torture or negligence by police or prison officers [...] Impunity for past arbitrary or unlawful killings remained a significant problem.” […] “Although the constitution and law prohibit torture […], there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use confessions and statements made under duress to police […], there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and at times tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions”. Finally, “Impunity for abuses committed by law enforcement was a significant problem”. […] “The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, but authorities do not always respect these rights. The government banned, blocked, or sanctioned media outlets and individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Now, does that sound like democracy to you? Do you actually believe that what the United States is doing in this country, by defending the current government that it helped install, is defending democracy? These are all things reported openly in 2021, in 2020, about Zelensky in the Ukrainian government, and now they've entirely disappeared. Instead, we have this narrative courtesy of the current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who said, back in August, “Today, Congress extends our warmest wishes to the people of Ukraine as they celebrate 31 years of independence. America remains unwavering in our support for Ukraine's courageous fight to defeat tyranny and defend democracy -- for their nation and the world”. Here's another tweet from her, in August: “The Ukrainian people have displayed unimaginable heroism as they confront unconscionable atrocities. The Congress remains with Ukraine as it fights to defend Democracy -- not only for its people but for the world”.
That's the narrative that has replaced what was always said about Ukraine right up until the time Russia invaded. Zelensky is corrupt. He stores his vast wealth in offshore bank accounts. He's supported by Ukrainian oligarchs who put him in office. And Ukraine is rampant with despotism, tyrannical abuses, torture, killings, censorship, and the rest, far, far, far from this glorious democracy we now suddenly are being told about by every source, both within government and mainstream media.
Just to put a finishing touch on this, from Reuters, just this month, Ukraine is currently preparing a law banning churches affiliated with Russia, including one of the oldest and most sacred churches in Ukraine, for centuries, the Eastern Orthodox Church. Reuters says “The Ukrainian government will draw up a law banning churches affiliated with Russia under moves described by President Zelensky as necessary to prevent Moscow being able to ‘weaken Ukraine from within’…”
Now, not only did Zelensky do all this after Russia invaded -- he did it before, the 2021 report from the State Department showed that -- he also, in 2021, a year before Russia invaded, shut down three opposition television stations. Imagine if Putin did that. We'd hear nothing, but we would never hear the end of that. So, Zelensky just ordered three television stations, in opposition to his government, shut down. And then, in 2022, he ordered opposition parties shut down, and more media outlets shut down and now the Eastern Orthodox Church banned, on top of all the abuses the State Department is describing. And yet the Western media that constantly reported this will now tell you that we're there to fight for democracy.
Then we have the issue of the Azov Battalion. Let me tell you what was said about this Azov Battalion, from 2014 until the day before Russia invaded. The following: the Azov Battalion is a neo-Nazi group, not a group with far-right ties, but a neo-Nazi group. They worship and revere national heroes who collaborated with the Nazis in order to kill tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews during the war, including Stepan Bandera. They use Nazi insignia, they use Nazi music, they use Nazi songs. And not only was that true, said the Western press for the last decade, but they were the most dominant militia and fighting forces inside Ukraine. When you think about military force in Ukraine, you're really thinking about the Azov Battalion. They're the ones fighting the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. They're by far the most sophisticated and most advanced fighters. When you arm Ukraine, this is whom you're arming, said the Western press for a decade.
Here, for example, is a tweet from the Anti-Defamation League, in 2019. It says: “This Ukrainian extremist group, called the Azov Battalion, has ties to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Our latest report on international white supremacy details how they try to connect with like-minded extremists from the U.S”. And here's the tweet from the journalist Mike Levine that they cite: “The FBI has arrested a member of the U.S. Army who allegedly discussed plans to bomb a major U.S. news network, discussed traveling to Ukraine to fight with a violent far-right group, and allegedly distributed info online on how to build bombs”.
This is how the Azov Battalion was spoken about constantly as an actual, serious, and grave Nazi force inside Europe, with whom Nazi activists and Nazi radicals from around the world were identifying and traveling to Ukraine in order to train with.
Here, for example, is the ADL's report “Hate Beyond Borders, the Internationalization of White Supremacy”, and this is how the Azov Battalion was always spoken about until Russia invaded: “A number of white supremacists also have connections to Azov, a Ukrainian extremist group and militia. The Azov Battalion was created in May 2014 to fight Russian-backed separatists. Many of the volunteers who joined the group had ties to the far-right hooligan movement in Eastern Europe. The group also has ties to neo-Nazis in Ukraine. […] “Investigative reports on Azov from Bellingcat and Radio Free Europe […] point to the many ways Azov has reached out to like-minded American extremists. Those heading up outreach efforts include Denis Nikitin, a Russian/German neo-Nazi and founder of the White Rex, a white nationalist clothing label, who acts as an “unofficial ambassador” for Azov.” And he talks about the insignia that they built. And that is on and on what this ADL report said.
Now, here from The Guardian, in 2014, is the evidence that this is how the Western media talked about Azov, not only as neo-Nazis but as the dominant fighting force in Ukraine, not just some stray or isolated hero group -- the way people like to say now, ‘okay, fine, there are a few Nazis in Ukraine: there are also a few white supremacists in the U.S. military’. That's not what this was at all. They were and are the leading fighting force in Ukraine.
As The Guardian said, in 2014, “Azov’s Fighters are Ukraine's Greatest Weapon and May Be Its Greatest Threat”: ‘I have nothing against Russian nationalists or a great Russia’, said Dmitry, as we spread through the dark Mariupol night in a pickup truck, a machine gunner positioned in the back. ‘But Putin's not even a Russian. Putin's a Jew’, he said. Dimitri -- which he said is not his real name -- is a native of east Ukraine and a member of the Azov battalion, a volunteer grouping that has been doing much of the frontline fighting in Ukraine's war with pro-Russia separatists.
The Azov, one of many volunteer brigades to fight alongside the Ukrainian army in the east of the country has developed a reputation for fearlessness in battle”. […] “But there is an increasing worry that while the Azov and other volunteer battalions might be Ukraine's most potent and reliable force [...] they also pose the most serious threat to the Ukrainian government, and perhaps even the state, when the conflict in the east is over.
The Azov causes particular concern due to the far right, even neo-Nazi leanings of many of its members. Dmitri claimed not to be a Nazi but waxed lyrical about Adolf Hitler as a military leader and believes the Holocaust never happened”. There, like Kanye West. “Not everyone in the Azov battalion thinks like Dmitri, but after speaking with dozens of its fighters and embedding on several missions during the past week” […] The Guardian “found many of them to have disturbing political views and almost all to be intent on ‘bringing the fight to Kyiv when the war in the east is over.” […] “The battalion symbol is reminiscent of the Nazi Wolfsangel, though the battalion claims it is in fact meant to be the letters N and I [crossed over each other]. Many of its members have links with neo-Nazi groups, and even those who laughed off the idea that they are neo-Nazis did not give the most convincing denials.”
Isn't it amazing that American liberals and Democrats think that everyone who wears a MAGA hat or voted for Donald Trump is a Nazi? They want them censored off the Internet, they want them imprisoned without due process, they want them regarded as an insurrectionist criminal group, and when they finally meet the real deal Nazis, the actual Nazis, in Ukraine, they want to arm them and fund them and to revere them, turn them into social media stars.
This is the most amazing part: it’s how the New York Times trajectory talking about the Azov Battalion was. So, here, in 2015, is an article by the New York Times on how Islamic battalions, including Chechens, are now in Ukraine fighting against their archenemy, the Russians. And this is what The New York Times news article, in 2015, said about Azov: “Right Sector, for example, formed during last year's street protests in Kyiv from a half-dozen fringe Ukrainian nationalist groups like White Hammer and the Trident of Stepan Bandera. Another, the Azoff group, is openly neo-Nazi”. Let me read that again. This is from 2015, a New York Times news article: “Another, the Azoff group, is openly neo-Nazi, using the “Wolf’s Hook” symbol associated with the SS. Without addressing the issue of the Nazi symbol, the Chechen said he got along well with them because they're nationalists and hate the Russians”. The article goes on: “To try to bolster the abilities of the Ukrainian regular forces and reduce Kyiv's reliance on these quasilegal paramilitaries, the United States Army is training the Ukrainian National Guard. The Americans are specifically prohibited from giving instruction to members of the Azov group”. It was illegal for the United States military to have anything to do with the Azov Battalion because, in the words of the New York Times, they're an openly neo-Nazi group.
Yet, since the war began, Facebook had a problem, which was that Democrats and supporters of the U.S. war in Ukraine wanted to praise the Azov battalion. They needed to justify sending arms to the Azov and held them as courageous. The problem was Facebook had a policy that prohibited any praise of neo-Nazi groups, specifically including the Azov battalion. So, what do you do about that? You just change the rules and you exempt the Azov battalion from your list of neo-Nazi groups that nobody's allowed to praise because now the West needs them praised.
Here from The Intercept, in February 2020, right as the war began: “Facebook now allows praise of neo-Nazi Ukrainian battalion if it fights Russian invasion”: FACEBOOK WILL TEMPORARILY ALLOW its billions of users to praise the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit previously banned from being freely discussed under the company's Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, The Intercept has learned”. So, just like that, they completely changed what the Azov battalion was and how it could be spoken about.
Here, from the New York Times, in 2020, as an op-ed by two individuals who say they both “fought jihadists”, they were members of the U.S. military and, they say, “now we battle white supremacists”. And this is what they wrote: “As a former soldier and FBI agent, we both risked our lives to fight al-Qaida. But the enemy we currently face is not a jihadist threat. It's white supremacists -- in the United States and overseas. Defenders of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, which the FBI calls “a paramilitary unit” notorious for its “association with neo-Nazi ideology” -- That was the FBI's position in 2020 – accuse us of being part of a Kremlin campaign to “demonize” the group… but the Australian, who, in March last year, murdered 51 worshipers at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, claimed in his manifesto that he had traveled to Ukraine; during the attacks, he wore a symbol used by the Azov Battalion”.
That was 2020: The FBI accused them of being in association with neo-Nazi ideology and training people like the person who went into the mosque in New Zealand and murdered Muslims. Right when the war started, though, the New York Times’ language about the Azov started changing. Here, in March 2022, just a month after the war began: “Why Vladimir Putin Invokes Nazis to Justify His Invasion of Ukraine”. You will recall that one of Putin's arguments for why he invaded Ukraine, especially in Eastern Ukraine, was to not the region, meaning the Azov Battalion.
And it suddenly became important for Western media outlets to debunk that claim, even though they had spent a full decade saying exactly that, that Eastern Ukraine was overrun by Ukrainian fighters with the neo-Nazi ideology called the Azov Battalion, and thus they needed to debunk this and watch how the language changes: “With Ukrainian nationalist groups now playing an important role in defending their country from the Russian invasion, Western supporters of Ukraine have struggled for the right tone. Facebook last week said it was making an exception to its anti-extremism policies to allow praise for Ukraine's far-right Azov Battalion military unit, ‘strictly in the context of defending Ukraine’”...
So, just that subtle language change: The New York Times has been calling the Azov battalion, an openly neo-Nazi group, and one month into the war, they were now just a nationalist group that had a far-right ideology, much more benign and less threatening. The language just starts subtly shifting.
And then we go to October -- now we're seven months into the war, and the New York Times isn't even bothering anymore to come up with lighter terms for Azov. Now, Azov is heroic. Azov is noble as all of the people whom we celebrate and with whom we empathize. Here's a New York Times tweet: “Commanders of Ukraine’s celebrated Azov” –now they are celebrated – “Commanders of Ukraine's celebrated Azov Battalion have held an emotional reunion with their families in Turkey, Ukrainian officials said, honoring the fighters released from Russian confinement last month”. And there's a picture of a member of the Azov Battalion -- that The New York Times had scorned for a decade as neo-Nazi, that the FBI said you could not get near it, that the ADL said were worshipers of Hitler -- now we're empathizing with them with these wonderful, lovely pictures of them hugging their family, the celebrated Azov Battalion, after they get released from Turkey.
Here's The New York Times article: “Commanders of Ukraine's celebrated Azov Battalion” – where is neo-Nazi, where’s far-right? That's gone. -- We have ‘celebrated Azov Battalion” – ‘have held an emotional reunion with their families in Turkey, Ukrainian officials said, honoring the fighters released from Russian confinement last month as part of the largest prisoner swap since the start of the war. There are many emotions. Ukraine's first lady, Olena Zelenska, who attended the meeting, said in a post on Telegram. ‘The road to this moment was long and difficult. Finally, they were able to hug’”. Now, what's really amazing about that is that you see just how rapidly it changes.
Time Magazine, the most mainstream of mainstream outlets, actually produced an entire documentary, not in 2010 or 2015, but in 2021, the year before the war, warning Americans and Time Magazine readers about how dangerous and Nazi-ish the Azov Battalion was. Look what they did.
Time: This was the summer of 2019 and I had gone to Ukraine to learn more about these groups. From the crowds, one thing seemed pretty clear about them: they weren't bothered by the fact that this event was organized by the Azov Movement, a far-right group that has increasingly been linked to violence around the world.
‘FBI agents say he pressed a desire to travel to Ukraine to fight with a far-right paramilitary group.’ ‘At least one member of an American hate group also trained in Ukraine with the Azov Battalion.’
What worries officials in the West is Azov’s recruitment strategy. It's tried hard to build friendships with far-right groups around the world, especially in the U.S. and Europe. During my visit, in 2019, I spent a day at one of the biggest recruitment events in Azov’s history. Thousands of people showed up for a day of fighting sports and blatant propaganda. There were neo-Nazi symbols, tattoos, and posters all over the place, and many in the crowd seemed pretty receptive to Azov far-right ideology.
Now, look, maybe you're somebody who thinks that the U.S. should continue to send weapons, sophisticated weaponry, some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world, even though it will end up in the hands of a neo-Nazi group called the Azov Battalion. Maybe you're somebody who wants the U.S. involved in defending Ukraine, even though the president of Ukraine is incredibly corrupt in the way that the Pandora papers showed he was. Maybe you're somebody who believes that the U.S. government should treat Ukraine as a proxy war, even though the Ukrainian government is incredibly despotic and abusive and has very little relationship to what we think of as democratic.
But that's why I asked you to set aside all of those views at the start, because no matter your views on the war itself, this should deeply disturb you: the ability of the Western media to, on a dime, rewrite everything that they've always said to give you a completely alternative reality with no dissent allowed. Many people objecting to these things were banned from the Internet from the start of the war. This is pure propaganda of the kind that Orwell warned about, and you can watch in real time, as the Western media does it, and see how dangerous it is.
The Interview: David Zweig
For our interview segment tonight, I will be speaking with the journalist David Zweig, who is the author of today's latest Twitter Files report. This one focuses on COVID censorship and reveals how the government, working with Big Tech, systematically censored and suppressed the views and opinions of doctors, major academics in medicine and science, and ordinary American citizens during the pandemic. His reporting shows that in many cases, the government censored information that was not only factual and accurate but sometimes the source itself directly to the CDC.
Today's revelations from Zweig are just the latest example of how censorship has disastrous consequences for our most crucial public debate. His previous work has intersected media, technology, and psychology as a forthcoming book on the controversy of American school closures during the COVID pandemic. And I'm really delighted to be able to speak with him tonight.
G.G.: David, thanks so much for taking the time to join us, and congratulations on such a big story.
D.Z.: Yeah. Thanks a lot for having me.
G.G.: Happy to do so. Yeah. -- You know, I have to say -- because we've had eight or nine, I think, Twitter Files, installments. This is the first on how the government and Big Tech united to suppress dissent on the debate over COVID. What is your interest in that story? What kind of led you to be interested in this and how did you pick this part of the story to do?
D.Z.: Yeah. I've been reporting on COVID since pretty much the beginning. I put out an article in the first week of May 2020, where I basically looked at this compendium of studies and data from around the world, and I started seeing all these schools opening in Europe, and I was wondering why they weren't opening in the U.S. and there didn't seem to be any coverage of this. I didn't understand why there was such a divergence.
And so, I was able to write an article for Wired Magazine, not necessarily an obvious choice initially for something about the pandemic, but they cover science, and they were interested. And since then, I've just been kind of off to the races. And the main thing I've been interested in is looking at the science behind, or at least that's ostensibly behind a lot of the policies in the United States, trying to understand why some of the decisions we made -- oftentimes, in particular, related to schools and children -- how those decisions came about and why they differed oftentimes from many other places around the world.
I've been reporting on that for close to three years now. And then Bari Weiss at the Free Press, I knew she had access to the Twitter Files. We know each other. I'd written for her in the past and she said, ‘you're our guy, come out here and look at the stuff related to COVID’. So that's what I did.
G.G.: Yeah. I mean, you know, what strikes me so much about all of this is we heard from the beginning about how new this disease was. It was called for a while, the novel coronavirus pandemic, to emphasize its newness. And you would think, particularly in those moments, you would want as much debate as possible, especially among scientists. And yet, as your reporting showed, somehow the government and Big Tech acted to prevent that. Before we get into the details of how -- I interviewed Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger, and Lee Fang so you're the fourth reporter on the Twitter Files. And I've asked each of them and I will ask you, given how many insinuations there are about motives and conditions and the like, were there any conditions imposed on what you could or couldn't say, or you were paid by Elon Musk or Twitter in any way for this reporting? What was the kind of nature of your ability to report?
D.Z.: The only condition I was made aware of is what, I think, Bari had talked about publicly, which was the initial release of any information should be done on the platform of Twitter. That was it. Other than that, we were given access, we had at times one, at times several, different people helping us to utilize these sorts of internal systems to look through various files. That was it. Now, there is no communication between me and Elon Musk or really anyone else other than the people who are helping us to do our searches.
G.G.: So, one of the questions I've asked each of them -- and as somebody who has reported on large archives in the past, I know I was always appreciative when people ask me is – is, you know, it's a little hard, with so much complex information flying around, for the public sometimes to process everything that they should be processing or to know exactly what they should be focused on. So, having just released not only these documents, but your reporting, what would you say are the two or three most significant revelations that people should take away from this?
D.Z.: Yeah. For me, you know, of course, everyone is interested in, and me among everyone, in seeing if there's some sort of smoking gun or scandalous email that you might find from a government official or where people are talking about government pressure and interference. And indeed, I think I found something that certainly fits the bill in relation to very direct government pressure that they were putting on Twitter among other social networks.
But for me, I think what also has always interested me, as just someone on the platform, was trying to understand what exactly sort of goes on behind the scenes, like what is the algorithm, what is the machine, and how does that work? As we all know, humans design algorithms. So, it's not like an algorithm on its own, or was it? So, I had all these questions and to me the biggest takeaways were and I sort of split it into three main lessons, which were: one, the government directly and explicitly put a lot of pressure on Twitter to de-platform certain accounts. They said they were very angry. That's how it was characterized, the meeting with them that ‘Twitter wasn't doing enough’. So that's one thing: government pressure. The second thing: these algorithms or these bots that they used to sort of scrape the platform looking for specific content.
And then, the third is the humans involved. We have contractors, you know, in places like the Philippines and elsewhere who are doing a lot of this content moderation. And then we, of course, have the humans at Twitter, this sort of higher-up staff who ultimately were making these decisions about what the inputs would be on that algorithm that's going to scrape things and, you know, deciding sort of what they call the escalated cases. So those would be the three kinds of takeaways. It's not one thing or one smoking gun. It's this sort of mix of government pressure combined with these systems that they had in place.
G.G.: So just to sort of ask you to confront what I think is the government's defense of their conduct and maybe even Big Tech’s, which is, you know, maybe in other cases, when you have normal political debates, it's kind of pernicious or repressive to start censoring even things that are clearly misinformation, because the nature of political debates are sometimes people need to be wrong about things, and that's how as a democracy, we kind of decide what we want to believe. But in this case, when you're talking about a pandemic that's killing millions of people worldwide, in this case, you could validly say that misinformation actually kills in the literal sense, not in the sense of, say, hate speeches, violence. But, you know, if you have people falsely encouraging others to not take the vaccine because this and that will happen, you could end up causing people to die who otherwise wouldn't. And, therefore, the government would say, our job number one, is to protect the health and well-being, and safety of the population. So why shouldn't we take steps to strongly encourage or even cajole Big Tech to prevent what could be fatal misinformation from circulating all over the world?
D.Z.: Yeah. You know, obviously, it's a huge and complex question to answer. I think succinctly what my reporting shows is that although that may have been the intention, and particularly when you're dealing with something complex topics like science, that to have bots, you know, through these algorithms, and to have independent contractors, or even, you know, employees at Twitter itself trying to adjudicate something like the granular details of myocarditis or that, you know, the effectiveness of masks in various trial data. There was just an absolute zero chance that they were going to get this right all the time.
So, I'm sympathetic to the challenge, if you are in a government and you don't want all sorts of wild, crazy stuff going on online that are going to confuse people or can be dangerous. I think the argument could be made - and many people have made this argument - that blocking a lot of information, particularly information which I showed in my reporting that was from published studies, in peer-reviewed data, that when you're blocking that, that's also dangerous. So, the risk doesn't only run in one direction.
G.G.: Yeah. You know, what really strikes me so much as somebody who has focused a lot on Big Tech censorship, is that oftentimes the targeted people who are told they don't have the right to weigh in are what they're saying is dangerous, are kind of just ordinary citizens, often hiding behind anonymity. But in this case, and as I said before, we were told this was a novel pandemic, which means you expect there to be debate among scientists and credentialed experts, that a lot of the people who were censored or had their opinions or views suppressed in some way or other were actually highly credentialed people, exactly the kind of people most qualified, certainly more so than, you know, Twitter moderators sitting in Singapore whatever, or, you know, Yoel Roth and Vijaya Gadde, who aren't scientists at all, making these decisions, talking about some of the people who have real medical credentials, who in some way were impeded from speaking.
D.Z.: Yeah, that's exactly right. One of the cases that I highlighted in my reporting was Martin Kulldorff, at Harvard Medical School, he's a very highly credentialed biostatistician epidemiologist, he has had from the beginning of the pandemic, views that are contrary to the sort of Fauci CDC approach to the pandemic. And the thing is, a policy is not science. And one of the things that I found so shocking is that Martin Kulldorff is as credentialed as anyone can be on the planet to be making judgments about what policies are wise or unwise. And his tweet, the one that I highlighted, was labeled as false information, as misleading. And internally, the memo, the moderator said, this is false information because it goes against what the CDC says and it's just incredibly dangerous and even, you know, absurd to think that one government agency or just one government overall with the agencies all sort of working in concert with each other, that they own the truth, particularly, in something that's not even… this wasn't a dispute over data. This is about an approach. This is about what policies we think. And so, no one knows exactly. If there is no one correct answer, we can look at how different countries around the world have approached the pandemic. You know, there's been a wide variation. So, the notion that a credentialed scientist who has a view that's different from the CDC, that what he's saying is, quote, “false information”, is just ridiculous on its face. And it's, I think, very dangerous when you have people like that suppressed in some way, particularly at the behest of the government.
G.G.: You know, the thing I always think about with censorship is the kind of hubris required to do it, you know, I feel very strongly about lots of different views. I feel extremely passionate about some, including the evils of censorship. But I've never once in my life had the impulse to try and make it illegal or forcibly silence others to disagree with me based on the view that I'm so certain about what I'm saying that I think no one should be able to disagree. In this case, when you're talking about that kind of medical establishment, you know, Dr. Fauci, the World Health Organization, the CDC, they were clearly wrong in several instances to the point where they knew it. They first said, don't wear a mask. You don't need to wear a mask unless you're symptomatic. They then said, you know, cloth masks are highly effective in ways they seem to have oversold. They said there is no question about the origins of the pandemic.
Then even the Biden administration said, actually, there are lots of questions we need to investigate. And then, of course, the biggest one, I think, was how the vaccine works, that if you're vaccinated, you can never contract and transmit the virus or it's extremely unlikely that you will. And all day, every day we hear about vaccinated or boosted people contracting and transmitting the virus. Was there ever in the stuff that you were reading, any kind of sense of humility from these people that like maybe we shouldn't be working so hard to shut down debate or force everyone to comply with our pronouncements, given how many times we know we were wrong?
D.Z.: I mean, what's interesting is the people at Twitter itself really did seem to have a lot of debates internally. I read a ton of internal emails. We sort of combed through thousands of them. We read through Slack Channel Communications. There was a robust debate oftentimes among the staff, which appears to not have been the case, at least based on the summary email that I read from what the government was pushing. You know, we are not privy to precisely what the White House and other officials were saying to the people at Twitter.
But I would say, despite the fact that there was a really robust debate, oftentimes, nevertheless, in the end, as my reporting showed, every individual, as you talked about yourself, and every institution is going to have different biases. It's natural. So, when you know there are biases, then it makes you question what's the result of that bias and what should we do to try to offset it perhaps, you know, maybe that means we should… error in being slightly more permissive, particularly in something related to science where there will be and should be varying opinions? Or do you err on the side of more restrictions? I don't try to provide that answer, but it's certainly a question that I think all citizens need to think about because, again, the idea that only the CDC is the arbiter of the truth is insane.
And as you noted, in a bunch of examples, the powers were wrong a bunch of times. And by the way, it's okay that they were wrong. Things change. I'm not going to fault people for making mistakes along the way. But as you noted, I think there was a degree of hubris. There's a degree of certainty within which many of these pronouncements were made that was unwarranted. But it created this environment that -- the degree of certainty created this environment where any sort of views that ran contrary to that was just immediately demonized. And, you know, largely the mainstream media among the kind of, you know, influential class. And, unfortunately, you even saw this play out on a place like Twitter, which everyone had hoped would be more of an alternative.
G.G.: Yeah. So just a couple of questions in the time we have left. One of the things that always bothers me most about the censorship debate or the attempt to impose censorship online is they use these phrases that they try and present as having a kind of ‘apolitical’ meaning or they reside above ideological dispute -- things like hate speech or disinformation or misinformation.
And, you know, you can go right now onto Twitter that claims that it got rid of all this disinformation about the 2016 election or anything related to the 2020 election, and see all sorts of false things, including an incredibly viral tweet from Hillary Clinton posted during the 2016 election, claiming that Trump got caught having a secret server with Alfa Bank, which the FBI said is a hoax and a fraud, that there's no evidence for it. And it's right up there. Or, you know, claims from the CIA that the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation, even though every major media outlet has now confirmed its authenticity. Do you see examples in this reporting of what is called misinformation or things that are allowed up having this kind of ideological bias as opposed to just people in good faith getting things wrong?
D.Z.: I did. And, you know, I mean, I sort of, and many others observed this, you know, anecdotally for years. I cite one example where there was a person who -- and this is an important point I want to make by the way: for all our talk about credentialed experts who should be able to voice their opinions, you know, there are regular citizens who may not have any credentials, but I saw them run circles around, you know, physicians and epidemiologists, and there are plenty of incredibly smart people. And to me, I don't care who the person is, I care what information they are presenting. It is incredible.
And there was a woman who actually reported the CDC data. She took it right off the website regarding pediatric mortality statistics. Her tweet was labeled as misleading. But the tweet she was responding to, where someone said that COVID was the leading cause of death among children, was false. Yet there is no label placed on it, and that tweet still stands. So, this was like a coming at it from both sides: not only was the correct information labeled as wrong and misleading but the incorrect information was let to stand. And one can't help but wonder, you know, what the problem is with that? When the incorrect information was the tweet that supported the sort of overall approach and the gap that we had in the U.S., where there was just this extreme danger to children that was then used to justify a lot of policies like school closures.
G.G.: Yeah. So last question. You know, one of the central focal points of these Twitter Files, every component of it, has been the role played by the U.S. government in general, the U.S. Security State, in particular, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, in trying to influence these decisions about what does and doesn't get censored. I think a lot of people were surprised to find that within Twitter itself, there are all kinds of X operatives of the U.S. Security State and including their general deputy, general counsel at the FBI, James Baker -- and whatever you think about James Baker, you know, he's probably a good lawyer, he has experience in law enforcement, he works for the FBI. He's not a doctor. He's not a scientist or anything close to that. What role was he playing in the decision-making process about whether certain claims about the pandemic should or shouldn't be allowed?
D.Z.: Well, he certainly was a senior employee at Twitter. And one of the really --almost the only word that came to mind was surreal -- examples that I cited with Baker, there was a tweet from Trump while he was president. I think it was shortly after he got out of the hospital and he said, like, ‘Don't worry about COVID’ or ‘Don't be afraid or something like that’. And there's this internal email between Baker and a few other senior people at Twitter where he says: “Hey, shouldn't we flag this? Isn't this a misinformation tweet? You know, specifically he's saying people shouldn't be afraid of COVID”. And all of the other people at Twitter needed to explain to him: “Jim, listen, optimism is not considered misinformation”.
G.G.: Yeah. And that was Yoel Roth, who had previously called Donald Trump a Nazi. So, if he's the one intervening and saying, I think you're being overly aggressive and trying to censor Trump, you know, something has gone very awry! Well, David, you know, I think one of the benefits of all this reporting has been we've kind of known this is happening, kind of like we knew the NSA was spying on all of us before the Snowden reporting. But it's always immensely helpful to see the proof of it and to see exactly how it works. And I think that's one of the things that your reporting did today. So, congratulations on that. And thanks once again for talking to me about it.
D.Z.: I'm really glad to speak with you. Thanks for having me, Glenn.
G.G.: Yep, sure. Have a great evening.
So that concludes our show for today. As always, we will now move to Locals where we will have our interactive aftershow, where we take your questions and respond to your feedback. That's for subscribers, both of my Substack page and our Locals community. To become a member of the Locals community, simply click join in the upper right-hand corner of the Rumble page and you can join and have full access to that show as well as all of my journalism.
Thank you so much for watching. We will be back tomorrow night at 7 p.m. EST. We're going to be off after that for the next three days and then be back after New Year's on Monday, January 2, at our normal hour, 7 p.m. EST.
Thanks to everybody who is watching and have a great evening.