American media blindsided by violence in Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukrainian protest / James Picht
Ukrainian protest / James Picht

CHARLOTTE, S.C., February 19, 2014 — In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics there was a huge amount of media chatter about “black widow” terrorists who had reportedly infiltrated the region. Now that the games are nearing their conclusion without incident, speculation about potential terrorist activity has also dissipated.

Meanwhile, the city of Kyiv in Ukraine is surrounded by a “ring of fire” in Vladimir Putin’s own back yard. Over the past several days, it has evolved into a major story. If what is going on there is so important, why wasn’t there more coverage of events leading up to the current inferno?

The answer is discouraging because it clearly emphasizes the fact that 21st century journalism is more about speculation than it is about covering the news. We are a Monday Morning Quarterback nation when it comes to reporting. The Super Bowl is a perfect example of this phenomenon; so much speculation surrounds football’s showcase event for two weeks prior to the kickoff that the game itself almost becomes secondary.

Consider the speculation about whether Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie will or will not run for president in 2016. The 2014 midterm elections are still more than eight months away, but the media are focused on 2016. No matter who becomes president in 2016, on the day after the election, the media will already being trying to figure out who will run against her or him in 2020.

The problems in Ukraine did not happen overnight. Had the press been doing its job, there would have been reports coming out of the former Soviet satellite nation long before the current events ever erupted. But the national media were not on top of the news after all. If they had been, the protests and violence in Ukraine would not have taken them so completely by surprise.

Not a single news service had any coverage leading up to the spreading violence in Kyiv, not even though the Winter Olympics are taking place in virtually the same corner of the world. Does it not seem plausible that such turmoil as it relates to Western and Soviet alliances would be noticed by somebody, especially when Vladimir Putin is making every effort to put a shiny public relations face on the global snow competitions in his country?

The United States has, in many ways, become a reactionary nation. A terrorist attack occurs on a plane and suddenly security is on high alert at every airport when, in fact, the aftermath of the attack is probably the safest time to fly. The goons are gone by then.

So, too, have our media let us down by not being on top of breaking news while it is developing. Speculation is easier. Just as reality television is less expensive and easier to produce than more elaborate scripted programs, talking head “experts” cost far less for their analytical knowledge than doing the down and dirty work of true investigative reporting.

The situation in Ukraine should not have caught any media outlet off guard. It should have been reported long before it evolved into the raging furnace that it has become. As a sidebar, the situation in Syria should have also been part of the discussion since that country also has links with Russia and those ties directly affect U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, while Ukraine was pouring gasoline on a burning fire, the media were focused upon inane comments by Secretary of State John Kerry who called climate change a worse threat than global terrorism. That was nothing more than another administration diversion away from more important subjects and, as usual, the press bit hook, line and sinker while Kyiv was going up in flames. The only story behind Kerry’s absurd comments is that it was a non-story.

In an age when news can break from anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, journalists who are doing their jobs properly should be able to anticipate when situations such as those in Ukraine are ready to explode.

Failing to recognize that such events are on the verge of becoming global headlines greatly diminishes the credibility of all the other journalistic speculation.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News.

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