How the media turns war into a spectator sport

From the moment Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, people in the West have been glued to their TV, computer, and phone screens, furiously consuming news about the war and posting their reactions online. As the war in Ukraine enters its second month, it’s become clearer than ever that our corporate and social media ecosystem has not given us the tools to critically navigate the incessant militaristic propaganda, nor has it provided many pathways for people to do anything besides watch and post. In this special panel, which was recorded in the TRNN studio on Wednesday, March 16, we have an open discussion about how Western media has failed to prepare us to respond productively to war, how independent media can and must be used to better inform and activate audiences, and how we at The Real News are succeeding or failing to fulfill that mission in our coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Panelists include: TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez; Marc Steiner, host of The Marc Steiner Show; TRNN Managing Editor Jocelyn Dombroski; and Bill Fletcher Jr., renowned author, activist, and cohost of “The Rise of the Right,” a special investigative series of The Marc Steiner Show premiering now at The Real News.

Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Dwayne Gladden

Pieces marked as Opinion may contain views that do not necessarily reflect or align with those of The Real News Network; they also may contain claims that could not be fully corroborated by TRNN’s editorial team.


TRANSCRIPT

Maximillian Alvarez: We are now three weeks since Russian troops launched a full scale military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. So it’s hard to overstate the crisis that we are watching unfold, the amounts of human pain and needless suffering, displacement, militarism. It’s a really awful situation, as we all know. And we here at The Real News have been doing our best to cover it for our audience in a number of forms, both in terms of coverage that we are producing in-house with great interviews that Marc Steiner, who’s sitting next to me, has done with folks like Chris Hedges, Lia Tarachansky, interviews that I have done for The Real News with specialists like Dr. William Rich and activists in Russia like Ilya Matveev, media personalities and critics like Abby Martin.

And on top of that, we’ve also been really trying to work in collaboration with some of our esteemed media partners, people who are also doing really great work and that we are working together with them to lift up the coverage they’re doing. So outlets like openDemocracy that everyone should support, outlets like Common Dreams, outlets like Mondoweiss, RootsAction, who have been holding a number of really great panels that we’ve been honored to reshare with our audience at The Real News.

We’ve also, as I mentioned, been publishing a lot of articles on The Real News website, as well as videos and podcasts on our YouTube channel and podcast feed. But for our viewers and listeners and readers, they’ve really only gotten to see that side of it. They haven’t necessarily gotten to hear us here at The Real News talk amongst ourselves about how we are trying to serve the people and fulfill our political and editorial mission in these dark times, how our coverage of the war in Ukraine connects to all the other important coverage that we do here on a weekly basis, where we feel we are fulfilling our mission and where we really need to do better.

We want to and do listen to our audience’s feedback. We want to make sure that we’re providing coverage that is principled, that is honest, that is critical, and that answers the questions that our audience has. And so we wanted to take this opportunity to get some of our folks together to have an internal open, frank discussion about where we are at this moment, how we feel about the coverage that we’ve been doing and how we hope folks out there are receiving it, where we think we can do better, what issues we think are really important to cover, especially for an independent media outlet like ours with limited capacities, but we’re doing our best.

So that’s really what we’re here to do. And we’re speaking on the day that President Zelenskyy in Ukraine spoke to the US Congress. Things are evolving with every day. So by the time our audience sees this, the circumstances may very well have changed, but that’s part of the struggle to navigate this right now as media makers, as people fighting for peace and justice and the right to self-determination, and the right to not have your life crushed by an imposing aggressor, so on and so forth.

So with all of that in mind, I’m genuinely honored and excited to be joined by some of our great Real News cohorts here, including Marc Steiner, radio legend, host of The Marc Steiner Show here at The Real News. Marc, thanks so much for joining us, man.

Marc Steiner:           I’m happy to be here.

Maximillian Alvarez: We’ve got the great Bill Fletcher Jr. Can’t say enough great things about Bill and the work that he’s done hosting shows like The Global African. His political work is incredible. He’s an accomplished fiction and nonfiction writer, longtime activist, and he is also the co-host of the amazing Rise of the Right series for the Marc Steiner Show that is running on The Real News right now. Bill, thanks so much for joining us, man.

Bill Fletcher Jr.:   Pleasure, Max. Thanks very much.

Maximillian Alvarez: And we’ve got our amazing managing editor Jocelyn Dombroski, who y’all can see in the control room back there. Hi, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Dombroski: Hello.

Maximillian Alvarez: So again, and we’re here for our audience. We want to have this sort of discussion with y’all about how we are working right now to cover this, to answer some of the questions that we know that y’all have, and to talk openly amongst ourselves about how we are centering ourselves in this moment and doing the work that needs to be done. But we are also representing the rest of the great team here at The Real News Network who y’all can’t see, but amazing folks on the studio side, on the administrative side and our other great content producers, they’re all here with us in spirit.

So with all of that upfront, I wanted to ask the basic and blunt question about, given the fact that we are now, as I said, three weeks into this Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fog of war is very thick. I think like the initial sort of emotions about what this war is about and how it can come to a conclusion are giving way to this, I don’t know, sort of anxious malaise when we realize the severity and the longevity of a conflict like this. So I wanted to just kind of go around the table and ask y’all how you are centering yourself in this moment politically, analytically, and, from like a humanitarian perspective, how are you holding up and how are you working in your own way or here at The Real News to do something about this? So Marc, why don’t we start with you?

Marc Steiner:     Okay. It’s a difficult piece to cover, I find, in its complexity. It’s something I think you can only do if you embrace that complexity. I was joking with you already before we started the program that when I was a kid, we lived across the park from the Polish-Ukrainian neighborhood and our neighborhood was Jewish. And we always said, you don’t go to the other side of the park because they don’t like us. So when things go down in Ukraine, I usually go, who cares? Just as a visceral reaction. But the reality is that all the contradictions that are happening inside of capitalism, all the contradictions happening on the planet at this moment are happening through Ukraine, partially because we’re so Eurocentric to what’s happening there.

Partially because it leads us to a potentially very dangerous situation internationally, this war in Ukraine. And you can’t deny the fact that Ukraine has a huge, powerful right wing, like the United States of America has a huge, powerful right wing, but so does Russia. So I think you have to really look at all that complexity to figure out what’s going on. That doesn’t mean you don’t support, from our perspective, you don’t support the Ukrainian people’s resistance to this Russian invasion. And you’re seeing Ukrainians from the left to the right, from the neo-Nazis to the anarchists together fighting the Ukrainians.

And one of the things I watch, and watch very carefully, is the power of the right, which really has the potential to grow inside Ukraine and inside of Russia because of this war, that strengthens them internationally. So it’s just full of contradictions and complexity. And I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been trying to do in the coverage I’ve been doing here at Real News, that you’re trying to do, that I think we have to do to put that on the table. This is what we’re facing.

Maximillian Alvarez: Bill, what about you? How are, I guess, you faring three weeks into this? What is really sticking with you about how we and the West are responding to this, or how this situation is unfolding?

Bill Fletcher Jr.:    So, Max, I begin with that this is a battle around, fundamentally, about self-determination. It is not a battle around denazification. I would say that prudent denazification begins at home. Let’s denazify the Kremlin. But it’s not about denazification. It’s about self-determination. And I think that part of the problem in the United States among many progressives and leftists is that we’re actually very US-centric. And we believe that everything that happens on this planet is either the direct outgrowth of something positive or negative from the United States, and therefore nothing could happen that involves the agency of [other countries].

So in this case, a lot of focus on NATO expansion. Now, NATO expansion is a real problem. At the end of the Cold War, in my opinion, NATO should have been dissolved. But it wasn’t. And what ensued was very complicated, it was both a combination of a sort of US stupidity and aggressiveness combined with great fear among the former Soviet bloc countries about what was going to happen. And I guess the bottom line is this, Max, if you don’t have a sense of history, you can’t make any sense out of what’s happening over there.

Let me just give you one example of something that very few progressives are talking about, particularly those who are focusing on NATO expansion, the Budapest Accords of 1994. So up until 1994, Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal on the planet after the United States, believe it or not. So it was Russia, the United States, and then Ukraine. Ukraine, based on this agreement, turned over its nuclear weapons to Russia on the condition that Russia guaranteed that they would never attack Ukraine, never. In 2014, Russians broke the agreement.

Now, I think it’s really important for the listeners and viewers of this program to think about this: Would we be having this discussion today if Ukraine had not given up their nuclear weapons? And what does that mean for small countries around the world that are fearing bigger countries? Should they all get nuclear weapons? Should they get other weapons of mass destruction? Do we have yet another arms race? I think we have to think about this, but again, if you don’t dig through history, a lot of this won’t make any sense.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, no, I think that’s very well and powerfully put. And Jocelyn, I’m curious, you and I are working on the editorial side every day to try to stay on top of this, to try to manage the production of our in-house Real News coverage as well as, as I said, the sort of republications that we’ve put up on our website through our publication partners. And it’s a lot, but I guess I’m curious to hear your thoughts from your side as the managing editor or just as a human being in the West.

Jocelyn Dombroski: The thing that makes me think of immediately, because, Bill, like you were saying, this is something that a number of people do not seem to be including in their discussion, what would happen if Ukraine had not given up their nuclear weapons? What would that look like? There’s a video that we published, a talk that we published from RootsAction, where one of the speakers spent a fairly long amount of time focusing on this is one of the things that does not seem to be getting the attention that it should be, not just the fact that there is a potential nuclear war threat or threat from nuclear weapons, but the fact that there are a number of different crises, like global world threatening crises that are – And going back to the thing that Marc was saying – That are all coming to a point of emphasis here with the things that are happening in Ukraine.

And the examples that he was using specifically though were nuclear weapons, COVID, which is right now a problem that is affecting absolutely everybody that is either fleeing or trying to stay safe in Ukraine and anywhere else that they get to, and global warming, climate change, climate crisis, which is another thing I think also that we’ve made a point of covering and we’ve made a point of identifying that military action and war actually is a horrible addition to that impact.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. I think that what you are articulating and what we’re all kind of trying to work through is one of the reasons why I wanted to have this frank and open panel. Because I don’t at all want the coverage that we do here at The Real News to pretend to be like the one capital-R right take on everything that is happening right now. Abby Martin said something to me in our interview that I thought was very powerful, which is like, I’m not a child. I want multiple perspectives. I want as much information as I can get. And I want to reach the most sane, logical and principle conclusion that I can with the information that’s available to me.

That’s what we’re trying to do here. We respect our viewers and readers and listeners as complex human beings with agency who aren’t going to agree with everything that we put out, but who will, hopefully, nevertheless be enriched and empowered by the different types of information and perspectives, historical context, so on and so forth, that we can provide with the tools that we have available to us. And I think – We’ll talk about this maybe in a little bit – About the interesting reactions that we’re seeing online, not just to our coverage, but to the way that people in times of war respond to the media.

We saw it in the years after 9/11. It was a very frenzied, cultural hysteria where certain things were off limits in the mainstream media, certain parts of the political culture got very vicious, and that inevitably creeps into people’s psyches in the ways that they respond to critical, independent coverage like ours on things like a war in another country. And so we’ll talk about that in a second, but to your point, Jocelyn, that’s really the struggle every day that we wake up, is we have to accept that for the vast majority of us, we don’t have that historical context that Bill was talking about.

And that’s very self-evident in the shit that we’re seeing even in the mainstream media. I’m seeing expert after expert say like, oh, Russia is still communist and Putin’s trying to kind of restart the Soviet Union. And I was like, are you fucking kidding me? Do you know anything about Russia or Putin or what have you? But again, it’s just a sign of how bad our media diet is, especially here in the US, when it comes to knowing about other countries. We see ourselves very much as the center of the universe and we don’t feel the need to know a whole lot about the world beyond our borders.

We actually often don’t feel the need to know a whole lot about our own country. I’m not saying that to berate people. I’m saying that one of the reasons we do what we do is because we recognize that mainstream media has failed people in a lot of respects. It has not prepared us to handle situations like these that require not only nuance and the ability to understand that multiple complex realities can exist at the same time, but most importantly, to take that information and to do something useful and good to fight for justice and peace and dignity instead of just frantically reacting to the information that’s playing across your screen.

I think that was one of the things that really made me deeply uncomfortable in the immediate wake of the Russian invasion on the 24th was something as horrifying as what we were seeing unfold. And I think we all acknowledged it was horrifying. What it ultimately prompted was this sort of furious activity in the realm of discourse. It was a battle to post. It was a battle to respond. It was a battle to emote how we were feeling, who was at fault, to debate what the right take was on it. I’m not saying that’s not in some realm important or that it’s not inevitable. Of course it is. Discourse is part of the political realm. But it was very uncomfortable for me to see that in this moment when our gut human response should have been, this is awful, we need to do whatever we can to stop this. We’re not over there doing the fighting.

What we can do is put pressure on our government, our elected officials, to band together with labor groups, environmental groups, social justice groups to apply some pressure to demand that world leaders build some sort of runway for peace and put an end to the horror that we were watching unfold. And that was not the response. And I guess I still don’t quite know what to do with that.

Jocelyn Dombroski: I have a question based on that. Do you think it is the fault of the media overall that people don’t know what to ask for if they were to demand some kind of action from elected officials or governments or people who have the ability to influence this kind of thing? Or do you think that there is another kind of lack of organization, for lack of a better word, happening or that’s symptomatic of something else?

Maximillian Alvarez: I think it’s a great question. And since I just went on a long rant myself, I’m going to toss that to Bill and Marc and see what you guys think first.

Bill Fletcher Jr.:   I think that it’s much bigger than what the media is saying or how it’s framing. We’re dealing with a situation that is fundamentally not in our control. The government of a sovereign country launched a war of aggression against another sovereign country. And so the question is, even if you focus on how NATO contributed to this, and the United States, at the end of the day, Putin invaded Ukraine, and in fact made it clear in his speech, actually, in the face of logic, he ended up focusing on Ukraine not having a right to exist.

So when you have a situation like that, it’s not surprising that people are unclear. How do we respond? What’s the appropriate response, particularly if you don’t want a nuclear war? If you don’t want US troops directly involved, what do you do? What do you do with a nuclear bullet, which is what a lot of the world has asked for years about dealing with the United States. How do you handle a nuclear bullet? And so part of what I think is important for The Real News is to actually have this kind of discussion, and it’s got to be a discussion that’s based on facts, not just opinions.

Like when, Max, when you were talking about 9/11, when you have these so-called truthers that were suggesting that the buildings were brought down through some sort of remarkable act of sabotage, you get to a certain point where you can’t actually have an exchange because some people are in the seventh dimension and other people are actually dealing with reality. And I think we’re seeing that in the Ukraine war where you have slogans like no NATO in Ukraine. And I’ve been trying to figure out now, what NATO troops are in Ukraine? The Russians are in Ukraine. But you have these things and you have people buying into Russian disinformation. So I think you have to have discussions that are both [inaudible] but based on facts, at least as close as we can approximate them. And honest people will disagree and can disagree. And I think that that needs to be respected. And I think that’s potentially a very valuable place for The Real News.

Marc Steiner:   To pick up on that, I think part of it has to do with offering analysis that is based on historical reality. So let me digress this just for a moment and take us back to the year 600.

Speaker:          Okay. So [inaudible] a little far back.

Marc Steiner:    Right? So the first Vladimir, Volodymyr, who brought in the Orthodox Church, left the polytheistic religion and created modern Russia. And he was, in today’s world, a Ukrainian. He was from Kyiv. So Russia and Ukraine have always had this complex history. And Ukraine has always been, it’s been one of these oppressed nations like the Kurds that have always been part of somebody else’s nation, whether it’s the Lithuanian Empire, part of Poland, Russia, they’re very similar in many ways to some Kurds and other groups I can think of around the planet.

Also, it’s interesting for us to think about, before Zelenskyy became the president of Ukraine, the right was in a huge surge in the Ukraine. A huge surge. They made it illegal to say anything that condemned things that the pro Nazi Ukrainians did in World War II. So it’s a complex situation. At the same time, Russia gives solace and refuge to people like Rinaldo Nazzaro and other famous right-wing militia people from the United States that are living in Russia. So what I’m saying is that we have to understand, again, I’m going to go back to that word I keep using because it is it for me, the complexity of what we’re facing.

And it’s hard to divorce yourself sometimes. This whole idea of being an “objective” journalist, whatever that means in this day and age. But for me, you have to be objective in how you’re covering it and really not be afraid to give an analysis that may critique everyone. That doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for the Ukrainian people who are being invaded by a much larger nation. And I think that, as I said earlier as well, you have to watch the danger signs for the future, how this can spill over. You have to watch the danger signs of the future because I think in some really warped and weird way, this can strengthen the right wing across the globe and in Ukraine.

And that doesn’t mean that the Russians are wrong to do what they did, it just means that’s part of the reality you have to wrestle with. And I think that’s part of our work. And not to be knee jerk, I think a lot of people on the left, friends I’ve had arguments with, people critique some of the work that I’ve done here on Real News that are saying we have to critique NATO and not critique Russia as heavy as they do NATO, which is insanity. It just makes no sense.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: Well, it’s a misanalysis of Russia, Marc. That’s the thing. I think there’s people that think that Putin is actually a closet socialist and that he’s just waiting for the right moment. Sort of like Superman going into the telephone booth and then he twirls around and has his suit on. I think that people are expecting that’s what going to happen with Putin. And they can’t get over that Putin is a white supremacist homophobe tyrant who’s aggressive and wishes to reconstitute the basic territory of the Russian empire. They can’t accept that.

And then also, I think for very understandable reasons, people are so used to opposing the criminality of the US overseas that the idea that there might be another criminal that is just as dastardly is really, really difficult. I remind people of what happened in the Spanish civil war. Because I’ve gotten into arguments with people that say, Bill, we can’t focus on Russia. We’ve got to focus on the US. US imperialism is our problem. I said, okay, I got it. But let me ask you this, how does that explain what happened during the Spanish civil war?

When the Spanish civil war unfolded, leftists around the world, communists, socialists across the board were demanding that their governments, even if their governments were imperialists and colonialists, help the Spanish republic fight the fascist uprising and the intervention of the Nazis and the Italian fascists. So despite living in an imperialist country – And the US in the 1930s was creating a lot of problems for Latin America and the Caribbean among other places, and yet people were saying, people like Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes, that we’ve got to support the Spanish Republic. Even though the Spanish Republic had not gotten rid of Spanish colonies in Africa, they were still saying, we’ve got to support them.

So this whole notion that we only focus on the United States is absurd, it is ahistorical, and doesn’t deal with the reality that we are moving into a multipolar world that could be a multipolar authoritarian world. Being multipolar does not necessarily mean that it’s going to be more democratic. It could be more Orwellian. Think of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia in Orwell’s 1984.

Maximillian Alvarez: Well, let me, just to take a step back from that and, again, offer a sort of meta response to Jocelyn’s question. Because it speaks again, I think that what you said, Marc, and you said, Bill, makes a lot of sense. And again, I’m thinking about this in terms of our mission here at The Real News, what we do on a day-to-day basis. We have a studio, we’re in it. We have an amazing team of folks. Even if we’re small and scrappy, we do, I think, a lot of important work, not just to cover the war in Ukraine, but we cover so much and we try to cover as much as we can in as much depth as we can with as much love and humanity and truth and principle as we can, whether that be my interviews with workers about labor struggles, Stephen Janis and Taya Graham every week talking to folks who are oppressed by our police-industrial complex.

Eddie Conway and now co-host Mansa Musa who look at the violence and victims of the prison-industrial complex. Jaisal Noor right now is working his butt off reporting on the assault on voting rights around the country and the organizers on the ground who are trying to stop the bleeding and defend what is left of democracy. To say nothing again of all the great freelance contributors and correspondents that we have doing great work for The Real News on a week-to-week basis. We try to cover a lot of bases here in a number of different mediums, in text, podcasts, and YouTube.

It’s one of the things that I think makes us unique. But I think that these past three weeks have really reminded me, perhaps more than ever before, what the limits are to what our role is as a media operation, where we need to have the humility to recognize that we are one part of a larger political ecosystem. We play a crucial role and we need to take that role seriously. And I see that role in a number of ways. As first reminding people of the basic humanity of their neighbors and their fellow human beings around the world. And to remind people of the value, the sanctity of human life on this planet, non-human life on this planet, and life on this planet in general.

Like Jocelyn said, we are teetering so dangerously closely to an all out go global conflict with two global powers that control more than 90% of the world’s nuclear fucking arsenal. We are not messing around here. And I feel like enough people either aren’t taking that seriously or we’ve just gotten so used to dancing on the lip of a volcano or seeing human life and the continued livability of this planet as not really that ultimately important that we have to fight against that. We have to use media however we can to shake people out of that apathy, to shake people out of that distance that we have from the pain and suffering and value of one another’s lives.

I think that is first and foremost what our role as media makers is, but on top of that, as you all have said, as I think we all agree, it is our duty to inform and activate the public to use media… Media in its etymology means like the middle ground, the connector, the thing that connects that which is disconnected. And so what we are trying to do is connect people in the West, people in Canada, people in the US. We have a lot of English speaking audiences, but not exclusively. But we’re trying to connect people here to voices, perspectives and information that they may not be getting on social media, on mainstream media, yada, yada, yada.

But here’s where my actual point is about the sort of meta purpose of what we’re doing. Informing is not an end in and of itself. And I feel like that’s where maybe the commonality between our collective dissatisfaction and discomfort with the Western response, especially from the left, has been. This isn’t a broad statement. I’m just saying, this is something I’m seeing more and it’s making me increasingly uncomfortable, where again, the rush to inform, the rush to have information is important when war breaks out. We’re all trying to figure out what’s going on, how we got here, what the big forces at work are, so on and so forth.

What happened, though, is that we kind of formed in our discourse a sort of airlocked barrier where information and response was kind of the end all be all of what we were expecting of ourselves and what we were expecting of other people. That’s where my discomfort with what Bill was talking about. Like on the left, immediately when war broke out it was a back and forth debate of who’s more at fault for this, is it US and NATO or is it Russia? And I guess my response was like, knowing that is important, discussing that is important, but my priority is stopping this.

I am seeing something horrifying happen and we should all be doing what we can to help those who are being hurt by this and to try to do what we can in our own spheres to make peace and get the Russians the fuck out of Ukraine and stop playing this brinkmanship. We should be trying to do what we can to make that more possible. And it seemed like that was the missing next step. And it was more about, with the information that I have, do I have the correct analysis of who’s more at fault here? And then that’s it. That’s kind of the end of the discussion.

And I think that’s where, again, our mission really is to provide the information, the voices, the context that we can, but to ultimately invite people and encourage people to use that in some way to put an end to this horror. Does that make sense?

Jocelyn Dombroski: As in knowing the information is not a form of activism by itself?

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. Yeah. It’s not an end in itself. And again, I think that’s just becoming a little clearer as things go on because we have lost those engines of civic engagement through which we could band together with other parts of civil society and apply that sort of pressure that political leaders have to respond to. Those have atrophied for so long and we need to build those connections between the labor movement, the ILWU, the longshore workers, they thought about and have talked about not unloading ships that are carrying Russian arms just like they did to protest apartheid in South Africa.

Workers do have a lot of power here if they choose to use it. The environmental movement is very opposed to this war, but again, we need to build those sorts of connections between them. But I feel like that sort of connection building and mobilization is the part that is largely missing. I’m not saying it’s not there, but I think one of our important roles as media that are connecting people to different aspects of the world is to try to connect people to others who are mobilizing others who are working to provide aid for suffering Ukrainians, to say nothing of folks suffering from war and militarism and apartheid and genocide around the world.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: There’s a thin line that you’re walking and that you have to walk, and there’s sort of the editorial policy and orientation of The Real News, and then there’s the question of The Real News as a mechanism to provoke and harness legitimate debate. And so I think it’s important for The Real News to have an editorial policy on the events of the day. But I think it’s also important to have various points of view that are represented along with giving the kind of background so that a framework is created for your viewers and listeners, because it’s the lack of a framework that makes it difficult.

If people turn on NBC News, just to pick on NBC, and they’re watching Lester Holt in the evening and they’re listening to what’s happening in Ukraine, more than likely – And I don’t fault Lester Holt for this – More than likely, there’s going to be little discussion about any of the historical background, little discussion about NATO and NATO expansion and the desire of the former Soviet bloc countries to join NATO. None of that. We get these views of the moment at the moment. And that makes it very difficult for people to have a framework to analyze what’s going on and why. Because if you want to mobilize people, we need some sort of framework. Otherwise they’re getting elements, they’re getting, at best, bulleted points but not a framework that promotes any kind of cohesive action.

Marc Steiner:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I think that one of the things that media like ours can and should be doing is not just… A, I think it’s correct what you said. We have to have different voices talking about what’s going on to get that analysis on the air and let people think through different ideas about how to confront what we’re confronting. It’s also important to me, what I was thinking about as Bill was talking, is to really give a historical and political analysis. Maybe that outlines what is the history? How did this happen? What are the different parts of it?

How did we get to this point? And how, as people who are activists, and most people who listen to Real News are mostly on the left is my… Whatever that means in that large definition. So within that, what does that mean for us? What do we do? How do we respond? And I think that’s a really important piece for us to offer. And we need to be a place not afraid to offer opinions that do not agree with each other in a discussion so we can put that framework out for people to wrestle with.

Maximillian Alvarez: This is the start of, perhaps, an ongoing discussion that we want to have with our viewers about being open about how we’re trying to navigate this, where we feel we’re succeeding, where we feel we’re falling short, and to talk about how we plan to do better. And I feel like I’m grateful to all of you for doing this because I think we’ve gotten that conversation started, but I imagine you watching and listening to this have a whole lot of questions about what else we need to cover or how we’re approaching this or that thing.

But I think really one of the takeaway points there is understanding the limitations of what media can do in this moment, but also really taking seriously the value of what media can be for people who are trying to navigate the fog of war, who are trying to figure out what they could possibly do to help stop the suffering they’re watching play out on their phones and TVs and computer screens. To take that seriously and try to apply it in the coverage that we do both in terms of providing that historical perspective, like the conversation that I had with Dr. William Rich, I think was very helpful. He gave a lot of great context to Ukraine. It’s not all the history of Ukraine. It’s part of it. I even said at the intro to that, we’re not trying to say this is the one and only historical take on the past 30 years of Ukraine. As a former academic historian, I’m like, we don’t do that. There are all kinds of books of people arguing with each other over these different facts. We need to have that sort of critical ability to understand that there are different ways of interpreting this. There are complex realities. Ukraine is a big fucking country with a lot of fucking people in it.

Of course, there is a vicious, reactionary right wing that shouldn’t be hard to understand. We have it here, as you said. The whole world has been watching for the past four years wondering what the hell is going on with the United States. Trump is president. The Charlottesville people are marching. It looked just as horrifying to them as the Azov Battalion looks to us. That doesn’t mean the entire country is full of goddamn Nazis who deserve the pain that is being unleashed upon them. We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

And I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable with how the left specifically is talking about issues like these, because it feels like I no longer know if we are pointing out the right-wing Nazi problem in Ukraine to say, this is a big goddamn problem and something needs to be done about, it or if we’re focusing on this to justify the invasion. And we can’t justify this invasion, I can’t. If you ask me to justify it, I won’t. And I guess that’s one line in the sand I’ll draw here at The Real News. We’re not going to justify this fucking invasion. And Chris Hedges, I thought, said it beautifully in your interview with him, Marc, where he said, to understand is not to endorse.

We need to be adults about this. And we need to actually do what we can to understand what’s happening, how we got here, but to not make that the end in and of itself, but to use that to propel us forward, to band together, build coalition, do what we can in our own spheres and being better informed to act and put pressure on the levers of power to fight harder for peace. And so, again, this is just the beginning, I think, of an ongoing conversation. We’ll have more of these panels where we’ll talk more specifically about our own coverage. We want to hear Real News’s audience’s questions. We want to respond to them, your criticisms.

We’re here to serve you all, and we want to hear from you and we do listen to your feedback. And so I hope this was useful. I know this is a very scary and awful time, but I want to thank you all for supporting us. Thank you for watching. Thank you for caring. And we’re going to keep doing what we can to fulfill that mission and to provide y’all with the information that you need to be better and more active fighters in the struggle to save this world, not just passive spectators to the end of the world. That I think is all of our mission, and we’re going to keep working hard here at The Real News to fulfill it.

So thank you all for joining us on this panel. Thank you all for watching. For The Real News Network, this is Maximillian Alvarez. Before you go, please head on over to therealnews.com/support. Become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations like this. Thank you guys so much for watching.

Maximillian Alvarez

Editor-in-Chief

Ten years ago, I was working 12-hour days as a warehouse temp in Southern California while my family, like millions of others, struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the Great Recession. Eventually, we lost everything, including the house I grew up in. It was in the years that followed, when hope seemed irrevocably lost and help from above seemed impossibly absent, that I realized the life-saving importance of everyday workers coming together, sharing our stories, showing our scars, and reminding one another that we are not alone. Since then, from starting the podcast Working People—where I interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles—to working as Associate Editor at the Chronicle Review and now as Editor-in-Chief at The Real News Network, I have dedicated my life to lifting up the voices and honoring the humanity of our fellow workers.
 
Email: max@therealnews.com
 
Follow: @maximillian_alv

Jocelyn Dombroski

Managing Editor

Jocelyn Dombroski is managing editor at The Real News Network.

Marc Steiner

Host, The Marc Steiner Show

Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.
 
marc@therealnews.com
 
@marcsteiner

Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Bill Fletcher Jr. has been an activist since his teen years and previously served as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO; he is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, including ‘They’re Bankrupting Us!’ And 20 Other Myths about Unions and The Man Who Fell from the Sky. Fletcher Jr. is also a member of The Real News Network Board of Directors.