Lucky me, I get to be a theater critic today! Today’s performance comes from Twitter and it was written by Mark “Won’t someone please think of the 90’s” Ames. The work of such a legendary figure needs no introduction, so let us get on with the show!
Muckraking journalist Ames informs us that “US gov’t-funded StopFake” is attacking the NYTimes’ “scoop.” There are two things to note here. The first is that StopFake is funded by a variety of different sources, but of course saying “US-government funded” sounds a lot better than funded by the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, the British Embassy in Ukraine, and several NGOs. The strange thing about Ames is that he doesn’t seem to be so skeptical about government-funded media outlets when they are Russian, as his numerous appearances on RT would suggest. For example, here he is on that network claiming that the US is run by a corrupt oligarchy. If you hear a wheezing sound in the background, that’s irony gasping for help as it bleeds to death off camera.
The second thing about this tweet is how Ames calls the NYT piece a scoop, as though he is impressed with it or at least believes in its veracity. That’s very interesting because Ames doesn’t seem to have much regard for the “mainstream media” when it reports on certain countries, such as Russia. It’s almost as if he’s got some kind of bias whereby he is perfectly happy to accept sources he’d otherwise dismiss if they say something that confirms his worldview.
The truth is that it’s not just StopFake attacking that story. The story was almost immediately debunked by a number of sources, which you can read about here. Even Russia’s state-owned TASS seems to be treating the story with extreme skepticism.
But wait! Maybe Ames has some kind of additional evidence to back up the story’s claims. Maybe he’ll debunk the debunked.
Well that solves the mystery then! We can’t trust StopFake’s refutation of the NYT because…Nazis? Did Ames get hired by the Russian Foreign Ministry?
Seriously though, this red herring is such an utter failure I struggled to decide where to begin. First of all, the story in question is in StopFake’s “context” section. These are typically reprinted from other sources. There’s even a disclaimer: “News in the section ‘Context’ are not fakes. We publish them in order to provide you with a deeper understanding of the techniques and methods used by the Russian government in its information war.”
The byline is Halya Coynash from Human Rights in Ukraine, a site that has often voiced criticism of the Ukrainian government’s policies, as well as far-right extremism in Ukraine. Somehow all of this got past the veteran gonzo journalist Ames.
More importantly, the article isn’t about Azov or neo-Nazis. It’s about a lawsuit involving a Ukrainian journalist who alleged that a documentary producer distorted their reporting to fit a certain narrative. The distortion about Azov isn’t even the most egregious example, but it happens to the be the first listed, which suggests that Ames just skimmed the article until he found something he didn’t like, reinterpreted it in a bizarre way, and then attributed this to StopFake in order to debunk a debunking of a story about Ukraine selling rocket engines to North Korea. Makes perfect sense.
Incidentally the deceptive editing in the Azov interview is relevant. Cutting off a key part of their stated ideology does two things for the viewer. The most obvious is that it makes them sound far more sinister than they actually are. More importantly, however, it highlights how the ideology of groups like Azov or Pravy Sektor are more or less identical or at least similar to that of various Russian “volunteer” units and their foreign allies. In fact they’re milder ideologically in comparison to the far-right “Rusich” unit, whose leader has been accused of war crimes. In case you’re wondering what became of that young man, whose unit was pulled out of the Donbas in mid-2015, he’s doing fine, training kids in paramilitary techniques back in Russia. If viewers knew the truth about far-right politics in this conflict, they’d understand that there’s no reason to associate far-right views with the Kyiv side. If anything, the “separatist” side may have more people of a far-right persuasion.
Nobody is arguing that Biletsky and his followers are poor misunderstood neo-Nazis, especially not StopFake. It’s a small part of a larger story about a filmmaker deliberately distorting footage so as to construct a narrative that is largely false. Incidentally, I can think of similar examples where quotes are distorted or taken out of context in order to fit a certain narrative about Russia. The perfect example is Putin’s 2005 quote about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is often used to suggest that Putin wishes for a return of the Soviet Union, which is refuted by this quote of Putin the following month:
“People in Russia say that those who do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union have no heart, and those that do regret it have no brain. We do not regret this, we simply state the fact and know that we need to look ahead, not backwards. We will not allow the past to drag us down and stop us from moving ahead. We understand where we should move. But we must act based on a clear understanding of what happened…”
Vladimir Putin is a man with horrible ideas and the same can be said for Azov (more accurately the National Corps, which is the political wing started by Biletsky). But let us criticize their actual ideas and not slay strawmen like the one the documentary maker set up via his creative editing.
In this act Ames seems to be deliberately inventing StopFake’s words to create a red herring which has nothing to do with the NYT story. The question is why. What conclusion is he bringing us to?
Here it is folks- the piece de resistance!
Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!
Bravo, Ames! A masterpiece if there ever was one. Let’s break down the genius of this performance.
- Attack StopFake for calling out an article that was debunked by several sources and had poor evidence to begin with.
- Go on a tangent about neo-Nazis that has nothing to do with anything.
- Conclude that the “fact-checking racket” is a cesspool.
I’d say the irony of a guy who wrote for The eXile calling fact-checking (or anything) a cesspool is lost on Mark, but remember that he already stabbed irony to death just before that guest appearance on RT earlier in this post.
Maybe it’s just burnout, but I’ve got to wonder if he’s even cognizant of how ridiculous he looks. This isn’t anti-establishment, it’s just edgy contrarian bullshit that happens to help another country’s establishment by default.
You know what? Never mind. Knowing Ames, he can just claim this was all “satire” and move on. It’s your fault for not getting the joke.