How the Mainstream Media Misses the Money Quote

On December 1, French President Emmanuel Macron went to Washington for the first state visit of the Biden administration. After the pageantry, presents, hand holding and flattering words of fraternity and solidarity, Macron faced the gathered press.

"We will never urge Ukrainians to make a compromise that will not be acceptable for them." "That," said Helene Cooper of The New York Times, "is the money quote."

But it wasn’t the money quote by several euros. The money quote came days later when Macron was not standing shoulder to shoulder with Biden in front of an American audience, but standing on his own addressing a French audience. Macron told the French television network TF1, in an interview filmed during his visit to Washington but aired as he left, that “We need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table.” Then Macron made his full meaning clear: “One of the essential points we must address – as President Putin has always said – is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia.”

The money quote was that, despite the display of solidarity, there was a canyon between the leader of the US and the leader of the loyal European opposition. The canyon was so wide that it included disagreement over the causes and solutions of the war. Biden and Macron both "strongly condemn Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine." But for Biden, in the beginning, that war was wholly unprovoked, and, in the end, the settlement must reflect that and protect core US values. For Macron, though the war was illegal, Russia had legitimate security concerns that NATO had been pushing, and the settlement must reflect that too.

Macron hinted at that crucial separation at the press conference with Biden. Even then, Macron said “We want to build peace and a sustainable peace means full respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” But then, hinting at Russia’s demand to be included in a new European security structure that takes its concerns seriously, he added, “but at the same time [it means] a new architecture to make sure we have a sustainable peace in the long run.” But that didn’t make it into the money quote.

The mainstream media’s money quote missed that France, one of the two most powerful members of the EU, insists that a negotiated settlement to the war addresses Russia’s security concerns about NATO at its door and weapons at its border.

On September 16, at the Shanghai Cooperation Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Modi said, "I know that now is not an age of wars. We have spoken about this many times, in particular in our telephone conversations. Democracy, diplomacy, and dialogue are important tools for us to find solutions. It is necessary to achieve peace in the future, and I am sure that we can discuss this. I welcome the opportunity to better understand your point of view." That was the money quote.

But the money quote was a partial quote. It omitted Modi’s next line: "Relations between Russia and India have significantly improved. We believe they are extremely important. We are friends, and for decades we have always stood shoulder to shoulder. The whole world is aware of the nature of Russian-Indian relations, and the world also knows the deep friendship, in particular the personal friendly ties that bind us. . . . . In the interests of the well-being of this region, our peoples and citizens, we are once again making efforts today, in particular within the framework of the SCO summit. . . . Bilateral relations, which we will also discuss today, mean that our relations will only improve and strengthen in the future, which is also useful for the whole world."

The money quote was offered at a discount. India wasn’t cooperating with the US led sanctions and isolation of Russia. India was improving and strengthening relations with Russia.

At that same SCO summit, the mainstream media offered up the money quote for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Putin was forced to acknowledge that China had "questions and concerns" about the "crisis" in Ukraine, the money quote said.

It was "somewhat curious," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price observed "that President Putin would be the one to admit it and to admit it so openly."

But Putin was happy to talk about it because it wasn’t the money quote. A more honest formulation of the money quote would have included a less reported part of the conversation. But for that part of the conversation, you had to turn to the Chinese media. According to a readout from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, XI also said that "since the beginning of this year, China and Russia have maintained effective strategic communication.” XI stressed that China and Russia “have maintained close coordination on the international stage to uphold basic norms of international relations," and promised China would “work with Russia to fulfill their responsibilities as major countries and play a leading role in injecting stability into a world of change and disorder."

Crucially, XI added that China “will work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests, and deepen practical cooperation in trade, agriculture, connectivity and other areas." Those core interests, for China, include US and NATO provocations in Taiwan and violations of the three joint communiqués the US negotiated with China between 1972 and 1982. Those core interests, for Russia, include NATO encroachment on its most sensitive border and violations of promises made on NATO’s eastward expansion at the end of the Cold War.

Like Macron, XI’s inclusion of strong support for Russia’s core interests was an insistence that a resolution to the war include Russia’s security concerns. The money quote deposited China’s questions and concerns, but withdrew their support of Russia on key issues and the gulf between their position and the US position.

The next mainstream media money quote from China came three weeks later. Following a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, XIsaid that the international community should “oppose the threat or use of nuclear weapons, advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used and that nuclear wars must not be fought, and prevent a nuclear crisis in Eurasia.”

That was the money quote because it was reported as a shift in China’s policy of not criticizing Putin over the war in Ukraine. But China has always had a policy against nuclear first strikes and has always had a commitment to “not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.” Besides, Putin had already clarified that Russia would not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

That wasn’t the money quote. A more honest money quote might have been the sentence that preceded the mainstream media’s selected quotation. In language that was close to Macron’s, XI"reaffirmed China’s support for Germany and Europe to play an important role in facilitating peace talks and to build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture in Europe.”

The mainstream money quotes keep missing the separation with the US and the recognition of a European security architecture that takes Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion seriously. The more inclusive money quotes from both France and China included that recognition and exposed that separation.

And the very fact that that missed money quote came out of a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz exposes the next missed money quote. The money quote wasn’t that China agreed that "nuclear wars must not be fought." That’s a pretty affordable money quote. The money quote was that Scholz was breaking from the US by becoming the first G7 leader to go to Beijing to meet with XI That was a rebellion against both the US rule that no one hold dialogue with nations who mock the US led sanctions and censure of Russia and the rule that China be contained and opposed. Far from containing China, Scholz brought the top German industrial leaders, including the CEO’s of Volkswagen, BMW, BASF, Bayer and Deutsche Bank with him.

An even worse missed money quote is that Scholz did not only dare to dialogue with XI, he phoned Putin. On December 2, he broke with Biden and talked to Putin. It was Scholz who initiated the call, and it was the second time in two months.

Macron also said recently that “he intends to speak with the Russian president in the coming days.”

The money quote in the mainstream media is, apparently, on sale at a discount. But for the lower cost, you don’t get the context or the full story. The real cost is the truth.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.