More Bad Journalism on Russia

Having said in my last post that you shouldn’t disbelieve everything that the press tells you about Russia, I find myself returning once again to examples of bad reporting, as these seem to be rather more prevalent than the good variety. Bad journalism, though, is not all the same. It takes different forms, and some examples from this week and last prove the point.

First off is report by the BBC’s Russian correspondent Steve Rosenberg that came out yesterday, which you can watch on the BBC website. Rosenberg travelled to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk supposedly to find answers to the question ‘In what direction is Russia heading?’, Krasnoyarsk being chosen because it’s geographically more or less slap bang in the middle of Russia.

As I note in an analysis of the report published today by RT (which you can read here), it’s not very good. Having travelled 4,000 kilometres to Krasnoyarsk, Rosenberg tells us absolutely nothing about the city itself, but limits himself to interviewing three people who tell him a bunch of things he could just as easily have heard if he’d stayed in Moscow. The whole piece is then framed, start and finish, by a statement that “Russia is heading towards a big catastrophe.” Ah yes, Russia is doomed! How many times have we heard that one?

Frankly, I can’t imagine why Rosenberg bothered going to Krasnoyarsk to do this. Having travelled that far, he could have made an effort to explore the city and tell us how things are there. But none of it. It was just another excuse to tell us that Russia is going down the plughole.

This then is one type of bad reporting: it consists of focusing on selling a given narrative rather than trying to understand and explain the object under study.

This type isn’t untrue, it’s just not very interested in anything that doesn’t fit the chosen story. The second type, by contrast, bends the truth to fit the narrative.

I deal with an example of this in another article for RT, published a few days ago, that you can find here. The case in question is an accusation published by the New York Times that Russian intelligence paid the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers. As I note in my article, the US government has been back-peddling from this claim, as well it might, given the weakness of the supporting evidence. However, as I also point out, the evidence was always weak, which makes you wonder why the New York Times chose to publish the story in the first place. The answer, I suggest, is that it suited the Times’ political objective at the time, which was to undermine then US president Donald Trump.

The third type of bad journalism is somewhat similar, in that it has a similar disregard for factual accuracy, but is slightly different in that it’s not pursuing its own political objectives but is acting as spokesman for somebody else’s political campaign, repeating the campaign’s claims as if gospel truth while not bothering to verify them.

An example is recent coverage of Russian oppositionist Alexei Navalny. Last week the Western press contained numerous stories to the effect that Navalny was on the verge of death. Navalny was ‘close to death’, said CNN. He was ‘dying in prison’ and ‘would die in a matter of days’, said ABC News. And so on.

The source for this claim was Navalny’s press secretary and others close to him. The Western media repeated the assertion without questioning its veracity. But was it true? Apparently not. It seems that even Navalny himself has expressed some amusement at the idea that he’s on the verge of death. And let’s face it, how could his team have known his condition when they don’t have access to him?

That doesn’t mean that he’s a well man. He’s been taken to a prison hospital, which suggests that he’s not in perfect health. But dying? Discussing the subject, Navalny ally Anastasiia Vasilieva rather shot herself in the foot with a couple of tweets, the first of which proclaimed ‘They wouldn’t allow us doctors to visit the dying Alexei Navalny’, and the second of which protested against ‘Taking a healthy person to a hospital … where all the patients have tuberculous.’ ‘Dying’ one minute, a ‘healthy person’ the next. Whatever.

The Western press, however, continues to promote whatever version of the Navalny story that Navalny’s headquarters sees fit to tell them. Today (21 April) protests are taking place across Russia in Navalny’s support. The jailed oppositionist’s team claimed in advance that 400,000 had signed up to take part, which would make these the largest protests ever in post-Soviet Russia. Journalists lined up to repeat this claim. ‘Tomorrow, Navalny supporters will stage possibly Russia’s biggest ever protests’, tweeted Financial Times correspondent, Max Seddon.

So did they? Seems not. As poor old Max had to admit today, ‘turnout is way down’ compared with the last Navalny protests in January. Reports indicate that even in the best performing locations, only about 1/4 of those who said they would come to the protests did, and in other locations the number was as little as 1/10. If we say that that averages out at about 1/7, then we can estimate a national turnout of a maximum of 50-60,000 people, maybe a lot fewer (I’ll wait for others to confirm the true amount – Seddon reckons about 10,000 in Moscow). That’s not a tiny number, for sure, but hardly the largest protest in Russian history (that record belongs to protests in February 2005 against social reform, when about 250,000 Russians came out onto the streets).

So why was Seddon telling us just yesterday that this protest might be the ‘biggest ever’? Wouldn’t a well-informed observer have known that that was extremely unlikely? Well, it seems to me that the problem, as with the ‘Navalny is dying’ story, is that too many journalists are, perhaps inadvertently, acting not as independent observers but as de facto PR personnel for the Russian opposition, rebroadcasting all its PR statements without properly confirming them. This isn’t as it should be.

Of course, not all journalism is bad, and the alternatives to the mainstream media are often even worse. One shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The best advice I can give is to read as widely as possible and treat all sources with an open mind. Still, the examples above make something very clear – reporting on Russia leaves a lot to be desired.

27 thoughts on “More Bad Journalism on Russia”

  1. There is a thing that always amused me when I was out in the country. Whenever I’d stumble upon a large flock of turkeys, I just felt compelled to let out a vaguely turkey-like gobble. They instantly reply as if it’s just a kneejerk reflex devoid of any independent thought, and if the flock is big enough you can even kind of tell how the “gobble-wave” propagates and dissipates. It’s just too funny not to try it when presented with the opportunity, the sound is hilarious.

    Many “Russia watchers” and regular Western journalists covering Eastern Europe in general, and Russia in particular just remind me of these turkeys. And the gobble instigator in their case would be the Russian opposition figures, or in some cases governmental figures from Ukraine, the Baltics etc.

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    1. Another aspect is that some like the professor frequently address such hack work, which can take away from acknowledging the really good journalism that’s out there.

      Both (applauding the good and booing the bad) should be done with veracity.

      DW is worse than the BBC. Of late, Al Jazeera has done some pretty decent stuff.

      Meantime, the Strategic Culture Foundation has been wrongly targeted with dis-informative abuse and censorship.

      Everlyn Farkas continues to get away with posting blatant lies on Twitter, in addition to the crock presenting Matthew Rojansky as some kind of a viable “moderate” to Victoria Nuland.

      All of the above points can be further substantiated – something not encouraged in phony, crony, baloney, wonky tonk Russia watching establishment circles..

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      1. The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg seems to be on par with the US based Jill Dougherty. Concerning the latter’s input for bad journalism:

        https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2021/04/14/cnn-blatant-disinformation-about-russia-ukraine-activity/

        Quite appropriate that the above article appeared shortly before the Biden admin announced sanctions against Russia, which include the Strategic Culture Foundation.

        A 4/22 BBC segment involves Evelyn Farkas with another unchallenged segment where she states questionable views without any challenge.

        On the same day, MSNBC tough guy Lawrence O’Donnell had a hreavy propaganda segment with Michael McFaul and the lead Pussy Riot member.

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  2. The BBC is at the very heart of the Integrity Initiative propaganda operation. The recent leaks, unpacked by Max Blumenthal show the state of play. It is now impossible to watch the BBC without knowing exactly what to expect, so I don’t! Schroedingers Russia, simultaneously about to collapse at any moment whilst also a dire threat and about to invade and take over the West (or anywhere else for that matter) is the schizophrenic brain fart coming form the West who still simply have zero answer to Putin. who continues to run rings around them all. America is dangerous precisely because it has no policy towards Russia other than harassment and a deep fixated paranoia … just a set of stereotypes and Soviet era platitudes. The big difference is that Russia is in the 21st century and making progress, the collective West still hasn’t made it out of the 20th, lacks vision in any sphere, has made a disaster of Covid19 and seems to be stumbling around like a drunk challenging everyone they meet for a fight. It is a truly sad state of affairs but it is the West that will suffer the most for it in the long run.

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    1. What would be considered not as likely a few years back,, the US based Democracy Now and CounterPunch, have propped some dubious views on Russia that are in line with Anglo-American mass media slants.

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  3. Not that it needs to be said, but repetition can never hurt: Compare the West’s down-to-the-minute (false/unverifiable) coverage of Navalny’s medical condition to the way they absolutely ignore the health of Julian Assange (about which info is easily obtainable) and you’ll see the massive hypocrisy and political/geostrategic propaganda aims that they make no attempt to hide anymore.

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    1. Compare too, the treatment of Assange and Edward Snowdon to the ‘conformist citizen intelligence’ of Eliot Higgins, We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People, Bloomsbury Publishing, February 2021

      It’s all openly available now? Not my experience. But also Flynn said it, before he joined the Trump admin?

      When General Michael Flynn ran the Defense Agency (before disgracing himself in the Trump administration), he remarked that secret sources contribute 90 per cent of valuable intelligence. After the arrival of social media, it was the opposite: 90 per cent of worthy intelligence came from open sources, available to all

      As rriveramx writes below, all you need to know is just a click away.

      The Russian experts: Christo Grozev, Roman Dobrokhotov, Daniel Romein

      https://www.europeanpressprize.com/laureate/christo-grozev/

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  4. Eh, your last “article” has told it all.
    Any news from Petrov and Beshirov (or whatever are the names of the only two Russian secret force agents are)?
    See, I believe, if you guys look at all those photos and videos connected to Floyd murder you could see these two around. It was probably Russian provocation to start racial unrest in United States. Then they were called urgently to come back and poison Navalny’s underpants. Putin should do something about these two. I mean… another failure.

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  5. Propaganda has a tipping scale, and there is a point where too much repetition of the same illogical and delirious claims convince not just a minority, but a majority of the audience of the fact that it is all nonsense, and that the propagandizers should be suspect. Western intelligence agencies, in particular MI5-6 and CIA, believe they are still far from such a point or, more likely, are believing their own illusions so much that they do not think there is a tipping point.
    I do see a marked confidence building in communication by China and Russia – rather than always give ‘partnership platitudes’ up until 2 years ago, they are increasingly addressing the delirious state of the US and UK leadership head-on and publicly. This is also because they have given up trying to achieve a common sense relationship with primarily those two nations.
    The slow, much overdue unravelling of the OPCW cover-up will have wider repercussions, because the entirety of the chemical weapons stories in Syria and the silly Novichok tales are made up in the UK, and the one Syrian sarin attack happened by jihadi’s importing it from defunct Libya with the full knowledge of the CIA, Turkish intelligence, as exposed by Seymour Hirsch.
    When you mention ‘mass media’ you almost exclusively mean UK and US media. Yet this is less than 1/3 of the globe. The US mass media, BBC, The Times and the Guardian are lost to the Intel services. A more legitimate voice to the Chinese, Indians, Russians and all the emigres from those countries is taking hold, and the extreme psychotic nature of the Anglo-American delusion is becoming clear. Assange is the new Sacharov – yet is much more prominent than Sacharov ever was. Navalny is a defunct attempt by Western ideology to garner such a role. The Western inhibition to repeat the same will have the opposite effect of its intent; its championing of Navalny will be increasingly jarring with Assange. The future of mass media does not lie in the West, and that is a good thing.

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    1. Re your reference to the OPCW and the atrocity propaganda against the people of Syria, here is an excellent presentation by Aaron Maté of The Grayzone.
      • At UN, Aaron Maté debunks OPCW’s Syria lies and confronts US, UK on cover-up

      I shared the following as a supporting exhibit:
      • Fabrication in BBC Panorama Saving Syria’s Children: Robert Stuart

      • In moving UN speech, veteran diplomat confronts OPCW ‘stonewalling and smear tactics’ on Syria (Hans von Sponeck)

      I have no idea why airtime would be given to Lawrence Wilkerson, however:
      • At UN, ex-Colin Powell aide calls out ‘egregious’ OPCW Syria cover-up

      “Wilkerson helped prepare Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations making the phony case for invading Iraq. Wilkerson has since renounced those Iraq war fabrications.”
      My comment essentially:
      Wilkerson’s only interest was in protecting the reputation of the OPCW [and therefore its parent organisation] while still pushing the very same narrative that the Syrian Government somehow did ‘[unspecified] horrible things’. Just “renouncing those Iraq war fabrications” is not enough – what is he doing walking around free? Are there no repercussions for complicity in crimes against humanity?

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    1. Wow RS, thanks for this video! Not that it’s a visitor’s guide :), but it sure does reflect the positive changes. I haven’t been to Krasnoyarsk, but from what I’ve seen traveling around Russia, the changes are NOT limited to Moscow and Piter. Lots of other cities and towns got big makeovers. I won’t go as far as saying it’s on the same scale as the capitals, which have been completely transformed, but many of the richer regional centers, like Kazan’, are actually in the same ballpark.

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      1. Yes, the Tatars are enjoying themselves in Kazan. And Krasnoyarsk had an exceptionally cold winter this year. One of these statements is not quite true.

        Cheers, mates.

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  6. Dear Paul, you make an excellent point that Russia reporting is, most of the time, relatively poor. I see two reasons for this.

    The first one is that foreign correspondents live in their bubble. The foreign press corps is friends with each other, pass tips, and share sources and themes. Once one of them publishes something, the others follow swiftly. They all live in the same districts in Moscow or the residential compounds for diplomats, such as the German village. Their local friends, if they have, are English-speaking liberal europhiles. Some correspondents do not speak the language or do it very poorly. In a nutshell, their life resembles what they had back home.

    Second, journalism is entirely a click business. Rarely editors request or approve positive Russia coverage. First, because the market for negative news is much larger, particularly for Russia. Second, they “do not want to give Putin a PR victory” with positive reporting.

    One can see this clearly with news around Sputnik V. Most foreign correspondents got vaccinated with it and often shared the event proudly on social media. Yet, their news coverage is about doubts on its efficacity, distrust, and “Sputnik as a geopolitical weapon.”

    Your screenshot of Max Seddon is another perfect example of a mix of preconceived bias and lack of awareness of the country. He says, “the economy is slumping.”, as if this were acute or unique to the country, a simple google search indicates that the Russian economy has been among the better performers among large economies during the pandemic.

    A good comparison is Turkey, a regional peer and autocracy, but enjoying a significantly more benign news coverage in the west. Erdogan is not the cup of tea of any liberal. Nevertheless, there is minimal coverage about the current economic fallout, its militaristic bullying towards Cyprus and Greece, its use of mercenaries in the Caucasus and the middle east, its massive brain drain, and so on. Everything that we read daily about Russia.

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  7. >The best advice I can give is to read as widely as possible and treat all sources with an open mind.

    This is a great advice. If only it were as easy as it sounds! With limited time and unlimited supply of bad journalism, separating the wheat from the chaff is frustratingly tedious.

    Needless to say, for a random English-language news consumer, chances of encountering Russia reporting that’s not openly hostile, let alone objective, are close to zero. At the same time, too many pro-Russia sources leave much to be desired: few and far between, they mostly try to fight one bias with another. But by doing so, they immediately alienate Western readers with their harsh anti-Western tone. Truth be told, even for a discerning pro-Russian reader, emotional satisfaction from bashing “the narrative” eventually fails to make up for the intellectual dissatisfaction with explicit anti-Western bias.

    I’ve been looking for high-quality English language analysis on Russia since 2014, and so far, this blog and ACURA (former ACEWA) are the only two sources I don’t hesitate to share/recommend. But let’s face it, even these balanced, academically inclined sources are perceived as suspiciously pro-Russian by regular folks who read regular news.

    What would be really great (and what’s almost completely lacking) would be more fact-based, non-politicized reporting on positive aspects of life in Russia. Culture, city life&infrastructure, nature&ecoturism, science&technology, childcare&education, food, to name a few. So many things are good and improving in Russia, yet no one in the West has heard about it!

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    1. “What would be really great … would be more fact-based, non-politicized reporting on positive aspects of life in Russia.” See “How a girl [Rachel Armstrong] from rural UK made it into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.”
      https://www.rbth.com (April 20, 2021) A commenter wrote that we need more artists and fewer politicians.

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      1. Liked the article, thanks RS! Russia Beyond is great. I was looking at their “LEGO set concepts based on Russian fairy tales” article when my 5 y.o. looked over my shoulder and yelled “Can I have this one, please, please!” 🙂

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  8. On previous topic (=Czech Mate), I saw this in the news this morning. Inquiring Minds on blogosphere were asking the questions, “Where are those vaunted Czech intellectuals?” and “What about that famous Czech skepticism and sense of irony?”

    So, maybe it is not gone forever. Since Czech ex-Prez Václav Klaus says he is ashamed of his government for being the barky little dog that barks at Russia and does not have its own foreign policy. He implies that current Prez Zeman agrees with him, and bemoans Czechia’s status as a vassal state of the U.S. and NATO. He even refers to Czechia as “this country” (at least in the Russian translation, I don’t have the original Czech), which is something that Russian Liberals get criticized for doing in regard to Russia.

    On that note, I myself think it’s perfectly okay to refer to one’s nation of residence (or even native country) as “this country” in order to distance oneself from the actions of the government. Especially in times of war. It always irritates me when even American lefty dissidents sometimes say “We invaded Iraq”, for example, instead of “American government invaded Iraq…” I always feel like retorting, “What do you mean, we, Paleface? (Like in that old Lone Ranger/Tonto joke.)

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    1. I think you can hardly fault American lefties there. When their country and their government does something wrong it is THEIR country and THEIR government so they feel a sense of responsibility and shame. It shows civic engagement and that they take their duties and moral obligations as citizens seriously, so demanding the best of your country and feeling shame when it does not do its best.

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  9. Also on a previous topic (=Navalny), I saw this piece about Navalny’s decision to end his hunger strike, which they are now explaining to his followers. After being visited by a team of expert doctors consisting probably of Jewish grandmothers who pinched his cheek and said, “Alyosha, bubala, you’re getting too thin! You need to eat something, boychik.”

    In all, Navalny missed maybe one breakfast and his afternoon snack. But sometimes that’s all it takes to make a person cranky…

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  10. “In all, Navalny missed maybe one breakfast and his afternoon snack. But sometimes that’s all it takes to make a person cranky…”

    you should see me if I don’t get my afternoon hot chocolate ..

    I like this headline:
    EUROPE NEWS
    Jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny says he will start to end his hunger strike

    So he doesn’t just end it, no, that would be too pedestrian for a vaunted dangerous (to himself only) critic of the Tyrant and sole ruler of Russia, The Putin.
    No he is “starting to”, meaning apparently the strike wasn’t that bad so he can take his time?

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    1. He’s on the verge of dying – LOL BS. On par with MSNBC having the gall to have the Pussy Riot leader Tolwhatever on a show this week to get her opinions, as if they’re so intelligent and worthy.

      One of the biggest Russia coverage related mass media scams involves Everlyn Farkas, who has posted several blatant lies at her Twitter account, along with frequent mass media appearances (including the BBC), where her faulty views go unchallenged.

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    2. Well, you can start with a tiny spoonful of soup. Then a glass of hot chocolate. If that goes down well, then maybe a small cucumber and watercress sandwich. Have to ease back in… One of those little rolls with a tiny sausage in it. Body craves more protein, so maybe a small sirloin steak with a baked potato. Then a salad. Another glass of hot chocolate to chase it down. Hey, how about a lobster roll? Some fava beans with a fine chianti…

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  11. Funny, as a lefty of the socialist kind I always was aware and stressed that any government that was not a socialist one was not my government.
    That all those just represented the controlling financial and industrial elites that in actuality run any nation based on the principle of capitalist production and financials.
    With the knowledge that all those governments are in essence all undemocratic, as the studies by Gilens and Page showed – and those two aren’t even relying on Marxist analysis – how can I defend and be responsible for what any government not representing me but my enemies does?

    Or do you think the Jews in concentration camps should have felt that they owe loyalty to the crime boss Adolph?

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    1. Great point as usual, Peter.

      The take-away: Somebody posting on this forum actually believes American government represents “the American people”, therefore it is such a great thing when citizens “engage” with said government and feel a sense of shame when “their” government does something bad…

      Seriously??

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  12. Вам нужно написать статью о психологии Россиян. Могу помочь.
    Например, можно написать об отношении к Расизму в России. В России расизма нет. Есть понимание, что психология человека зависит от национальности, и то лишь у некоторых. Есть неприятие людей, которые действуют, как “Слон в посудной лавке” по отношению к культурным особенностям Россиян, но это лишь неприятие отдельных людей. Разговаривал с отцом. Он у меня шахтер. Говорит, что с ним в шахте работали много не Русских. “люди, как люди”.

    Liked by 2 people

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