Category Archives: Media

Some fun on Russian TV

So, here I am on Tsargrad TV:

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All Russians are spies

A couple of weeks ago, after attending a showing of the Russian TV talk show Vremia pokazhet, British journalist Angus Roxburgh complained that what he saw shocked even as hardened and cynical a Russia-watcher as him. ‘Xenophobia, fear, and intimidation’ were what he witnessed, he said.

I confess to be an occasional Vremia pokazhet watcher. It’s hard to understand what people are saying half the time, as the show tends to descend into a shouting match. But that’s kind of the point. There’s always a vigorous debate. It’s not just somebody spouting the official line, although it has to be said that the official line tends to win out when the dust settles. But let’s engage in a little bit of whataboutism. Would Mr Roxburgh be equally shocked if he spent some time watching American TV? Would he come across ‘xenophobia, fear, and intimidation’ there?

Let’s take a look.

A couple of days ago, CNN interviewed Congressman Mike Quigley. This is what Quigley had to say:

When you meet with any Russians, you’re meeting with Russian intelligence and therefore President Putin.

Continue reading All Russians are spies

Nonsense news

I have mentioned before my belief in the Biblical maxim about the mote and the beam, and I have repeatedly emphasized on this blog, including my last post, the need for greater self-awareness and greater humility. An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times reveals this need very clearly.

The editorial used former FBI chief James Comey’s testimony to Congress to lambast Donald Trump for his lack of integrity, describing Trump as a ‘venal, self-interested politician who does not recognize, let alone uphold’ the ‘legal principles at the foundation of American democracy.’ The headline made the editorial’s point very clear. ‘Mr Comey and All the President’s Lies’, it said. Telling the truth, it seems, is something that the New York Times values highly.

Or maybe not.

What the editorial didn’t tell readers was that the transcript of Comey’s testimony contains the following exchange between Comey and Senator Jim Risch:

RISCH:  I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. This is not factual. Do you recall that?

COMEY: Yes.

RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?

COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true. And, again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don’t. The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on. … I mentioned to the chairman the nonsense around what influenced me to make the July 5th statement. Nonsense, but I can’t go explaining how it’s nonsense.

Later, Senator Tom Cotton returned to this subject.

COTTON: On February 14th, the New York Times published a story, the headline of which was, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.”

You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said, in the main. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?

COMEY: Yes.

The New York Times has done a lot to stoke the accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, going so far on one occasion as to publish an op-ed by Louise Mensch. But while refusing to address the issue of collusion directly, Comey nevertheless poured cold water on it, as seen by the following exchanges with Senators Burr and Cotton:

BURR: Director, the term we hear most often is “collusion.” When people are describing possible links between Americans and Russian government entities related to the interference in our election, would you say that it’s normal for foreign governments to reach out to members of an incoming administration?

COMEY: Yes.

COTTON: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that — we didn’t — that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump.

So, let’s get this straight. James Comey in effect says that he doesn’t think Trump colluded with Russia (‘we didn’t’, as he says above), and denounces the New York Times for publishing ‘nonsense’, in a story about alleged collusion which was ‘almost entirely wrong’. Yet, the response of the New York Times is not to apologize, and indeed not even to mention the matter, but instead to publish an editorial saying that Donald Trump is a liar.

Perhaps he is, but another maxim comes to mind: one about stones and people in glass houses. Recent research indicates that ‘public trust in the media [is] at all time low’. I wonder why.

Alexei two percent

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been generating a lot of headlines recently, and was the subject of a long article last week in The Guardian by Shaun Walker. The Guardian regularly writes on the subject of Navalny. According to the search function of its website, there are 728 Guardian articles mentioning his name. The Guardian also lists 377 for the late Boris Nemtsov, and a massive 1,590 for oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This contrasts with a mere 114 articles mentioning the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov, and 163 mentioning Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

The Daily Telegraph is even more extreme, with 1,100 articles about Navalny, 554 about Khodorkovsky, and 287 about Nemtsov, compared with only 92 for Zhirinovsky, 85 for Zyuganov, and 51 for Kasyanov. The score for the Washington Post is Khodorkovsky – 341; Navalny – 272; Nemtsov – 205; Zhirinovsky – 59; Kasyanov – 56; and Zyuganov – 28. For the Globe and Mail: Khodorkovsky – 337; Kasyanov – 106; Nemtsov – 80; Zyuganov – 65; Zhirinovsky – 61; Navalny – 36; and for the Toronto Star, Nemtsov – 82; Navalny – 75; Khodorkosvky – 59; Zhirinovsky – 26; Kasyanov and Zyuganov – both 21.

The pattern is fairly clear: leaders of Russia’s ‘systemic’ opposition receive much less coverage in the Western media than members of the ‘liberal’ and ‘non-systemic’ opposition. The one exception I have been able to find is The New York Times which leads with 844 mentions of Khodorkovsky, but which has 499 of Zyuganov and 481 of Zhirinovsky, compared with 330 of Navalny and 166 of Kasyanov.

The outsized attention given to the non-systemic opposition gives an entirely false impression of its political significance. For the most part, the media gives Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, who head substantial political parties which got about 13% of the vote in last year’s Duma election, less attention that Kasyanov and Nemtsov, whose PARNAS got less than 1%, and substantially less attention than Khodorkovsky, whose Open Russia organized demonstrations last week which attracted just a few hundred people (which didn’t prevent headlines such as ‘Thousands of Russians Present Letters of Protest in Demonstrations’).

As for Navalny, an opinion poll published by the Levada Centre today gives him almost imperceptible levels of popular support. According to the poll, if a presidential election were held this Sunday in Russia, 48% would vote for Vladimir Putin, 3% for both Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, and just one percent for Navalny. Several other candidates would also get one percent, while 42% replied that they either don’t know or wouldn’t vote at all.

If you discount this last 42%, then the result of a Russian presidential election this week would be:

Putin – 83%; Zhirinovsky – 5%; Zyuganov – 4%; Navalny – 2%; Others – 6%.

That rather puts into perspective all the recent hype claiming that Navalny has fundamentally altered the Russian political dynamic. It also makes one wonder whether the media has its priorities right.

Radio interview

I was interviewed this morning on CBC Radio on the subject of the Russia-related scandal engulfing America. You can listen to it at the link here. I first appear at the 12.27 minute point, then there’s someone else, then me again.

—- If you have problems with the link I have given, go to

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent

then click on where it says ‘listen to full episode’.