Russia’s Disinformation Campaign Sounds Like Orwell’s ‘1984’ Warned – Chicago Tribune


Madeline Roache apparently has a dream job: getting paid to watch TV and transcribe what she sees.

Don’t envy him. She watches the morning news in Russia.

Roache is a London-based colleague and analyst at NewsGuard, which assesses the credibility of news and information sites and TV news broadcasts. She speaks Russian, has reported from Ukraine and chronicles the disinformation spawned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation”.

She writes a daily newsletter about how a highly watched newscast portrays “the operation.” She said: “It is extremely disturbing to see how Russian state television is creating an alternate reality about the war. Stories that sound believable, that use reports and interviews from the field, blur the truth with lies. Watching state television made it clear to me that Russia is waging an aggressive war for the hearts and minds at home.

Roache watches state broadcaster Channel One and details his irrefutable claims that Russia is a heroic victim of conspiracies between Ukraine, Europe and the United States, the target of Ukrainian war crimes and an eradicator at the humanitarian spirit of “Nazi” demonic subterfuge.

Here is a potpourri filled with pretense of what Channel One told millions of gullible breakfast viewers last week:

“Every day, the Russian military defending Donbass demonstrates resilience, courage and professionalism.”

“In areas bombed by Ukrainian militants, people are forced to hide in basements.”

“According to the Ministry of Defense, “Moskva” sank during a storm. Due to severe hull damage, the vessel lost stability and capsized. Earlier, our Ministry of Defense reported that munitions had exploded on the ship, starting a fire.

“New heroes, who perform tasks in the special military operation to protect the Donbass, are appointed.”

“There is new life in the liberated city of Berdyansk without the bombings and atrocities that were perpetrated by the radicals before the arrival of our military.”

“Humanitarian aid – basic necessities and, for the children, toys – is being collected. The refugees remember with horror how until recently they hid from the bombardments and how they were used as human shields by the radicals.

“Our Ministry of Defense has stated that new provocations have been prepared by Kyiv forces with the aim of discrediting our army. According to the head of the National Defense Management Center, Mikhail Mizintsev, neo-Nazis laid mines on a car overpass in the town of Kostyantynivka, which is an important rail hub in Donetsk.

When it suits its purposes, the newscast quotes the allegedly obnoxious Western media. Recently, that involved calling a New York Times article unassailable that revealed how the Ukrainian military had apparently used banned cluster munitions. He does not mention Western media exposing Russian military outrages or Putin’s untruths.

Inevitably, I revisited George Orwell’s “1984”, the classic 1949 novel about the perils of authoritarianism, mass surveillance and disinformation.

“The parallels are frightening,” Roache said.

According to “The Ministry of Truth,” a 1984 study by British writer and critic Dorian Lynskey, a key insight Orwell had into totalitarianism came from his 1937 volunteer work during the Spanish Civil War: he saw agents of the Soviet Union, predecessor Russia, fabricating outright lies about the Trotskyists of the Spanish government as fascist spies. Leftist journalists bought the lies; Orwell no.

Fast forward to today. “There are several things going on here,” said Alexander Motyl, a Ukraine scholar and professor of political science at Rutgers University in Newark.

“Russian political culture is authoritarian and worships the great leader. It goes back centuries. The Soviets reinforced these beliefs, while perfecting the art of duplicity and lying. So misinformation is normal for many, if not most, Russians.

“At the same time,” Motyl said, “Putin and company have spent two decades developing an Orwellian ideology that draws on Russian and Soviet imperial experiences and resonates with popular opinions. People don’t know better, but the most important thing is that they don’t want to know better. They prefer to live in an imaginary world in which Russia is the biggest, while being the victim of Western machinations.

Moreover, “there is a weird kind of schizophrenia in Russian culture. On the one hand, they are the best. On the other hand, they are terribly sensitive to criticism, or anything less than glorification. Putin exploited this, claiming that the Ukrainians are Nazis ready to attack Mother Russia, while denying that Russian soldiers killed Ukrainian civilians.

If you need a refresher, check out Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. His weekly briefings demonstrate oratorical stamina and shameless, mocking concealment.

I watched one that was Fidel Castro-length at two hours and 12 minutes. Zakharova, the daughter of a diplomat who speaks fluent English and Chinese, said Ukraine was committing war crimes; allegations of a Russian massacre at Bucha outside kyiv are fiction; and the United States is the main source of the 7,000 mercenaries helping Ukraine.

There’s a shameless swagger that borders on performance art. He is, after all, a person who has continually asserted that Russia would never invade Ukraine. She would be a perfect American cable news host, especially given what NewsGuard sees as those networks’ reluctance to present alternative viewpoints.

“We know we are being watched,” she said with her air of metaphysical certainty. “The truth cannot be hidden.”

As NewsGuard’s Roache finds out every day, you can definitely give it a try.

James Warren, former editor of the Chicago Tribune, is editor of NewsGuard.

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