CBC has a very deceptive piece here about BuzzFeed UK’s yarns about the fate of dead Russians in the UK. It is worth tearing apart not just because journalists are arrogant sots, but because the piece tries to spin a narrative that doesn’t align with reality.
Let’s go back to the very flawed “dossier” BuzzFeed published. They got themselves in trouble in more ways than one — and then ran to a former senior FBI official to try to verify that dossier because they were not capable to do any actual fact-checking themselves. The dossier itself was written by Christopher David Steele, a former MI6 agent. That it came from the UK and not the US matters for reasons I will explain below.
The provenance of the original dossier should be a red flag that BuzzFeed has caught the eye of people in the optic manipulation business. BuzzFeed is not like Jane’s Intelligence Review. It is not a publication that can handle any sort of “deep” investigative journalism. It can be a proxy for special interests, but it cannot be taken as real investigative journalism.
Because BuzzFeed’s stories leave a lot to be desired. There are a lot of questions, such as why would Russia bother killing ex-pats whose best before dates expired years ago, or who had something to gain by making it look like there is a Big Bad enemy to fear. The smell test for the narrative fails. When we focus on fearing an enemy, we do not focus on scrutinizing those who either pretend to be our allies, or are neutral and hiding in plain sight.
But these kinds of games are nothing new. Magicians make a living of using misdirection to get attention away from the obvious and towards lies. In fact, one stage magician, John Mulholland, wrote the CIA’s manual on trickery and deception decades ago, but was finally declassified and is freely available for a long while now.
But CBC refuses to question the narratives proffered by BuzzFeed — or how accurate their stories actually are.
But then again, CBC is the same network that had one of its foreign correspondents in a war zone in the middle of the night, pretending to quiet her camera crew so they wouldn’t be detected, but then had glaring lights all around them as if soldiers had super-hearing, but were utterly blind. Yeah, you weren’t in any real danger, were you, kids? Nice try.
What the CBC piece does prove, beyond a doubt, is that journalism is still seen as a place to pollute the information stream to frighten middle class people into giving up their rights in the name of freedom. The problem is that it really isn’t working.
Another problem is that journalism isn’t actually what it pretends to be. Finding sources and stories takes effort, but journalists go to (a) authorities in government, and (b) public relations firms to get information. Whenever they try to go one step more, they always have to walk back because the story turned out to be false (you can read Don’t Believe It!, the upcoming When Journalism was a Thing, or earlier entries on this web site if you want proof from me).
Social media became a real threat to those who wish to quash free speech and democracy; and so, an online publication is an ideal place for a vested interest to spin a yarn — particularly one whose base is not the United States — not because the UK is some horrid place, but because the US has an inconvenient measure in place that the UK does not.
If you do not know what FARA is, then shame on you. I mean it. Shame on you. Whenever a foreign agent or country wishes to seek the services of an American law firm, lobbyist, or public relations firm, those firms have to register with the US government. This has been law since 1938. So really, shame on you for not knowing that.
Why it is shameful not to know is simple: whenever a group of foreigners are suddenly seen as “good folks” or “bad guys” in the press, that means that a foreign agent has paid a PR firm to make their people look good while making their rivals or targets look bad, and reporters, being the lazy and deceptive slackers that they are, cribbed the press release. That means that there is a paper trail in the US…but not in other countries. UK has unbelievably effective public relations firms — and they do not have to let anyone know who is footing their bills. If you are particularly dense, the year 1938 should give you a clue why FARA was created in the first place — because it was about preventing Nazis from infecting the US information stream.
The UK government is now openly talking about meddling in journalism — and a government that is already in a weakened position thanks to their own election bungling, they are not exactly disinterested parties. May’s government will find ways to make it seem indispensable anyway it knows how. There is nothing impressive with BuzzFeed because they are giving a floundering government the perfect narrative to deflect attention away from their own troubles as they try to make themselves look strong.
Contrary to the spin that it was “highly likely” that the Russian regime ordered hits (notice there is never any definitive proof) — using a method that would be immediately associated with them — and then pretending these deaths were not hits — sounds like a theory Inspector Lestrade would offer to Sherlock Holmes — or Sheriff Amos Tupper would offer to Jessica Fletcher. The underlying logic is more aligned with what an uninitiated and sheltered middle class Westerner would think Soviets would do than be what an actual Soviet would do because the mindsets are nothing alike. Either the Soviets are cunning strategists — or bumbling buffoons. They cannot be both at the same time, and this working theory reeks of someone who is both culturally illiterate and has a severe bigoted view of Orthodox Christians.
If you are going to malign an entire group of people with a paranoid conspiracy theory, have the good sense to at least look up a few things on Wikipedia to get your story semi-straight.
The loopy and fear-mongering narrative makes little sense: those Soviet ex-pat spies have already spilled everything they knew to their new hosts long ago. Their use or threat would be extremely limited given they have been out of the loop for as long as they have been. So the propaganda here makes little sense.
Do nations meddle in the affairs of other nations? Of course they do, but that is the unfortunate byproduct of allowing bored control freaks to be leaders of nations. Americans have been meddling in the elections of foreign countries for decades, and they get indignant and huffy if you point out the obvious to them.
And through all of these ghost stories to frighten the gullible middle class, this yarn does suffer from a huge confirmation bias: that if the Soviets — who aren’t all that powerful globally — would be doing such things, then which other more powerful countries are doing it, too?
For instance, I have noticed quite a few high-level hackers have wound up dead lately. Why aren’t we questioning those very, very coincidental deaths?
Because they would reveal that those who point fingers at others have three fingers pointing straight back at them.
Contrary to the article’s assertion that journalism “prompted a closer look” at 14 deaths — journalists were fed information from a source with vested interests to spin a certain narrative a certain way, allowing various institutions to use it as an excuse to push their own narrative that they are needed to Save Humanity from the Bad Guys.
It was done in precisely the same way during the first Gulf War when the PR firm Hill and Knowlton was hired to bring public support to Kuwait. Their secret weapon was a teenaged girl — but you had a couple of reporters back then, who had thinking caps — and they found out the story of Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti newborns was a lie.
The structures of both stories played identically; however, the mandatory FARA filings gave savvier people a lead that perhaps the story was a fraud. Unfortunately, the stunt did its trick and the war was already over.
And make no mistake, the purpose of this propaganda dread tale is to prime people to support a war they should absolutely avoid at all costs, but this time, someone was smart enough to use an Internet era to avoid having to file with FARA and do it in an English-speaking country that has superior PR without the pesky foreign agent registration act. They still reach a global audience, but through the backdoor.
Far from journalism prompting a “closer look”, what it is trying to do is resurrect itself at the cost of human lives. It is a psychopathic and desperate gambit, that blinds with fear, not see with rational calm and critical thinking. We have gone through this scheme before over the decades, but this time, with journalism being a dead profession. It is not doing what it is supposed to do. BuzzFeed may be a digital-only outlet, but its fortunes have tumbled, and its reach is not sparking what it is supposed to be sparking. It would be something that someone who doesn’t actually understand this whole Internet thing would assume is some hip place where all the Young People surf, and leak it to them.
It will be interesting to see what the next move will be when it didn’t do what traditional outlets could have done even 20 years ago.
The former Yugoslavia this is not, when people bought whatever CNN told them to believe.
And it reminds me of all those Dateline/48 Hours/ 20/20 stories about how the police go after innocent people because they form a theory, and then just look at who they believe is guilty without asking hard questions or creating alternative theories you need to confirm or refute. BuzzFeed didn’t do that, and that calls into question their methods, motives, but most importantly of all, their sources.
That is not journalism. It is partisan propaganda, and we are living in an age of propaganda.
When news stories pick bogeymen, it is usually a preface to a needless war. It never fails.
If we had genuine journalism, the real impetus for the resurrected Red Scare would have been exposed, the same way the real impetus for the first Gulf War was exposed, albeit a little too late.
But we don’t. We have stenographers whose partisan pseudo-journalistic outlets spew propaganda to dwindling audiences. The theatre of patriarchal narrative is the same, but the seats are still empty.
Because while this may be an Age of Propaganda, but also an age out Outrage Passivity and slacktivism where people think marching in the streets and ranting on Twitter will make all the problems go away. When people ignore it and stand their ground, nothing actually changes.
So the CBC is doing what the rest of journalism is trying to do — use hyperbole to pretend that journalism still matters. It doesn’t, kids. It cannot compete with selfies or memes.
You know, something like this…