Want to understand why the media we consume is either owned by billionaires or under the thumb of government? The latest developments in the reporting of who was behind the explosions that destroyed the Nord Stream pipelines that brought Russian gas to Europe provide the answer.

Although largely forgotten now, the blasts in the Baltic Sea in September 2022 had huge and lasting repercussions. The explosion was an act both of unprecedented industrial sabotage and of unparalleled environmental terrorism, releasing untold quantities of the most potent of the greenhouse gases, methane, into the atmosphere.

The blowing up of the pipelines plunged Europe into a prolonged energy crisis, tipping its economies deeper into a recession from which they are yet to recover. Europe was forced to turn to the United States and buy much more expensive liquified gas. And one of the long-term effects will be to accelerate the de-industrialisation of Europe, especially Germany.

There can be almost no one in Europe who did not suffer personal financial harm, in most cases significant harm, from the explosions.

The question that needed urgently answering at the time of the blasts was one no media organisation was in a hurry to investigate: Who did it?

In unison, the media simply recited the White House’s extraordinary claim that Russia had sabotaged its own pipelines.

That required an unprecedented suspension of disbelief. It meant that Moscow had chosen to strip itself both of the lucrative income stream the gas pipelines generated, and of the political and diplomatic leverage it enjoyed over European states from its control of their energy supplies. This was at a time, remember, when the Kremlin, embattled in its war in Ukraine, needed all the diplomatic influence it could muster.

The main culprit

The need to breathe credibility into the laughably improbable “Russia did it” story was so urgent at the time because there was only one other serious culprit in the frame. No media outlet, of course, mentioned it.

The United States had both the motive and the means.

US officials from Biden down had repeatedly threatened that Washington would intervene to make sure the Nord Stream pipelines could not operate. The administration was expressly against European energy dependency on Russia. Another gain from the pipelines’ destruction was that a more economically vulnerable Europe would be forced to lean even more heavily on the US as a guarantor of its security, a useful chokehold on Europe when Washington was preparing for prolonged confrontations with both Russia and China.

As for the means, only a handful of states had the divers and technical resources enabling them to pull off the extremely difficult feat of successfully planting and detonating explosives on the sea floor undetected.

Had we known then what is gradually becoming clear now, even from establishment media reporting – that the US was, at the very least, intimately involved – there would have been uproar.

It would have been clear that the US was a rogue, terrorist state, willing to burn its allies for geostrategic gain. It would been clear that there was no limit to the crimes it was prepared to commit.

Every time Europeans had to pay substantially more for their heating bills, or filling up their car, or paying for the weekly shop, they would have known that the cause was gangster-like criminality by the Biden administration.

Evidence ignored

Which is precisely why the establishment media were so very careful after the explosions not to implicate the Biden administration in any way, even if it meant ignoring the mass of evidence staring them in the face.

It is why they ignored the incendiary report by legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh – who has broken some of the most important stories of the last half century – detailing exactly how the US carried out the operation. When his account was occasionally referenced by the media, it was solely to ridicule it.

It is why, when it became obvious that the “Russia did it” claim was unsupportable, the media literally jumped ship: credulously reporting that a small group of “maverick” Ukrainians – unknown to President Volodymyr Zelensky, of course – had rented a yacht and carried off one of the most daring and difficult deep-sea stunts ever recorded.

It is why, later, the media treated it as entirely unremarkable – and certainly not worthy of comment – that new evidence suggested the Biden administration was warned of this maverick Ukrainian operation against Europe’s energy security. It apparently knew what was about to happen but did precisely nothing to stop it.

And it is why the Washington Post’s latest report changes the earlier, impossible-to-believe claim that “maverick” Ukrainians carried out the operation to destroy the pipelines into one that implicates the very top of the Ukrainian military. Yet, once again, the paper and the rest of the media steadfastly refuse to join the dots and follow the implications contained in their own reporting.

The central character in the new drama, Roman Chervinsky, belongs to Ukraine’s special operations forces. He supposedly oversaw the small, six-man team that rented a yacht and then carried out the James Bond-style attack.

The ingenuous Washington Post claims that his training and operational experience meant he was “well suited to help carry out a covert mission meant to obscure Ukraine’s responsibility”. It lists his resistance activities against Russia. None indicate that he had any experience masterminding a highly challenging, extremely dangerous, technically complex attack deep in the waters of the Baltic Sea.

Prior knowledge

If the Ukrainian military really was behind the explosions – rather than the US – all the indications are that the Biden administration and the Pentagon must have been intimately involved in the planning, execution and subsequent cover-up.

Not least, it is extremely unlikely that the Ukrainian military had the technical capability to carry out by itself such an operation successfully and covertly.

And given that, even before the war, the Ukrainian military had fallen almost completely under US military operational control, the idea that Ukraine’s senior command would have been able to, or dared, execute this complex and risky venture without involving the US beggars belief.

Politically, it would have been quite extraordinary for Ukrainian leaders to imagine they could unilaterally decide to shut down energy supplies to Europe without consulting first with the US, especially when Ukraine’s entire war effort was being paid for and overseen by Washington and Europe.

And of course, Ukrainian leaders would have been only too aware that the US was bound to quickly work out who was behind the attack.

In such circumstances, why would the Biden administration choose to reward Ukraine with more money and arms for its act of industrial sabotage against Europe rather than punish it in some way?

Equally, the three states supposedly investigating the attack – Germany, Sweden and Denmark – would also have soon figured out that Ukraine was culpable. Why would they decide to cover up Ukraine’s attack on Europe’s economy rather than expose it – unless they were worried about upsetting the US?

And of course, there is the elephant in the room: the Washington Post’s earlier reporting indicated that the US had prior knowledge Ukraine was planning the attack. That is even more likely if the pipeline blast was signed off by Ukrainian military commanders rather than a group of Ukrainian “mavericks”.

The Post’s new story repeats the line that the Biden administration was forewarned of the attack. Now, however, the Post casually reports that, after expressing opposition, “US officials believed the attack had been called off. But it turned out only to have been postponed to three months later, using a different point of departure than originally planned”.

The Washington Post simply accepts the word of US officials that the most powerful country on the planet fell asleep at the wheel. The CIA and the Biden administration apparently knew the Ukrainian military was keen to blow up the Nord Stream pipelines and plunge Europe into an energy crisis and economic recession. But US officials were blindsided when the same small Ukrainian operational team changed locations and timings.

On this account, US intelligence fell for the simplest of bait and switches when the stakes were about as high as could be imagined. And the Washington Post and other media outlets report all of this with a faux-seriousness.

Ukrainian fall guy

Either way, the US is deeply implicated in the attack on Europe’s energy infrastructure and the undermining of its economy.

Even if the establishment media reporting is right and Ukraine blew up Nord Stream, the Biden administration must have given the green light, overseen the operational planning and assisted in the implementation and subsequent cover-up.

Then again, if as seems far more likely, Hersh is right, then there was no middle man – the US carried out the attack on its own. It needed a fall guy. When Russia no longer fitted the bill, Ukraine became the sacrificial offering.

A year on, these muffled implications from the media’s own reporting barely raise an eyebrow.

The establishment media has played precisely the role expected of it: neutering public outrage. Its regimented acceptance of the initial, preposterous claim of Russian responsibility. Its drip-feed, uncritical reporting of other, equally improbable possibilities. Its studious refusal to join the all-too-visible dots. Its continuing incuriousness about its own story and what Ukraine’s involvement would entail.

The media has failed by every yardstick of what journalism is supposed to be there for, what it is supposed to do. And that is because the establishment media is not there to dig out the truth, it is not there to hold power to account. Ultimately, when the stakes are high – and they get no higher than the Nord Stream attack – it is there to spin narratives convenient to those in power, because the media itself is embedded in those networks of power.

Why do billionaires rush to own media corporations, even when the outlets are loss-making? Why are governments so keen to let billionaires take charge of the chief means by which we gain information and communicate with each other. Because the power to tell stories, the power over our minds, is the greatest power there is.

Jonathan Cook

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