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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hating the Bear? : Root Causes of Perceived anti-Russian Slant in Western News Coverage of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War


At the outset of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, Western newspapers were harshly criticized for taking a pro-Georgian perspective and initially portraying the crisis as an unprovoked Russian invasion. Russians protested against the story line, reminiscent of the Cold War, that Russia was implementing a premeditated plan to exert control over Georgia, and accused Westerners of promoting anti-Russian propaganda. On the other hand, the United States and Western Europe have some of the freest and most independent media in the world, so what explains this alleged anti-Russian slant? This paper examines the experience of Western journalists from major publications, and the process by which news articles on the crisis were created, by presenting the results of over fifteen interviews with American, British, and French journalists who covered the conflict. These interviews show that Western news coverage of the war was marked more by particular structural obstacles than by the preconceived inclinations of these journalists. Structural obstacles to balanced coverage included (i) the logistical challenges that accompanied the unique timing and complexity of the war, (ii) the role of decisions made by editors and other home office reporters, and most importantly (iii) limited access to South Ossetia. This paper shows that what best explains the alleged anti-Russian coverage in the Western press is not the personal attitude of Western correspondents on the ground, but rather the lack of access to the Russian and South Ossetian perspectives, which resulted from security threats and the intransigence of the Russian army in South Ossetia.

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