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Through the Looking Glass

The Russian hunt for fake news isn’t exactly genuine.

by Peter Gross 10 July 2017

Earlier this year, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a webpage dedicated to tracking “fake news.” If the announcement ignited bizarre visions of the ministry tracking Russia’s own fake news, rest assured you were only hallucinating. For one thing, the enormity of such a task would require miracles to record the ceaseless torrents of Russian fake news that make the Niagara Falls pale in comparison.


No, the ministry is concerned with Western fake news, things like “Russia invades Ukraine,” “Russia annexes Crimea,” “Putin eliminates his political opponents,” “Russia’s information war attacks Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic countries….,” “French President Macron says Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik news agency spread propaganda and lies,”… and so on. Unsurprisingly, this Wonder Woman of a webpage – fighting for truth, accuracy, and justice – does not  make “clear what part of the [Western] information it considers inaccurate…, nor does it provide any clarification details,” according to Newsweek.


By faking concern about so-called Western fake news, the Kremlin simply adds another layer of fakery for domestic and foreign audiences. The accusation that other countries produce “fake news” about Russia is nothing new; it was in the Soviet playbook as well.  And as during those times, some Westerners today enable and add to the ongoing disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda.


 Western institutions have recently unmasked Russian fake news stories and the media that willingly disseminate them. It’s also time to expose individuals who, either for pay or out of ideological conviction, participate in the Kremlin’s weaponization of information.


A case in point is Neil Clark, who contributes to a number of Western media and also writes for RT –  that Russian government tool the German magazine Der Spiegel rightly says “uses a chaotic mixture of conspiracy theories and crude propaganda.”


Clark writes well and is no fool. He gives the impression his pieces are tightly wrapped in knowledge, reason, and enlightenment ideals. As with all propagandists, his facts, rationality, and righteousness are gossamer-thin. His twisted logic, serving abominable ideas, creates nonsense like his retching in January 2017 in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution: “You don’t have to be a Bolshevik, or even a socialist, to admire Lenin’s clarity and sense of purpose.” Yes, Lenin, the guy whose “clarity and sense of purpose” violently established a one-party state, demanded state-sponsored homicide, enslaved people, and hatched Marxist-Leninist regimes that murdered 85 to 100 million people, depending on estimates.  


But never mind that warped assessment of history and its monsters. One of Clark’s most recent pinhole visions rattling around the camera obscura on his shoulders is that the West is the aggressor vis-a-vis Russia. On the occasion of NATO military exercises in Latvia this spring, involving 1,200 NATO troops, Clark – ever vigilant against hypocrisy – asks derisively, “Guess who is being portrayed as the aggressor? You got it: the big, bad Russian bear.”


Apparently, Clark is unaware that Russia moved short-range missiles – capable of delivering nuclear warheads – to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave near Lithuania, and warships with cruise missiles into the Baltic Sea in 2016. And, oh yes, the “aggression” of NATO exercises in Latvia also came after that peaceful, legal little Russian excursion to Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.


The recently deceased, Polish-born former U.S. Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski was a “viscerally anti-Russian Cold War warrior,” writes Clark, implying unreasonableness in Brzezinski’s anti-Soviet, anti-Marxist-Leninist stance. A Moses sternly rebuking Brzezinski for having been the ultimate sinner, Clark conveniently forgets that Brzezinski was a liberal democrat who upheld Enlightenment-era values; and that he was less than warm and fuzzy about the Soviets eliminating – literally in the case of many of its members – a democratic Polish government in exile after World War II and using the army and the KGB to install Polish communists to run his native country until 1989.


The former U.S. Secretary of State’s aim to “bleed” the USSR, for one, with his policy to “aggressively promote the issue of human rights … as a means of destabilizing the Eastern bloc,” particularly rankles Clark. Imagine the nerve, the evil criminality of promoting human rights in a region bereft of them. Or, the “visceral” opposition to a regime and ideology that kept a heavy paw on the collective neck of Eastern Europe, using tanks to brutally crush democratic opposition in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.


A favorite of mine among Clark’s op-eds is a January 2015 piece that says Andrew Lack, CEO and director of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, “‘out-Goebbels Dr. [Joseph] Goebbels’” for claiming that RT is in the same category of “challenges” as ISIS. Well, yes, given that RT is a dangerous purveyor of fake news spread with war-like intent, the challenge it presents is no less than ISIS, even if in unique ways.


Considering how easily Clark and others like him twist truth and rational analysis, contorting every fact and concocting others, we should be careful what we read and whom we listen to. Identifying real fake news and those who spread it around the world like Zika-infected mosquitoes is not the real intent of Russian’s Ministry of Foreign affairs but it must be ours.

Peter Gross
, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee in the United States. He has written extensively on the subject of East European media and its evolution since 1989.
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