A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media

 

by Alexey Kovalev January 12, 2017 (note: Donald Trump was inaugurated on Jan 20, 2017) edited by O Society

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader — so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang a bell. Not just mine, in fact — read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times.

Vladimir Putin’s annual pressers are supposed to be the media event of the year. They are normally held in late December, around Western Christmas time (we Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later and it’s not a big deal, unlike New Year’s Eve). Which probably explains why Putin’s pressers don’t get much coverage outside of Russia, except in a relatively narrow niche of Russia-watchers. Putin’s pressers are televised live across all Russian TV channels, attended by all kinds of media — federal news agencies, small local publications and foreign reporters based in Moscow — and are supposed to overshadow every other event in Russia or abroad.

These things are carefully choreographed, typically last no less than four hours, and Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children. Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

But your colleagues are there to help you, right? After all, you’re all in this together?

Wrong.

  • Don’t expect any camaraderie

These people are not your partners or brothers in arms. They are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says. Whoever is lucky to ask a question and be the first to transmit the answer to the outside world wins. Don’t expect any solidarity or support from them. If your question is stonewalled/mocked down/ignored, don’t expect a rival publication to pick up the banner and follow up on your behalf. It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention. It’s getting especially absurd because some — increasingly many — reporters will now come with large, bright placards aimed at attracting the president’s attention to names of their regions or specific issues. This is what it looks like:

Also, some people in the room aren’t really there to ask questions.

  • Expect a lot of sycophancy and soft balls from your “colleagues”

A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions. Which also happen to be Putin’s favorites. Mr President, is there love in your heart? Who you will be celebrating New Year’s Eve with? What’s your favorite food? “Questions” of this sort, sure to melt Putin’s heart, typically come from women working for small regional publications. A subtype of this is also statements-as-questions, but from people who really love the man on the stage and will bob their head and look at the stage adoringly and say something to the tune of “Mr President, do you agree that a lot of media are treating you unfairly?”

Another type of softball questions is hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with. Mr President, our road is full of potholes and local authorities aren’t doing anything about it. Mr President, our tap is leaking. Mr President, how about a chess club in our village. This is a real opportunity for him to shine. He will scold the local authorities and order to have a new road built. All of this, of course, has been choreographed well in advance.

Also, some of these people really love him and will meet his every answer with enthusiastic applause. There will be people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies. But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a “sharp” question, only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (“See? I respect the media and free speech”).

  • You’re always losing

This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice. You can’t — in Putin’s case — campaign to vote him out of office. Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.

I could go on and on, but I think at this point you see where this is heading. See if any of this rings any bells if you covered Trump’s presser or watched it online.

A Guide to Russian Propaganda: WhatAboutIsm Controls the United States

14 thoughts on “A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media

  1. Kosalev is an anti-Putin propagandist for the Western media. Check out his articles for the Guardian, for example. The ridiculous comparisons with Trump (mirror-image “authoritarians,” don’t you know) are another tell. I’m not a “Putin apologist,” but you undermine a lot of your good work in posting this stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the heads’ up. pjay. A couple of thoughts come to mind.

    First, we know from the reports of real journalists such as Carl Bernstein, the intelligence agencies -CIA, MI5, etc – plant people and stories in the media and always have in America and Britain. So this is nothing new. It is a way for the “Deep State” to control the message we get in the mainstream media, aka propaganda. So this is not a conspiracy so much as it is just the way it is:

    https://osociety.org/2018/10/22/the-cia-and-the-media/

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  3. Second, the mainstream media is not monolithic. Meaning saying something like “All news from the NYTimes is fake” is just as ridiculous as saying “All news from the NYTimes is real.” These are appeals to authority. Be skeptical but stay away from people who believe everything they see on FoxNews or everything they read in the Washington Post. Such people (to be polite about it) are idiots.

    For example, we know the Guardian has a MI6 stooge called Luke Harding working there:

    https://osociety.org/2018/11/30/assange-never-met-manafort-luke-harding-and-the-guardian-publish-still-more-blatant-mi6-lies/

    For example, we know the NYTimes has a CIA stooge called Scott Shane working there:

    https://osociety.org/2018/09/22/2162/

    For all we know, Scott Shane and Luke Harding are actual intelligence agents posing as journalists. We do know the CIA and MI6 feed these two information and they publishit as fact without giving it even a cursory skeptical examination beforehand. So the phenomenon pjay mentions is real and it is nothing new.

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  4. Third, we know Alexey Kovalev is investigations editor of Russian news outlet Meduza, and his work is indeed published in the Guardian. Here’s a recent one:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/11/russian-officials-ivan-golunov-investigative-journalist

    Here’s his self-description:

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  5. I agree with all of your comments, but Kovalev is still an anti-Putin propagandist. His story on Golunov sounds pretty accurate; that was a travesty, and I wouldn’t claim Russia is a “free press” haven. I’m not sure who was behind that, and at least they released him rather quickly. But Kovalev clearly has an agenda against Putin that is congruent with Western interests in personal demonization (I think Putin might have kicked him out of journalism, or the country — not sure about that). Some of his Skripal stories are pretty bad as well. I have invested a lot of time trying to learn about Putin. He’s not an angel. But in my opinion, a lot of what he is accused of in the Western press is either lies. or at least partially justified in the historical context of post-1991 Russian history. And he is definitely not a totalitarian “dictator”; he is attempting to balance, somewhat precariously, a number of powerful interests, and he is not automatically behind every incidence of corruption or violence

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    1. Adding: I did not see your long Kovalev bio until I posted my last comment. Reading it only reinforces my opinion. The fact that Kovalev was a Russian, and a journalist, does not automatically make his stories more accurate, any more than those of an anti-Assad Syrian expat in London or anti-Maduro expat Venezuelan in Miami. Indeed, with the connections he has, they are more suspect to me. He would not be able to publish were he does if it were otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t speak Russian. I wouldn’t really know how to interpret a Vladimir Putin press conference if I watched one as a result. That said, Alexey Kovalev’s description in Jan 2017 in the original post seems pretty much spot on what we see in the United States today from “presidential white house pressers” if you ask me.

    Softball questions. Baffling’em with bullshit. Contradictions. No journalists who demand serious answers with depth. Whataboutism.

    ***So pjay, we agree the Russian guy’s biography looks sketchy, he’s an obvious plant who doth protest too much, etc – however, I think his description of Putin’s press confences is precient. It turned out to be a crystal ball of what to expect from Trump. Don’t you think? Is there something specific about Alexey Kovalev’s description of Trump-Land-To-Come you disagree with, pjay? Things which did not turn out to be accurate? ***

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  7. We are posting comments at the same time, pjay, so I’ll shut up for awhile – ha ha!

    We are probably on the same page already. I neither support nor attack Putin. I’m neutral like Switzerland or whatever. Not an apologist. Not a Commie. Not a Trumpet. Not anything.

    When one remains neutral, it is hard to see Trump and Putin as tagteammates on some world destruction tour of WWF Wrassling. Sounds like bullshit, especially if we lookit what’s actually happened instead of listening to the hemming and hawing of Russia-gate soap opera storyline, yes?

    https://osociety.org/2019/01/16/putin-asks-and-trump-delivers-a-list-of-all-the-good-things-trump-did-for-russia/

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  8. The easy issues:

    Russiagate: total bullshit. You’ve posted a lot of good info on this. Keep it coming.

    Trump: A narcissistic con man who did not actually expect to win. He has some talent in using the media and baiting hapless politicians. But he is in way over his head with the Deep State. Personally, though I can’t stand Trump, his level of evil-doing on a world scale is far surpassed by that of the Clintons, or even Obama. He seems to want to keep us out of more wars. Yet he now has some of the most despicable neocons running things in his administration. And he is dominated by Israeli interests. Why, I wonder?

    The more complex issues:

    Putin: In my opinion, Putin has mainly done what he had to do to rescue Russia from oblivion. Anyone who knows about the 1990s and is honest knows this. (So, how honest is Kovalev?) You don’t have to like him, or agree with all of his methods. As a spoiled American who has not had to give up much freedom — yet –I don’t, always agree with them. But I understand them in the context of recent Russian history. In terms of foreign policy, the US and its Western lackeys are *absolutely* the bad guys. Putin has been masterful in checking our incredibly destructive moves in the ME and central Asia without starting WWIII (yet).

    In this context, I have no real issue with Kovalev’s depiction of Trump. However, I think his anti-Putin, anti-Russian stuff is bullshit propaganda. I’m afraid I’m not as neutral as you are here.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You have an excellent take on the situation, pjay. We agree on all of it except the neutral like Sweden bit.

    I am no fan of any president in the last 40 years, since Reagan’s neoliberlism became the state religion. There hasn’t been a decent honest man in the White House since Jimmy Carter. So I tend to avoid the “Clinton can beat up Bush” arguments because they are meaningless in this context. There is no one worth vouching for, not Obama, not Trump, not any of them.

    After Charlottesville, anyone who likes Trump is either a racist, is stoopid, is in it for the money, or isn’t really paying attention. To answer your questions:

    Trump is Adelson’s bitch.

    https://osociety.org/2018/09/17/forget-putin-trump-isnt-a-russian-spy-he-acts-as-israels-manchurian-candidate/

    The military industrial complex fills orders for Israel as if it were the To Go menu at Chlli’s.

    https://osociety.org/2019/07/01/a-match-made-in-hell-israel-and-the-military-industrial-complex/

    The wacky Christian cult love Israel because Jesus was an Apocalyptic radical Jewish rabbi:

    https://osociety.org/2019/02/12/this-is-why-evangelicals-love-trumps-israel-policy/

    The white supremacists love Israel because it is a Shining City on the Hill example of a white ethnostate:

    https://osociety.org/2019/07/31/the-real-reason-so-many-republicans-love-israel-their-own-white-supremacy/

    Donald Trump has no ideology but “Me.” So he’s Adelson’s bitch and the Military-Industrial-Complex’s bitch because he thinks it benefits himself to be so. Certainly the Trumpets have their share of white supremacists and wacky Christians, and although Trump isn’t really a Nazi or a Pentecostal, he’ll let them have their day if they continue to make him the star on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

    So the right-wing extremists Trump represents and lets run wild behind the scenes are a coalition of different interests, the most dangerous of which are the ones who simply want to destroy the government all together so they can be oligarchs unimpeded forever and ever.

    This is what makes Trump extremely dangerous. He may be just a reality TV celebrity game show host with no real plan. However, the Robert Mercers and David Kochs and Sheldon Adelsons behind the scenes getting exactly what they want out of his circus monkey tricks using the blueprint laid down by John Calhoun, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan.

    https://osociety.org/2019/01/25/this-is-how-the-republican-party-plans-to-destroy-the-federal-government/

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