Major mission creep with Sputnik

This initially started out as a sort of How to Amnesty International for Dummies, but in the course of my research on the topic I found a gem that I simply couldn’t ignore. So forgive me but this post is going to read something like a double feature that appears to go way off topic.

First let’s get the Amnesty story out of the way. If you follow Russia news on Twitter you may have heard that Amnesty International released a report about Russian bombing of civilians in Syria, and apparently the report also accused them of using cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has also reported the use of cluster munitions either by Russia or the Syrian government.

Naturally the Russian state run totally independent media went ape shit, as did the Russian Ministry of Defense.  Just check out this tweet of theirs:

This one has been making the rounds and frankly I like it a lot, if only because the veiled threat basically serves as a warning that they’re about to make shit up. But to get to the heart of the matter, one needs to read this quote from the Sputnik article:

“We have a question for Amnesty International: why did this organization keep silent and turn a blind eye to material, undeniable, real evidence of the use of cluster munitions by the Ukrainian Armed Forces against cities in eastern Ukraine?”

As is typical for the Russian government, the denial follows a typical pattern. Accuse anybody and everybody of deliberately lying to frame Russia. Claim no evidence was given. Claim that contrary evidence was given, even when it hasn’t been or it is highly suspect. And then…WHAT ABOUT?! 

In this case, the what about was directed at Ukraine of course. Strangely, the intrepid journalists at Sputnik didn’t bother to actually go to the Ukraine section of Amnesty’s website, a task I accomplished in roughly 15 seconds thanks to Google. Here is that link.  In the end notes one finds links to the actual detailed reports. As is clear from the summary and the report titles, Amnesty International certainly didn’t turn a blind eye to human rights violations on the part of the Ukrainian armed forces and volunteer units. Several times we see the term “both sides” being used. Of course naturally Kremlin supporters will, with all sincerity, insist that those crimes Amnesty attributed to the Ukrainian side are 100% genuine, while all those attributed to the “rebel side” are sinister lies cooked up by the international conspiracy against poor, persecuted Russia.

This is the point I’m trying to make about Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch- they actually do document human rights abuses pretty much anywhere. Here, take a look at their section on the United States.

“Ah yes,” the Moscow supporter exclaims. “The US has its own human rights abuses! There’s proof, from the West itself!”

Oh but wait, sir! When you’re done with that you can read this report on Russia!

LIES! All lies! This is nothing but information war waged by Washington against Russia! Who funds Amnesty International anyway?! It’s probably a CIA front!”

Yes, yes, brave dissident. Of course it is. Such is the ridiculously childish Kremlin mentality. And when it comes to the topic of civilian casualties, sure, nearly all governments engage in these double standards about collateral damage, human shields, and the slaughter of innocent civilians from the air. But when Russia does it is is ridiculously childish, black and white, and unlike the West there is no significant counterweight, no real criticism. All criticism is a sign of treason. George W. Bush era on steroids.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way it’s time for our second story. As I said it is not on the same topic, but the common thread is that Sputnik was the source. First a little background though.

You remember that idiotic story about Putin’s so-called “gunslinger gait,” the one that alleges his mode of walking was somehow influenced by his “KGB training?” I tore this one apart in the second half of my post Vladipocalypse. Mark Adomanis did one better and wrote an article for Russia! about it. I know a lot of Russia/Ukraine journalists and commentators, both in person and online, and pretty much every one of them found the story to be rather ridiculous. Oh but we were wrong. So wrong.

As it turns out, one of Sputnik’s aggressive, muckraking investigative journalists has apparently discovered that this was in fact a “CIA smear” against the glorious leader Putin. The headline reads: CIA Smoking gun in Latest Putin Slur. This promises to be intriguing! Excuse me while I put on some mood-enhancing music.

 

Alright that’s better. It’s called “Spy Music” and god dammit it delivers! Just leave that playing from now until the end of the article, just to keep your heart pounding till the bitter end.

Now before we go through the looking glass, it’s probably worth pointing out that several other people and myself would strongly disagree that this non-story was a “slur” against Putin. On the contrary, I argued from the start that it’s essentially pro-Putin propaganda that feeds into his undeserved macho tough guy image. If some credible evidence emerged to suggest that the so-called “study” of Putin’s gait was in fact sponsored and disseminated by a Kremlin PR firm, I would not have been surprised at all. Suffice to say, implying that Putin was such a highly trained KGB agent that he still retains some kind of Bond-like handgun training decades after the fact isn’t black propaganda. You’ll rarely hear Putin critics say things like, “Damn that Putin! He’s such an efficient killing machine because of his superior KGB agent training!”

Sputnik’s Finian Cunningham is having none of that though. He’s convinced this was a CIA plot to slander His Majesty. So what’s his smoking gun? Well if we assume he did his homework properly, it seems that the “smoking gun” is the fact that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty supposedly put out the story before some British publications. It’s not clear whether they were the first in the world to publish the story, but let’s leave that aside for the moment. What does this prove, exactly?

“The concerted way the British press ran with the tawdry story points to a politicized agenda – and in particular orchestration by the American Central Intelligence Agency.”

This is a typical tactic of conspiracy theorists. In reality there are several other, far more likely things this points to. I and many others have said for years that poor coverage of Russia (and many other countries for that matter) is largely caused by the cutthroat struggle for profits and the lack of experienced correspondents on the ground. Sensationalism sells, and Russia garners very little attention without it, unfortunately. Even with everything that has happened since 2014, most readers and viewers simply don’t care about Russia. When it comes to big, old school media outlets, they seem to have a formula- KGB stuff, nuclear weapons, war, and stories about prostitutes and strippers. That’s what they think gets the attention of their readers.

This isn’t even exclusive to coverage of Russia. These big dinosaurs and even some of the newer media outlets are notorious for being taken in by bogus stories about China and North Korea, for example. Strangely, however, you don’t see these Western crusaders for media fairness coming to the rescue of poor China. No, it looks like it’s up to Cracked.com to do that kind of fact checking.

That’s a topic for another article. Actually that was originally intended to be the main topic of this blog before the Kremlin and its media decided to go cuckoo bananas in the end of 2013. It really makes me wish I’d started this blog a lot earlier, but what’s done is done. What’s important now is tracking down the CIA role in this story.

So getting back to Cunningham’s theory, RFERL was the first to publish the story, and then the British media fell for it.

“Several other British newspapers, such as the Daily Express, Daily Star, The Mirror and Daily Telegraph, as well as the state-owned BBC, all ran similar headlines. Notably, too, all the reports were written in very similar style, sharing the same wording and “talking points.”

Why wouldn’t they be written in a similar style with the same talking points? This is not a major feature, and they’re all quoting the same source. Perhaps there was a press release that accompanied the paper, which would explain a lot. When you look around at routine stories from different outlets, particularly about the same event and quoting the same sources, you’re going to get a lot of similarity. Then there’s the whole matter of journalistic style. Individual outlets will often have their own style guides, but they’re all following a more or less similar pattern. Do you even journalism, bro?

Still, I want to get to that CIA link. Where is it?

“Now here is where it gets interesting. The paper was published in the BMJ on Monday, December 14. Within hours it was then made into a story and published on Tuesday by the US government-owned news outlet, Radio Free Europe (RFE). It is well documented that RFE has close ties with the CIA, and has served as a propaganda outlet since the heady days of the Cold War back in the late 1940s and 50s.”

He promised it would get interesting, but alas, it didn’t. First of all, The Daily Mail, just the kind of publication you’d expect to run with such a story, ran it on the same day as RFERL, at 10:55 GMT. Cunningham claims, with no substantiation, that RFERL publishes at midnight, Central European time, but again, none of this matters because his assertion about the CIA is far more important.

Note he says it is “well documented that RFE has close ties with the CIA.” Indeed, RFE was affiliated with the CIA. Key word: was. The CIA stopped funding RFE in 1972. That’s a bit late to be using the present perfect there, Mr. Cunningham. Basic research, folks. Indeed, RFERL is funded by the US government and as such one should be on the lookout for bias. That is a far cry from a CIA operation to spread black propaganda, however. In fact, all this is basically saying is at worst, RFERL is just like RT or Sputnik. But hold on, we’re getting to the best part. This would be a good time to find your favorite part of that spy music mix in the video above.

“In recent years, Western news media have shown a sporadic tendency to engage in negative stories about Putin. And the telling thing is that this negative Western media coverage shows a concerted response.
Newspapers and other news outlets tend to publish the same pejorative stories about Putin at the same time. That indicates a centrally manipulating source.”

Once again I’m forced to ask if this guy has any idea how news is made? The Gunslingergaitgate (See what I did there?) non-story was a perfect example of the type of sensationalist click-bait that publications like The Daily Mail and Daily Express are known to lap up. Curiously, he didn’t give us any examples from the American media. Did the CIA forget about its own home turf?

The author is also using another tactic here, whereby without even having proven his first example, he’s using it as proof that this happens all the time without providing other examples. We’ll look at more of that later.

“But what is revealing from the latest Putin “gunslinger” smear story is that the triggering media source was evidently and specifically the CIA-affiliated RFE outlet.”

Cunningham still failed to prove this point. We’re supposed to take his word about the publishing time of RFERL, which he claims to be midnight, Central European Time. We also have no idea if this study was announced via press release, which would explain why so many publications jumped on it when they did. Also note that yet again he has called RFE “CIA-affiliated” when it hasn’t been so since 1972.

Are you on the edge of your seat yet? Here it comes! Get ready for a tsunami of bullshit!
“In previous bouts of Western media slandering against Putin, such as his alleged millionaire daughter, or his alleged ordering of the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014 by Russian-backed rebels, it is plausible to speculate that there was covert media manipulation going on.
However, in this week’s media smear job carried out by British publications, it is clearly traceable that the disinformation came from the CIA operation RFE.”

Once again we see the typical tactic in action. He hasn’t proved his point and he’s already using it to make unsubstantiated claims about other, unrelated stories which incidentally didn’t come from the very not CIA-affiliated RFERL.

First of all the story about Putin’s daughter started with Reuters, not RFE. Reuters sticks by its story and the Kremlin has thus far failed to provide even a remotely convincing answer to its allegations. If they are in any way inaccurate, Putin has no one to blame but himself for making even the most basic details of his family a matter of state security. Would it really be such a risk to actually show Putin’s daughters, living in Russia?

Cunningham tries to hammer through an even bigger lie after that, however, when he speaks of the Western media slandering Putin with stories of his “alleged ordering of the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine…” Excuse me but what Western media publication ever claimed that Putin had ordered the plane to be shot down? What Western media publication even suggested that the civilian plane was shot down intentionally? The only side that has ever accused the other of intentionally shooting down a civilian plane is the Russian side, and maybe a handful of Ukrainian crackpots whom no one takes seriously.

So no, Mr. Cunningham, it isn’t “plausible to speculate” about covert media manipulation, especially when you can’t get your basic stories straight. And once again he refers to RFE as being affiliated with the CIA when it isn’t. Laziness or deliberate lying, take your pick.

He just gets better and better though:

“Nevertheless, what should be alarming to anyone upholding independent, critical journalism is the odious way that supposedly independent news media are played as political tools to sell a propaganda message.”

Says the guy writing for a state-owned media outlet whose own bosses openly claim there’s no such thing as objectivity and that they are fighting an information war. And what does he mean by propaganda message? If RT had published a story about what a badass Putin is with a gun, would it still be slander?
“If in this instance it is clear that British media are so pliable to serve as propaganda outlets to demonize Vladimir Putin what does that say about the credibility of all their other news and information?
What of their coverage on events in Ukraine, Syria, or any other major international development?”

See what I mean, the way they try to get an inch and then take a mile? He’s never even proved his initial point and he’s either deliberately lied or included false information (about RFE and the CIA), and now he wants us to use this to call into question all the coverage of the so-called “Western media.” Well how about this- RT, Sputnik, and other Russian state-owned media outlets have been busted numerous times deliberately misrepresenting sources or in some cases actually fabricating stories. I’ve yet to see any example of anyone being punished for these instances, unlike in the Western media where a failure to thoroughly fact check ended Dan Rather’s career. So that given the case, should we then just dismiss any and all coverage coming from outlets like RT? Brace yourselves…

No. You’re not hallucinating. I said no, as in “No, we should not immediately dismiss anything that comes out of RT offhand.” All claims must stand or fall on the merits of their evidence. No exceptions. Imagine you’re on trial for your life, in spite of the fact that you’re 100% innocent of the charges. Which standard of evidence would you prefer, mine as expressed above, or Mr. Cunningham’s?

I could end this here, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t let you see the author’s hilarious ass-kissing session with Putin.

“As already noted, the CIA-British media smear job about “gun-toting Putin” came out just as the Russian leader was holding a major international press conference. In recent months and especially over the conflict in Syria, Putin has shown himself to be probably the best world leader there is.”

Notice how he goes from suggesting that the CIA was involved via RFERL, to just flat out calling it a CIA-British media (again, why no American media?) “smear job?”  I’m also not sure what major press conference he was referring to; Putin’s annual press conference was held three days after the non-story broke, and people who actually pay attention to that press conference are the last people to take that Putin walk article seriously.

“Best world leader there is?” Are you shitting us? This is an impulsive dictator whose best defense is that he is completely ignorant of what is going on in his country (aka “Good Tsar, Bad Boyars”). According to his own propaganda machine, in 15 years Russia has failed to produce even one more man capable of properly leading Russia, and even according to his own supporters Russia cannot have democracy. That’s right- America with over twice the population of Russia and shit tons of firearms for everyone is capable of having regular, contested elections according to rules that have changed very little since the country came into being, but Russians cannot handle this minuscule freedom, even after over a decade of Putin’s brilliant leadership. Best leader indeed.

“Putin has proven himself to be a noble world leader – unlike mediocre Western politicians, who are not fit to tie his shoelaces.”

Okay seriously how do you write this and not feel like a prostitute? One thing I notice about Western media critics of Putin is that you’d be hard pressed to see them launch into such pathetic, groveling praise of Western leaders, from Cameron to Obama, or Poroshenko for that matter. Most of them have scathing criticism for their leaders, because you know, that’s kind of what we’re supposed to do. How do you launch into this kind of diatribe and then pretend that you’re somehow more objective, and imply that people should trust you over experienced journalists who don’t lavish fawning praise over political figures?

 

Anyway, maybe Western politicians need to gut their constitutions, destroy their electoral institutions, and then run their national economies into the ground. Then maybe they’d be fit to tie Putin’s shoelaces. On second thought, maybe Putin should tie their shoelaces, if only because he is closer.

journo

Someone needs to ship a dump truck full of these things to Sputnik.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Major mission creep with Sputnik

  1. Dan

    “Okay seriously how do you write this and not feel like a prostitute?”

    This is a bit harsh on prostitutes, surely? There are no doubt plenty of decent people in the world’s oldest profession who’d never lower themselves to become the propagandist for a petty dictator.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Yeah you’re right. Prostitute isn’t the right word. I just don’t understand people who pander to these leaders so slavishly, however. I mean by their logic, when I go on a “mainstream” media site, I should see tons of articles praising the wise leadership of Obama, Cameron, or Merkel. Yet I don’t see that. Even “liberal” sites like Salon or The Guardian are just as likely to have criticism of Obama rather than this praise and staunch defense of everything he does.

      Reply
      1. Asehpe

        Yes, it’s often still hard to see prostitutes as honest workers who are providing a service rather than as people who are ‘selling their hearts’ and lying for money. The latter is what Putinophiles do, not prostitutes…

  2. Asehpe

    “before the Kremlin and its media decided to go cuckoo bananas in the end of 2013”

    How good do you think the Russian media were before 2013? Is there some way to measure how much worse it has become? Was there a time when the Russian media were ‘relatively’ free and their reporting actually good?

    Every country has some sort of bias, even if only because living there and having direct contact with the people (who are mostly just people, not intrinsically better or worse than people are anywhere else) makes one feel like criticism in the foreign press is one-sided and should be countered in its oversimplifications and exaggerations. Of course, Russia now exaggerates beyond belief. But I am genuinely interested in the phases this went through — how things got gradually worse over time, and how this was achieved. (I remember long, long ago when the Russian NTV was the ‘last free TV station’ and how Putin beat it up till it complied, so now we only have relatively insignificant things like Dozhd TV. Was that the story everywhere? This topic could probably make an interesting book.)

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      There’s actually some concrete evidence of how 2014 signaled a change in the behavior of the media. This article, based on interviews with people in the business, gives some examples: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/08/07/nowhere-to-run-to-baby

      All lies, of course. It’s only a coincidence that what these people said happened syncs up with what we actually saw the media doing thereafter.

      Also from personal experience, I know plenty of people who work in Russian foreign language media who can attest to the changes. Sometimes it was something very up front and noticeable, like the destruction of RIA-Novosti English service and Moscow News. Other times it was the change in atmosphere at RT, which would eventually cause a lot of people to quit.

      Reply

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