Putin's Spokesman Exposes Western Media Echo Chamber
Disclosure of identical questions sent to Russia’s Presidential Press Service by two separate Western media agencies exposes orchestrated campaign
25 March, 2015
One of the questions those of us who write about Russian affairs from an independent perspective at some point ask ourselves is whether the uniformly bad coverage Russia gets in the Western media is orchestrated or spontaneous.
In other words do Western journalists write what they do about Russia — even when it is obviously completely wrong — because they are told to or because they believe it?
I say this because there have been times when I have read almost identical wrong editorials on the same Russian subject in several supposedly rival Western newspapers coming out on the same day. Since these were editorials it was clearly not the case of newspapers republishing the same piece written previously by a news agency or wire service. The language of the editorials was however so similar that they actually gave the impression of having been written by the same hand.
Information just provided by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov adds spice to this perennial question.
Peskov has revealed that two different Western media agencies, one based in London and one in New York, have simultaneously written to Russia’s Presidential news service asking for information about the same question: Putin’s connections to the businessman Gennady Timchenko and his former company Gunvor.
According to Peskov the two requests were very similar. Both used peremptory language, taking the form of an ultimatum. Peskov speculated, surely correctly, that the two requests were sent simultaneously by prior arrangement, suggesting an orchestrated campaign.
The subject of Putin’s connections to Timchenko and Gunvor is a hardy perennial that continues to be brought up at regular intervals ever since it was first floated back in 2007 by Berezovsky’s former bagman Stanislav Belkovsky. As Peskov correctly pointed out, there is no substance to it. When The Economist tried to float the story some years ago, Gunvor threatened legal action, obliging The Economist to publish a retraction and apology, which included the words: “We accept Gunvor’s assurances that neither Vladimir Putin nor other senior Russian political figures have any ownership interest in Gunvor. We regret if any contrary impression was given.”
That ought to have been the end of the story. However, like every other smear that has circulated about Putin, the total absence of fact to support it has never stood in the way of its believers. Moreover last year, when the US authorities first imposed sanctions on Russia, it emerged that among these believers is none other than the US government.
The endlessly recycled smears about Putin’s wealth require a separate discussion. Here I will only touch on Peskov’s point concerning the orchestration of the Western media’s assault on Putin and Russia.
The fact that two Western media agencies are working in close collusion with each other is not necessarily wrong. Media agencies do occasionally work together. Also there is some degree of cross-ownership, with the Murdoch press in particular having a presence in both London and New York. Peskov did not reveal who the two media agencies were, and it is possible they were both part of the same group.
However the Western media does often work as an echo chamber, with the same story appearing to gain authority because it is published at one and the same time in more than one place, giving the impression that the story has more than one source, and must therefore be true.
What Peskov’s information shows is that this is not always so. More often than not a story about Putin or Russia has only one source, and the reason it is appearing in more than one place is because someone is arranging for it to be published that way.