Has a record of xenophobic statements – but you wouldn't know it from the coverage of recent protests in his support
This article originally appeared at Journalitico
Propaganda is often more about what you don’t say than what you do say — and yesterday provided us with a perfect example.
You’ve no doubt heard by now that Alexey Navalny, a prominent Putin critic and political blogger was convicted yesterday of fraud and given a 3.5 year suspended sentence, avoiding prison but remaining on house arrest.
He, along with his brother Oleg, was accused of embezzling the equivalent of about $500,000 from French company Yves Rocher. His brother received a 3.5 year prison sentence.
After the verdict, Navalny called on his supporters to protest in central Moscow. Navalny defied his house arrest and ventured out to join the protesters, before being promptly detained and returned home.
Now, I won’t make any judgement on whether the charges against Navalny were trumped up (although they are widely believed to be) and I won’t comment much on the treatment of the protesters yesterday at the Moscow rally, first because I was not there (although it did seem a little unnecessary to detain so many), and second, because those things will get all the airing and attention they justly deserve in the media.
There’s something else however, which seems dubiously absent from reports on Navalny in Western media: The fact that he is a racist, anti-semitic, extreme nationalist whose past comments (some of which you can read here) should be haunting him, but have apparently been promptly forgotten or ignored.
Because you see, Western reports didn’t seem to think any of this was worth mentioning. Nada. Zilch.
They instead hailed him as some sort of anti-Putin, liberal freedom-fighter.
I wonder have they bothered to research him at all, or are they just too excited by the prospect of a Moscow coup to put their journalist hats on and actually do some work?
If they did, they might also have uncovered the easily-Google-able fact that Navalny actually supports the ascension of Crimea into the Russian Federation, but shhh, why get bogged down in silly little details like that when there’s a revolution to be had!
Anyone with their head screwed on can see that the Western press would love nothing more than a charismatic political dissident to spark a Russian version of Kiev’s Euromaidan in Moscow. Oh, how they would just love to see Red Square burned to the ground and the President run out of the country, while the US State Department rushes in with cookies and hot chocolate to install a Washington puppet government.
So you can understand why they would seize on this Navalny protest and attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Watching the news come out of Moscow yesterday, I saw some reports that put the protester count at 500 and others that put it at 10,000. In the end, the most realistic estimates seemed to be in the 1,000-1,500 range; not insignificant, but not “massive” which was the word used most frequently to describe them — and certainly not near the 18,000 who pledged to attend on Facebook.
Now, let’s take a look at how various publications covered the day’s events. Get ready, it’s going to be bleak.
Let’s start with Bloomberg, because although their bias is usually fairly clearly displayed when it comes to Russia, they really outdid themselves yesterday. They had three prominent stories about Navalny on display — and nowhere could they find space to squeeze in a line about his ethnic slurs.
In the ‘Who Is Alexey Navalny?’ piece they actually write: here’s what you “need to know” about Navalny, which speaks volumes about what they think you don’t need to know.
This story below was for a while the top story on the Bloomberg technology page — actually, as I write this, it still is. As you can see, “Russians” in general are organizing against Putin.
But perhaps most hilariously from the Bloomberg coverage, I found this gem:
The protesters were shouting “Crimea is not ours” and the “man who rallied them” is none other than Navalny.
Right, who wants to let Bloomberg know that Navalny has explicitly stated he would not return Crimea to Ukraine and that it belongs to Russia? Oops.
Vox has absolutely zero credibility when it comes to fair reporting of the Ukraine crisis, but like Bloomberg, it cemented that fact yesterday.
Vox writer Amanda Taub let loose in a 1,700 word-long spiel about what a great guy Navalny is, failing to once mention the more dubious aspects of his character.
But here’s my favorite line, which obviously was far more crucial to her narrative:
He has a charming blond family!
Rather ambitiously, Mashable decided it would present its readers with Navalny’s life “story” and managed to do so in a spectacularly brief fashion. The piece rounds up after 321 words and 14 pictures and fails to mention anything about racism or Crimea.
It does however, describe him as “charismatic” and a “crusader”.
4. The Guardian
The Guardian also managed to get through 1,100 words, again without mentioning immigration, racism or Crimea. Oh, except to say that the protesters were shouting “Crimea is not ours!” which you know, conveniently implies that Navalny is the anti-Putin when it comes to Ukraine and Crimea.
As you can see, they also don’t think it’s worth giving a more accurate estimate of protest numbers than “thousands”. Conveniently vague.
Reuters, which recently published this pile of lies about RT’s Anissa Naouai and frequently reports in a completely tone deaf fashion on Ukraine, was one of the less egregious offenders when it came to the Navalny coverage.
They at least put the protest numbers in the “hundreds”. Okay, yeah that’s about it. The rest of the piece was just more of the same.
You didn’t think we’d get through this without mentioning BuzzFeed, did you? BuzzFeed, without a doubt, is far and a away the winner when it comes to throwing fairness and integrity out the window.
Miriam Elder, the “foreign editor” wrote this humdinger about “unspeakable cruelty and cunning” of the Kremlin. Within, she refers to the “invasion” of eastern Ukraine (which actually has never been confirmed other than by NATO press releases) and then lambastes Russian news channel RT for “wacky propaganda”.
BuzzFeed also followed yesterday’s protests with a live blog that again failed to mention any of the above relevant details about Navalny and instead portrayed him as nothing more than a courageous freedom fighter.
And of course, they made a list: 10 Reasons Russian Opposition Leader Is Hank From “Breaking Bad”
…because that’s the kind of hard-hitting reporting we need these days. At least RT, with their “wacky propaganda” refrains from this sort of crap.
Anyway, among the reasons why Navalny is a character from Breaking Bad is because he, uh…has a wife (point 3), and has some “quirky” hobbies including the fringe interests of Twitter, Instagram and…music (point 4).
Right, well I’ll leave it there. I could go on but quite frankly it would take all day.
Last word: Navalny, whether innocent of the crimes he was accused of or not, is an extreme nationalist who has a history of being openly racist and has been accused numerous times of anti-semitic remarks.
Western press may be lauding him as an anti-corruption crusader now, but I have an inkling they might quickly change their mind if he were to ever replace Putin.
The West should be careful what it wishes for in Russia.