On Russia there is no journalism

This is Andrew Roth’s latest piece on Navalny. It is full of the usual sheer fictions which one struggles not to construe as sheer lying. Either way it is far from journalism. On Russia, and especially on Russia, liberal journalists abandon any attempt at all to follow the normal rules of journalism. For example checking sources, not repeating as ‘true’ facts or details which are contested and which they cannot establish, and so on. On Russia they just write a particular brand of made up stories. As usual, corrective comments:

He has lost a lot of weight, plus he has a strong cough and a temperature of 38.1C,” Olga Mikhailova, the lawyer, said on the Echo of Moscow radio station. “This man is seriously ill. It’s a complete outrage that the IK-2 [prison] has driven him to this condition.

If Navalny is indeed seriously ill then one reason for this will be that he is (as the article informs us) on hunger strike. In most countries of the world making yourself ill by not eating is not usually considered an acceptable way to get out of prison. The article does not consider the extent to which Navalny is contributing to his own situation

Continue reading “On Russia there is no journalism”

Seeing it all backwards (On Russia)

This is an article in the Guardian by the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent. It is about “Russian aggression”. The noted sociologist Professor Furedi wrote a piece some time ago in which he said that after looking at the output of Britain’s political-media class he thought that they really believed this line about “Russian aggression”. That is – they believe their own propaganda. I basically agree with him but I think the only way to explain this self-delusion is that it is underpinned by an attitude that they fundamentally don’t care. They don’t care for anyone outside of their bubble; that is, for example, Russians. They certainly also don’t care about ‘truth’ in the sense of telling the truth; which necessarily means objective investigation. They are content to recirculate their own myths and to redefine the truth-test as “is it consistent with our view of the world” rather than “is it consistent with reality”.

The article describes a sinister Russian troop build up near Ukraine. It implies that Russia is either about to attack Ukraine or is using might to threaten Ukraine. As always the narrative falls apart when it is looked at by anyone who is not a believer. Consider:

The European Union has pledged its “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s government amid concerns of a military escalation in the east of the country or a possible new offensive against the Nato ally after recent Russian troop movements.

“New offensive”. Of course there has never been a Russian “offensive” against Ukraine. Russian forces protected Crimea as it re-joined Russia. (The 80% referendum vote has been repeatedly confirmed by major Western polling organisations). There probably was some degree of Russian military support for the rebels in Donbass; support limited to defending Russian-speakers against an onslaught by the nationalist brigades and army of Kiev. But not an “offensive” against Kiev.

Online researchers have identified troops being transferred to Ukraine’s borders from western and central Russia, including artillery from as far away as Siberia.

Really, you have to laugh. “Online researchers”. (Not ‘Bellingcat’ by any chance?) – This makes it all sound like real cloak and dagger stuff – the cold war. But we don’t need these mysterious and wonderous “online researchers”. Head over to Yandex (main news portal/aggregator in Russia) and the front page has plenty of images and videos of armour on the move. But “online researchers have identified” does spice up the story doesn’t it Mr Roth?

On Monday, Ryabkov hinted at what Moscow’s aims may be, saying that the United States should apply greater effort to enforce the Minsk agreements, a 2015 roadmap out of the conflict that many in Kyiv believe is disadvantageous and was forced to sign during a Russian-backed offensive.

This is a very interesting paragraph as Roth indicates that in UK media-political-intelligence circles they are shamelessly trying to slide away from Minsk 2 – the agreements sponsored by France and Germany to broker a solution to the conflict – by offering a degree of autonomy to the Eastern regions of Ukraine.

The rest of the noxious article discusses various conspiracy theories about Russia’s intentions; putting pressure on Ukraine; “projecting power” to “put the Biden administration on notice”? The explanation offered by Russia – that the troop movements are in connection with Russia’s self-defence is neither reported nor considered by Mr Roth. (We do have “The Russian government has denied it is planning a military attack but has not denied the troop movements” – which already twists what they have said). Yet this is far more likely than Russia is risking a confrontation purely for the sake of “projecting power” to Mr Biden. Only in the deluded imaginations of Mr Roth and others of this view does Russia behave like a demented and aggressive monkey projecting power for the sake of it. Frank Furedi’s analysis (linked above) is much more sober – he assesses Russia as a defensive power and a rational actor.

The actual reason for Russian troop build-up is almost certainly because they believe (either by assessing the situation or due to hard intelligence) that certain forces in Kiev may take advantage of the change of administration in Washington to force a conflict with Russia, with a view to dragging America into it. If forces in Kiev could drag Russia into a conflict by, say, restarting the Donbass war and putting the rebels under very significant pressure, or by creating some kind of border incident with Crimea then Biden might well feel he had to get involved; after all he has made a big point of being “tough on Russia”. The purpose of the build-up in this scenario is both to discourage adventurism and to be ready if it happens.

Why is the liberal media suppressing the Chinese lab theory for the origin of Sars-Cov-2?

A likely candidate for the origin for Sars-Cov-2 is the Level 4 Bio secure lab in Wuhan where scientists were conducting research into Coronaviruses from bats from several hundred Km away and where a previous research project had involved a gain-of-function experiment – (manipulating a virus to make it more infectious to humans for valid but controversial research purposes).

A second theory is that it could have jumped from bats to humans almost certainly via an intermediary animal. (Bats are so far genetically removed from humans that an intermediary animal is much more likely than direct transfer). Wuhan animal market has been canvassed as a likely source though there is some evidence which seems to suggest that it was not the epicentre of the epidemic. The supposed intermediary animal has yet to be identified credibly though there was an organised effort in China to point to pangolins (but this is not accepted as established).

Attentive and scientifically literate readers will note that I am discussing theories. No one knows – these are just theories and one can weigh them up, consider which way the evidence tends and come to a provisional conclusion. The fact is that right now there isn’t much concrete and definitive evidence for either the lab theory or the transfer from bats via an intermediary animal to humans theory other than from genetic analysis. The majority of virologists seem to believe that Sars-Cov-2 does not show signs of having been engineered in a lab. But not all. [2] I am struck by the coincidence of the outbreak occurring just a few Km from a lab where controversial research had been previously conducted into just this type of virus, which occurs naturally some hundreds of Km away, and by the existence of well-documented efforts by the Chinese authorities to prevent a free investigation into the origins either by journalists (a BBC team was interfered with) or by scientists (some scientists on the WHO mission have said that they were not provided with full data).

Other significant voices have argued for the likelihood of the lab origin. This is David Asher a US official who investigated the matter for the State Department. He says that there was an early cluster – workers from the Biolab. He raises the possibility that the virus was part of a military research programme. Sky News also reports (not David Asher) that a key database from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was taken offline in 9/2019. The Institute claims that this was due to hacking attempts. Alternatively it reflects an early crisis at the lab. The US State Departments belief that there was an early outbreak amongst lab staff is also reported by the Daily Telegraph. The full State Department document is here.

I’m interested in how the liberal press is working so (so) hard to squash the lab theory and I wonder why this is. This, is an example of this in the Guardian:

The origin of the pandemic has become a political football with some, including Dr Robert Redfield, a former director of the CDC, suggesting without evidence the virus escaped a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

The phrase here “suggesting without evidence” is the one they have settled on to try to discredit this theory. It is widely used and deployed against anyone who suggests the lab as the origin for Sars-Cov-2. Let’s look at what Dr Robert Redfield actually said. (After all, he is a former director of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and a former University professor of virology, so not some kind of fringe loon). He said: “I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely aetiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped. The other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out” [1]

He didn’t “suggest without evidence”. He simply expressed his view that of the competing theories for the aetiology of Sars-Cov-2 the lab theory is the most likely. Scientists deal with theories and Dr Redfield is simply saying that this is the theory he favours – explicitly acknowledging that he could turn out to be wrong. I.e. he demonstrates that he understands how science works.

It is possible that the Guardian simply doesn’t understand how science works. (How theories can be be developed. How a scientist can favour one theory while still being open to an alternative theory being proved when all the evidence is in). But the systematic insistence with which they try to misrepresent all such theorizing tells me that it isn’t just intellectual clumsiness but that someone at a political-editorial level has decided that the line must be to suppress the lab theory. I’m interested in why. (And who is behind it).

One highly unlikely theory for the origin of Sars-Cov-2 is something to do with it being imported into China in chilled food. This theory has even found its way into the current WHO report – advocated for by Chinese members of the ‘investigation’ team. Its function is to spread out and dilute the lab theory. The Guardian plays the role asked of it by China:

While concluding that the two least likely hypotheses for the emergence of the deadly virus – a leak from a lab (pushed by senior Trump officials) and being introduced via frozen food from outside (promoted by China) 

Chinese officials will be delighted with the Guardian’s reporting. They have equated the highly credible lab theory with this highly dubious claim about chilled food and thus managed to discredit the lab theory.

In the same report the Guardian also claims that Mike Pompeo – who has raised the possibility of the lab origin – has done so “without evidence”. But this is not true – unless ‘evidence’ means a signed confession and a vial of the engineered virus. The State Department in the dying days of the Trump Presidency published a detailed paper (also linked to above) in which they raise the possibility of the lab being the origin. (The paper remains on the State Department web site under the new President). It is worth noting that no direct accusation is made; simply the two leading theories (lab origin and animal origin) are discussed. “The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic. Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection.” The document reviews the evidence of cover-up and other factors such as the early cluster of sick lab workers. Together these factors do indeed give rise to serious questions. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence here.

One possible reason why the liberal press is working in overdrive to squash the lab theory may be that it is associated with Trump. [2] Though for me that explanation doesn’t seem to quite explain everything.

Notes

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/science/redfield-coronavirus-wuhan-lab.html
  2. https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/03/18/1021030/coronavirus-leak-wuhan-lab-scientists-conspiracy/

Guardian Propaganda Watch 201

I’m not quite sure why I write these posts. I think in part because I live in Russia and I find it distasteful to see misinformation being created by a newspaper. Casual readers will tend to believe what they believe in the Guardian and it is frsutrating to see such an innacurate picture being painted.

I am also – and I think this even more strongly – troubled by the violation of journalistic norms. Journalism is a profession and a practice with certain standards – such as factual accuracy, truthfulness and so on. To see these norms being so casually violated by people who pretend they are doing journalism is very frustrating. If there is no real journalism then we already live in a post-democractic distopian world.

This is the Guardian’s Theo Merz writing a piece on a demand by the Russian internet regulator for Twitter to remove/block the channel of an outlet linked to Khodorkovsky. [1]

Russia’s media watchdog has told Twitter to delete the account of an opposition news outlet following threats from Moscow to block the social network entirely if it did not remove “banned content” within a month.

For Guardian journalists Russia has no right to make its own laws. If they try to ban child porn then child porn is described as “illegal”. Russia has a set of laws which include the banning of certain organistions outright which are considered to be trying to agitate for regime change. MBKh media is accused of posting content from a banned organisation. The content is not “banned”. It is banned. It is sheer imperialism to deny to Russia the right to make and enforce their own laws.

Veronika Kutsyllo, the outlet’s editor in chief, denied sharing such material and said that MBKh had not been informed of the watchdog’s demand in advance. “[The state] has been pursuing this new tactic for some time, putting pressure on networks and providers without first warning their potential ‘victims’,” she said.

In fact this is normal – in the West too. The issue is with Twitter not MBKh media. There is no reason for Roskomnadzor to contact MBKh media. It is also typical of this pseudo-journalism to give full airtime to the opponents of the Russian state, however misldeading their statements. MBKh media is of course not a “victim”.

Authorities have previously demanded that Twitter and other social networks delete messages that allegedly called on minors to take part in anti-Kremlin protests.

Nothing in fact ‘alleged’ about this. Navalny was even calling for kids to take part in illegal demonstrations from prison. In Russia Navalny is known as “King of the Kids” for his propensity to summon children to his rallies. But just as they treat everything that e.g. Navalny says as unquestionable fact so everything which the Russian authorities says is always “alleged”. This is pathetic and hardly journalism.

“After the protests it became clear that Twitter wasn’t planning on deleting messages relating to peaceful civic actions and would continue to flag state propaganda, so users would be able to recognise fake information,” Darbinyan said

This is a quote from someone from an organisation which Theo Merz describes as “the Russian internet rights group Roskomsvoboda” (which appears to be a pressure group). Of course ‘peaceful civic actions’ is entirely misleading. The West always uses the line about ‘peaceful demonstrations’ when they refer to actions which are in fact illegal under Russian law – and in general whenever they are agitating for regime change. But the law is the law. (In the UK too ‘peaceful’ civic actions can also lead to arrest in many circumstances – and even more so if current legislation is passed). [2]

In general the article relies on two sources which are in essence organisations opposed to the Russian state (one based abroad) and contains nothing from the Russian government side or who might explain that position. ‘Balanced journalism’ does not apply to Russia.

Notes

  1. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4731142
  2. https://manifestoclub.info/do-we-want-to-still-have-a-right-to-protest-in-2022-the-police-bill-must-be-stopped-at-all-costs/