April 4, 2022

As we look for signs of hope in Ukraine — just any sliver of optimism, such as Russian troops pulling out of some Ukrainian cities — we are greeted with a gut punch.

That’s the exact phrase U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken used Sunday when talking about seeing images of dead Ukrainians in Bucha and hearing the real-life nightmares of what has happened in some towns where Russian troops have been.

“You can’t help but see these images as a punch to the gut,” Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And, look, we have said before Russia’s aggression that we thought it was likely that they would commit atrocities. Since the aggression, we have come out and said that we believe that Russian forces have committed war crimes. And we have been working to document that, to provide the information that we have to the relevant institutions and organizations that will put all of this together. And there needs to be accountability for it. But I think the most important thing is, we can’t become numb to this. We can’t normalize this. This is the reality of what’s going on every single day as long as Russia’s brutality against Ukraine continues. That’s why it needs to come to an end.”

But the end is not imminent, and the scenes are so ghastly that becoming numb should not be an option.

The Washington Post’s team of reporters in Ukraine wrote, “Scenes of horror and devastation emerged as Russian troops withdrew from towns they had seized in the opening days of the invasion of Ukraine. Bucha Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told The Washington Post that about 270 residents had been buried in two graves. He estimated that 40 bodies were on the streets.”

There’s this horrific passage in a New York Times story from Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak (and photos by Tyler Hicks): “There are also stories, impossible to verify, highlighting the kind of hate left in an occupation’s wake and sharing a common thread of brutality: children held at knife point; an old woman forced to drink alcohol as her occupiers watched and laughed; whispers of rape and forced disappearances; and an old man found toothless, beaten in a ditch and defecated on.”

During an appearance on Sunday’s “Face The Nation” on CBS, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “Indeed, this is genocide.”

Zelenskyy told moderator Margaret Brennan, “And I want to apologize to you and to those people who are watching us now, but, for some things that they have done, when we find people with — with hands tied behind their back and decapitated, such things, I don’t understand, I don’t comprehend, the kids who were killed and tortured. So it wasn’t enough just to kill for those criminals. Maybe they wanted to take gold or washing machines. And they were killing them, but they were also torturing them as they did this.”

In a column for The Washington Post, Max Boot wrote, “This, sadly, is the Russian way of war. It is how Putin’s forces fought in Chechnya and Syria — and before that, how Soviet forces fought in Afghanistan and in central Europe during World War II. They commit war crimes to terrorize the population into surrender. But it hasn’t worked in Ukraine. Russia’s savagery has simply caused the Ukrainians to resist all the harder because they know they are fighting not just for their freedom but for their very survival.”

In the haunting piece by Gibbons-Neff and Yermak for the Times, a doctor in Trostyanets, Ukraine, said, “This is true barbarity.” Another resident talked about the Russian troops, saying “Oh, God, how I wanted to spit on them or hit them.”

Following the Zelensky interview, Brennan spoke with former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, who said, “We see in many wartime scenarios all the way through history, these kinds of reports. But if this was genuinely a special military operation to liberate a fraternal country from what Putin was describing as Nazis, you would not expect this kind of conduct. So, either this is a complete breakdown of command and control, or it’s actually being sanctioned in some way to teach Ukrainians a lesson. Either way, this is actually pretty disastrous and obviously requires some kind of serious response in the international community.”

What will that response look like?

The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and John Hudson have a story with the headline “U.S. weighs tougher Russia sanctions after evidence of Bucha killings.” That could include “second sanctions,” which would target countries that continue to trade with Russia.

Stein and Hudson write, “The Biden administration could also impose sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy that it has not hit so far, including mining, transportation and additional areas of the Russian financial sector. The world continues to buy billions of dollars worth of Russian oil and gas, giving the Kremlin a direct financial lifeline. Officials stressed that planning was preliminary and no decisions had been made about potential responses.”

During his appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Blinken said discussions about additional sanctions are something that happens “every single day,” adding, “We’re tightening the existing sanctions. We’re adding new ones. We’re doing it in full coordination with Europeans and other partners around the world.”

Other notable journalism from Ukraine-Russia

‘He’s (bleeping) crazy’

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, in a photo from last November. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer, File)

Maybe New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu should be the host of next year’s Oscars. Sununu was the Republican speaker Saturday night at the annual Gridiron Club in Washington, D.C. And Sununu roasted former President Donald Trump, saying, “He’s (bleeping) crazy.” According to The Washington Post’s Roxanne Roberts, there was laughter, applause and no booing.

Sununu said, “The press often will ask me if I think Donald Trump is crazy. And I’ll say it this way: I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out!”

According to several reports, including from Politico’s Playbook, Sununu also poked fun at others.

Sununu on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “Nobody really knows why (the convoy protesters are) in Washington in the first place — which pretty much describes Ted himself, right? … What is with Ted? You see that beard? … He looks like Mel Gibson after a DUI or something.”

Sununu on Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and her Big Lie texts to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows: “We know she may be extreme, but let’s face it: When it comes to texting, she’s no Anthony Weiner. And you guys thought we forgot about that freakshow.”

Sununu on MyPillow CEO and Trump supporter Mike Lindell: “This guy’s head is stuffed with more crap than his pillows. And by the way, I was told not to say this, but I will: His stuff is crap. I mean, it’s absolute crap. You only find that kind of stuff in the Trump Hotel.”

Speaking of roasts

I heard an interesting point last week while listening to “The Tony Kornheiser Show” podcast. Guest Ann Hornaday, a movie critic from The Washington Post, was talking about the whole Oscar incident when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock over a joke about Smith’s wife. And Hornaday asked: When did these awards shows turn into roasts?

To be clear, Hornaday said she thought Smith’s slap was awful, but she’s right: These award shows — especially the Oscars and, in the past when they were on TV, the Golden Globes — have often featured hosts or comedians taking shots at the nominees.

You could argue that on a night of pompous self-congratulation, knocking folks down a few pegs is justified and maybe even necessary. And you could say, “Come on, have a sense of humor and some self-awareness.”  But should we be surprised that someone finally got upset?

Psaki from White House to TV?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House last Friday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

There have been rumors for a while now that White House press secretary Jen Psaki was going to leave her post for television. Both CNN and MSNBC were possibilities because both have high–profile openings. CNN is looking for a permanent replacement for former prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo. (CNN also has a new streaming service — CNN+ — that could always use programming.) Meanwhile, Rachel Maddow is expected to leave her MSNBC prime-time show for other projects at MSNBC in the near future.

Turns out, Psaki appears to be heading to MSNBC, according to Axios’ Sara Fischer. However, Psaki won’t be replacing Maddow. Fischer reports Psaki will host a show for MSNBC on NBCUniversal’s streaming platform, Peacock. She also will make appearances on MSNBC.

Making the jump to TV is not unusual for a White House staffer. Two former Donald Trump White House press secretaries are now on TV. Kayleigh McEnany is co-host on Fox News’ weekday show “Outnumbered” and Sean Spicer hosts a show on Newsmax. Dana Perino, another Fox News co-host from “The Five,” was press secretary for George W. Bush.

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace also worked for George W. Bush as communications director, and ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos once ran Bill Clinton’s communications office.

Psaki is a good pickup for MSNBC, but a blow to the White House, where Psaki is regarded as one of the best press secretaries in recent memory. From the start, Psaki was expected to serve as press secretary only for a year or so, so her stepping away is not a surprise.

But Psaki might be best served stepping down immediately or, until it’s all official, stepping back to a less high-profile role. Though nothing official with MSNBC has been announced, Psaki already has faced tough questions about it. Last Friday, CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe and NBC News’ Kristen Welker pressed her on the matter, with Welker asking Psaki, “How is it ethical to have these conversations with media outlets while you continue to have a job standing behind that podium?”

Psaki said, “I have taken the ethics, legal requirements … very seriously in any discussions and in any considerations about future employment just as any White House official would. And I have taken steps beyond that to ensure there’s no conflicts.”

Who would replace Psaki when she leaves? The two names coming up most often as potential replacements are deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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