Reporting by the MSM on the recent Russian presidential election cycle is one of the lowest moments in its history.
The MSM reported that a “White” or “Snow” revolution was taking place led by blogging attorney Aleksei Navalny, one that would oust dictator Vladimir Putin from power just like dictators were ousted throughout the Middle East. At the very least, the MSM promised Putin would be forced by a massive groundswell of popular opposition into an embarrassing runoff election. A Google search for “Putin 2012 runoff” yielded half a million hits.
This was never remotely true.
Putin was swept back into office essentially as president for life with no significant opposition or outcry, and before the votes had even been counted he’d shamelessly declared himself president for life. The public demonstrations against him were limp, disorganized, frivolous affairs more likely to make Putin smile than worry. He won in a landlside.
Between Putin, a proud KGB spy, and Gennady Zyuganov, an avowed Communist, 75% of the Russian electorate was accounted for.
The MSM trumpeted its hysterical, breathless lie for two reasons: to gin up ratings with a compelling narrative involving drama in Russia, and to support Barack Obama’s reelection by trumpeting the success of his so-called “reset” with Russia.
According to French firm Semiocast (Russian-language link), Russia has five million users of Twitter, ranking 20th in the world for number of users and 7th for frequency of use (on par with Great Britain).
But on March 4, 2012, election day in Russia, only a little more than 200,000 (less than 5%) of all Russian Twitter accounts were following Navalny. In contrast, more than one million were following current “president” Dmitry Medvedev. That’s one fifth of all Russian Twitter accounts, five times more than Navalny, and likely close to all of the active accounts in the country. Medvedev’s alternate account — in English — has nearly as many followers as does Navalny in Russian. Navalny has a pathetic total of less than 1,000 followers in English.
From the beginning, Navalny had focused on utilizing Internet resources to bolster his movement, so these statistics are particularly damning and telling.
The data indicate he has failed miserably in achieving his central goal. Even if you focus on just “active” Twitter accounts, which reduces Russia’s tally by 75%, you are still left with 1.25 million Twitter users and a mere 15% of them following Navalny, assuming all of his followers are active. You can’t assume that, of course.
It had always been perfectly clear just by looking at Twitter that Navalny was not any type of serious force on election day in Russia. Given that, it was hardly surprising that Navalny did not even try to register himself as a candidate on the ballot opposing Putin, nor did he even try to endorse any of Putin’s rivals for office. He didn’t create a political party, he didn’t generate any significant fundraising, he didn’t try to run advertisements, he wasn’t interviewed much, and he didn’t give a single memorable speech in the entire election cycle. Just before the election, a Time magazine cover referred to Putin as “The Incredible Shrinking Prime Minister.” He wasn’t; Navalny was shrinking.
Navalny promised he would force the Kremlin to redo the parliamentary elections, then forgot about that promise when it fizzled. He promised crowds of ever-increasing size at public demonstrations; they got smaller. He promised Putin would be forced into a runoff election and humbled; Putin won in a first-round landslide.
None of this fit the MSM’s juicy narrative, so they ignored it.
In the run-up to the election, Putin launched a wave of crackdowns on independent media outlets, threatening a leading newspaper with bankruptcy and pulling the plug on a popular MTV talk show. Navalny did nothing. Putin arrested protesters and even used the old Soviet trick of sending them to mental wards. Navalny did nothing. His story was best summarized when a crowd at the famous Bolshoi Theater started booing a man they spied in the Imperial Box, believing him to be an infamous Putin cohort. In fact, he was a famous Polish composer.
There never was any sort of fearless, concerted mass political movement capable of challenging Putin for power.
If there is a recognizable political opposition movement in Russia, it is the same movement that existed in the USSR, and it has only one guiding principle: Flee Russia, as fast and as far as you can.
Navalny’s plan was flawed from the inception in every way imaginable. Even if he had managed to galvanize Russia’s entire Internet, more than half the country has no access to the Internet so he would still have come out behind. Even if the Internet held sway over a majority, Navalny’s “cult of personality” strategy undercut his ability to promulgate serious political ideas. People who attended his rallies said they felt more like parties than political campaigns.
But the MSM didn’t report any of this. Instead, it gushed and swooned as Navalny called his supporters into the streets, and about a third of his Twitter following showed up, bolstered by larger numbers of Communists and Nazis. They showed for Navalny because rather than create his own party or run, Navalny’s “strategy” was to call upon Russian voters to vote for anybody except Putin. This big tent included Communists and Nazis.