My life as a boring 62-year-old West of England bloke keeps getting weirder.
When I wrote about how the Kremlin gets disinformation on Skripal to me via our cat a few weeks ago, I thought I was, you know, joking, ha ha ha.
Then I caught the 15 December BBC story “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” and the embarrassing truth crashed in on me.
I AM a troll!
Well, I must be. I wrote the cat thing in response to an earlier article on the BBC site – Sergei Skripal and the Russian disinformation game. That piece wanted to convince readers that the reason we feel the official narrative around Salisbury is ludicrous and contradictory is not the obvious one (i.e. because it actually IS both of those things) but because “armies” of Russian trolls are spreading “multiple narratives and conspiracies” to undermine our belief in the legacy media’s folderol.
Like most people of my age and social group, I don’t spend enough time on Twitter and Facebook to pick up that many secrets and lies via Russkie bot farms. So I looked around for a likely source of my doubts about the wholly unbelievable doorknob theory and decided it was the Russian secret service channelling via our cat.
I mean, you can’t trust those sinister elliptical pupils can you? And what did people once use cat’s whiskers for? Yeah, making radio receivers. See?
My big mistake was surrounding the cat hypothesis with what I hoped was a humorous and satirical wrapper. Duh! By doing so, I totally outed myself as a Second Stage Practitioner of the cold, dark art of DisPutinformation.
So thank goodness for the BBC and its brave, impartial “journalism”. Inverted commas there because the writer of both posts above referred is an analyst for the, until very recently, entirely-UK-Foreign-Office-funded BBC Monitoring service, which isn’t journalistic.
In case you are wondering, the self-described reason for BBC Monitoring’s global eavesdropping habit is to: “Leverage the trust, independence and accuracy of the BBC. Our insight is free of bias, propaganda or hyperbole.”
No, no. Stop. Don’t think about that any more or you’ll fall straight down a Putinesque rabbit hole where the standard dictionary definitions of common English words like trust or independence don’t hold together any more.
Or perhaps they really don’t? Let’s see.
We’ll begin with who BBC Monitoring approached for comment on Russia’s weaponised humour. Being free from bias and propaganda, two of the three sources they went to were The Atlantic Council and a Moscow-based website, The Insider.
The Atlantic Council is NATO’s PR and public affairs (aka bias and propaganda) arm. The Insider is a Kremlin-sceptic site which has partnered with the UK-based Bellingcat website on allegedly digging up “crowd-sourced evidence” (tr. poor quality videos and hearsay that wouldn’t stand up in court) about things like the alleged identity of one of the two Russians who travelled to Salisbury, allegedly to assassinate Sergei Skripal.
Mention of Bellingcat brings us to its founder, Eliot Higgins, who is a Senior Fellow at … oh my gosh … The Atlantic Council. Which is where we came in with the first-mentioned expert source.
Higgins gets at least some of Bellingcat’s income from lectures he gives at, among other places, the BBC and the Foreign Office. There’s very, very cosy for you.
Bellingcat has also cited income from the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which aims to “work in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances, and to respond quickly when there is an opportunity for political change“. Please read the last four words in context.
It is almost laughable, the flimsiness of the BBC’s belief that people won’t immediately spot that their article is itself decidedly biased and propaganda-ry. But we mustn’t laugh, must we? Because if it’s funny, it’s probably disPutinformation.
Even with the combined firepower of NATO- and Congress-friendly spokespeople on board, BBC Monitoring’s expose of dastardly Russian weaponised smirking struggled to maintain its momentum.
It does starts strongly enough; revealing that the BBC’s all-hearing ear in Moscow has picked up that:
“Russian officials and media figures have […] tried to turn the English phrase “highly likely” into a mocking catchphrase that implies Russia is being blamed for everything with the flimsiest of evidence.”
I’m surprised that any work gets done between the Urals and the Sea of Japan, what with everyone having to stop to wring out their underwear from laughing so much.
Sadly, like a stand-up comedian losing the room half-way through their routine, the piece then goes progressively off the boil. It tells us:
“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad.”
No! Just like comedy programmes in the UK, you mean? Not Going Out, Would I Lie to You, The Detectorists and Peep Show? Never a Russian or ISIS joke on any of ’em when I’m watching. [Disclaimer: I’ve never watched Mrs Brown’s Boys but I bet there’s no Russian jokes there either].
BBC Monitoring adds:
“If the president is mentioned, it is in flattering terms, while Western leaders and institutions are fair game. Take Russia’s top mass-appeal TV comedy show, KVN. Last year, a skit on the G20 summit depicted Mr Putin as an athletic, skilful practitioner of judo who ran rings around his Western counterparts, who appeared ungainly and foolish.”
Fair point, although to make it fit the slant of the remainder of the BBC piece you have to take it as read that the whole of the rest of the G20 consists of “Russia’s enemies abroad”. Which might be true. After all, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia1.
Perhaps realising that its flimsy Russian Humour Weapon premise was slipping off the even-more insubstantial narrative thread supporting it, the BBC article reached for balance from “author Peter Pomerantsev who himself experienced the world of the Russian TV producer.”
Mr Pomerantsev buries Mr Putin (or is it the rest of the article?) with a devastating quip:
“They have brought the humour inside. It’s not a super-serious regime, they do things with a kind of smirk and sometimes just with a smile. It’s a system that allows for a certain amount of humour, it’s not po-faced all.”
What are we being told here? I don’t know. I don’t think the article writer knows either.
At least as an interviewee Mr Pomerantsev isn’t yet another tainted-by-association contractor for some pro-Western think tank or other.
Oh damn and blast! He was. He was project chair for the Information Warfare Initiative of the Center for European Policy Analysis, another Washington-based outfit, which “works to bring about positive change in Central-East Europe and Russia by strengthening NATO’s frontline, better understanding the Kremlin’s strategic aims, promoting greater solidarity within the EU, and bolstering Atlanticism“.
There’s enough euphemisms in that corporate bio to cook up a pretty smelly bouillabaisse, with every bone of honesty carefully filleted from the thinly-veiled desire for pro-Western regime change.
Well done, BBC Monitoring. A hat-trick of biased and propaganda-ry spokespeople to leverage your reputation with.
Jeez; don’t we at least deserve a little subtlety?
No-one is trying to argue that rivalries between states and regions won’t always go on; or that words like ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ have almost interchangeable meanings in the world of diplomacy; or that Russia has everyone else’s best interests at heart, just like America hasn’t either.
The point here is that the BBC is doing an abysmal job of being better than Soviet-era Pravda or any other organ of state propaganda you might like to point to. That includes, openly, the BBC itself during the second world war. Though then the corporation could at least point to an actual axis of actual enemies actually engaged in actual merciless warfare against us.
Is Russia actively planning to attack us with planes, tanks and warships? I don’t think so. They do supply us with a lot of gas and oil though. Yet this latest piece of work from BBC Monitoring rings all the bells George Orwell was paid to strike at the BBC back in 1942:
Bias: in this case all quoted viewpoints are taken from sources whose overt stock-in-trade is keeping up tension between the West and Russia.
Propaganda: The article credits The Insider with “exposing one of the two [Salisbury] poisoning suspects, Anatoliy Chepiga” as though the identification is irrefutably confirmed at state level rather than relying on a standard of proof that is only acceptable in ‘citizen journalism’, i.e. blurry photos that might or might not be of the same person.
Hyperbole: The BBC’s story boils down to a claim that the dastardly Putin, having inflicted mass confusion on the British public by getting his bot army to flood the internet with awkward questions about the official Salisbury narrative, is now poised to complete his destruction of Western public morale by wielding a weapon so ghastly, so totally inhumane, that all civilised societies have shunned it since time immemorial.
You know, that reminds me of something.
“Everyone was terrified of him. He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and … satire.”Monty Python. Piranha Brothers sketch. Aired 15 September 1970.
- George Orwell of course, who resigned from the BBC not so much because he eventually tired of broadcasting propaganda but because the BBC worked out that no-one listened to his department’s stuff. ↩