November 16, 2003
Georgia: The Obscured Background

US Military bases in Central Asia, from a global map.

When the press starts paying a lot of attention to a crisis previously-ignored country, but leaves out any mention of the reasons for the crisis. Sentences like this are a good warning that there's an unstated reason for the coverage:

Accused by opposition leaders of rigging the results of Nov. 2 parliamentary elections, Shevardnadze declared in a nationally televised news conference that wherever vote-counting irregularities occurred, they could be corrected but that the new parliament should be allowed to open later this month. (Seattle Times)
...especially when they are not followed by any substantial information about the thousands of people demonstrating in the streets, or the justifications for calls for a 'civil disobedience campaign'.

There are dozens of civil wars in the world that get no coverage at all. So why did this nearly content-free story get in? The short answer is that US interests in central Asia are threatened. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but if the press was interested in understanding the situation in Georgia, they might drop the pretense of objectivity and say it outright: the only reason we're covering Georgia is because it forms a part of a major US military presence in the region.

A few Georgians and foreign journalists can fill in some of the missing bits.


'There are some problems in Pankisi, but I think it is mostly a social issue. I am not so worried about it. Anti-terrorism is not the only reason for the relationship between the United States and Georgia. Georgia is also the shortest route between the [oil reserves] of the Caspian Sea and Turkey.'

An international consor tium of oil companies including BP, America's Chevron, Russia's Lukoil and France's Total considers Georgia the ideal route by which oil from Azerbaijan and Central Asia can reach Turkey and the West.

BP recently sent a risk analyst to the area to explore opportunities for expansion. 'The pipelines will of course benefit from the military presence,' said a BP spokeswoman.

Vasily Streltsov: "In any case, one can affirm with confidence that the Americans have got their feet onto Georgian soil, and it is forever." (February 2002)

Gary Leupp: "The main body of U.S. forces began arriving on May 19, to refurbish two Soviet-era bases for indefinite American use and to implement 'Operation Train and Equip.' We should ask--as we should about the U.S. troops in the Philippines and Yemen--why are they there? ... Shevardnadze, in power since 1992, and now in his second term as president, retains few sentimental ties to the multinational union he once served. Instead, he has continuously sought to distance Georgia from Russia and to attach it instead to the U.S. camp."

Armen Khanbabyan: "The fundamental goal of Washington and the West as a whole is to establish firm and long- term control over the energy resources of Central and Upper Asia. This explains the appearance of their bases along the notorious 'arc of instability,' from Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan to Georgia."

The continued failure of US foreign policy to take long term consequences into account over short term corporate profits aside, there is a basic problem with this kind of journalism. Because it fails to note the obvious reason that Georgia is covered at all--US interests in oil, military presence, and regional influence--it is objectively non-objective.

(Objectivity is a misleading goal at best. What I wish to emphasize is that such reports leaves out obviously essential information.)

Most importantly, it fails fundamentally at what journalism is supposed to do: provide the means for readers to understand the subject under examination.

posted by dru in journalism