Tag Archives: Mark Ames

A Play in Three (Stupid) Acts

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!

Act I

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.

Or not…

Act II

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?

Act III

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.

  1. Attack StopFake for calling out an article that was debunked by several sources and had poor evidence to begin with.
  2. Go on a tangent about neo-Nazis that has nothing to do with anything.
  3. 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.

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The Apple doesn’t fall far from the baum

Anne Applebaum is a favorite target of Team Russia. She’s the type of person you’ll be compared to if you challenge them. Savvy Russia watchers trying to maintain objectivity might present a spectrum where you have Applebaum on one side and say, Stephen Cohen or Mark Ames on the other. The other day, however, I was just doing a little double-checking and I decided to look into the political ideology of Applebaum’s husband, Radoslaw Sikorski.

Sikorski came up in an article I read by concern troll Putin apologist Mark “I talk about the 90’s more than Buzzfeed” Ames. Long-time Ames readers will be relieved to know that it bears the standard mark of every Ames article, i.e. a long description about the horrors of 90’s Russia which, judging by his writing in The eXile,  were pretty enjoyable for him and his expat buddies. Ames refers to Sikorski as a “neocon,” quite possibly because to Putin apologists, anyone who opposes them is a “neo-liberal neocon.” But knowing what I know about Applebaum, and knowing a little about Polish politics, I had a hunch about Sikorski that I had to look into.

Every article is a winner!

Every article is a winner!

As it turns out, Sikorski is indeed a member of a right-wing party called The Civic Platform. Looking at the party’s ideology, a number of points jump out. It is clearly socially conservative, opposed to LGBT rights, women’s rights, stem cell research, separation of church and state, and a number of other typical conservative bugbear issues. So basically Ames was right. What’s the big deal?

Well it doesn’t take much familiarity with Russian politics to understand that virtually every point of the Civic Platform’s ideology, save for their free-market dogma, would be heartily embraced in Putin’s Russia. Even in spite of Russia’s higher tolerance for state involvement in the economy, Russia has a flat tax, which is one of Civic Platform’s planks. Outside of the realm of economics, Civic Platform would fit very well into Russian politics with its insistence on imposing religion and religious ideas via the state, disdain for equal rights, and unhealthy fixation on gays.

Now here’s another interesting similarity. Conservatives tend to talk tough about dealing with sexual predators while looking the other way in real life. In Russia, the most recent example of this was the polygamous marriage of a middle-aged man to a 17-year-old girl in Chechnya, which was followed by vigorous apologetics and endorsements by some of Russia’s top officials. In the case of Mr. Sikorski and his wife Applebaum, the same phenomenon can be seen at work. In spite of Civic Platform’s advocacy of chemical castration for pedophiles, both Sikorski and Applebaum were known for their rigid defense of child-rapist Roman Polanski. Again, conservatives the world over love to engage in wish fulfillment fantasies about what they’d supposedly to do to pedophiles and child abusers, but when it actually happens they either try to quietly sweep it under the rug or justify it somehow.

So in the end what we see is that much like in Ukraine, many of Russia’s opponents share the same backward, reactionary mentality of the Kremlin’s political system. As such, both sides are sitting in glass houses. One thing that many Ukraine supporters have consistently failed to understand when I point out my concern over the far right in that country is that for me, there is no significant difference between the backward thugs of Svoboda or Praviy Sektor and Russia’s “Anti-Maidan” or Eurasianist movements. They all have the same backward, anti-scientific, ruling-class serving ideology just with different symbols and myths. The results for society are the same. Put more colloquially- Same shit, different wrapper.

One could say that Applebaum and her ilk fit the same maxim. Her pro-Kremlin opponents will point out that she is in favor of neo-liberal economics, yet as I have pointed out plenty of times, Russia has achieved neo-liberal results if not worse in spite of non-neo-liberal policies. More over, the success of both economic policies relies on promoting anti-critical thinking, reactionary ideology that distracts from class interests and directs people toward scapegoats. The ultimate result is that society suffers and the rich elite wins.

I think we would do the world a service if we openly admitted that all these right-wing propagandists and political figures, regardless of their faction or flag, are in fact a plague on humanity and largely responsible for the conflict going on in Eastern Europe today. They are the one’s who decry sober analysis and demand that all spectators belong to a camp, giving up logic and critical thinking as a condition of membership.