Letter to New York Times: David Herszenhorn’s Anti-Russian Reportage on Ukraine

by Rich Rubenstein on April 16, 2014 · 4 comments

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April 16, 2014


Perhaps there is no such thing as “objective” reporting, but David Herszenhorn’s wildly anti-Russian reports on Ukraine clearly belong on the Times’s op-ed page, not on page one.

“And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies,” trumpets Mr. H from Moscow, ignoring the fact that Ukraine is a deeply divided society in which each side, the Russian-speaking East as well as the Ukrainian-speaking West, has every reason to fear and distrust the other, exaggerate threats, sense conspiracies, and indulge in “overheated rhetoric.”

This is how parties to conflict talk when conflicts escalate and no serious efforts to resolve them are taking place. The problem is that Mr. Herszenhorn, who imbedded himself with the pro-European crowd in Kiev at the very start of the controversy, considers only one party to be legitimate. Therefore, he scoffs at the validity of the referendum in Crimea, sees Russian agents behind every demonstration in the East, and has virtually nothing to say about the Far Right forces that now control (inter alia) the Interior Department of the Kiev regime. In his view it was fine for the anti-Yanukovich protesters in the Maidan to occupy buildings and refuse to disband. But if anti-Yatseniuk protestors in Donetsk do the same thing, this must be a Russian plot!

Worst of all, Herszenhorn parrots the NATO line that Russian proposals to put federation on the agenda for future talks between the Ukrainian parties are merely attempts to “destabilize” the country. Many conflict resolution experts believe, on the contrary, that some form of internal federation, coupled with joint membership in both European-led and Russian-led economic organizations, is probably a sine qua non of peaceful conflict resolution in Ukraine.

Please, friends! Take these rants off the front page, and let’s have some serious analysis instead.

Richard E. Rubenstein

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Khodarkovsky April 29, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Mr. Rubinstein,

You dispaly shocking ignorance of the situation in Ukraine as well as more predictable but still incomprehensible ideological intransingence. May I suggest that you read a recent oped in NYT titled Putin’s Useful Idiots, to make sure you do not fall into that category.

Michael Khodarkovsky
History Dept.
Loyola University Chicago


Rich Rubenstein April 29, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Mr. Khodarkovsky is entitled to his opinion, of course, although it is difficult to reply to a comment that is little more than name-calling. What I wish commentators like Mr. K would understand is that the choice here is not simply between two opinions — one (his own) correct, and the other a form of “useful idiocy” — but that a third perspective comes into play when one tries to resolve a conflict as opposed to rooting for one side to destroy the other. This perspective recognizes that each side in a divided society like Ukraine has its own authentic vision and claim on the truth, and that neither vision can prevail at the other’s expense if peace is to become a reality. Khodarkovsky simply repeats the Herszenhorn errors complained of in my post, which may make him feel angrily righteous, but advances the cause of peace not one whit.


donna wynbrandt May 6, 2014 at 8:02 pm

i tend to agree with you about the best approach to a two-sided conflict being a third eye, so to speak. an eye granting legitimacy to both sides and seeking a third solution that gives victories to both sides

last night on bbc a reporter reported on the situation in ukraine . the reporter was sympathetic to the russians in the disputed cities, and this was a first.

a simple thing like an impartial, sympathetic third party so enlarged the scope of the mind of this listener. and your above comments solidified the less verbal thoughts of this thinker, who certainly has heard the above argument of yours before. there’s a whole section of people who believe in each one of us being right to ourself and a person of wisdom being able to see each side’s “rightfulness” and being able to expound it to the other so that both sides widen the scopes of their minds of who and what is right .

finally, my own family came from odessa and kiev and we’ve always considered ourselves russians. i’ve never thought much about it, merely considering my heritage russian. But when someone asked me if i were a uke i was stung. “of course not. I’m russian.” i thought to myself.

then i realized that these two cities were part of ukraine and i figured, “he must be right. i’m from kiev and odessa, i must be ukranian.”

when the conflict deepened and reports began filtering in, i realized, with a start, how deeply identities are felt, as if my sting hadn’t taught me a thing. It taught me, identities run much deeper to a people who have felt themselves oppressed by another’s identity.


Rich Rubenstein May 8, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Donna has caught the essence of what I was trying to say. There may be cases in which a “third eye” is redundant because there is really only one side to the conflict. But these are rare situations, and when a society is genuinely divided, as Ukraine unmistakeably is, only sightless partisans deny that a situation of “dual legitimacy” exists. Whatever else one might say about Vladimir Putin, he understands this far better than U.S. and European leaders do.


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