38

What About “Whataboutism.”

Vladimir Golstein

Wikipedia – the most popular source of information for most people – boldly announces:

“Whataboutism, also known as whataboutery, is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument. It is particularly associated with Soviet and Russian propaganda… Prominent usage: Soviet Union propaganda.”

Perusal of recent mainstream articles adds one more dimension to the story. Not only everything negative is habitually associated with Soviets and Russians, unless of course, it is Iranians or North Koreans, when the equation has frequently been reversed.

If something negative occurs: Cherchez La Russie.

Mass media bias against President Trump has been observed on numerous occasions, but what is particularly fascinating about this negativity is a persistent desire to paint Trump with the Russian brush.

So it is hardly surprising that Trump has been turned into a practitioner of Russian “Whataboutism,” allowing Washington Post to declare triumphantly: “Whataboutism: The Cold War tactic, thawed by Putin, is brandished by Donald Trump.”

The article elaborates:

What about the stock market? What about those 33,000 deleted emails? … What about Benghazi? ..What about what about what about. We’ve gotten very good at what-abouting. The president has led the way. His campaign may or may not have conspired with Moscow, but President Trump has routinely employed a durable old Soviet propaganda tactic.”

The WaPo article by Dan Zak goes even further and explains the reasons behind Trump’s embrace of Russian Whataboutism. It is moral relativism, you see. It is a ploy of tyrannical regimes, which intend to divert attention from their crimes:

That’s exactly the kind of argument that Russian propagandists have used for years to justify some of Putin’s most brutal policies,” wrote Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration. ..“Moral relativism — ‘whataboutism’ — has always been a favorite weapon of illiberal regimes,” Russian chessmaster and activist Garry Kasparovtold the Columbia Journalism Review in March. “For a U.S. president to employ it against his own country is tragic.

Viewed from the historical perspective, all this is blatantly false.

It is the democratic systems that need propaganda, spinning, and other soft-power weapons. It is the democracies that rely on one party blaming another party for its own transgressions. It is the liberal economic structures that need to promote one brand of toothpaste by denigrating another brand.

“Whataboutism” is an integral fabric of Western society, as both its business and political models depend on comparing, contrasting, diverting attention and so on.

Soviets, who had difficulty obtaining even one kind of toilet paper, did not need the commercials that claim that the other brand leaks more. Soviet leadership that relied primarily on the power of the gun didn’t need to spend time and effort and hone its skills in the art of maligning another party.

In other words, Soviets, and consequently Russians, are plain amateurs when it comes to “whataboutism.” When their government felt the need to resort to it, they would do it rather sloppily and amateurishly, so that the people would just laugh it off, as the endless political jokes testify.

Soviets were forced to resort to it during the time of Cold War, however, when there was a real competition for the hearts and minds of several European countries such as France and Italy, where post-war sympathies for Communists were running strong.

Needless to say, the Soviets were beaten soundly. The arguments that American freedoms were worse than Soviets because of American racism did not really work for Europeans, who preferred their Louis Armstrong to Leonid Utesov and their Jackson Pollock to Alexander Gerasimov. In the battle between Georgy Alexandrov’s Marion Dixon of Circus(1936) and Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka (1939), Ninotchka won.

That’s why I find it extremely ironic and peculiar that these methods of “whataboutism,” these lines of reasoning that have pervaded the Western news coverage to the core, have been magically turned into a signature method of Soviet Propaganda.

Equally ironic is the fact that any attempt to question Western hypocrisy, spinning, and relentless brainwashing is deflected by a silly counter-attack: this criticism is nothing but “whataboutism,” the favorite activity of Russians and other moral relativists and denizens of illiberal regimes.

Additional irony, of course, lies in the fact that Russians are the most self-critical people that I know. That’s the one thing they truly excel at – criticizing themselves, their state, their people, their customs and their political system. It is another irony that the information the West habitually exploits in its own shameless “whataboutism” was provided to it free of charge by Russian dissidents from Herzen all the way to Solzhenitsyn and Masha Gessen.

There is rarely an article in the mass media which, while addressing some ills of modern society, doesn’t refer to the evils of Gulag, Stalin, lack of democracy and other “ills” of Soviet life. How many articles in the mass media do we read where references to the extermination of the native population, of workers burning in their factories, of thugs dispersing protests or demonstrations, of brutal exploitation, mass incarceration, deportation of the Japanese, witch hunts, or cruel cynical wars – occur without simultaneous references to Stalin’s Russia?

You complain about the lack of political choices during elections? What, you want Commies to run you life? You complain about economic inequality? What, you want drab socialism instead? In other words, instead of a traditionally defined “whataboutism,” Western propaganda utilizes a slightly more subtle version revealing something bad about itself, but then rapidly switching to demonizing and criticizing its rivals.

The classic example of this approach was described by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 1988 study Manufacturing Consent.

In the chapter entitled “Worthy and Unworthy Victims,” the authors draw the comparison between the coverage of Polish priest, murdered by in Poland in 1984 and the media coverage of Catholic Priests assassinated in Latin America. Jerzy Popieluszko had 78 articles devoted to him, with ten articles on the front page. In the meantime, seventy-two religious victims in Latin America during the period of 1964-78 were subject of only eight articles devoted to all of them combined, with only one article making the front page (Chomsky & Herman, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 2002, p. 40).

Presumably, Soviets become a subject of jokes when, instead of addressing the question of Stalin’s victims, they embark on discussing the lynching of black Americans. What is worth pondering is why the United States hasn’t become the subject of similar jokes when they write hundreds of articles on one death within the Soviet zone of influence while practically ignoring persistent right-wing violence in their own sphere.

“Whataboutism” is not just a rhetorical device invented to deflect criticism; the accusation in “whataboutism” leveled at anyone who defends himself from arbitrary or illogical charges is the accusation that reveals a particular set of power relations.

These accusations of “whataboutism” imply a certain inequality, when the accuser bullies the accused into admitting his guilt.

The accuser puts the accused on the defensive, clearly implying his moral superiority. This moral superiority, of course, is rather fictional, especially if we keep in mind that the Hebrew word “satan” means an accuser. Accusing and blaming others has a satanic ring to that, something that anyone engaged in accusations should remember.

You belched yesterday during dinner. You violated the laws of good table manners.

– But everybody belches!

It is irrelevant, please answer the charge and don’t try to avoid it by resorting to ‘whataboutism.” Did you belch or not?

“Putin’s a killer,” Bill O’Reilly said to Trump in a February interview. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump whatabouted. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?”

Here, the media dismisses as “whataboutism” Trump’s perfectly logical and correct answer – the one that Trump highlighted himself last week when he ordered the killing of the Iranian general Soleimaini.

Trump’s answer, however, was interpreted as somehow outrageous. How dare he compare? As if only a Russian stooge engaged in “whataboutism” can suggest that Western murders and violence are not different from Russian ones.

Dan Zak, who invents a verb “to whatabout” in reference to Trump’s exchange with O’Reilly, reveals another highly significant dimension of the term. Due to the abuse of the concept during the Cold War era, and due to the relentless propaganda of the likes of Edward Lucas or the former Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, the charge of “whataboutism” began to be leveled at anyone who says anything critical about the United States.

You talk about US racism – you are carrying water for Soviet “whataboutists;” you talk about militarism, police brutality, wars and regime changes, or complain about the destruction of nature – you are a Russian stooge.

And God forbid you criticize failed policies of the Democrats, the Clintons in particular. You are worse than a stooge. You are a Soviet troll spitting “whataboutism,” while interfering in the US electoral process.

Trump might have more faults than any of the recent American political leader. Yet, it is the charge of Russian connection and its merging with the charge of “Whataboutism” that began to highlight some sort of sick synergy: if Trump uses this trope of Russian propaganda, he has to be working with Putin. That’s the tenor of all recent applications of the term in the mass media.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the Trump administration’s murky ties to Vladimir Putin and his associates, whataboutism is viewed by many as a Russian import,”

…opines Claire Fallon in her essay on the subject, while the title says it all: “Whataboutism, A Russian Propaganda Technique, Popular With Trump, His Supporters.”

The list of publications with very similar titles can obviously go on and on.

And herein lies the most pernicious legacy of the term.

It subconsciously invokes the spirit of Joe McCarthy. And as such it is still very effective in stifling discourse, in dismissing criticism, while character-assassinating dissenting voices.

Never mind that the press, as in the good old days of Father Popieluszko, is still filled to the brim with endless stories of Russian discrimination of the gay community, of Chinese abuse of the Uighurs, or the absence of new and old freedoms in the countries that Pentagon classifies as adversary.

To complain about the lack of balance and the biased focus would be engaging in “Soviet Style of Whataboutism,” wouldn’t it be?

Vladimir Golstein, former associate professor at Yale University, is currently Chair of the Department of Slavic Studies at Brown University.

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Andy Brent
Andy Brent
May 3, 2020 12:53 AM

Terrible rubbish, Wikipedia. I gave up on them when they told me that popular culture of the 1980s was 1970s because “70s good, 80s (Thatcher and Reagan) absolutely horrid – and nothing enjoyable happened then at all.”

Gall
Gall
Jan 12, 2020 9:07 AM

Oh yeah Whales-o-Pedia. If it was in print the damn thing wouldn’t rise to the level of toilet paper:

https://www.theonion.com/wikipedia-celebrates-750-years-of-american-independence-1819568571

MASTER OF UNIVE
MASTER OF UNIVE
Jan 12, 2020 1:58 AM

The Government of the United States of America & POTUS are arch criminals with well over 900 worldwide bases & wholly ineffectual intelligentsia supporting their combined largesse so that
they too benefit from the collective business of the cartel criminal corporatocracy.

Whatabout D.C. licking my balls in deference do you not understand, Dr. Golstein?

Death to America is a good solid Internet meme IMHO.

MOU

Charlotte Russe
Charlotte Russe
Jan 11, 2020 11:53 PM

US propaganda has been quite effective. After all, isn’t it merely the merchandising and selling of ideas. So why wouldn’t a hyper-capitalist country be extremely effective at using words and images to control behavior. That’s how multibillion dollar corporations stimulate consumerism. They convince the public to buy goods and services they don’t really need. So why not use those same marketing skills to impart ideological beliefs.

Essentially, isn’t that how the notion of “exceptionalism” became rooted in the American psyche, establishing a rationale to pursue a slew of military misadventures. And think of the ingenious propagandist who invented the idea of “spreading democracy” via bombs, drones, and bullets. For decades this secured public consent for innumerable military escapades.

However, the arrival of Trump changed everything. He unwittingly forced the US propaganda machine to stumble and fumble with contradictory messages disassembling the control mainstream media news once happily secured over the entire population.

In desperation to avoid building political consciousness the US state-run media neglected to attack Trump exclusively over reactionary policies, but misguidedly warmongered against Russia for more than three years. Liberal media accused right-wing Trump of being a Russian asset a tactic used more than half a century ago by McCarthyite Russophobes to discredit the Left. Perhaps, the silliness of this propaganda could only produce “lackluster” results consequently never gaining substantial traction among the working-class.

The security state ultimately loses its ability to control the population with sloppy propaganda–they just tune it out. Americans are becoming similar to their Russian counterparts who just assume that all mainstream media news is contrived and not to be believed.

George Mc
George Mc
Jan 12, 2020 9:07 AM

Perfect. I recently mentioned the rise of a new “Samizdat” literature i.e. the clandestine copying and distribution of literature banned by the state, previously associated with the communist countries of eastern Europe. You think that such a phenomenon would be unthinkable in the “free West” – but the huge clampdown on the internet and the outright vilification of “unsuitable” views by linking with anti-Semitism means the double effect of first, making everyone cynical about anything coming across the mainstream media and second, causing genuine critique to go underground.

Charlotte Russe
Charlotte Russe
Jan 12, 2020 2:38 PM
Reply to  George Mc

All Empires are specialists at framentizing dissent–it’s been done forever on every continent. Nuanced sophisticated propaganda stimulates “acrimony” among ideologically similar political movements inhibiting solidarity, hence preventing the unity necessary to undermine the security state’s power.

Internet censorship, banning threatening views, erasing the voices of millions from all social platforms is not only conceivable, it’s inevitable. In the end, the printing press will become the political activists most avant garde tool.

George Mc
George Mc
Jan 11, 2020 11:15 PM

I thought the reference to the Wiki article was a piss take until I went direct to the source. I see no logical connection between Russia or indeed any country and the rhetorical device of “whataboutism”. But it seems the mighty omniscient Wiki says otherwise. Yes – and there’s Trump getting a prominent place in the Wiki entry. Is every entry in Wiki geared to the current demands of propaganda? What next I wonder? How about:

“Anti-Semitism”: an ideology of hate originating with Corbyn’s Labour party.

“Socialists”: Misogynists who hate Laura Kuenssberg.

“US/Iran conflict”: A distraction to divert everyone’s attention away from Harry and Meghan.

Willem
Willem
Jan 11, 2020 8:06 PM

I first read about whataboutism at Chomsky’s website. I thought Chomsky made a very good definition at the time, so I looked up what he actually said and thought of quoting him here. Well his definition… is typical for Chomsky where he says some truthful things, which he immediately buries under a pack of lies

Chomsky on whataboutism:

‘CHOMSKY: One of the most elementary moral truisms is that you are responsible for the anticipated consequences of your own actions. It is fine to talk about the crimes of Genghis Khan, but there isn’t much that you can do about them.’

That is correct. But unfortunately for the professor, he is not devoid of a little whataboutism himself, where he continues to say that

‘If Soviet intellectuals chose to devote their energies to crimes of the U.S., which they could do nothing about, that is their business. We honor those who recognized that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country.’

Then Chomsky buries this whataboutism with another lie saying that:

‘And it is interesting that no one ever asks for an explanation, because in the case of official enemies, truisms are indeed truisms.’

Which isn’t a truism at all, but apparantly all official enemies of the US are, by definition enemies of Chomsky.

Then Chomsky continues by saying that

‘It is when truisms are applied to ourselves that they become contentious, or even outrageous. But they remain truisms.’

Not necessarily so, but it’s close enough to pass for truth when discussing whataboutism. After which Chomsky adds another lie, i.e., that

‘In fact, the truisms hold far more for us than they did for Soviet dissidents, for the simple reason that we are in free societies, do not face repression, and can have a substantial influence on government policy.’

I mean, that is just so much bullshit that I do not even know where to start. For instance Solzjenitsyn, SU greatest dissident, wrote his books in the SU, the Russians didn’t like it, and they let Solzjenitsyn go to Switzerland where he become famous and a millionaire, a Nobel price winner, everything that money could buy. He returned to Russia in 1990 and was lauded by amongst others Putin himself and died peacefully in 2008.

‘Free society’, bollocks: most of us have the freedom to watch the show that others play on their behalf and toil, ‘no repression’: tell that to Assange, ‘substantial influence on government policy’: quite difficult when most of the government’s decisions are faceless.

This type of lying by Chomsky just goes on and on and I am amazed that I hadn’t seen through it the first time I read Chomsky.

Worst is his hypocrisy where professor Chomsky, the worlds best known ‘dissident’, whose books are sold at airports, who received grants from the MIC to work on linguistics, and who became a millionaire by airing his convoluted views that are not what they are supposed to be (ie dissident), dares to write in the same interview that

‘Elementary honesty is often uncomfortable, in personal life as well, and there are people who make great efforts to evade it. For intellectuals, throughout history, it has often come close to being their vocation. Intellectuals are commonly integrated into dominant institutions. Their privilege and prestige derives from adapting to the interests of power concentrations, often taking a critical look but in very limited ways.’

I mean that is just Chomsky writing about himself, but pretending a whataboutism about all those other bad intellectuals.

Interview: https://chomsky.info/2003____/

Jack_Garbo
Jack_Garbo
Jan 12, 2020 1:41 AM
Reply to  Willem

Chomsky’s an example of the establishment “pet intellectual” who quietly rages against his master. Youthful dissidence, he found after a few police beatings, is a fool’s game, noisy, bloody and futile. Better to growl from a safe distance, repeat the obvious with clear logic and wallow in unearned respect.

espartaco
espartaco
Jan 11, 2020 6:26 PM

EASTER CHUTZPA…!!!
EASTERN HATERS OF THEIR BELOVED WEST…!!!
The truly remarkable thing is that, all this Western haters and naïve ‘critics’, come from the EAST and have migrated and, most likely, BEGGED to be NATURALISED AMERICANS or other WESTERN countries… But, above all, AMERICA… THEY LOVE AMERICA… that ‘EVIL’ Empire …!!!

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 7:01 PM
Reply to  espartaco

I think maybe that you should crawl back into your hamster cage and put on your MAGA cap.

lundiel
lundiel
Jan 11, 2020 8:05 PM
Reply to  lundiel

When you move to a racist, nationalist country, you have to spend every opportunity thanking them for taking you and congratulating them for allowing you to work yourself to death so you can pay the mortgage on your shed home.

Estaugh
Estaugh
Jan 11, 2020 8:27 PM
Reply to  espartaco

Calm doctor, calm, you will wake up Napoleon in the next ward https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnzHtm1jhL4

richard le sarc
richard le sarc
Jan 14, 2020 8:08 AM
Reply to  Estaugh

The next sty, surely.

Gall
Gall
Jan 11, 2020 9:43 PM
Reply to  espartaco

Many of them are economic refugees who come here after B-52s have turned their country into a parking lot or the elite of other countries who were caught selling out their nations and enriching themselves or those that actually believed the PR that the USG actually gives a flying phuk about “freedom and democracy” propagated by the child molesting perverts in Pedo Wood.

There are also a number who have specifically come here to get even and who can blame them?

George Mc
George Mc
Jan 11, 2020 11:29 PM
Reply to  espartaco

“EASTER CHUTZPA…!!!”

Gesundheit!

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 4:57 PM

There’s absolute mayhem going on in Paris at the moment. The protestors have occupied Place de la République (for those not familiar, it’s an iconic site in Paris).

Last Thursday teachers, nurses and lawyers joined the general strike, which is now into its sixth week.

I’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the modern western world.

Livestream (courtesy of RT) , although it might not last much longer, can be found here…

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 6:13 PM
Reply to  RobG

French PM makes major concession to unions over pension age

And by the way, what I’m saying here does relate directly to Golstein’s piece above.

richard le sarc
richard le sarc
Jan 11, 2020 9:28 PM
Reply to  RobG

Obviously the Sabbat Goy Micron will renege on any ‘concessions’ once he gets the opportunity-his owners expect nothing else.

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 11:06 PM

Macron is toast, as are all the rest of the neo-con lunatics.

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 6:56 PM
Reply to  RobG

Paris this afternoon…

https://twitter.com/afHRNikLepxHzEP/status/1216037864212967425

And Paris again this afternoon…

https://twitter.com/ActionBrexit/status/1216064566544732161

Nantes this afternoon…

https://twitter.com/BasedPoland/status/1216011343918174209

Lyon this afternoon…

https://twitter.com/Ian56789/status/1216020790946168833

Rouen this afternoon…

https://twitter.com/Ellefan_SC/status/1216042562039025665

I could go on and on with this, to try and show people what is happening in towns and cities all across France right at this minute.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité is pinned-up on the wall of every Marie (town hall) in France.

Gall
Gall
Jan 11, 2020 9:33 PM
Reply to  RobG

Seems the French are Making Guillotines Great Again.

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 10:35 PM
Reply to  Gall

I don’t know where you live, Gall, but believe me, they’ll be coming for you next.

Gall
Gall
Jan 12, 2020 9:08 AM
Reply to  RobG

That’s nice. I’ve always wanted a little excitement 🙂

MASTER OF UNIVE
MASTER OF UNIVE
Jan 13, 2020 12:25 AM
Reply to  RobG

Gall lives in Californication.

MOU

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 11:00 PM
Reply to  RobG

On Thursday French lawyers joined the general strike. French police prevented the lawyers from putting a motion against the French government…

https://twitter.com/BasedPoland/status/1215769472268689409

Many lawyers across the country protested; this video is from Lille…

https://twitter.com/ohboywhatashot/status/1215576121137422338

RobG
RobG
Jan 11, 2020 11:26 PM
Reply to  RobG

The strength of the demonstrations today in France has been stoked by events in the Middle East.

Only complete psychopaths want war, but unfortunately we are ruled by psychopaths.

Millions came out on the streets of France today and stuck up a finger to the psychopaths.

I wonder when you timid little mice in the US and UK will finally find the balls to do the same thing?

I’m not holding my breathe…

Grafter
Grafter
Jan 12, 2020 12:29 AM
Reply to  RobG

Yellow Vests ? No it can’t be true because it’s not on the BBC.

Gall
Gall
Jan 12, 2020 9:10 AM
Reply to  Grafter

BBC used to mean Better Buy Cable.

Dungroanin
Dungroanin
Jan 11, 2020 4:50 PM

What about the ‘Russian influence’ report not published by Bozo The PM?

& while I’m here

What about the Durham investigation into Russiagate which also seems to have disappeared from imminent publication over a month ago?

Hmm – wasn’t it Kruschevs staffers who admired the US propaganda / Perception Management advertising/PR industry by saying in Russia nobody believed the Russian propaganda because Russians knew that’s what it was; but all westerners swallowed it and rushed out to buy ever ‘better’ washing powders, poisonous foods and products without realising they were being lied to.

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes
Jan 11, 2020 4:29 PM

What about US violations of international law?
What about US wars of aggression?
What about US regime change operations?
What about US lying propaganda?
What about US murderous sanctions?
What about US funding, arming and training of jihadist terrorists?
What about US funding, arming and training of fascist terrorists?
What about US threats and intimidation of the International Criminal Court?
What about US exceptionalism, which mirrors nothing so much as the Nazi ideas of ubermensch and untermensch?

richard le sarc
richard le sarc
Jan 11, 2020 9:30 PM
Reply to  Steve Hayes

In Trump and Pompeo you see the evolution of a new type-the Ubumensch.

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes
Jan 12, 2020 12:41 PM

richard le sarc I wonder why you see Pompeo and Trump as different to what went before? What I see is continuity. How are Pompeo and Trump different to Clinton and Obama?

richard le sarc
richard le sarc
Jan 14, 2020 8:12 AM
Reply to  Steve Hayes

Pompeo is a religious fanatic, Trump a twisted pathopsychological wreck. It’s just downward evolution at work. Each new generation is more deprave and deranged than those who came before.

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes
Jan 14, 2020 10:57 AM

richard le sarc All you have done is engage in name calling. The foreign policies of the Trump administration and previous administrations are virtually indistinguishable. For example, Obama engaged in wars of aggression and regime change operations. How is the Trump administration worse?

Gall
Gall
Jan 11, 2020 9:47 PM
Reply to  Steve Hayes

Just like to add: What about the genocide of the Indigenous population? What about all those broken treaties? What about all the lies?

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes
Jan 12, 2020 12:38 PM
Reply to  Gall

Gall You are absolutely right. The country was founded on genocide. And the few indigenous peoples have been subjected to discrimination and oppression ever since.