Moon of Alabama
Another rather amusing piece about fake news is published in today's New York Times.
It is amusing because no fact in the piece agrees with the headline. The piece itself turns out to be fake news. It is about old stuff, not news at all, and the content does not support the theses.
Some Ukrainian expats lobbied in the Netherlands against a vote for a EU-Ukrainian association agreement. Some Dutch people of Russian heritage also lobbied that way. The Dutch eventually rejected the agreement with 61.1% of votes against it and 38.1% in favor.
That vote took place in April 2016. I am not aware of any reason why that poll would now deserve a piece. Its purpose is certainly not to report current news or the vote itself. It does no explain what the vote was really about nor does it mention the numeric results.
A few expats in the Netherlands took part in public discussions and argued for the side of the vote that eventually won. They did so without hiding their identity, fairly and completely within the bounds of all laws. There is no sign at all that they had any influence on the vote.
But that is not good enough for the NYT. "Putin did it" is a standing order. Indeed the lobbying Ukrainians must have been "fake Ukrainians" and secretly Russians because somehow no Ukrainian would ever argue against the violent Maidan putsch and its consequences:
They attended public meetings, appeared on television and used social media to denounce Ukraine’s pro-Western government as a bloodthirsty kleptocracy, unworthy of Dutch support.
The most active members of the Ukrainian team were actually from Russia, or from Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, and parroted the Kremlin line.
The author seems to express that people "from Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine" (which include at least a third of the country) are "fake Ukrainians"? That they have no agency as Ukrainians but are only capable to "parrot the Kremlin line"? Are these Russian speaking Ukrainians of less value? Is there something wrong with having an opinion that does not parrot the Washington/Brussels line?
Then comes a caveat that takes the intended blow out of the whole buildup of the piece:
It is unclear whether the Ukrainian team was directed by Russia or if it was acting out of shared sympathies …
Could it be that it is neither-nor? That there is third reason why they acted that way? Maybe because they are convinced that the EU-Ukraine agreement is not in the best interest for either country? (Not said in the piece: The agreement in questions is way more than an trade or economic agreement. It includes binding defense and political alignment clauses.)
Let us look at the "Fake Ukrainians" and "Group of Russians":
One such [Russian] contact is Vladimir Kornilov, a Russian-born historian and political analyst who grew up in eastern Ukraine and now lives in The Hague, where he runs a one-man research outfit called the Center for Eurasian Studies.
Before the Dutch referendum last year, Mr. Kornilov campaigned against the Ukraine trade deal, describing himself benignly as “a Ukrainian expat in The Hague” who was “stunned by the seemingly endless stream of lies and propaganda” about Russia and felt obliged to respond.
Vladimir Kornilov looks around 40 years old. When he was born there was no "Russia" or "Ukraine" as we understand them today. The historic Russia included the Ukraine. When Kornilov was born there was the Soviet Union with many federal entities. "Russian-born" and "grew up in eastern Ukraine" is a national categorization that no one made before the USSR fell apart. People would have said "born in Moscow" and "grew up in Donetsk" or something of that kind.
Kornilov strongly disagrees with the NYT piece and especially the "fake Ukrainians" headline:
Vladimir Kornilov @Kornilov1968
@nytimesworld Dear editors! What does it mean "Fake Ukrainians"? Your author know that I'm an Ukrainian citizen and don't have another pass
4:07 AM – 16 Feb 2017
The only "Russian" with which the piece comes up with is a young student who came to the Netherlands as a child:
A particularly active member of the Ukrainian team was Nikita Ananjev, a 26-year-old student born in Moscow who moved with his mother to the Netherlands, where he is now chairman of the Russian Student Association.
Ananjev describes himself publicly as "Dutch raised but still 80% Russian".
Kornilov and Ananjev are the only two relevant persons the NYT piece identifies. They are the "Fake Ukrainians" and "Group of Russians" the headline describes.
The "fake Ukrainian" is not "fake" at all but a real Ukrainian. The "Group of Russians" is a Dutch raised student in Rotterdam. The NYT has found no sign of any actual Russian influence on their public arguments or opinions. There is zero evidence in the piece, none at all, that these people "tilted a Dutch vote". There is not even one attempt made to show that this was the case.
The people of the Netherlands, Dutch people, voted against the preference of the NYT editors by a quite large margin. That this might have to do with the rather bad agreement the vote was about, or with the illegality of the U.S. organized Maidan putsch, does not deserve any question or attention. Instead we get false assertions about foreign influence stated as facts with nothing to back that up.
The "fake news" in the headline makes sense only as a description of the piece itself.
There is no argument in it that actually supports the headline. There are no "fake Ukrainians", there is no "Group of Russians" and those few expats who were active did not "tilt the Dutch vote".
The piece is also fake news because it contains no news at all. The vote was 10 month ago. The expats lobbied openly before the vote took place. Nothing mentioned in the piece has since changed. There is no one new fact in it.
It is cooked up propaganda which does no include any facts to back up its message. A rather sorry attempt to stoke the anti-Russian campaign that was intensified by Hillary Clinton first to win the election and, when that had failed, to explain her loss. It fits the imperial illusion of the "sole superpower" the NYT generally peddles. But it does not really serve its purpose. It is completely unconvincing and easy to debunk. It is fake news.