British Inquiry report hits another bump in the road
Amidst exuberant media reports that Putin "probably" ordered Alexander Litvinenko's murder, an inconvenient finding of Public Inquiry chair Sir Robert Owen's seems almost totally ignored: the long-reported Litvinenko deathbed statement accusing Putin is fraudulent.
Owen didn't put it that succinctly. But he did admit that (a) "the idea of the statement did not originate from
Mr. Litvinenko," (b) the statement was drafted by "George Menzies who was Mr. Litvinenko’s solicitor," (c) Menzies had not discussed the statement with Litvinenko before drafting it, (d) Owen believed "the content of the draft statement reflected Mr. Menzies' understanding of Mr. Litvinenko's state of mind," and (e) Owen claimed "the statement is consistent with views expressed by Mr. Litvinenko to others at around this time."
Said plainly, Litvinenko's lawyer wrote the statement, admittedly with no advance consultation with Litvinenko. The simple fact of the matter is that the statement was not Litvinenko's statement, not Litvinenko's words. It was a case of someone putting words in Litvinenko's mouth.
Despite that revelation in Owen's report, media organizations have persisted in treating the deathbed statement as though it were truly Litvinenko's. For example the Irish Independent on January 27, 2016 reported, "On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of ordering his assassination."
How did other media handle that? I decided to compare how three outlets treated the deathbed statement in 2006 versus in 2016 after Owen had revealed it to be fraudulent:
Washington Post in 2006 reported that Litvinenko "called Russian President Vladimir Putin 'barbaric and
ruthless' and blamed him personally for the poisoning." In 2016, after the fraud was revealed by Owen, the Post reported, "Marina Litvinenko said Thursday outside the High Court in London she was 'very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed, when he accused Mr. Putin, have been proved by an English court.'" But of course they weren't her husband's words and Litvinenko never spoke them. Although the Post attributed the claim to Mrs. Litvinenko, it did not attempt to call out her factual misstatement. That surely left readers with a false impression.
USA Today, 2006, "In a statement dictated from his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Putin of complicity in his death." 2016, the same counterfactual statement given by Mrs. Litvinenko as in the Post.
New York Times, 2006, "From his deathbed, Mr. Litvinenko's family said, he had accused President Vladimir V. Putin of being behind his poisoning." 2016, again the same false statement of Mrs. Litvinenko's.
With the legitimacy of the deathbed statement in question, it should perhaps not be surprising that its parentage is unclear. Owen firmly attributed the authorship to Menzies. But in 2006 Alexander Goldfarb, a close associate of Boris Berezovsky, the fugitive Russian oligarch, claimed differently. The Telegraph reported, "A day or two before he slipped into a coma, Litvinenko dictated a statement that he asked to be released in the event of his death. Alex Goldfarb took it down."
So now we have two authors of the statement, Menzies and Litvinenko.
Those "dictated" statement reports never rang true to me. In 2007 I reported to the World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists that "on its surface the statement doesn't sound like something that was just dictated on a deathbed." I added it was strange that the statement was written in eloquent English, yet there was evidence that Litvinenko could barely speak English. I give further documentation of this in my book The Phony Litvinenko Murder.
After the authenticity of the dictated statement was called in question, Goldfarb found it necessary to revise the tall tale he had told. Now his explanation changed. According to the Washington Post, "Goldfarb said Litvinenko, on his deathbed, told him to write a note 'in good English ... to name Putin as the man behind his poisoning.'"
And now we have three authors: Menzies, Litvinenko, and Goldfarb. It's often said that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Those multiple author claimants seem to have viewed the statement as a big success. Meanwhile, though, Owen appears quite oblivious to all the deviousness surrounding this chapter in the Litvinenko drama.
The deathbed statement, it turns out, must indeed have been quite successful. It sustained itself over the years, and now even through its exposure as a fraud. It seems media outlets regard it as too juicy a story to abandon, even if by now there should be no question about its inauthenticity. I'd bet that's why the media rejected the Inquiry's finding.
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