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The New York Times on Moldova: Twits, Not Tweets

Wishing to bolster its own ad revenues, the Times falsely claimed that Moldovans used Twitter to rally the masses against the reelection of a Communist government.

by
Kim Zigfeld

Bio

April 25, 2009 - 12:00 am
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And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Writing in the Washington Post on April 21, Anne Applebaum, a well-known expert on post-Soviet space, asserted that most of the dramatic actions taken by the protesters in the central square — events that were feverishly reported by the Times as “stop-the-presses” sensations — including the lighting of a huge bonfire and the placing of a Romanian flag on top of the Moldovan parliament building were a sham. Applebaum says that “some of the most violent demonstrators were immediately identified by Western observers and local politicians as members of the Moldovan security services.” The purpose of their actions was to discredit the protesters as traitors to Moldova who wanted to hand over the nation to the Romanians. Russia, which has its own designs on Moldova and works tirelessly to co-opt the Communist regime, was delighted. “President” Dmitri Medvedev called the protests “pretextual mass disorder” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called them “pogrom makers.”

To date, the Times has not updated its “story.”

Let’s be clear: This perversion of the news was not caused by mere negligence. The result was entirely self-serving for the Times, which got the chance to plug the magic buzzword “Twitter” into its headline, increase its hip factor, and drive search traffic to its website, thereby increasing ad revenue. As the paper becomes ever more desperate for revenue, readers must be constantly on guard for such possibilities.

I recently had my own disturbing experience with Times reporting about Russia, an experience that leads me to believe no reader can rely on anything the paper prints on this subject.

On April 9, a Times editorial reported: “On March 31, three people beat Lev Ponomarev, a 67-year-old human rights activist, outside his home. A month earlier, Mr. Ponomarev’s passport had been revoked and he was charged with slander for statements he made in the United States about human rights abuses in Russia.” This information surprised me because I follow Ponomarev on my Russia blog La Russophobe and I’d heard nothing about it. I searched the Times archives and could find no such report. I Googled and still remained unsatisfied. I wrote to my friend and fellow Russia blogger Robert Amsterdam, the lawyer for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is in regular contact with Ponomarev as well as many other leading human rights defenders around the world. He’d heard nothing about it either.

So I wrote to the Times to ask for clarification. I wrote to the letters page, the opinion page, the opinion page editor (twice, once to his e-mail and once to a forum he was hosting at the time), and the public editor. Not only did I ask for the source of this report, I suggested that in the future the paper consider publishing hyperlinks in its editorials to its sources, a practice that would have instantly resolved my dilemma.

None of them replied with anything more than an automated response. To date, I’ve still heard nothing. It seems the Times is too busy searching for ways to avoid going bankrupt.

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Kim Zigfeld is a New York City-based writer who publishes her own Russia specialty blog, La Russophobe. She also writes about Russia for the American Thinker and for Russia! magazine and is researching a book on the rise of dictatorship in Putin’s Russia.
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