An essential insight about propaganda
Liars should be labeled as such, not amplified.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but the Putin regime lies as easily as is breathes. To cite one telling example, last month I detailed how Russian state TV tried to hoodwink viewers with easily debunked lies, including the absurd declaration that Ukraine was attacking itself. Back in reality, the Russian military had bombed civilian targets in Kharkiv. I’ve written hundreds of articles over the years about Trumpworld’s shameless lying, but the Kremlin takes that dark art form to new depths.
Because the Putin regime and its propaganda apparatus have absolutely no credibility, what they say should be disbelieved until proven, especially by an independent press whose task it is to inform the public and clarify complex issues. If an acquaintance constantly lied to you, before too long you’d become skeptical about everything they said, right? The same principle applies here.
Yet there’s still a tendency among some in American media to treat what the Kremlin says as a “side” of a debate, and to take it seriously. And that’s why I think comments Russian-American New Yorker writer Masha Gessen made on the most recent episode of CNN’s Reliable Sources are so important.
If you’re unfamiliar with Gessen, they’ve written some of the most important books about the Putin regime, including 2017’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which gets my highest recommendation. Gessen’s already written a lot of insightful stuff about Russia’s war on Ukraine, so Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter had them on to clear up “contradictory messages from Russian state media” about the sinking of Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.
Some background context: Though it took a few days for hard evidence to emerge, it has been quite clear all along that the Moskva sank after it was struck by Ukrainian missiles. But in an absurd attempt to save face, the Kremlin claimed the ship actually went down because of a fire. At the same time, Russian state TV used the Moskva’s sinking as a pretext to call for an escalation of attacks against Kyiv (who, again, were totally blameless in the sinking of the Moskva, according to Russian state TV).
These talking points are incoherent, but that’s a feature, not a bug — Russian propaganda often intentionally sows doubt and confusion.
Stelter came off a little credulous about Russia’s description of events. Here’s how he opened the interview with Gessen: “On the one hand, [Russian TV says] this ship was not attacked by Ukraine, there was a fire they claim, and that’s what went wrong. On the other hand, you have pundits on Russian state TV saying, ‘bomb Kyiv. This is war. We need to retaliate for the sinking of our ship.’ Can both those messages be true? Do they make sense together?”
The answer is quite obviously no. But instead of addressing Stelter’s question, Gessen rejected it.
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