Life has been full of surprises lately. Yesterday I found out I was published in The Guardian. Today I learned that I am The Guardian. In fact, I am the “Western mass media.” Yeah I know, weird huh? It’s true though, at least according to the prestigious Russian news site Ridus.ru (yes, that Ridus.ru), who just today ran a story featuring yours truly bearing the headline “British Guardian accuses the Western mass media of idiocy.”
Yes, we have yet another case of one source being labeled as the “X mass media,” in this case British, but this time I happen to be the source. Well I guess it wouldn’t be the first time Russian media over-hyped some lone blogger.
In the article there are no direct quotes from the article in question. Nor are there any links to the article. Instead it says:
“Джим Ковпак в статье «Сталин, водка и ядерное оружие: как не надо писать о России» перечислил мифы, используя которые иностранные журналисты оказываются в положении полных идиотов.”
“Jim Kovpak in the article “Stalin, vodka, and nuclear weapons: How not to write about Russia,” lists myths whose use makes foreign journalists look like total idiots.”
It then goes on to say that I wrote that Western media coverage gives the impression that Russia is full of prostitutes.
Before I tackle this I should point out that The Guardian piece is heavily edited to be more concise. The original article appeared on Russia!.
Once one sees both articles it ought to be clear that it isn’t necessarily aimed at journalists. It certainly isn’t aimed at Western Russia correspondents, many of whom I know personally and who in many cases have far more background knowledge and/or experience in Russia than the expat Putin fanboys out there. Many of those types flat out tell you they “knew nothing about Russia” prior to chasing down some girl they met on the internet or whatever.
Of course these cliches certainly can apply to people who are by definition journalists, but these types are most likely those who for whatever reason find themselves writing about Russia without actually being in the country or even visiting it. They may work for some news aggregator site, they could be some kind of travel journalist, or someone just reporting on pop culture phenomena throughout the world. I did specifically refer to expat writers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean journalists. They could be bloggers or even novelists. Also in the long version I occasionally point out that some of these cliches apply to Ukraine as well. And lastly, nowhere in either article did I “accuse the Western media of idiocy.”
It wouldn’t seem like a big deal if I didn’t just get a call earlier in the evening from the state-run NTV about an interview regarding this article. Even if I had the time and were so inclined, I’m afraid they’d be disappointed if the reason for their interest was the wholly inaccurate Ridus article.
But there’s a good lesson to be found in the unusual level of interest that the Russian media paid to this. First of all, the Guardian piece had been up for roughly a day, maybe a day and a half before I was told about the Ridus story. I got the NTV notification about two hours later. Is it not curious how the Russian media constantly paints the “mainstream Western media” as nothing more than a propaganda machine bent on waging information war on Russia, and yet the second they find something in that “mainstream media” they think they can use, the jump all over it? Also, The Guardian is pretty “mainstream,” and it is particularly hated by the Kremlin media and Putin fanboys the world over. To be fair, that no doubt is largely due to the publication’s association with intrepid super spy Luke Harding. Still, The Guardian is definitely “Western” media, so it’s a little odd that Western media would accuse Western media of idiocy, isn’t it?
The other funny aspect of this, perhaps the funniest of all, is that this long-time Kremlin media tactic of referring to “Western/American/foreign mass media” in order to back up some claim, whether it is a matter of gross distortion as with my article or misrepresenting an author’s expertise or credentials in other cases, is essentially a tacit admission that the Russian media isn’t trustworthy. See every time they do this the message is always the same, “Look! A Western says this! If they say that, it must be true!” It’s as if they know they must somehow attach themselves to Western sources because otherwise they have no credibility, or at least Western sources seem more credible to their audience, even if they too generally believe the ideas behind the story and buy into the “information war” conspiracy.
Western media doesn’t appear to operate by these rules. They don’t need to constantly throw up some Russian source and say, “Look! Even the Russians themselves support us and say what we’re writing is true!” Okay, sometimes it seems like Paul Goble is doing that, but he’s hardly “MSM.” Otherwise there is some concept of journalistic ethics and its expected that a reporter will go out and speak to sources and make every effort to confirm their stories while also striving for objectivity. If they interview opposition sources, for example, it’s because there’s a political or human interest story here and you’re supposed to let the sources speak for themselves. The idea isn’t to say “Look, even the Russians themselves admit that Putin sucks! Obama is right!”
Does the system of journalism always work that way? Of course not. For one thing journalism is, for most major Western outlets, a business. Thanks to the internet it has become a rather cutthroat one at that. But as I’ve said plenty of times in the past- just because one system has flaws doesn’t mean we should adopt another one that is worse. And if the Kremlin owned media wants to protest the implication that it is worse and not, as they sometimes claim, equal in terms of credibility, maybe they should stop and ask why they have to constantly invoke the “Western media” as backup for their claims.
UPDATE: They apparently really love that piece because a more accurate translation of the article was published on RT’s Russian site. So yeah, now I’v finally been published on RT. Unfortunately it would seem that RT failed to recognize my Guardianship. Have no doubt in your minds, I am The Guardian, and I shall rule this world that is rightly mine!