Fact checking

The big news from Italy this week is the seizure by Turin police of a massive arsenal of weapons held by a neo-Nazi group. Among the weapons was a stonking-big air-to-air missile. Reporting the story, the BBC links the neo-Nazis to ‘Russian-backed separatist forces’ in Ukraine, saying that:

The raids were part of an investigation into Italian far-right help for Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, local media said. … On 3 July a court in Genoa jailed three men who were found guilty of fighting alongside the Russian-backed separatists who control a large swathe of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.


Naughty separatists. Despite all that talk of fighting ‘fascism’, it appears that they’re in bed with neo-Nazis. But then again, maybe not. For as Mark Ames points out on Twitter, there’s a problem with the BBC report. The official police statement says something very different. In fact, it says the following:

Le indagini erano iniziate circa un anno fa quando la questura di Torino, coordinata dalla Direzione centrale della Polizia di prevenzione, aveva monitorato alcune persone legate a movimenti politici dell’ultra destra e che avevano combattuto nella regione ucraina del Donbass contro gli indipendentisti.

Which for those of you who don’t speak Italian, translates as:

The investigations had begun about a year ago when the police headquarters in Turin, coordinated by the Central Directorate of Prevention Police, monitored some people linked to political movements of the ultra-right who had fought in the Ukrainian region of Donbass against the separatists.

So it turns out that they fought not ‘for the separatists’ but ‘against the separatists’. That’s quite a difference. It induces a bit of cognitive dissonance. I don’t like to think that the Beeb would get something so horribly wrong. Perhaps the police statement is mistaken. So as I’ve lived in Italy and speak a little bit of the lingo, I decided to check out what the Italian press were saying. After all, the BBC says it got its information from ‘local media’. And that’s where I ran into problems, because I couldn’t find anything to back up the BBC’s claims that these neo-Nazis were connected with separatist forces. The Turin-based La Stampa, for instance, merely reports that the arrested men ‘hanno preso parte al conflitto armato nella regione ucraina del Donbass’ – i.e. ‘had taken part in the armed conflict in the Ukrainian region of Donbass’. Other newspapers use similar words, some quoting a second police statement, to the effect that:

L’attività di polizia giudiziaria, iniziata nel luglio 2018 anche con l’attivazione di intercettazioni telefoniche e telematiche, trae origine dalle attività di alcuni combattenti italiani con ideologie oltranziste evidenziatisi in passato per aver preso parte al conflitto armato nella regione ucraina del Donbass.

Or as Google Translate puts it:

The police activity, which began in July 2018 with the activation of telephone and data interception, originates from the activities of some Italian fighters with extremist ideologies highlighted in the past for having taken part in the armed conflict in the Ukrainian region of Donbass.

So no word there which side they fought on. Now maybe I’m missing something, but my rapid survey of the Italian media and police websites reveals nothing to support the assertion that these neo-Nazis were connected with ‘Russian-backed separatist forces’. But here’s the thing. It’s not just the BBC which makes that claim. CNN, for instance, reports that:

The stockpile was discovered by police who were investigating Italians ‘with extremist ideology’ who had fought alongside Russian-backed separatist forces in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, last July, according to the police statement.

Similarly The Guardian writes that:

Police said that the discoveries stemmed from a previous investigation into Italians who took part in the Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

This is word for word what the Associated Press (AP) writes. And that perhaps explain why so many media outlets are repeating the same story. They’ve just copied it from AP without verifying it.

There is one exception, however. One media organization seems to have actually checked what the police statement said, telling us that:

The police say the groups had fought “against the separatists” in the Donbass region of Ukraine – the forces of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east of the country.

Who’s this? The answer – RT. And why did it bother verifying what the Italian police said? I suspect that it’s because it suited its political line to do so. And why didn’t everybody else? I imagine that it’s because the unchecked story didn’t clash with their ideological prejudices. In today’s cutthroat news environment, there’s a lot of cut and paste going on, and not a lot of fact checking. But some things are checked. Stories which fit existing prejudices slip through even when untrue, while those which don’t fit are forced to endure intense scrutiny and often don’t see the light of day. Error, in short, is not ideologically neutral. Time after time it points in the same direction. This particular error isn’t therefore just a case of sloppiness. Something deeper is to blame. You don’t need to be a genius to work out what it is.

22 thoughts on “Fact checking”

  1. “In today’s cutthroat news environment, there’s a lot of cut and paste going on, and not a lot of fact checking. But somethings are checked. Stories which fit existing prejudices slip through even when untrue, while those which don’t fit are forced to endure intense scrutiny and often don’t see the light of day. Error, in short, is not ideologically neutral. “

    Ah, of course! “Both sides do it” fallacy at the end of the blogpost.

    Dear Professor! Surely, only your inborn shyness of a true conscientous intilligent prevented you from providing a similar example, when RT would LIE (that’s not an omission in the case of the state owned BBC, and pro-liberal international capital CNN and The Guardian) as “Free and Independent Western Media” ™ outlests are lying this very minute about the “pro-Russian terrorists”. Can you provide such example now?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RT made it’s fair share of lies/incorrect reporting. If you want an example, here is a Ruptly video (Ruptly is RT) that incorrectly labels the militant in Daraa city as ISIS, despite the caliphate not having a presence there for years:

      That said, I haven’t seen any evidence that they lie abnormally often, and I certainly have seen far worse and far more often offenses in the “free and independent”.


      1. From the Russian POW everyone fighting the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic while belonging to the funny sounding irregular militant group is a terrorist untill proven otherwise. Ultimately, from the official Damascus’ (and Moscow’s) standpoint there is no difference between different types of shit fighting the authorities, no matter their current alliances/wars between themselves.

        In the Eastern Ukraine OTOH there is a direct binary as to who is who when it comes to the conflict. What the Western journo-whores did would be the equivalent of RT claiming that anti-government gang was in fact pro-Iran shia militia.

        Try again Aule.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “Error that is not ideologically neutral” is known as disinformation.

    Manufacturing bullshit ‘facts’ and then endlessly repeating them until they become “common knowledge” is a method of speading disinformation.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Somewhat reminded of Sean Hannity incessantly saying that the Steele Dossier consists of Russian lies that Hillary Clinton sought.

    Christopher Steele is clearly not pro-Putin or pro-Russia, with no conclusive evidence and reasonable doubt that his material against Trump came from the Kremlin and/or pro-Kremlin sources.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The BBC has now corrected its story, to read:

    ‘The raids were part of an investigation into Italian far-right involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Turin police said. … Initially, on 15 July, the police said the arrests were part of an investigation, started about a year ago, into far-right groups “who have fought in Ukraine’s Donbass region against the separatists”.

    But the latest police statement did not mention groups fighting the pro-Russian separatists, referring only to an investigation into Italian extremists who had “taken part in the armed conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region”. The police did not make it clear which side the Italians were on in this case.’

    It’s an improvement, but I wonder why it is felt necessary to cast doubt on the original police statement.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Update: The BBC report above can be explained by the fact that the Italian police have now changed their statement, eliminating the stuff about the neo-Nazis having fought ‘against the separatists’. It now reads solely that the ‘took part in the armed conflict in the Ukrainian region of Donbass’. Odd. And leaves it all up in the air. At the same time, it doesn’t explain why the media reported one thing while the police were saying the other.


    1. Santabarbara,
      seems get used rarely nowadays? Wrong?

      would there be anything as exquisite, although sometimes wrong as the OED in England, I wonder. Considering usage over the ages.


      1. Sorry Davide S., Lyttie, Paul Robinson’s initial link:
        Alla fine grazie ad intercettazioni e pedinamenti si è scoperto che un uomo di Gallarate, in provincia di Varese, deteneva illegalmente una santabarbara; l’uomo si era anche messo in evidenza per la compravendita di un missile aria – aria che è stato poi trovato e sequestrato in provincia di Pavia.

        The extreme right over here, and I guess elsewhere, seems to amass such arms cashes. If I am not completely misguided elsewhere too. … Preparing for the day.

        Should have added babbling alert.


      2. Santabarbara it is still used meaning store of ammunition, but it would be more correctly used referring to a warship. In other contexts I’d say “arsenale”


      3. That was my impression, thanks Davide,
        still curious how mythical St. Barbara could be connected to the artillery, I understand, as patron saint. Irony alert: Was her story invented for the occasion?


      4. Lyttie, incidentially I had relatives in St, Barbara. Wasn’t aware of either film or TV series.

        Maybe you can explain why you felt it mattered here?


      5. “Lyttie, incidentially I had relatives in St, Barbara…

        Maybe you can explain why you felt it mattered here?”

        “Santa Barbara” had been one of the first foreign TV Series shown in Russia (and other former SU countries) back in ‘90s, thus earning it a memetic status. The title itself became proverbial, often used in a colloquial speech, to describe some overblown, endless convoluted drama with lame/unexpected plot twists.

        Now, LeaNder, after I answered your question (although I didn’t have to), I’d also appreciate if you stop calling me “Lyttie”.


  6. A new twist to the story:

    ‘A group of pro-Ukraine neo-Nazis caught with an arsenal of weapons including a Matra air-to-air missile in northern Italy Monday wanted to assassinate Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the minister said Tuesday. … “The secret services spoke of a Ukrainian group that was planning an attempt on my life.”‘


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yet the BBC Ukraine Service (directly funded by the UK government) is substantially longer than the BBC English report:


    It includes the guilty verdict of Vitali Markiv for killing an Italian journalist and photo reporter in 2014.

    The BBC Ukraine Service has reported about this several times but there is noithing in BBC English news, not even the guilty verdict. Is this just another accident of omission that the BBC is so good at?

    I find it hilarious that the BBC Ukraine Service is a lot more enlightening than BBC English, but then again what kind of reputation would BBC Ukranian have over there if it didn’t report something that was also all over the Ukrainian media?


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