‘What happened to standards of journalism, ‘trusted’ Western media?’
A number of Western media outlets have reported Russia has accidentally revealed its soldiers have been fighting in Ukraine. Forbes published an article on Wednesday citing a Russian web source Business Life (Delovaya Zhizn) which revealed “official figures on the number of Russian soldiers killed or made invalids in eastern Ukraine.” RT later received an e-mail purportedly from the editorial board of Business Life claiming the publication had been hacked.
RT: What do you make of this e-mail we received?
Eric Draitser: It’s really hard to say exactly who it came from and what the motivation behind it is. Perhaps it’s an attempt to discredit what RT has reported, what other news outlets have reported; perhaps it is an attempt to walk back away from these wild accusations, these unfounded allegations that have been put out there into the blogosphere and into the online media world without any substantiation.
It is unclear exactly what has happened here. But I think the larger question, the one that really comes to my mind immediately is: what has happened to the standards of journalism, especially in the so-called trusted Western media?
If you look at a number of examples in the context of Ukraine, whether it was the rush to blame Russia and Putin for downing flight MH17; whether it was the purported Russian tanks crossing the border of Ukraine, as The Guardian and many others have reported. We’ve seen over, and over, and over again a pattern of lies, distortions and exaggerations that have been perpetrated by the Western media not simply because they want to plant these facts, although it’s part of it, but it is to drive a particular narrative, it is to drive the political agenda of the US and its Western allies where they are in need to make Russia into a villain, and the West into the backers and supporters of ‘good guys’. Because that narrative has fallen away, because it is broken down so much, now they are moving to even more underhanded tactics, as we’ve seen in recent days.
RT: Are claims like this potentially damaging to the ongoing peace process in Ukraine?
ED: On the one hand, they can certainly shift some political opinion or, rather I should say, public opinion, although political opinion as well. I think at the larger level it’s mostly irrelevant as it pertains to the powers that would be negotiating such a settlement. The real question, perhaps, is the main hurdle to any kind of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine is simply the fact that the so-called government of Kiev is clearly and unmistakably a puppet government of the US and of the West, one that is holding on for dear life as an economy crashes around it, as it has a public in Ukraine that is increasingly discontented, increasingly dissatisfied, and increasingly becoming radicalized. Those Nazi groups, the Pravy Sektor [Right Sector] and the Azov Battalion, and all of the rest of these fascist organizations have tremendous sway in Ukraine, they have tremendous fire power behind them. I think the real obstacle to peace isn’t so much some fake report from Forbes or from some obscure Russian website – it is these elements who will stop at nothing to get the war that they want and that they have lost all along.
‘Internet creates presumption of correctness’
Legal analyst and media commentator Lionel suggests that the better the website, graphics and layout, the more it’s trusted. People and journalists are not going to figure out and verify the validity of that which they report, he adds.
RT: This information has not been verified, but is already been widely reported as fact. What do you make of that?
Lionel: I’m surprised it took this long. I’m surprised we haven’t found more of this. I’m surprised for a variety of reasons. Look there is a presumption of correctness that people have. The better the site, the better the graphics, the better the layout - the more it’s trusted. We are now in a world that turns to Wikipedia as an absolute fact basis, after all its Wikipedia. Then we have satire sites, we have the Onion here, where people have sometimes confused the Onion with actual news. Sometimes people have actually cited deliberately bogus and satirical sites because there is a presumption of correctness, a presumption of legitimacy…
RT: So you are not surprised at the lack of questions from some major publications?
L: That’s the point that gets me and if you look at the provenance of this author you would think that especially when the subject matter is such that is by its very nature very intriguing and very shocking you would think there would be a little bit of an inquiry just to play it safe. But the internet and the graphics have created the illusion. Again a presumption of correctness. And what we are going to find out is - more and more of these stories, of these websites, are going to be set up in the hope that nobody will check them….
RT: Will it extend to the wider public as well, will this? If you sensed when you’ve seen this story and talk to the public about it, have you sensed that they are sort of appalled by what they see as well or are they just pushing it to one side saying that this thing happens?
L: No, nothing appalls it. Listen to give you an example - there is a joke on the internet that says “Never believe everything you read on the internet,” and it cites Abraham Lincoln. It’s a joke and it shows you the inherent irony and the satire of that. Do you know how many people I’ve seen actually cite that? Abraham Lincoln referring to the internet? Because there is again this presumption of correctness. I can tell you every single day there is a story that is absolutely absurd and you will read online in various social media - which is another story - where people say “No, this is satirical”. When the Onion started here in this country people didn’t know what it was because it looked like a newspaper, felt like a newspaper, it had the graphics of a newspaper and then again the presumption of such took place. So the good news is that maybe by virtue of this story and others it will force newsrooms around the world to look deeper and not necessarily believe everything they see. I hope. I pray.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.