Tag Archives: bias

Slaughter those strawmen

While any satirical work is going to entail some hyperbole for comic effect, satire works best when it is at least rooted in truth. For example, if you read enough “realist” articles about Russia you will notice that they talk about negotiating with Russia while largely ignoring what Russia’s supposed to give up in return. Either that, or the proposed deal is weighted in Russia’s favor. Another common feature is the implication that America’s best interests are at home while Russia is allowed to find its national interests on its neighbors’ land or as far away as the Levant.

Satire doesn’t work if all your jokes are based on strawmen, or in other words, if they’re not true. Imagine I’m writing a satire aimed at mainstream American conservatives, for example, and I keep making references to them being stoners and always trying to enforce strict environmental regulations on everyone. This is totally ineffective because in general, American conservatives either don’t use recreational drugs or at least don’t advertise the fact that they do, and we all know how they hate environmental regulations of any kind. In short, satire works when it’s based on a kernel of truth.

With that out of the way, let’s look at an example of what not to do. This popped up in one of my news feeds and at first I thought it would be entertaining. Halfway through, however, it started to turn into a passive-aggressive attack on an army of poor, defenseless strawmen. The author is anonymous, but claims to have tried to work as a journalist in Russia without success. If you read the whole thing, I think it’s pretty clear that this happened because of the evil Western media conspiracy, which makes sure that only journalists who write “anti-Russian” work have careers.

Let’s unpack.

“On the bright side, while it is true that scores of journalists have been killed in Russia since the 1990s, foreign correspondents should have it slightly easier than local journalists, being allowed to work without the need to constantly put their life in danger, while posing as heroes fighting for liberty, truth, democracy, LGBT rights, Chechen independence, freedom, fair elections, and protesting against Russian propaganda.”

Here was the first red flag. The author correctly points out that yes, Russia is far less lethal for foreign correspondents (only one killed), but where are they getting this stuff about “posing as heroes” for all those things that follow it? Posing implies that you don’t actually believe in any of those things. Moreover, most of the Russia journalists I know don’t do this and aren’t interested in being seen as “heroes” for anything.

“I tried my hand at it once, many years ago, but I was very young, barely discovering my emerging skills at writing, and though I was very passionate about the cause and thought I knew a thing or two about what I was writing, I had not discovered the right formula to deliver the content I was expected to provide.”

Here it is, folks, that part where our anonymous hero was a visionary but the gatekeepers of the mainstream media couldn’t see their brilliance. Look, here’s a piece of advice. Maybe you did have a great writing style and unique insight or expertise on Russia, but then again maybe you didn’t, or maybe you were too “passionate about the cause”(what cause?), or whatever. When I say that my inbox isn’t swamped with invitations to conferences or job offers from major media outlets, I freely admit that on one hand it is due to politics, but on the other it is due to lack of academic credentials or in some cases experience. I realize that keeping my own style and point of view through most of my work is limiting, because it’s not necessarily what big outlets are looking for. I don’t imply that there’s some cabal of media guardians who don’t want me working for their outlets because they can’t handle the truth that I write. I accept limited prospects (which have been better than I could have imagined) as the price of remaining me.

I hope you’re ready for more passive aggression:

“I have come to realize however that, whatever the dangers might be, for many professional journalists from Europe or the US, spending one or two years in Russia may be a real life-time career investment: after some months spent there, you will deservedly become a respected and distinguished expert on all things Russian until your retirement.”

It’s interesting to me how these types always seem to assume that nobody can possibly have knowledge about Russia before moving there. I’m not talking about picking up a few books and skimming them as you prepare for your assignment. I’m talking about people actually studying Russian language, culture, and history in university, for example. I’m also not sure who these “distinguished experts” are. It sound more like a description of pundits rather than actual journalists.

“After all who goes to Russia voluntarily? There certainly must be some rewards if one is ready to sacrifice one or two years of their lives to live in a dirty, gray, squalid, corrupt and poor country surrounded by rude, aggressive and retrograde brutes.”

Again, a passive-aggressive strawman. These are your words, author, not theirs. The kind of complaints or jokes that many Russia correspondents make are the same as those made by ordinary Russians. In fact I’d say that most newcomers tend to be super idealistic and don’t get why Russians complain so much. To them, everything is magical and wonderful. You only really start to assimilate when you begin to hate the same things that Russians hate. They don’t like the mud and rain, the lack of sun, or the hell that is trying to accomplish any sort of transaction at Sberbank. None of these things are magical because they’re in Russia. They suck in your country and they suck here.

“Going to Russia and reporting from there will also provide you with the unique experience of joining the envied and exclusive club of the Moscow hack pack, where you will meet all these other eccentric and heroic individuals, some idealist reformers, some Oxford educated aristocrats, the inevitable New York Jew who feels tied to his Russian-speaking ancestors, and some mean spirited but good-at-heart intellectually restless and brave villains, who just like you, got stranded between Europe and Asia.”

Passive-aggression intensifies. For those who don’t know, the so-called Moscow Hack Pack, inasmuch as such a group formally exists, is nothing more than a Facebook group. Any member of the group can invite and authorize a new person, and many members are actually Russians as opposed to foreigners. In fact, many of the members aren’t even journalists but fixers, copyeditors, translators, etc. It’s not even remotely exclusive, my membership being strong evidence of this, and this cast of characters the author describes does not resemble anything like the parties I’ve been to. It’s clear that the author is describing these Western correspondents in a way that makes them unlikable, particularly with the “aristocrats” remark.

As for restless or eccentric well, that’s pretty much anyone who lives in Russia long term. And for the record, not all of us got “stranded” here. I’m here because however ridiculous and naive it might have been, I wanted to be here. It was my biggest goal from the end of high school until the day I left. But alas, I guess I don’t really love Russia on the deeper, molecular level that the author does. I don’t love it enough to conflate Russia and Russians with a particular government and its foreign policy. I don’t love it enough to pretend that Russia exists outside of a system based on antagonistic classes.

So the real slaughter of strawmen begins with a bullet-point list:

“You do not have to like Russia. What sane human being likes Russia anyway? At worst, it will only be a temporary stay, just enough for you to become more familiar with the realities of Russia, before your employer decides to post you somewhere else to prevent you from going native, that is to say, incapable of delivering objective reporting.”

From my experience, most of the Western correspondents I know like living in Russia. A number of them have worked in places that would make Russia look like paradise by comparison. It is rarely boring here, and no matter how bad things are you can always find some good in Russian society.

“It is good if you go to Russia with all your good old preconceived ideas: these are the ones that have been popular until now, and frankly, who are you, the newbie, to challenge the good old cliches anyway? After all, Russia is Russia is Russia. Read some of the masters and the classics in the genre of Russia “reporting”, like Edward Lucas and Masha Gessen and stick to their wisdom. They are professionals with a vast experience and you have a lot of things to learn from them. The readers know what to expect when they read about Russia, and you know what sort of people your readers are: idealist loners with a genuine wish to improve humanity and some weird, exotic interest in the dark and cursed corners of the planet, who are looking for the excitement they would otherwise find in a detective story; or your other type of readers, who are worried about the impending threat Russia poses to all of us naive fools who are too cowardly to recognize a threat when we see one.”

This one’s a bit long so I’ll break it down into two parts. First let’s tackle that thing about preconceived notions. The author is right to attack the practice of coming to Russia with preconceived ideas. For example, when I came to Russia my preconceived notion was that Putin was a patriot who was making his nation stronger, cleaning up corruption, and restoring Russian pride. I dismissed the Western media coverage of him because at the time I assumed they just hated him for all those aforementioned things he was doing. Luckily once I arrived it was blatantly obvious that this was all bullshit. Putin and his cronies were comfortably in bed with the West, which happily accepted their ill-gotten fortunes in Western banks and real estate markets, and which also invested billions into Russia. Good thing I gave up that preconceived notion, right?

Now for the second part, notice the only Russia journalists that are ever named are Ed Lucas and Masha Gessen. These are two members of the Trinity of Low-Hanging Fruit for Kremlin Apologists, the third member being Paul Goble. The implication is that other Western correspondents write like them. Uh no, they do not, in fact. If you can’t tell the difference, you’re not paying attention. And while Gessen is indeed hysterical at times, she did spent much of her life in Russia and speaks Russian. That ought to count for something.

And get a load of that description of the audience. Hey, guess what- that’s you, dear reader! You’re an idealistic loner who wants to save the world. I say let’s look at the audience for pro-Putin English-language media and see who has more loners and weirdos. Take a look at the comments section on any RT article some time.

I hope I’m not the only one that doesn’t find this incredibly pretentious beyond belief. The Western correspondents don’t really get it. The media outlets don’t get it. The audiences don’t get it. No, only this guy, who admits he failed at journalism in Russia, truly gets it. Sure.

“You don’t need to do your own investigative work. After all, you are in a foreign and dangerous country, and you’d better take care of yourself. Just read the newspapers, watch TV and talk to opposition politicians, particularly those who got so little votes that they failed to get into Parliament. In other countries, their voices would be “marginal”, that it is to say, insignificant. In Russia, their voices are “marginalized”, so well worth reporting.”

This one is really insulting. Just to give you an example why, here’s Simon Ostrovsky sitting in Moscow and reading some newspapers:


Ostrovsky’s work is extreme, but I can rattle off numerous “hack packers” who have reported from front lines in Ukraine, often on both sides. Many have literally put their lives in danger when reporting on this war. In fact, so have I. That’s why I get a bit pissed when I see some self-acknowledged failed journalist implying that Western Russia correspondents just hang out in Moscow, surf the net, and meet with opposition candidates.

Next a word on those opposition candidates. When someone asks why such candidates get that amount of attention it is an indicator that they know little about Russian politics. When you cover politics, you’re supposed to cover controversy and conflict. That’s why the Tea Party got so much attention, for example. The problem in Russian politics is that the official opposition parties don’t really oppose the government or more accurately, the president, on any issue of significance. Anyone who does gets seriously “marginalized.” Just ask Ilya Ponomarev.

The fact is that such opposition parties are marginalized. Their candidates and supporters have suffered everything from arrests to assaults, and in the case of Nemtsov- assassination. They are typically banned from the ballot in most regions. They often get no media coverage save for the occasional story about how they’re secret agents of the United States.

As for the official opposition parties, as I wrote in an update to my last post, this is basically a trap. If you report on the bombastic antics of the LDPR or the Stalin rehabilitation of the KPRF, as many reporters do from time to time, the pro-Kremlin people can just claim those are opposition parties that have nothing to do with Putin. You’re “smearing” Russia by implying that they have real power. If you don’t report on them, you’re focusing on marginal opposition figures. You just can’t win.

“You don’t need to study Russian (a smattering of Russian will be more than enough). Opposition politicians generally speak English very well, especially these self-exiled martyrs who have fled Russia for abroad. They might live outside of Russia now, but nobody has so much insider information about the inner diabolical workings of the Kremlin and so much insight into the bully psychopathic soul of Vladimir Putin. In fact, opposition politicians will court you, because they are careful to avoid Russian state propaganda media. Limited knowledge of Russian will also keep your exposure to Russian propaganda under check. Putin’s propaganda won’t fool you.”

Most of the correspondents I know either have a working professional knowledge of Russian or they are fluent in it (sometimes because it was their first language). But maybe that doesn’t matter. They don’t really know Russian like this author. There’s actually some kind of deeper Russian, so powerful that when you use it in conversation you actually make a connection with the other speaker’s magical Russian soul.

Oh and about interviewing opposition politicians, again I know plenty of people who interview die-hard regime supporters like Evgeny Fedorov (Marc Bennetts does so in his book I’m Going to Ruin Their Lives) or Night Wolves motorcycle club leader Aleksandr “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov. Western journalists have interviewed cossacks, volunteers in the Donbas, Sergei Markov, and of course Putin himself, on occasion.

As a final note, I find that a working knowledge of Russian is what protects you from “Putin’s propaganda.”

“Always remind the reader about Putin’s (preferably accompanied by the adjective “sinister”) KGB past. If you have some space left, do not fail to point out that in reality Putin was just a low level unglamorous employee posted to an insignificant provincial town in Eastern Germany, which does not make him anyway less sinister however. Putin is a nonentity, Putin is a nobody, but he is a dangerous tyrant who wants world domination too.”

The author nearly had a point here until the screwed it all up. Yes, there was and in some cases still is an irritating habit of always pointing out Putin’s KGB past any time he is mentioned. There are times when it is relevant, but this is way overused.

However, one reason it is overused is for the reason the author provides, namely that he was basically a desk jockey. Contrary to his implication, most journalists don’t point this out, and it has bolstered Putin’s mystique.

It’s probably worth pointing out that while Putin’s position was indeed not glamorous, he was stationed in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, and not some “insignificant provincial town in Eastern Germany.” Gee, the global Western media conspiracy really missed out on a great Russia expert here!

“Whatever action Russia takes, it is aggressive. For example Russia aggressively annexed Crimea (actually not a single shot was fired) and aggressively allowed for an aggressive referendum to take place in March 2014. Or like President Poroshenko put it last week, “the aggressor Russia, (with whom Ukraine is fighting a war) aggressively closes its markets, which amounts to economic aggression”. Not only the aggressor is aggressively attacking your country, it is also, aggressively, refusing to trade with your country!”

Whatever action? No, just the acts of aggression. The author excuses the annexation of the Crimea (which began with a military operation to secure the Crimean parliament building) because it was carried out without a shot fired. Well guess what- the Anschluss, the annexation of the Sudetenland, and the annexation of what was left of Czechoslovakia were all accomplished without a shot fired. Incidentally, the author is wrong about no shots being fired, and the takeover was far from non-violent; in some cases it was lethal. Incidentally one correspondent of mine had his camera stolen from him by Russian military personnel in the Crimea. Serves him right for not staying in Moscow and interviewing opposition figures!

Back to the question of aggression, seizing other countries’ land by military force, even if they rarely resort to using deadly force, is still aggression, period. Does anyone have the slightest belief that the author would approve of the US doing the same thing?

But you know what’s really funny? The author seems to be leaving out something. There’s a remark about Ukraine fighting a war with Russia, but no word as to who started it. For all we know, maybe Ukraine invaded and occupied Kursk or Rostov-na-Donu. Why mention aggression and then not bring up the Donbas? Instead the author mentions Poroshenko’s reference to a trade war. What the author doesn’t seem to know is that Russia had already pulled this trick…prior to Maidan.

Russia used trade and “sanctions” as a method of dissuading Yanukovych from signing the EU Association Agreement.  Here’s a relevant passage from that article:

“Glazyev, speaking on the sidelines of the discussion, said the exact opposite was true: “Ukrainian authorities make a huge mistake if they think that the Russian reaction will become neutral in a few years from now. This will not happen.”

Instead, he said, signing the agreement would make the default of Ukraine inevitable and Moscow would not offer any helping hand. “Russia is the main creditor of Ukraine. Only with customs union with Russia can Ukraine balance its trade,” he said. Russia has already slapped import restrictions on certain Ukrainian products and Glazyev did not rule out further sanctions if the agreement was signed.

The Kremlin aide added that the political and social cost of EU integration could also be high, and allowed for the possibility of separatist movements springing up in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine. He suggested that if Ukraine signed the agreement, Russia would consider the bilateral treaty that delineates the countries’ borders to be void.”

Hmmm…Glazyev. That name sounds familiar. Glazyev…borders void…separatist movements…OH RIGHT! THIS THING! Isn’t it weird how the thing they threatened Ukraine with in 2013 actually happened almost exactly as they said it would?

So no, Western journalists don’t call everything Russia does “aggression.” Only the aggressive stuff. And on that note, Russian state media loves to brag about Russia’s military and nuclear capabilities. When you do that, people might see you as aggressive, particularly if you’ve invaded your neighbor. On to the next point.

“No explanation is too far-fetched. 9/11 truthers, it is widely known, are a bunch of lunatic conspiracy theorists. Russia actually had its own little 9/11 two years earlier, in September 1999, when bombs were detonated in Moscow and other cities killing almost 300 people. It has become common place in the media universal consensus on Russia that these bombs were actually planted in the apartments by FSB agents who were trying to create a pretext for the next invasion of Chechnya. The tragic accident is often remembered because it brought about the rise of Putin, who had left his post as FSB director, where he served for eight months, and had just been nominated Prime Minister by Eltsin.”

While the truth will probably never be known until after the regime’s archives are opened, I would ask the author to look at the concrete evidence provided for both conspiracies before declaring them to be equal. And another thing to consider is that the idea that this was a false-flag was not cooked up in the Western media but rather in Russia. Lastly, if this was a false-flag, it was a crime of the Yeltsin administration and not Putin, who could not have organized such a thing at the time. Putin no doubt became aware of what happened somewhere down the road and thus this incident is probably one of many reasons why he’s afraid to leave power.

“Putin is a macho. What could possibly be worse than being a man, and not just any man, but a man who pretends to pose as a manly man? The age of men is over. Men should not be allowed to be men, otherwise they become machos. Putin may have been seen shirtless a couple of times or two. Angela Merkel has been spotted naked. Somehow the press does not show the pictures of the German Chancellor naked every time there is a passing reference to her. It must be because she does not look so good naked.”

What’s a pro-Kremlin article without a little bit of creepiness. The thing isn’t that Putin is macho, it’s that he wants to be seen as such so badly. He’s constantly appearing in photo ops riding motorcycles, shooting guns, running around shirtless. He’s not simply “spotted” this way. Putin’s media machine promoted this macho image so they’re responsible for the reactions. And no, I don’t see references to shirtless Putin any time there’s a passing reference to him. I think I’ll just take the author’s word on the Merkel thing.

“If somebody online is expressing a view which might be interpreted as a slight display of sympathy towards Russia, you can assume pretty much without doubt that you are dealing with a paid Kremlin troll. There are actually millions of them and they are extremely infectious, their sole task is to transform the naive online users into Putin worshiping zombies, so the best way to deal with them is to ignore their inherently worthless arguments while naming-and-shaming them. If your article or your book receive a bad review, do not worry at all, it is the work of professional online trolls.”

I’ve often written about how ridiculously overused the term “Kremlin troll” is. For one thing, people need to be aware that these pro-Putin citizens of theirs have been around for a long time, some before the advent of the St. Petersburg troll factories and some even before the founding of RT. Instead of pretending this phenomenon is some kind of artificial foreign invasion, they should look at the problems in their society which alienate people so much that they’re willing to fantasize about some foreign government being their potential savior.

Now that being said, don’t worry, author. If you told me that nobody pays you to write, I’d believe it 100%.

“Russia is on the brink of economic collapse, but it has billions of dollars to invest in propaganda operations to subvert the Western liberal order.”

More like hundreds of million now, but that’s beside the point. Venezuela is on the brink of collapse and yet they still fund Telesur. As for that Western liberal order, well, it is subverting itself with its internal contradictions.

“If somebody is killed in Russia, the first thing to do is to blame the Kremlin for the assassination. After all, centuries of history have proven that Russia is a genocidal country.”

Russia has a higher homicide rate than the US, so that would be a lot of murderers pinned on the Kremlin, don’t you think? And yeah, when outspoken Kremlin opponents are gunned down in a country where getting firearms is no easy task, people are going to look toward the Kremlin. The last political assassination included as one of its suspects a man connected to one of Russia’s most powerful men, Ramzan Kadyrov. The killing was carried out within sight of the Kremlin walls. Yeah that strongly suggests some state involvement, doesn’t it?

“Putin wants to invade the Baltics. Nobody understands what Putin wants, nobody can understand him because he is illogical and insane. Indeed Putin has no reason why and Russia has shown no intention to invade the Baltics but this is exactly reason why Putin will do it. How can you be insane if you don’t do insane things?”

This is the one argument I’d totally agree with, but even here it fails because the link used as an example goes to the Atlantic Council think tank and I don’t see many Russia correspondents taking this threat seriously. I strongly suspect that the author had Ed Lucas and possibly Anne Applebaum in mind when they wrote this whole piece, but I don’t understand why they didn’t just call those people out. Instead they go after this exclusive “hack pack,” which as far as I know, never included either of those authors.

This seems to be a common tactic of some Putin fanboys, as I’ve often seen it before in Op-Edges on RT. Basically you smear Western correspondents in general, then pick some low hanging fruit, many of whom are more pundits than journalists these days, and the reader thinks that the rest of those Western journalists are the same. Guess what- they’re not. Actually read what they write some time.

But in case the author hasn’t insulted your intelligence enough, they end with a cover of Der Spiegel magazine that says, in German, “Stop Putin Now!” This is supposed to show how hysterical and biased the Western media is. Yet looking at the cover and the date, it looks as though it is a photo collage of victims from the MH17 incident. These people were killed with Russian weapons, by Russian-backed forces, in a war started by Russia. But the author looks at this and smirks at how irrational the Western media supposedly is toward Putin.

Can’t imagine why those Western outlets never hired this individual. Must be because they all secretly hate Russia. If the author’s still up for the job I’m sure RT will take them. They’ll hire anyone.

Children in charge

Let’s start with a little story time. A long time ago, when I was probably about seven, I had a little spat with some of the neighbor kids that shared the same after-school babysitter. At some point I unleashed my nuclear option at the time- I flipped them the bird. The two kids immediately said that they’d tell my mother that I’d used the rude gesture when she arrived to pick me up. Yeah, pathetic little snitches, I know. Of course this was a pretty serious threat in those days so I had to come up with a plan.

The first part of the plan was a little hazy, but I think I remember trying to spot my mom’s approaching car and get into it in the driveway, hopefully avoiding the two tattle-tales. As I remember this part of the plan worked, but for some reason she actually had to go visit the babysitter’s apartment, and that’s when I needed a Plan B. With the tactical thinking of a seven-year-old Sun Tzu, I came up with a brilliant gambit. I informed my mother that these two kids, who she would probably see in the apartment, were planning to lie to her about me, claiming that I gave them the middle finger. Jimmy, you magnificent bastard!

Of course this was met with skepticism.

“Why would they tell me you flipped them off if you didn’t do that?”

“We were arguing, and then they said they’d do that,” a basic paraphrase of my defense.

“Okay but why would they say you did that?”

So. After Action Review time. Clearly the preemptive denial was a bad idea, because in the mind of an adult it’s suspicious when their child says that other children are planning to falsely accuse them of some very specific offense. A better plan probably would have been to keep my mouth shut until my mother finished whatever business she had with the babysitter. For one, the children might have given up on their snitching plans, given their typically short attention spans. But had they told, I could have just feigned exasperation at their claims, as though I had no idea what this so-called “middle finger gesture” meant. It could have failed, but it had a much better shot than my proactive course of action.

The lesson learned? If you’ve done something bad, and you know someone’s about to expose it, don’t call attention to it and deny it in advance. This only invites suspicion. Of course I learned that at the age of seven, but what happens when you have a country whose leadership displays the mental age of a seven year old? Well you get this.

If you follow Russia on Twitter, you’ve no doubt heard about Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov’s recent warnings about a pre-planned “information attack” that was going to be launched by the “Anglo-Saxon” media (these guys?) against Russia and in particular, president Putin. Since then there has been some speculation as to exactly what Peskov was referring to, but today we see one possible example. Reuters, which has already broken a major story about corruption and Putin’s daughters, recently published another story that deals with corruption and the president’s family.

Typically the response of any Kremlin official to any revelation of their corrupt dealings is to blame America, specifically the State Department. Investigations such as that published by Navalny about the dirty deeds of prosecutor Chaika and his son are alleged to have been “ordered from abroad,” which of course means America. Naturally nobody ever comes forward to try an debunk any of these charges, nor do they ever present evidence that people like Navalny are working in conjunction with the US State Department or intelligence services, something that should be a piece of cake for the FSB. This time, however, the game plan had changed. Peskov and some other Russian “experts” were openly predicting an “information attack” against president Putin, as though everyone in Russia doesn’t already know that there’s corruption surrounding the president. In other words: “The West is going to say a bunch of mean things about our Glorious Leader and corruption, but don’t believe him because it’s just an information attack.” It didn’t work for seven-year-old me, and it hasn’t worked for the Kremlin either.

I could just end it here, but there are a couple more examples in that TASS article which demonstrate what I mean when I say that the country is in the hands of people with the minds of children. In that article, the author makes the case for their US government-ordered “information attack” by drawing a link between the Center for Public Integrity and one of its funders, the MacArthur Foundation. In the minds of pro-Kremlin “experts,” all you need to do is find a link between one thing, another thing, and then yet another thing that has some connection to the US State Department and then- BINGO! The whole investigation is nothing but a government-sponsored information attack!

In adult land, however, it’s worth taking a look at what this mysterious Center for Public Integrity organization actually is. The Center for Public Integrity was founded by ex 60 Minutes producer Charles Lewis, and its stated mission is “to reveal abuses of power, corruption and dereliction of duty by powerful public and private institutions in order to cause them to operate with honesty, integrity, accountability and to put the public interest first.” Hmmm…I don’t see anything about “fuck Russia” in there. But let’s dig deeper, starting with their home page. As of the time I was writing this, I didn’t notice any stories about Russia on the entire front page.

What are most of the stories about? The vast majority are about problems with American politics, and they certainly live up to their claims of being non-partisan. In fact, the CPI achieved fame early on for exposing the Lincoln bedroom scandal under the Clinton administration, and Bush’s insider trading in connection with Harken energy. How did I know about that, you ask? I’ve known it for years, ever since I watched this documentary that heavily features commentary from Charles Lewis and material from the CPI:


Yeah, there’s a real neocon film for you! That’s exactly the sort of thing the State Department would be associated with. Of course I’m just kidding. It’s obvious that this 2003 documentary, which is extremely critical of Bush’s Iraq invasion among many other US government policies, must have been nothing but an early information attack constructed by Vladimir Putin’s fledgling propaganda machine. They were just jealous because of America’s successful conquest and pacification of Iraq!

Obviously I jest, but that does seem to be the way many of these pro-Kremlin people think. Because their media system is largely a state-controlled top-down structure that sees information war and propaganda as its mission, a priori deciding that objective reality doesn’t exist, they assume, or I should say project the same idea onto the rest of the world’s media. They actually believe that journalists all around the world deliberately make up negative stories about Russia, when “negative” includes anything that contradicts the Kremlin’s narrative, and of course their editors are happy to publish those phony stories without question. Why not? This is how it works at First Channel; it must be how it works everywhere! It has to be, because otherwise feelings of guilt and uneasiness might arise. Best to believe everyone’s doing the same thing.

Let’s get one thing straight. There is bias in foreign media when it comes to Russia. If you pitch two stories to an editor, one about the vibrant new life one sees in Moscow’s new pedestrian areas and the other about some random Russian politician’s empty threats about nuking some country, we all know which one is more likely to get published. Add to this a very bizarre obsession with prostitution and mail order brides, particularly in the British press. But on the other hand, if you come to an editor and say you have a story about Russian soldiers butchering children in Donetsk, and when they ask you about your source and you reply that it’s just “some guy” but that the story should be published because it makes Russia look bad and we’re in an information war, you’ve got until the time that editor realizes you’re not joking before getting sacked. You’re done. Forever. In the Russian state media, however, this just doesn’t happen. If your story turns out to be bogus, you just shift the burden of proof to the viewers and say they must show that a certain little boy wasn’t crucified in Slovyansk.

It’s child-like thinking, and it’s just another reason why people really need not panic about this Kremlin propaganda offensive. It’s own internal contradictions essentially guarantee its demise, especially considering how much money is being spent on such an ineffective project. Any dissent within the system will almost inevitably be seen as disloyalty, and as is the case everywhere else in the power vertical, flattery and sycophancy get rewarded. The best they can do is confuse and spread cynicism, and if they’ve had any success at all it is largely due to the failure of Western governments. What sort of leaders let themselves be bested by children anyway?

Then again, maybe we got Peskov wrong all along. Maybe there is a bullshit story about Putin coming out of the West. Perhaps he was referring to this story that claims Putin is now dating Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng. But hey, if it’s true I say good for him. Deng really sticks up for her man:


When I originally began this blog back in 2013, I had this idea that it would be a balanced source of information about Russia(as if anyone actually wanted that).  What I envisioned was something which would take on the literally-Russophobic work of various scaremongers on one side, and the pro-Kremlin romanticizers on the other. As I stated in my FAQ, I don’t really have a stake in taking either of the major “sides” when it comes to Russia vs. the West.  Now, I have to admit, things have changed. Out of dozens of stories I see every week, most of them involve wrongdoing on the Russian side. Whereas Kremlin-financed media used to be soft on Putin, they’ve abandoned that in favor of literally making shit up every chance they get. Whereas I once considered myself an ideological opponent of Euromaidan, the Kremlin’s cure turned out to be so much worse than the disease itself. The exaggerated, inaccurate claims about Russia in the Western press, the conspiratorial propaganda claims occasionally made by pro-Ukrainian sources- both have been obscured by a veritable tsunami of bullshit coming out of Russia.

I do not believe in balance for balance’s sake. Not all opinions are equal and neither are all narratives.  Hence if it begins to appear that I’m taking a side in this conflict, the reader should direct their ire at Russia and its media. I’m not going to spend my time digging through dozens of articles looking for some blatant, genuine anti-Russian propaganda to debunk while Russia is burying the world in bullshit claim after bullshit claim.  Russian lying has reached such a height that many people, including myself, are afraid even to play devil’s advocate out of fears that our words will too closely match those of pro-Kremlin propagandists, thus destroying whatever credibility we might have had. I personally feel reluctant to discuss the matter of far right wing extremism in Ukraine for fear that my words will be twisted and I’ll be accused to labeling the Ukrainian government a “fascist junta.”

Indeed, I disagreed with the claims about Russian involvement in the Donbass region before, but that was only because I still held on to the apparently long-outdated notion that Putin was a realist. I wasn’t aware he’d lost his fucking mind.  That and people on the ground whom I trusted lied to me, repackaging Russian propaganda so as to make it seem as though it were coming from a Ukrainian-based source. Sometimes I wonder if those same people I was talking to were making notes of my comments, adapting their propaganda accordingly.  I’m very tolerant of differences of opinion, but if I catch you lying to me, all bets are off. I open the books and start checking everything you said.

I think that too is why I’m honestly more inclined to take on Russian propaganda instead of continuing any critique of Maidan and the current Ukrainian government. Realistically, even if there were a positive movement for change in Ukraine, that movement can’t possibly do anything while part of Ukraine is occupied.  Moreover, it’s the Russian-sponsored war in Ukraine which fuels Ukraine’s nationalists.

In the past I tried to balance out criticism of Russia with criticism of Ukraine’s government as well, but those days are gone. For one thing, I’d need to go out of my way to find verified stories about Ukraine. Thank the Russian press and its PR organs for that.  If I want to find a Russian propaganda piece to debunk, I can just hop on over to VKontakte, RT, or Voice of Russia. No problem. Upset? Send your complaints to Mr. Kiselyev.

Recently aired on First Channel(Russian TV): Alternate MH17 theory number 5? Or is it 6 now?

Recently aired on First Channel(Russian TV): Alternate MH17 theory number 5? Or is it 6 now?

A Scary Place to Live: The Media and Acceptable Racism (Part 1 of 2)

I have to admit that in light of the “coverage” of the Sochi Olympics it certainly does seem like the “information war” on Russia is real. I feel like I have been compelled, for the sake of truth alone, to take up arms as an unpaid mercenary on the Russian side, much like the reluctant hero in a Mel Gibson film who is forced to go to war after a loved one is killed.

"I just want to tend to my farm and raise a family. I want no part in your information war."

“I just want to tend to my farm and raise a family. I want no part in your information war.”

Realistically speaking, when however, when it comes to the “information war” one should remember the old maxim- do not attribute to malice that which can be ascribed to incompetence. Well it’s incompetence and a bit of racism, but I’ll get to that later. Because the subject of this entry makes an excellent case study of a phenomenon I have been casually observing in recent years, I’ve decided to break it into two separate parts; one shall focus on the content of the article in question, the second will focus on the mindset of the author and the way such writing is received in the West. But first…


Josh sat upstairs on his Macbook, casually browsing his Facebook newsfeed for new updates. Then he saw it. Nestled in between an Upworthy story which promised that a video of a little girl addressing a school board would make him cry, and an Instagram photo of someone’s lunch, was a link to an article posted on Salon.com. The title was “10 disturbing facts about Russia that will change the way you watch the Olympics.” Josh, of course, had never paid much attention to the Olympics, but the cryptic title piqued his curiosity. He clicked, and began to read. What unfolded was a laundry list of horrors that would surely chill the blood of Poe or Lovecraft.  Sweat beaded on his forehead as he neared the final point of the article.  When it was over he sat there, staring at glowing monitor, his skin clammy and pale, or at least paler than usual. Something didn’t seem right. Had this really changed the way he thought about watching the Olympics, if he never considered watching them in the first place?  

Then it hit him- The whole family, mom, dad, his little sister…They were all downstairs watching the Winter Olympics! He had to act. Josh leaped from his office chair with such force as to upend it. No time could be spared to pick it up. He half dashed, half tumbled down the stairs and suddenly appeared in the entrance to the family’s living room. There he saw them, his own family bathed in the glow of the TV which was now showing highlights of Olympic ice hockey, to his horror. The innocent, confused look in their eyes told him they hadn’t the slightest inkling of the truth, the awful, horrible truth. He struggled to catch his breath, and with his last strength he made his move.

‘Nooooooooooooo!” He screamed as he hurled himself toward the arm of the sofa on which rested the TV remote. He landed short but managed to snatch it before his father could react. Lying on the floor in a heap, he managed to twist his torso toward the TV and hit the channel up button.  Suddenly the living room was filled with the innocuous banter of some reality show. His family watched him for a moment in shock, but Josh couldn’t care less as a wave of relief coursed throughout his body like a shot of heroin. His panicked expression turned to a cautious smile.  

Perhaps he would tell them about the horrors he learned. Perhaps they would then stop staring at him and finally understand. Then again, better that they not know. Better that they never know. All that mattered was that in that moment at least, they were not watching the Sochi games unaware. That night Josh learned that humans are indeed better off being blissfully ignorant of true fear.

As you might have guessed, the subject of this series is an article entitled “10 disturbing facts about Russia that will change the way you watch the Olympics” by Alex Kane of Alternet.  I’m posting Salon.com’s version of the link because I fucking hate Alternet, and I’m sure the reader will be appreciative because whereas the original Alternet version is divided into three pages, Salon managed to fit it all on one page.  Let me briefly lay out my case against Alternet before I mop the floor with this digitized shit that’s being passed off as “journalism.”

Alternet is a “progressive” news site which generally traffics in listicles which tend to have titles like, “8 Insane Proposals by Republican State legislators” or “7 Crazy Things Said in Public by Conservatives.” Sure, I made those titles up based on past experience with the site, but just to make sure I wasn’t being unfair I skimmed the site while writing this entry and quickly found  “10 Right-Wing Psychopaths’ Vitriol this Week—That Somehow Made Pat Robertson Look Reasonable.” Or take a look at this link, for example. In case you’d rather not I’ll summarize. It’s fucking 2014 and liberals still think Sarah Palin is newsworthy. As for the politics of the site, I’d call them mostly mainstream Democratic party line with thin coat of faux-radical paint. While I realize that arbitrarily-numbered listicles are an inevitable trend for internet news sites, I find Alternet’s particularly infuriating, as it purports to be a serious news site.  I used to make jokes about Cracked.com’s lists, but after a while I accepted the fact that most of their content consists of light-hearted pop culture banter. If you’re writing about plot holes in superhero movies, the listicle format makes sense. If you’re supposedly delivering hard-hitting journalism on world politics, it’s simply lazy. And speaking of laziness, I should point out that the author of this entry’s offending article is the editor of Alternet’s “world” section. I also want to point out that as is often the case, I’m not going to go through this article point by point; I’m only going to highlight the most problematic parts.

Things go wrong even before the article begins. First we get this photo:


It was the only photo of Vladimir Putin they could find! Honest! He’s very camera shy!

For fuck’s sake, at least try to appear as though you’re not ridiculously biased. Then under the main headline we find this:

From environmental destruction to a brutal crackdown on dissent, Putin’s Russia can be a scary place to live

Pay close attention to the word “scary.” That’s going to be real important.  The first question which came to my mind in this case was how Kane would know that Putin’s Russia can be a scary place to live.  I’ve been living here for nearly eight years as I write this, and while there are things about the state of the country which cause me worry, I can’t say that I’ve ever been “scared.” The things I worry about would be relatively the same whether I lived in the US or some other country.  I searched in vain to see if Kane had ever spent any significant amount of time in Russia or even visited the country at all.  Once again, keep the line about Russia being a “scary” place to live.  Let’s move on now.

The world’s eyes are certainly on Russia, as hundreds of athletes from around the world travel there to compete in sports ranging from freestyle skiing to ice hockey to figure skating. But instead of acknowledging Russia’s achievements, the Sochi games have sparked a deluge of negative press aimed at Putin’s regime. (The U.S. is only somewhat better on gay rights and other issues than Russia. As Ian Ayres and William Eskridge wrote in the Washington Post, eight U.S. states have provisions similar to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law.) From virulently anti-gay laws and corruption to crackdowns on dissent, Putin’s Russia is a dark place for many of its citizens. Here are 10 of the worst things to come out of Russia recently.

This paragraph is a bit strange because it admits that a wave of negative press has hit Russia, but rather than question as to whether this is fair or anything like the kind of press which has surrounded other Olympic venues in the past, it simply joins in the chorus of hate by presenting “10 of the worst things to come out of Russia recently.”  I find this to be almost surreal when you note a wave of negative press about a particular country, and then instead of questioning or attempting to explain it, you proceed to tell them the “worst” things about that country, all based entirely on other people’s work.  At least some of the authors of the negative press occasionally mentioned positive things about Russia, and a few actually balanced their bad pieces with a few good ones. But this is just insane. I imagine someone in school saying, “People have been picking on that nerdy kid a lot lately…Here are the 10 worst things about that kid.”

Might it be a good idea to ask if this is a normal thing to do when a sports venue is held somewhere? When the EUFA championship was held in Poland, did journalists decide to find 10 horrible things about Poland so they could “inform” readers? When it was announced that Rio de Janeiro would host the summer games, did journalists immediately draw up a top ten list? To be sure, no major event like this has been without surrounding controversy, but these stories in the past have tended to be closely connected with the games, much like the stories about corruption and waste in transforming Sochi into the Olympic venue. There were some controversies concerning the way South Africa prepared for the 2010 World Cup, yet I doubt you would find any “progressive” journalists eager to deliver readers the 10 worst things about South Africa. Do I need to suggest what would happen if a white, American journalist had written such an article and added the line that South Africa “can be a scary place to live?”

Perhaps even more bizarrely he acknowledges the fact that the US is not far ahead of Russia when it comes to gay rights. He’s actually right, and I will provide details on this later. I have to wonder, however, how he would feel if some journalists from say Sweden or the Netherlands decided to highlight some of the facts he cited or those I will cite, and then based on his labeled the entire United States as homophobic and a “scary place to live.”  I wonder how he would feel if they did this solely because the US happened to be hosting some kind of sporting event at the time.

1. Gay Propaganda Law

Russia’s brutal targeting of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population has attracted the lion’s share of press coverage and activist initiatives around the world related to the Olympics.

Why yes, it has attracted a lot of press coverage around the world, but what does it have to do with the Olympics? You know what, never mind, that’s a minor point.  I take issue with the phrase “Russia’s brutal targeting” of its LGBT community.  Brutal? Is the author, who supposedly specializes in Middle Eastern topics, not aware of how many countries not only ban homosexuality but punish it with death? Many of those countries, as more honest or at least responsible journalists have pointed out, happen to have close relations to the US and other Western nations. The law is idiotic, unnecessary, ridiculous, poorly written, backward and perhaps dangerously ambiguous, but “brutal” it is not.  Kane’s thesaurus is clearly defective.

The first anti-gay law passed in the Russian legislature last year and was signed by Putin on June 30.

You know, when the first anti-gay law in the history of the Russian Federation was just passed in the middle of last year, maybe your missing something here.

The bill bans “propaganda” about “non-traditional” sexual relations around children. It is written so broadly that it effectively bars any positive discussion of gay rights or any action labeled as gay around children. The legislation imposes fines of up to $156 for an individual and $31,000 for media organizations, and could also lead to the arrests of LGBT people.

Everything about this is essentially true, save for a couple things.  The law can just as easily lead to the arrest of straight people as well. Also as the author himself seems to have admitted, the actual text of the law is very similar to American state regulations regarding sex education in schools.  These regulations ban “advocacy of homosexuality.” When Russian politicians have been accused of “targeting” LGBT people with the recent law, they have repeatedly claimed they are against “gay propaganda.” Something tells me that those who oppose “advocacy of homosexuality” in the US would probably resort to a similar defense.

The law also applies to foreigners. If non-Russians are seen as spreading pro-gay messages, they could be fined and detained for up to 14 days and then expelled from the country. On July 22, the first foreigners were taken into custody for violating the bill. Four Dutch citizens were arrested for filming a documentary and interviewing Russian youth on gay rights.

Holy shit! Laws apply to foreigners? Seriously this is just plain dishonest and totally indicative of the kind of vitriol against Russia that has long since gone beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism. The law itself is worthy of criticism but he tries to punch it up by making it seem as though there is something extra sinister in the fact that it applies to foreigners. When you go to a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. In this case the injustice of the law is irrelevant.

As Jeff Sharlet wrote in a GQ magazine cover story this month, the bill is a way of bolstering Putin’s populist credentials. The Putin-backed initiative is as much about gays as it is about “the unstable price of oil and Putin’s eroding popular support…The less prosperity Putin can deliver, the more he speaks of holy Russian empire, language to which the Russian Orthodox Church thrills,” wrote Sharlet.

At least here he quotes a real journalist. What Sharlet wrote is very true, but would you like to know another thing which bolsters Putin’s populist credentials? When lazy journalists write sensationalist articles about Russia, often laden with ridiculous errors, thus creating the impression that there is an “information war” against the country. The ordinary Russian citizen who watched the 2012 summer games or the 2010 winter games would struggle to recall the Russian press bombarding them with the horrors of the UK and Canada, respectively.  This is why in the wake of ill-informed criticism from the West, it seems that many Russians who used to march in the streets against Putin are now joining up for the information war, either openly or passively supporting the Kremlin.  That’s what tends to happen when you enthusiastically attack an entire nation for some of its problems. In fact I would argue that it’s even worse in the case of Russia, because of the lack of normal liberal democratic rights. In most liberal democracies the actual capability of an ordinary citizen to influence politics is already slight, but in Russia it’s practically non-existent. As much as Alternet writers attack the Tea Party movement, they managed to elect a number of their candidates, many of whom attempted to carry out their idiotic promises which on one occasion nearly led the country into default.  In Russia no such influence on politics exists, so bashing Russia for the government’s laws is almost like bashing people simply for being Russian in the first place. What’s that called, when you paint entire nationalities with one brush and see them only as a collective rather than as individual human beings?  There is a word for that, right?

2. Russian Adoption Law

On July 3, Putin signed into law a bill barring gay couples from adopting Russian-born children.

Here it might be worth noting that the original adoption ban strictly targeted American citizens, both gay and straight. As horrendous as the law was, this was a response to the ridiculous Magnitsky Act, which was passed shortly prior to the ban on American adoptions. Of course by passing that act, Russia promptly pissed away any moral high ground it had against the Magnitsky Act, but there is something worth remembering in all this. Ever since Obama was elected he promised to improve relations with Russia. Again he promised, right to Dmitri Medvedev’s face, that he could be more flexible after the 2012 election.  Yet throughout Obama’s administration, not only has no serious attempt been made to improve relations, but rather on several occasions the US seems to have deliberately provoked and antagonized Russia, leading to this wave of populism which began in late 2012. All this benefits Putin, of course, as it allows him to pose as a strong leader standing up to the West. One wonders if this is exactly the kind of “flexibility” Obama actually had in mind.  People tend to forget that Russia is a major source of investment for the United States, and Russian businessmen also invest or buy property in the United States.  If the US government sees no better alternative to Putin, and it’s pretty clear that they really don’t, then they’d be willing to put up with some embarrassment on the world stage in return for a Russia that is stable enough for profitable investment. This would certainly not be the first time.

3. Foreign Agents Law

In 2012, a law was passed targeting non-governmental organizations that receive money from abroad. It forces NGOs in Russia working on issues ranging from LGBT rights to corruption to register as “foreign agents” with the government. Since its passage, Russian authorities have investigated thousands of nonprofits suspected of being “foreign agents.” Some organizations have suffered hefty fines. A few groups that could not withstand the fines were forced to shut down over the law.

Russia’s foreign agent law is actually not significantly different from the United States’ law for NGOs. Click this link and scroll down to “The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).”

4. Anti-Gay Violence

The anti-gay laws have contributed to an environment in Russia where being gay is seen as a crime. The legislation has institutionalized homophobia, and LGBT activists say the bills are encouraging violence against gays. In September 2013, the Guardian reported that activists told the newspaper, “the legislation has emboldened rightwing groups who use social media to ‘ambush’ gay people, luring them to meetings and then humiliating them on camera—sometimes pouring urine on them.” Gay teenagers have been particularly targeted.

I really wish he hadn’t decided to split his items regarding LGBT rights. This is why I fucking hate listicles so much. It used to be that you’d have a “top”, as in “top ten” list which would count down to the item which is supposed to be the best or worst of something.  That these lists don’t go from best to worst is somewhat understandable, but at the very least he could have kept it thematically cohesive by grouping related items together. Well what the fuck do I know? I’m not a journalist.

Anyway, hate crimes are a serious issue. Another serious issue, however, is the American news media exaggerating crime rates, something that is well documented and commonly experienced as most Americans you ask will swear that crime has been going up despite the fact that it has been declining since the 90’s.  I’m not saying this to downplay the reports of hate crimes in Russia, but rather to suggest that it’s quite possible that the rates of anti-LGBT hate crimes haven’t significantly risen above whatever the normal rate was.  A few particularly shocking hate crimes, such as the torture and sexual abuse of gay teens on video, do not necessarily constitute a massive increase in anti-gay hate crimes.  When I first arrived to live in Russia in 2006, one man told me that some years ago he had been brutally beaten on the street by multiple attackers because he was perceived to be gay(he wasn’t). The provocative fashion accessory was an earring. In recent years in Moscow, one sees plenty of young men dressed in fashions which conservative-minded people might consider effeminate or “queer.”  The area around Pushkin Square in the center still remains a hangout for rather open lesbians(I apologize but I never learned the story behind the Pushkin Square/lesbian connection).  My point is not that Russia is as safe for LGBT people as it could or should be, but rather that one shitty law and a handful of highly publicized hate crimes shouldn’t lead one to the conclusion that gays in Russia have been driven entirely underground so as to avoid the legions of skinheads which patrol the streets at night.

Since this is the last point he makes about LGBT issues in Russia, I will so-to-speak conclude this section with two points.  The first is that Kane missed what could have been a great opportunity to highlight all the press hysteria about they gay rights issue in Russia and then show how the United States has a long way to go. For example, take a look at the issue of anti-LGBT hate crimes reported in the US. The article, which was from late 2012, asserts that anti-LGBT hate crimes have not significantly dropped. This is important because unlike Russia, the US is in a far better position to keep track of this data.  Kane could have highlighted the hypocrisy of many Russia critics, and used Russia as an example of what happens when right wing populism gains traction.  Instead he joined in the finger pointing. Why? Because it was easy, that’s why.

I want to make a second point on this topic, if only because I have some anecdotal evidence that even some Russian gay people are highly offended by this negative press, even when it is supposedly for their sake. The Western media is contributing to a narrative that Russia’s right-wing happily embraces- that is the idea that gays and lesbians aren’t really Russians. They are not a part of Russian society and they have far more in common with the Western Europeans or Americans.  When America and Western Europe hypocritically present themselves as the defenders of LGBT rights in Russia, it allows LGBT Russians to be demonized as some kind of fifth column. That’s precisely what Russia’s extreme rightists, many of whom are not fans of Putin and who might have taken part in the opposition rallies of 2011-12, would like to see. Just as the Western press objectively supports racism, xenophobia, and fascism in Ukraine because they are too lazy to investigate readily obvious facts, so do they often indirectly lend moral support to Russia’s far-right.

5. Environmental Destruction

The Sochi Olympics are no anomaly: Russia’s general environmental record is nothing to praise.Oil and gas development in the Arctic have threatened indigenous people and contaminated rivers. Russia’s air is thoroughly polluted, much of it due to factories.

I’m only including the last paragraph of this point because I’m not going to dispute the other problems he lists and more importantly, it is this paragraph which contains more shining examples of profound ignorance and laziness.  Russia’s environmental record is nothing to praise? I’m sorry did anyone ever suggest that it was? This is particularly disturbing when it comes from an American publication, America being the country where oil and mining companies have managed to convince large swaths of people that “gub’mint regulation” is bad for the economy, and perpetual deregulation, if not the destruction of the EPA, will somehow lead to a better-protected natural environment.  You can see the most recent results of this line of thought in West Virginia.

The last line is the major indicator of both ignorance and laziness. Yes, parts of Russia have very polluted air. I haven’t taken measurements but I’m sure Moscow’s air is far from pristine, though it may not look as smoggy as L.A., Phoenix, or Beijing.  That being said, Russia happens to be the largest country on earth, with huge tracts of either sparsely populated or even virtually undeveloped land. Can you see then why writing “Russia’s air is thoroughly polluted” due to “factories” is problematic?

6. Corruption

Wow this intrepid reporter sure scooped the competition on this story! Seriously I’m not disputing anything about corruption in Russia, but one thing worth mentioning is that today’s corruption in Russia pales in comparison to what existed in the 1990’s, and this article is supposed to be the ten worst things about “Putin’s Russia.”  Of course Team Russia fanatics and lazy Western journalists and academics seem to have a special unwritten agreement to always sever the deeds of Yeltsin and Putin.

7. Targeting Journalists

Russia is no haven for the press. Since Vladimir Putin assumed power in 2000, dozens of journalists have lost their lives on the job. Many were slain by contract killers, and the Russian police and judiciary have done a poor job at catching the culprits. Since 1992, at least 56 journalists have been killed.

Let us begin with dishonesty before incompetence. This point refers to the “targeting” of journalists. As many journalists tend to have an inflated sense of unwarranted self-importance, they tend to believe that any time a journalist is killed we should all be indignant.  Realistically speaking, journalists are often people who willingly go into dangerous places, sometimes with little knowledge or training on how to cope with the dangers they might face. To paraphrase the Joker in The Dark Knight- The press isn’t terribly concerned when a truck full of soldiers, often poor youth who joined up due to a lack of viable alternatives, is blown to bits by an IED in Afghanistan.  Should there be an embedded reporter with those soldiers it’s a different story.  Look I realize that journalists to a very important job, namely dutifully repeating the official statements of politicians and spokespeople without question so as to keep us “informed.” But let’s try not to lose perspective. The Western press all but ignored a major war which claimed the lives of five, possibly six million Africans in the Congo, but we’re supposed to get indignant over “at least 56” journalists killed under various circumstances in Russia?  

Kane is being ridiculously dishonest because he first claims that since Putin took power in 2000, “dozens” of journalists have been killed, clearly trying to draw a link between their deaths and the Kremlin. The closest he gets is mentioning that the courts and police have done a bad job at catching the culprits, but this doesn’t mean that the culprits were hired by the Kremlin. Russian police have long been bad at numerous other activities, such as not taking bribes and not engaging in criminal behavior.

Another point worth noting is that he says dozens died since Putin took power in 2000, yet he then goes back to 1992 to give us the figure of 56 dead journalists. Let’s think for a second. Was there anything that happened since 1992 which might have led to the death of a lot of journalists, if not many more ordinary people, who of course are not as important as the foot soldiers of the fourth estate?  Was there not a massive battle in the streets of Moscow in October of 1993, when the Western press sanitized the Constitutional crisis on behalf of that great “democrat” Boris Yeltsin? Wasn’t there this war that dragged on from 1993-1996, and then which flared up again from 1999-2000 and which punctuated by numerous terrorist attacks of all sorts?  Might these not account for a number of the deaths? In fact, if you look at the statistics, many of the deaths are listed simply as “homicide”, meaning they could have been ordinary murders. Even the contract killings can most likely be attributed to Russia’s well-known problems with out of control organized crime in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Of course corruption plays a role in many of these killings, and that corruption intersects with the state. But still, it’s a far cry from the state deliberately targeting journalists.

Beyond the killings is the general harsh climate for the press in the country. Opposition bloggers have been arrested. Journalists fear gathering information from organizations the government dislikes. Visas have been denied to journalists critical of Putin.

Note that he refers to “bloggers” without giving names. I figure he must be referring to Navalny but that’s another story entirely.  He then mentions how journalists “fear” without naming any journalists, publications, or organizations which they supposedly wish to avoid.  As for visas being denied to journalists, they are also denied to tourists, businessmen, and even English teachers. The Russian visa system is ridiculously bureaucratic and requirements tend to vary depending on which consulate you go to.  I think the journalist he is alluding to is Luke Harding, but Luke Harding was not merely “critical” of Putin and he did indeed violate the terms of either his visa or press pass.

9. Abusing Migrants

The abuse of migrant workers is part of a larger crackdown. In July 2013, authorities in Moscow started detaining people who looked non-Slavic. Thousands of people were taken into custody. Some were expelled, while others were held in prisons under inhumane conditions.

First off I don’t know what he is referring to when he mentions July 2013. Russian police have always hassled non-Slavic looking migrants for bribes. What Kane doesn’t tell you, in fact what he can’t tell you because he doesn’t know anything about Russia or Russian politics, is that the impetus for this crackdown was a nationalist-instigated pogrom against migrants which broke out in the Moscow suburb of Biriulevo last October.

What many Western reporters fail to explain, due either to ignorance, dishonesty, or a combination of the two, is that while Putin has in the past courted Russian nationalism for his own purposes, he is also a realist who knows that Russia has to compete in a globalized world but more importantly, Russia is a multi-ethnic nation which must maintain internal integrity to do so. There has been for quite some time a large right-wing opposition element, which is clearly visible in many photographs from the anti-Putin demonstrations of 2011-12, assuming you know what to look for.  In their minds, Putin is a traitor because he still allows non-Russian oligarchs to profit from the country’s natural resources, and because he supposedly isn’t doing anything to control the spread of migrants from Central Asia or the Caucasus. In fact, many Russian nationalists resent the money that is spent in Chechnya and actually wish that Chechnya were no longer a part of the country. Putin disagrees, hence their opposition.

10. Russia’s War on Terror

Before I take this point apart, please note that there is another country which has been waging a “War on Terror” since 2001 which has had far more negative impact on the world, if only because of its global scale.

For over a decade, Russia has been engaged in its own war on terror against separatists in Chechnya and Dagestan, two mostly Muslim federal subdivisions of the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, separatists in Chechnya renewed their struggle for independence. Violent attacks on Russia have become an inseparable part of that struggle. The roots of their grievances lie in attempts by Russia to incorporate the republics, which are ethnically and religiously distinct from much of the country.

For over a decade, Russia has been engaged in its own war on terror against separatists in Chechnya and Dagestan, two mostly Muslim federal subdivisions of the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, separatists in Chechnya renewed their struggle for independence. Violent attacks on Russia have become an inseparable part of that struggle. The roots of their grievances lie in attempts by Russia to incorporate the republics, which are ethnically and religiously distinct from much of the country.

Kane could not have bungled the “roots of the struggle” more.  For one thing, these “republics” were already incorporated into the Russian Federation by default. Second, the case of Dagestan involved Wahhabist extremists from Chechnya, out of control of the separatists in Grozny, expanding their war into a neighboring region.  Much of the violence in the region stems not only due to religious differences between Russians and Chechens, but Chechens and other Muslim, Caucasian groups, as well as the post-Soviet return of traditional, clan-based politics.

Kane also used the term “over a decade” when in fact it has literally been just over two decades. The difference suggests that he is completely ignoring that significant part of the conflict which began under Yeltsin, who bears a great deal of responsibility in the matter. Moreover the idea that the conflict under Putin and Medvedev has actually lasted a decade is dishonest. Russian troops are no longer active in Chechnya, and the main terrorist element remains the so-called Caucasian Emirate, a Wahhabist group which is not only very small, but also at odds with the exiled “government” of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, i.e. the original separatist movement.

The large-scale wars are over for now, but Dagestan and other Northern Caucasus regions still have active Islamist groups operating, which have carried out attacks on Russia. In response, Russian authorities continue to deploy a heavy hand, especially in the run-up to Sochi.

While there has always been much to criticize about Russian anti-terrorism policies, this point seems to imply that Russia should be held responsible for the actions of terrorists, an idea which would be an anathema to most of the American mainstream press were it applied to something such as the World Trade Center attacks.  While a few voices in the media have courageously pointed out that Al Qaeda terrorists are more motivated by bad US foreign policies as opposed to merely “hating our freedom,” I doubt any of them would put the responsibility for the attacks squarely on the shoulders of America itself.

So there you have it, more laziness, ignorance, and even stylistic failures. Rather than trying to give us any insight on these matters, he merely makes assertions and then links us to other people’s work.  There is something far darker about this, however, and I intend to explore that in the second part of this series. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, if you’d like a break from the bad news and bias, here’s an article which actually attempts to try a radical new approach on Russian journalism known as objectivity.