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.
But the MSM didn’t focus on that. Not one tough interview of Navalny was published by any Western news outlet. The MSM ignored the fact that the street demonstrations were inherently apolitical, unserious, disorganized, and rare (none at all in the entire month of January). Instead, it focused exclusively on the fact that the demonstrations were the biggest since Putin took power and occurred during cold weather, apparently showing the impressive bravery of Navalny’s followers.
When Putin put an equally large crowed on the streets in February on the same day as Navalny’s effort, the MSM ignored it, or attacked it with charges that attendees had been bribed. The pro-Putin demonstrators got no credit for being out on the street in the same freezing temperatures, even though their alleged bribes at most amounted to pennies.
The nadir: The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley — a reporter pilloried across the Internet for ludicrous errors — was sent to Moscow to watch TV and to decide for the Gray Lady’s readers how free it was. She reported that the opposition’s Echo of Moscow radio was being left alone — as it was being raided. She told readers the press was free to report accurately on the opposition, even as European election observers pronounced — elsewhere in the Times’ own pages — that the opposite was true.
Tom Parfitt, a Russia correspondent for the Telegraph, tweeted that the U.S. ambassador to Russia had tweeted in Russian that vote fraud was tainting the legitimacy of Putin’s election. In fact, Ambassador Michael McFaul had done no such thing — the tweet came from a fraudulent account that did not belong to him.
In September of last year as Putin announced he’d return to the Kremlin, Andrew Kuchins of Foreign Policy reported that all was well and Putin would “play nice” with Obama. This month — without mentioning his prior analysis and just before the actual elections were to prove him hideously wrong — Kuchins wrote that the Obama “reset” was “over” and there was “turbulence ahead.”
The MSM should have listened to some actual Russians.
Daniil Kotsyubinsky, a Russian historian and journalist, has written that Navalny may very well be the best thing that ever happened to Vladimir Putin, and the fact that Navalny has not been arrested or assaulted makes one wonder if Kotsyubinsky might not have a point. Navalny has not spoken out against Russian support for the genocidal anti-American dictatorships in Syria, Iran, and Venezuela.
Similarly, Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky argues that Putin is quite content with Echo of Moscow radio, one of the leading so-called “opposition” voices left in the Russian mass media. It serves as a non-threatening pressure release valve for the small, ragtag contingent of opposition forces, and allows Putin to conveniently keep tabs on them. Putin is a lifelong KGB spy, which is essentially the same as being a gangster, and he has obviously taken to heart Don Corleone’s advice about where to keep one’s enemies.
The most accurate expression of what is happening in Russia came from opposition leader Yevgenia Chirikova, who was interviewed by the brilliant Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute. Chirikova told Aron:
It seems to me that our problem is not Putin but the people. For [we should be] more demanding with respect to our own lives, with respect to what we see out of our windows, and resist every time when government functionaries offend us.
This is the truth, which the MSM either didn’t know or viewed as incompatible with their agenda. In MSM reporting, the Russians were not cowards, but lionhearted. They were not hiding or collaborating with Putin as they did with Stalin, they were marching in the streets like the citizens of Syria or Egypt, ready to give their lives for liberty. Putin was not a dominating figure supported by the masses, he was a doddering imbecile about to be forced from power like the despots of the Middle East.
And Barack Obama was a knight in shining armor.
All of it false.
This isn’t the first time the world has been misled to get its hopes up about Russia. Lenin was supposed to make things radically better; so was Yeltsin. But in both cases, the end result was nothing but disappointment.
The MSM asks its audience to simply ignore history, because this time it’s for real. Just trust them.
And the torrent of attacks on the U.S. coming out of Russia? Don’t notice that man behind the curtain, the MSM said. Don’t notice Russia’ s massive military buildup, pay no attention to its brutal crackdown on American values.
The Internet, and Barack Obama, are going to make the world safe for democracy. Trust us.