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8 Oct, 2015 14:04

Hysterical beast: The problem with The Daily Beast’s Russia analysis

 Hysterical beast: The problem with The Daily Beast’s Russia analysis

This weekend, The Daily Beast’s senior editor Michael Weiss attempted to unite his three fixations, Syria, Russia and RT in a diatribe headlined “Russia's propaganda blitz.”

In the article, he accuses the Russian media of doing exactly what CNN and other US news networks do in times of war. That is, giving a lot of attention to the story, embedding reporters with the military and delivering news from the perspective of ‘our side.’

Weiss mangles quotes. He claims that "the collapse of the Soviet Union, as (Vladimir) Putin notoriously said, was the 20th century’s greatest tragedy.” Putin never said this. The Russian President saidthe collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century.” This is an entirely different matter.

Later, the journalist misquotes Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia’s Federation Council. Weiss alleges that Kosachev said, “No one in diplomacy is allowed to criticize the policy of the country where he (sic) stationed.

This is total nonsense. The actual Kosachev quote was: “If I were to allow myself to publicly comment on the policies of the host country, and even to blame that country of supporting extremism on top of that, many would be willing to ask me to leave the country in 24 hours. An embassy spokesperson is authorized to comment on their country’s actions and definitely not to lecture another country, especially like a mentor.

Many news sites have abandoned the practice of sub-editing copy before it’s published. It appears that Weiss is not cut out for this “brave new world.” He mentions somebody called ‘Gatov.’ There’s no first name and no indication of who ‘Gatov’ is. An elementary school teacher would reprimand a child for that.

Another bizarre quote is from “nationalist” Dmitry Bobrov: “Now we’ll see if the national-betrayer, Putin, is ready to flush down the toilet all (the) Russians in Novorossiya.” For real Russia experts, this individual wouldn’t be a credible source. Bobrov was imprisoned for organizing a neo-Nazi group called Shulz-88 in St. Petersburg in the early 2000’s. Shulz-88 members brutally assaulted foreigners – including students from African countries and Vietnam. Yet, it appears that for Weiss, anybody willing to criticize Putin is kosher. That’s pretty rich for someone who in the same piece is attacking RT about commentators that appear on the channel.

In his self-righteous indignation, Weiss even repeats the same sentence twice, in slightly different forms.


Incidentally, some copy and paste anti-Russia websites reproduced the article verbatim, without correcting Weiss’ mistakes. Including Ukraine’s hilarious stopfake.org.

Interestingly, the latter’s mission statement reads: “The main purpose of this community is to check facts, verify information, and refute distorted information and propaganda about events in Ukraine covered in the media.” If it’s not about Ukraine, it seems facts don’t matter. How very Kafka-esque.

The Daily Beast can’t seem to live with or without RT. Its hysterical propaganda is amusing in many ways, but it also exposes a worrying truth: there are some segments of the American media that cannot tolerate the idea of a genuinely free press when it’s not promoting their own agenda.

And now, for a bit of context…

RT often gets inquiries from young Western journalists asking how they might break into covering Russian affairs. The standard reply is fairly straight forward. Spend some time in Russia, obtain a reasonable grasp of the language and get a feel for the country. It’s a road countless journalists have been down and many of them are acclaimed Russia specialists today.

Some come to Moscow, others prefer St. Petersburg. The more adventurous sometimes wind up in Siberia or even the Far East. Russia specialists can also have academic backgrounds or years of business experience in the country. Indeed, many of the most prominent English-language Russia pundits are native-Russians themselves.

However, in recent years, a new breed of ‘Russia expert' has emerged, especially in the US media. This person knows very little about Russia but still pontificates on the subject relentlessly. Michael Weiss is a prime example of such an “expert”, a voracious critic of both Russia and RT.  

By all accounts, Weiss has never lived in Russia. He doesn’t speak Russian. Nevertheless, he’s marketed himself as an authority on all things Russia-related – when he isn’t moonlighting as a self-styled Syria guru. Again, he can’t speak Arabic.

Nothing as it seems

This year, Weiss became a senior editor at The Daily Beast, bringing his obsessive hatred of Russia to a wider audience. It’s hardly a coincidence that the jingoistic portal has developed a fixation on RT. After all, RT bashing is a Weiss preoccupation.

The problem is that every time Weiss picks up his cudgel, his lack of Russia knowledge is badly exposed. Just as Hassan Hassan attempted to give him credibility on Syria, Russian stringer Anna Nemtsova is used to lend some authority to his Russia hit-pieces.

The new McCarthy-ism

Despite his lack of any credentials that might qualify him to be a ‘Russia expert,’ Weiss edits a blog called The Interpreter. Apparently funded by the family of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted of embezzlement and money laundering, the website purports to “report on events inside Russia.”

In reality, the Interpreter delivers non-stop, frenzied anti-Russian vitriol. If Khodorkovsky is really paying the bills, his strategy here seems bizarre. The disgraced oligarch has spoken of a desire to become Russia’s President. How does bankrolling an English-language internet service, dedicated to smearing the country, assist in that regard? Also, why hire an editor who can't speak Russian? Surely there were far more qualified alternatives available? There are dozens of under-employed Russian-speaking journalists.

In late spring, Mark Ames, famous for Moscow’s Exile newspaper, delivered a withering dissection of how one particular ideological faction in the US, namely neo-conservatives, have infiltrated American discourse on Russia. Ames delved into Weiss’ background.

During the late (George W) Bush years, Weiss worked for the neocon organ of Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard; afterwards, Weiss headed up a neocon PR project, "Just Journalism," which policed the English-language press for any journalism critical of Israel in the wake of its brutal war on Gaza in 2008-9. Then, as Syria descended into civil war, Weiss became one of the leading neocon warmongers pushing for America to invade Syria. Perhaps most troubling of all… Weiss played a lead role in promoting the career of one of the most notorious academic frauds of our time, Elizabeth O’Bagy, the fake Syria “expert” whom Weiss teamed up with to argue for war in Syria. Apparently after O’Bagy was exposed as a fraud with no Syria credentials, Weiss skulked away, only to reappear with a new co-author—Peter Pomeranstev—and a new beat: Putin's Russia. Despite having zero Russia background and expertise, Weiss has successfully reemerged lately as a Russia expert on various TV news programs — the Elizabeth O’Bagy of Putin critics — and Pomerantsev’s role in this partnership appears to be laundering Weiss' credentials,” Ames wrote.

Another Weiss pastime is smearing Stephen Cohen, the distinguished Sovietologist and Russia scholar.

According to his Wikipedia entry, "Cohen is well known in both Russian and American circles. He is a close personal friend of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, advised former US President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s, helped Nikolai Bukharin's widow, Anna Larina, rehabilitate her name during the Soviet era, and met Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana." This is akin to a regional soccer correspondent throwing mud at Michael Jordan.

Cohen is a genuine Russia expert, with the credentials to prove it. He has forgotten more about the country than Michael Weiss will ever know. The fact that the latter gets far more attention right now, tells you all you need to know about the tragic state of the contemporary American media when it comes to coverage of Russia.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.