Skripal coverage. Journalism vs churnalism in the same newsroom


What is the difference between Cahal Milmo, chief reporter on the i newspaper, and i foreign affairs columnist and Russia expert, Mary Dejevsky.

Well one of them seems dangerously naive and embarrassingly eager to please shady, anonymous state actors. And the other is Mary Dejevsky.

How else do you explain Milmo’s embarrassingly gushing ‘report’ headlined Digital sleuths using wisdom of crowds to catch killers at large, published in the 28 September print edition of the i.

The piece is a straightforward puff for Bellingcat, the so-called ‘citizen journalism’ operation supposedly run out of a Leicester sitting room by Eliot Higgins.

But i readers would never know from reading it that virtually all Higgins’ biggest scoops – which only ever uncover Russian or Syrian state misdeeds – have fallen flat. When the pics and videos ‘found’ by Bellingcat don’t quickly prove to be easily demonstrated as inept fakes, they often come from partisan US and UK state-funded outfits like the White Helmets.

So much for the independence of Bellingcat’s ‘digitally-enhanced journalism.’

Nor did Milmo’s article include the entirely pertinent fact that Higgins is nothing less than a Fellow of the FUKUS coalition’s de-facto PR agency, The Atlantic Council.

So it seems the radical new method of journalism that Mr Higgins practises, and which Mr Milmo gushed over for 390 words, is simply trying to be a PR flack and an independent journalist at the same time.

I’ve been both, at different times. You are either one or the other. And merely because you work on a newspaper (or in a Leicester sitting room) doesn’t make you a real journalist. Not if you uncritically repeat everything served up to you by PR people or by anonymous ‘government sources’ … which amounts to the same thing.

You’re even less of a journalist if you rehash stories from other papers that uncritically repeat stuff they got from unnamed sources. But we’ve talked about that one already.

So it came as a welcome breath of fresh air to read Dejevsky’s piece of actual journalism, “We should be asking for answers about the Skripals and Bellingcat – and not just from Russia” on 10 October.

Her piece really is journalism. It asks lots of questions. Ones which influential people do not want to see asked, and which they definitely won’t answer.

And there are so many of those questions to ask because the official narratives around Salisbury, Syrian chemical weapons and MH-17 don’t come close to making sense.

My favourite one, though it wasn’t among those asked by Dejevsky, is: “It totally wasn’t novichok in Salisbury so what was it and why do you, HMG and your media PR flacks, keep pretending that it was?”

There’s a massive reek here of people in the intelligence services playing games at the expense of the very national security they are paid to protect.

If the news media was doing its job properly, the intelligence services would have to do theirs properly. They couldn’t get away with feeding-out tripe through their PR guy in Leicester. He would have zero credibility everywhere if the media every subjected his track record to real scrutiny instead of knocking out puff pieces like Milmo’s.

The one tiny smidgen of journalism in Milmo’s 28 September Spook Central press release was a line saying that Bellingcat “…pinpointed the Russian surface-to air missile battery widely believed to have brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014.” Finally, a supposition reported as such.

If the media reported Salisbury as they should – i.e. the victims were allegedly attacked with a substance alleged to be a massively-potent nerve agent although it did not kill either of its allegedly intended victims, whom the British government alleges on the basis of no evidence at all (apart from some flimsy and already-discredited blurry passport  photos allegedly ‘found’ by a NATO-backed amateur computer gamer thanks to an anonymous tip off ), were supposedly targeted by the Russian state, etc. etc. – the story would die in a couple of weeks once professional journalists refused to churn out fact-free, half-baked drivel day after day.

Sadly, that’s not about to happen yet. Ms Dejevsky’s piece, like the tiny handful of other sceptical articles published in the legacy media to day, has been consigned to the memory hole.

As one commenter wrote under her article:

“Let’s hope this is the beginning of a quest rather than a last plaintive burp of disgust.”

Let’s hope. But as long as there are a dozen Cahal Milmos practising churnalism in the corporate media for every one Mary Dejevsky, I’ll not hold my breath.

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