The amount of disinformation coming out of Ukraine is unsurpassed in modern history. Unlike the glory days when outlets like CNN sent knowledgeable reporters into combat zones looking for actual information, today most mainstream media coverage is based on borrowed social media video, or just made up.
The problem with the former, social media video, is that it lacks context. Here’s eight seconds of a tank blowing up. Where was it shot? When? Was the explosion caused by a mine, a missile, or something internal to the tank? Is it Russian or Ukrainian (the tank and the missile)?
In most cases, the media outlet has no idea of the answers. Even if they stumble onto the basic who-what-where, the exploding tank video is devoid of context. Was the lead tank hit, blunting the Russian advance toward a village? Or was it a Russian tank that lingered in an open field and got picked off by a lucky shot, strategically yet without much consequence?
This is war porn, a little jolt for the viewer. Such videos were immensely popular among terrorists in Iraq; nearly every one we captured had an inspirational video on his phone of an American vehicle being blown apart by a roadside IED. Now the same thing is on MSNBC for us.
The bigger problem is the media’s willingness to make things up, and then reinforce each other’s “reporting” by agreeing on what they made up. Let’s disassemble one such episode.
The media found online photos of a Russian convoy some 40 miles long. Within hours, those images became a story — the Russians had run out of gas just miles from Kyiv, stalling their offensive. That soon led to think pieces claiming this was evidence of Russian military incompetency, corruption, and proof Ukraine would soon win. Soon enough Reuters was agreeing with CNN which agreed with the NYT.
Setting aside that no one on earth absent some Russian generals actually knew why the convoy was not moving, the media created a reason and then confirmed itself. If you follow the right people on Twitter, you can sometimes watch them form a consensus in real time, journalists thousands of miles away from the scene with no information nudging one another into the narrative. It’s kind of like watching a time-lapse film of water freezing into ice.
So are the Russians out of gas?
Consider the lack of supporting evidence. Fuel travels through the same logistics chain that beans and bullets do, and the Russians do not seem to lack for ammunition. Artillery shells are big heavy things, and there seem to be plenty of those making it to the troops on the ground. The Russians have over a million men in the field, and absent one blurry TikTok purportedly showing some shoplifting, seem to be feeding them. If a million men needed to shoplift three meals a day, it would not be hard to discover. We have also seen no evidence that Russians are looting fuel dumps as they make their way across Ukraine.
Russians are flying some 200 air sorties a day, many of which are helicopter flights from inside Ukraine. Each can use hundreds of gallons of fuel, never mind ammunition and spare parts, all of which must be hauled in. And look past that single stalled convoy: Russian armored thrusts are moving across swaths of land to the south without any concern for fuel. The empirical evidence suggests that if anything there is plenty of gas. If not, that “stalled” convoy on the outskirts of Kyiv is only about 100 miles from the Belarus border, a very short transit for fuel trucks on paved roads Russia controls.
On the other side, if the Ukrainian forces had information that the Russians were low on gas, their strategy would look different. You might see a full-on effort to attack fuel dumps. You’d see Ukrainians blowing up gas stations and fuel handling facilities as they retreated. Instead of the exciting video of Javelins hitting tanks, you’d see everything from hand grenades to Molotovs blowing up fuel trucks. A tank platoon without gas is already dead — what the military calls a soft kill, at much lower expense than destroying modern armor piece by piece.
You also might see the Ukrainians employing a much more mobile defense, ceding territory and making the Russians chase them until they run out of gas. There have been no signs of any of this, mostly the opposite actually as the Ukrainians set up static defensive lines on the outskirts of cities. There is literally nothing to support the MSM’s contention that the convoy ran out of gas.
There were also MSM reports that the Ukrainians had made significant attacks against the parked convoy. While no doubt some skirmishes must have taken place along the 40-mile stretch, the fact that the convoy has remained bunched up nose-to-bumper and not dispersed suggests no one was very worried about being attacked. The soldiers openly slept on the ground, it is not clear from the photos that air defenses were aggressively deployed, and overall it looks more like troops killing time than soldiers preparing to repel attackers. Though the MSM was in no position to know anything about the soldiers’ morale, they commented on that endlessly, too.
Of course, the convoy did eventually start to move, and in a very predictable way. The textbook approach to using armor against urban areas is to surround a city, cut off food, water, power, and communications, and then if the defenders will not surrender, use artillery to either force them out or destroy them. It is not “lashing out”; it is doctrine. This is what is happening now in the city of Mariupol.
Such an attack has to be coordinated 360 degrees so if some troops arrive early they must wait for the others to show up, as with the infamous convoy. What is not done is to drive straight into town, where the narrow streets grant cover to defenders. The “stalled” convoy appears to have waited until Russian forces advancing from the south made sufficient progress toward Kyiv before spreading out west of the city and beginning bombardment. This development has been backpaged with none of the “expert” commentary seen earlier.
One convoy and one falsely reported story matter little in the middle of a vast war. But they serve as a clear example of how far the media has fallen. Once-proud outlets like the BBC and CNN are creating fake narratives and peddling them to an increasingly uncritical media consumer.