Russia Today and the post-truth virus

A video is circulating of a woman revealing “the truth” on Syria that is being withheld from us by “the mainstream media”. The woman is introduced as an “independent Canadian journalist”. She is said to be speaking  “at the UN”. The date is December 9, 2016. The video has become viral.

Eva Bartlett, the woman in the video, writes for various conspiracy sites including SOTT.net, The Duran, MintPress and Globalresearch.ca. But more recently she has emerged as a contributor to Russia Today. And though her wordpress blog is called “In Gaza”, and though she has a past in Palestine solidarity work, unlike the people of Gaza, she is a strong supporter of Assad and she uses language to describe Assad’s opponents that is a virtual echo of the language Israeli propagandists use against Gazans.

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This is the “I ❤️ Bashar” bracelet that “independent” journalist Eva Bartlett wore on her visit.

Bartlett was recently a guest of the Assad regime, attending a regime sponsored PR conference and going on a tour of regime-controlled areas herded no doubt by the ubiquitous minders (the regime only issues visas to trusted journalists and no visitor is allowed to travel without a regime minder). On her return, the regime mission at the UN organised a press conference for her and three members of the pro-regime US “Peace Council” (The organisation has the same relationship to peace as Kentucky Fried Chicken has to chicken). In the press conference they all repeated the claims usually made by the regime’s official media SANA and by Russia Today: all rebels are terrorists; there is no siege; civilians are being held hostage; the regime is a “liberator” etc.

So a conspiracy theorist with a blog who briefly visited Syria as a guest of the regime is declaring that everything you know about Syria is wrong. That you have been misled by everyone in the “MSM” from the New York Times to Der Spiegel, from the Guardian to the Telegraph, from CNN to Channel 4, from ABC to BBC, from CBS to CBC; that human rights organisations like Physicians for Human Rights, Medicins Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch; that international agencies like the UN and ICRC—they are all part of a vast conspiracy to malign Bashar al Assad. And the truth is only revealed on “alternative” media like the Kremlin’s own Russia Today! (watched by 70 million people a week according to its own claims)

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Bartlett wears a badge with photos of Putin, Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah

In normal times something like this would provoke derision and dismay—or at least the person would be asked to provide verifiable facts instead of anecdotes (virtually everything she said is verifiably false as Snopes and Channel 4 [video] have both confirmed). But these are not normal times. Supporters of the regime, admirers of Putin, and sectarian propagandists have latched on to this video. Kremlin broadcaster Russia Today has promoted the video heavily. And, in the game of Chinese whispers, the story has morphed into “a UN press conference”.

There is of course a deep racism at play here. Besides great international journalists like Christoph Reuter, Janine di Giovanni, and Martin Chulov, there are also many excellent Syrian reporters on the ground. But we are supposed to dismiss them because the truths that eluded all of them were vouchsafed to a Canadian blogger with a column on Russia Today!

What is happening in Syria is not a mystery. The facts are crystal clear. They are corroborated by multiple independent organisations. People who deny these facts only do so because of a will to disbelieve. It’s willed ignorance in the service of an ideology. This ignorance has been reinforced by Kremlin’s premier disinformation service: Russia Today. The broadcaster has rebranded itself “RT” to conceal its origins and agenda. It has even spawned a neutral-sounding viral video outlet like “In the Now“. Their aim is to sow doubt, feed cynicism, and confound knowledge. They are pressing a narrative—Kremlin’s narrative. And as the major perpetrator of violence in Syria, Kremlin has every intention to muddy the waters. (And no Russia Today is not “just like the BBC”. Have you ever seen a Russian government official questioned on Russia Today the way Tony Blair is questioned on the BBC by Jeremy Paxman; let alone the way Jon Snow on Channel 4 questions David Cameron?)

So next time someone shares a stupid video like this, hit them with facts. If they want to challenge them, then they should bring something more substantial than rambling nonsense from a conspiracy nut.

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There is an old joke. A wife returns home to find her husband in bed with another woman.

“What are you doing in bed with another woman?” she screams.

“What woman?” the husband replies.

“The woman I just saw in bed with you,” says the wife.

“Who are you going to believe,” the husband replies, “Me or your lying eyes?”

There is no doubt that the Western media has often failed in its coverage. Its reporting on Gaza and the journalism leading up to the Iraq war was abysmal. But western media isn’t devoted to obfuscating truth with the kind of single-minded determination that Russia Today is. It is deeply ironic that many people’s often justified disdain for western journalists has led the into the embrace of a channel that has no commitment to truth at all. And it becomes most pernicious when pro-Kremlin propaganda is dressed up as criticism of “the mainstream media”, “the establishment”, or “Washington”. As I wrote elsewhere:

There are few things more commonplace than an Oedipal disdain for one’s own government. In this solipsistic worldview, one need not have to understand the dynamics of a foreign crisis; they can be deduced remotely. If you hate your own government then, by virtue of being in its bad books, a Putin or an Assad becomes an ally.

Conversely, if people elsewhere are rising up against their far more repressive states, their cause is tainted because of a sympathetic word they might have received from your government. And all the images of agony do not add up to a tear of sorrow as long as they are relayed by a hated “mainstream media”. Indeed, victims are reproached for eroding ideological certainties by intruding into our consciousness through their spectacular suffering.

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Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

49 thoughts on “Russia Today and the post-truth virus”

  1. I do think our “big media” is the real culprit here, in the news-dissemination stakes. By saying this I am not exonerating RT (which I watch circumspectly – all propaganda also contains intelligence) let alone that soft-spoken thug Assad – I have wanted the world rid of him since he killed the first protester. But our Washington Posts and Al Jazeeras have failed to report Syria properly because they will not let their people risk their lives. And this conforms with America’s “no body bags” approach to foreign crises under president Obama, where the root of the Syrian catastrophe lies – it is the tap root, deeper than Assad; our morality has proven shallower than Assad’s immorality because we will not die for the sake of virtue. Our repetitive and emasculated media is a symptom of this. Thanks for the excellent article. I shall check the links and try to find the video, in due course.

    1. empty assumptions buddy. you know that or not that the assad regime tries to control all reporters coming to the country? a lot reporters have been killed in this war. 7 are jailed a the moment. just now a swedish reporter was forced to leave the country because of untrue reporting the regime said.

    2. I’m not sure it’s at all Obama’s fault, or even that of his occasionally – and tragically – far too cautious ‘no body bags’ doctrine that is entirely responsible for all blame.

      The root cause goes back much further, at least to the post WWI imperial colonial carve up by the British, French and Americans of the Middle East and as a result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. More recently, we (the Western powers) have – if not actually promised – at least made the clear impression of promising help to the people of the Middle Eastern and North African countries that if they rose up against their countries autocratic, despotic leaderships, we would come to their practical aid.

      We failed to do so in Iraq in 1991 during the immediate aftermath of Desert Storm (under George HW Bush’s military coalition leadership) leaving the Iraqi people to their fate – much of it induced by Desert Storm. Instead we imposed ‘no fly zones’ in the north and south, which we patrolled from the air for the following 12 years.

      This, along with 9/11 hitting the accelerator, led to the 2003 invasion. This time the ‘promise’ was far more explicit. One of the ‘ideas’ to justify Operation Iraqi Freedom was to free the Iraqi people from the oppression of the Saddam régime and to install a – nominally – democratic government. A concurrent theme was to encourage the people of other Arab states to rise up in the name of democracy; the western powers (still the US, UK and France) would come to their aid should they need it was implied.

      Again, for a multiplicity of reasons (force depletion and political will high among them – and fear of body bags coming home) we failed to do so. So the ‘Arab Spring’ received little practical military help and most – if not all – of the countries where there were revolts, even changes of government, have now slipped back to being the autocratic and oppressive countries they were before the uprisings.

      Our failure to commit and engage fully in Syria has been ruthlessly exploited by Putin and Russia. the ‘facts’ have been manipulated to such a degree by Putin and his proxies that the lies have become the new truth – as described above.

    1. Did you also believe all the lies about Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction? The “satellitte photos” of trucks with chemical factories?

  2. there is nothing whatsoever available to read about the author of this article ‘Idrees’. Just a simple photo and this first name.
    I’d really love to take this article seriously, but firmly believe this would be more credible if the author stood behind his work with an actual profile.

    1. Author: Idrees Ahmad
      I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels. View all posts by Idrees Ahmad

    2. Talk about seeing what you want to see only!

      Everything I link below was found in less than 60 seconds by either clicking links on this page or using google. .

      Here is a link to some more info on him : https://pulsemedia.org/about/mia/
      http://www.aljazeera.com/profile/muhammad-idrees-ahmad.html
      https://twitter.com/im_PULSE?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

      I hope you understand, that your comment would be more credible if you actually did the research that you claim to have done. . .
      Sadly I have to wonder how many other people who have a similar world view to you, have seen your comment as further proof of what they already think, without an ounce of critical investigation. . Symptom of our dumb species it seems

  3. Guys please just shut up all… Can you hear that… It’s an objective “IDREES” the photogenic angel of justice sent by god to pulsemedia.org (beacon of light) to help ignorant people around the world.
    Thank you holy Idrees, maybe you can tell us why the Syrian channels and Al-Manar have been banned off satellites ages ago, and they tried with Al-Mayadeen too… which left 0 outlets that give another side to the store? And why the guilty is being deprived of his voice to defend himself? Is that justice Mr. Enligthened? I’m sure you righteous angels came from Saudi Arabia and the States to address the beacon of lies, and monopolize the Freedom Of Speech songs’ airing, with an intelligent anti-“conspiracy” twist.

    You control all the media of the world and our true voices still pierces all your fucking walls and your satellites and the coconut shells on your shoulders.

  4. Fine, very thorough document. This fool Bartlett spoke in New Haven last week. I asked her why she appeared on the Richie Allen show which is part of the David Icke conspiracy group. Icke plays with anti-Semitism. He has a YouTube where he discusses the second most important anti-Semitic document in history, the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” explaining how “important” it is. Bartlett didn’t deny the anti-Semitism, but said she’d appear anywhere to get out her message and she asked me “Would you appear on Fox News. It’s Islamophobic”. The

  5. It is important to highlight Syrian government/Russian/Iranian propaganda. There is also evidence of fake news being used to discredit the government with potential involvement by anti-Assad countries like Qatar and Turkey. One of the big challenges is that jihadist-held rebel areas are often not safe for independent journalists with fully impartial views, so reporting from those zones tends to reflect opposition views.

    The astonishingly high component of the civilans deaths cited as being attributable to the Syrian government is in part due to SN4HC counting insurgents as ‘civilians’ on top of the many deaths from the government’s aerial bombardments. They also lump in attacks (like Ghouta) which are of disputed origin. That said it still remains likely that the government is responsible for the majority of civilan deaths given their sustained bombing campaigns on urban areas.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Syrian_Civil_War

  6. “Have you ever seen a Russian government official questioned on Russia Today the way Tony Blair is questioned on the BBC by Jeremy Paxman; let alone the way Jon Snow on Channel 4 questions David Cameron?”

    This has always been my main problem with RT. Very little coverage of Russia, and what there is tends to be very positive (and often quite interesting) documentary content, or “and finally” funny dog stories. Never a bad word about Russian politics or social issues.

    Who are they trying to kid?

    Juxtaposed with the relentlessly negative reporting of western issues, the end result is cloyingly biased.

  7. I think there is plenty of propaganda being slung from all sides. I definitely appreciate your perspective. As difficult as it makes thinks, I don’t think that dismissing certain outlets as RT as absolute propaganda is useful nor accurate. They can oftentimes have an interesting and counter-perspective to media that is decidedly pro-West, anti-Russia, as long as we recognize the slant that they have and look at it as such…That said, I am astounded at the rabid anti-Russian sentiments being spouted and re-spouted by news from the Left. Internationally, Russia can be an important counter-weight to the US. Their involvement in Ukraine and Syria is understandable in a context that Western outlets refuse to consider & quite probably better than US actions in the Middle East & North Africa have been.

    1. sorry bullshit. there are enough free media outlets with various different point of view. the anti-russia bullshit comes only from russia trying to play themself as victim. the anti-imps love that. the reason for this bullshit alliance.
      also why should anyone would like to waste their time on finding out what propaganda from state media is and what is just a different opinion.
      you are making yourself a useful idiot like bartlett, vanessa beeley and all those other failed journos that no one hires.

    2. “Russia can be an important counter-weight to the US”! Absolute brainless nonsensical waffle! A stupid 20th century soundbite which is meaningless and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny of the facts. Their involvement in Ukraine and Syria is NOT understandable. This a country ruled by Putin’s corrupt and evil gangster kleptocrat elite, supported by a sycophantic media (as they murder or jail dissenters) who seize territory, bomb children, schools, hospitals and aid convoys, and shoot passenger planes out of the sky with impunity, then DENY it and blame it all on a western conspiracy. On top of that they dope their athletes, are engaged in cyber crime, and even falsify facts about WW2! WHY WOULDN’T THE LEFT OPPOSE THEM?

      1. This trend of people buying into Russian propaganda is the direct result of our own governments lies and deceit. Remember those wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, which all resulted in complete failure and loss of innocent human life? These wars where all vigorously supported by our own Western Governments, yet they could be considered the greatest tragedies in modern times. All this starts to build up and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the common people. Deep down everybody knows that Russophobia is created and fueled by only Russia, but people also want to send a message to our own leadership. If people really where happy with the way things are going right now, they would be marching in the streets by the thousands protesting against what is currently happening….

  8. Oh my god. Thank you. You saved me hours of leftist splaining. All my conspiracy nut friends have got to STOP, being victimized by Putin KGB conspiracy propaganda…. thank you for taking the time so hopefully I don’t have too. Of course no fact is so strong that it can’t be denied by a conspiracist.

  9. Not thoughtful at all and full of speculation. While it’s completely true that the Assad regime is the most guilty of murder and abuse overall, and that your facts listed above seem credible, what I see you doing here is attempting to dismiss the messenger without providing adequate rebuttal to her allegations. I would imagine that as a journalist she has collected facts of her own to back up her arguments. If she’s wrong, rebut her based on her statements, don’t make your only answer an assault to her integrity.

    1. she made so many bullshit statements that no one should take her serious.
      failed journo taking blood money.
      funny thing is she was in gaza and condemns israel but assad bombing civilians, suddenly they turn into terrorists.
      RT brings out the moral high standards of all these failed journos.

      1. on top of that. read her blog. every human rights organisation is just a western propanganda tool for her.
        she is a dangerous conspiracy nut. RT loves those failed fringe fools.

  10. Excellent take on this regime-apologist Eva Bartlett and on RT News. People like Eva hurt not only the Syrian people, but the Palestinians she claims to defend so much. Nothing better than the truth, whether we like it or not.

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