Joe’s Journal

Journalism 101: Ukraine and war crimes

Ramblings from an old scribbler
Wed, 04/13/2022 - 7:30am

Once upon a time, an old editor sat down with a cub reporter and looked over a story the youngster had worked so hard to land.

Interesting, he said. This is a real good story.

To those of you who don’t know that old editor, for a story to merit the compliment “a real good story” is a blockbuster. In his mind, the only story to merit a comment stronger than a really good story would be the story of a lifetime, like the end of the world or the second coming of the Savior.

He then smiled at the reporter and quietly asked a question. What does the other side say about this? I don’t see a comment from them. What gives?

Well, said the new guy, it is a good story. A comment from the other side might ruin it.

The old editor then thrust the copy back at the reporter and snapped an order.

Get on the phone and call them. Even if they tell you to go away and pound sand, you must give them a chance to tell their side of the tale. You are writing a story to inform the readers that you tried to be fair to the other side.

But, we can always try to be fair.

Remember, said the old editor. No matter how thin the pancake, it always has two sides.

That is the way the world used to work. Or the way it was supposed to work.

That is why the 1940 era newspapers carried stories that said something like: “A spokesman for the Nazi interior ministry denied reports that certain ethnic groups were being rounded up and sent to death camps.” They carried both sides of the story.

Today, the same applies. World news outlets usually carry both sides of the Russo-Ukraine war story.

Independent news videographers and reporters from Europe and the Americas took us on a recent TV tour of Bucha, a suburban town not far from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

In The Guardian, a British paper, we saw a story that began: “Sometimes the dead have more to say than the living. Those lying beneath the soft, yellow earth on the grounds of the church of Andrew the Apostle in the Ukrainian town of Bucha have many terrible stories to tell.

I am not going to retell this horrific story. I suggest you look it up or watch the evening news on whatever network you choose.

The Guardian story did include comments from the other side. “Russia was quick to deny the atrocities committed here. Footage and photographs of dead civilians had been ‘ordered’ by the U.S. to sully Moscow’s reputation,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

That is Journalism 101. Carry both sides of the story. Sure they carried the other side of the story, but it is hard to accept the Russian denial.

That is unless you accept that the TV footage showing bodies with evidence of torture and worse, the hulks of rusted out armored vehicles and tanks, the bodies of civilians and Russian soldiers littering the streets is fake news.

In recent days, TV news on all sides of the political spectrum spent a lot of time trying to define a war crime. They asked legal experts if the devastation in Bucha fits that definition. If these events are war crimes, who should be charged and brought to justice?

In my mind, that whole war crime exercise puts a too fine point on the situation in Ukraine, a nation that few of us knew anything of, or cared about, two months ago.

Of course, it is a war crime to send in tanks, missiles and heavy artillery into a neighboring nation and hammer it into dust.

Of course, it is a war crime to shell hospitals, killing the ailing and aging, along with mothers and infants.

Of course, it is a war crime to level villages, sending millions of refugees into neighboring nations.

Of course, someone must be held responsible for these crimes.

But that is an unlikely outcome as the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies are reluctant to enter the fight for fear of triggering World War III.

Instead, the coalition is sending in weapons large and small and providing Lord knows what kind of information grabbed off cyberspace.

Most say the Russian leaders and officials won’t be marched into an international court to face war crimes charges unless the Ukrainians whip their attackers.

If they do just that, my guess is the officials who ordered the terrible attacks will escape prosecution the same way Adolph Hitler did in 1945.