ABC Spins Autocratic Russia: ‘Everybody Is Very Happy with Vladimir Putin There’

On Thursday’s “Good Morning America,” reporter Claire Shipman portrayed the simmering tensions between Russia and the United States as a replay of the Cold War and also took President Bush, who is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this week’s G8 summit, to task for missing a “critical diplomatic opportunity” to cooperate with the Russians over the placing of a proposed missile defense system in Poland.

Additionally, Shipman, while noting Putin’s rollback of democracy, contended that Russia’s president is “wildly popular at home” and hyperbolically claimed that “everybody is very happy with Vladimir Putin there.” While it’s true that Putin’s autocratic nature appears to have done him no harm in the polls, it’s quite silly to say that “everybody” is happy in a country where journalists and spies continue to die mysteriously.

Chris Cuomo began the segment, which aired at 7:03am, by drawing a parallel between the current U.S./Russia difficulties and those during the Cold War. Cuomo’s introduction contained a odd comparison. He asserted, “Now, as in 1945, when the Cold War began, the issue is military presence. And once again, Russia is in a key to help or hinder America’s international efforts.”

So, a missile defense shield is the same thing as communism and the Red Army’s refusal to leave East Germany for multiple decades?

A short time later, after Shipman observed how “wildly popular” Putin was, she quoted Michael McFaul, a senior associate at the liberal Carnegie Endowment for Peace, over how “discredited” the United States has become:

Claire Shipman: “[Putin] wants to be a player. And at the same time, the U.S. has been clearly distracted.”

Michael McFaul (Professor of political science, Stanford University): “Putin rightly understands that the United States is weak and discredited around the world and therefore he can make points, if you will, on the international stage.”

Not surprisingly, McFaul’s liberal connections were not mentioned. Shipman continued and even singled out former Communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev as a “reliable old friend” and featured a bullying quote from the “prickly” former General Secretary:

Mikhail Gorbachev: “We have succeeded in many ways. Do you really think you are smarter than us?”

Shipman closed by proclaiming President Bush “missed a critical diplomatic opportunity” in failing to work with the Russians on the missile program. In her final remarks, she also remarked that “everybody is very happy with Vladimir Putin there.”

Over on CBS, the “Early Show” managed to do without the effusive comments about Putin’s popularity. However, co-host Harry Smith talked with the Brooking Institute’s Michael O’Hanlon and he claimed missile defense as a Bill Clinton initiative. MRC intern Joe Steigerwald transcribed this exchange between the two:

Harry Smith: "Let's talk about this missile system a little bit. We need to explain, I think, to folks, because it's just really popped into consciousness in the last couple of days. The president wants to put missile systems in the Czech Republic and Poland. Why?"

Michael O’Hanlon (Brookings Institute): "Because we're worried about Iran, frankly. As you know, Harry, we've deployed a missile defense system in Alaska and California in the last couple of years. It was actually a concept that Bill Clinton developed but the technology wasn't ready while he was in office. George Bush then deployed it.”

It certainly would also have been helpful to mention President Reagan’s role in the creation and development of missile defense.

A transcript of the June 7 GMA segment follows:

Chris Cuomo: “Now, this meeting that we’re hearing about this morning between Presidents Bush and Putin highlights a long simmering point of tension between our two nations. Now, as in 1945 when the Cold War began, the issue is military presence. And once again, Russia is in a key to help or hinder America’s international efforts. Senior national correspondent Claire Shipman who spent years reporting in Russia will walk us through the situation. Claire, we’re hearing the term cold war. Too strong?”

Claire Shipman: “Not necessarily, Chris. It’s not a new cold war, but the relationships is worse than it has been in decades. Russia is now in a position to disrupt oil and gas to Europe, hold up a settlement to Kosovo and then there’s Iran. The U.S. needs help from Russia in trying to keep from Iran going nuclear. So far, that cooperation hasn’t fallen apart, but everybody is watching it very closely. It certainly sounds like th bad, old days, especially what’s coming from the Kremlin.

President Vladimir Putin [Through translator]: “We are seeing a one sided disarmament by Russia.”

President Bush “You shouldn’t fear a missile defense system. As a matter of fact, why don’t you cooperate with us.”

Putin: “In our opinion, it is nothing but imperialism.”

Shipman: “The lowest blow? Vladimir Putin recently comparing U.S. foreign policy to that of the Third Reich. Okay, so we’re not at this point yet. [Footage of ‘duck and cover’ nuclear bomb film.] But–”

Michael McFaul (Professor of political science, Stanford University): “But the rhetoric out of Moscow is the most alarming rhetoric that I can remember in 20 years. It seems as if they want to have a cold war.”

Shipman: “What’s going on? Two things: Putin in recent years has become a much bigger force to contend with, wildly popular at home, despite his democratic roll backs. He’s now presiding over an oil rich country. He wants to be a player. And at the same time, the U.S. has been clearly distracted.”

McFaul: “Putin rightly understands that the United States is weak and discredited around the world and therefore he can make points, if you will, on the international stage .” Shipman: “And even reliable old friends of the U.S. have become combative over recent months. When we talked to Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow before the last G8 meeting about Russia’s moves to authoritarianism, he was prickly.”

Mikhail Gorbachev: “We have succeeded in many ways. Do you really think you are smarter than us?” Shipman: “But the Russians are genuinely furious about the U.S. proposed missile defense system and the U.S. clearly missed a critical diplomatic opportunity to make it more of a joint project.”

McFaul: “The Bush administration did not handle this idea well. They could have worked with the Russians. They could have quietly come up with a plan of operations together.”

Shipman: “Now, part of the problem, Russians tend to see things in black and white. What’s a gain for the United States is a loss for Russia. Just looking at today’s Russian newspapers: [Shipman pronounces name of Russian newspaper]. One of the headlines is, ‘the approach of NATO to the borders of Russia.’ So, again, you hear that old style mentality. You know, President Bush has invited Putin to Kennebunkport in July hoping to reignite some of that personal chemistry. Remember when he so memorably said on his ranch, he saw into Vladimir Putin’s soul. I don’t think either man is going to like what they see.”

Robin Roberts: “And you were saying that this Russia is not the Russia of old.”

Shipman: “Well, and that’s where I think the U.S., you know, we haven’t been paying enough attention and in the last couple years Russia has transformed itself into much more of an economic powerhouse and everybody is very happy with Vladimir Putin there. It gives him a lot of leverage.”

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org