Moore: Politifact’s Media Narrative Towards Russia Showed Bias

Monday, March 20, 2017
Russell J. Moore GoLocal MINDSETTER™

Lincoln Chafee at work
As far as the truth is concerned, it’s a good thing that the Providence Journal has discontinued its Politifact feature.

On the local level, the Politifact articles normally were anything but fact-based, and would just cite facts that backed up the opinion of the writer who was supposedly assessing the truth of a statement. On the national level, it wasn’t much better. (Politifact was just a national branding, of local media reporters, acting as universal arbiters of truth.)

Set that view aside, however, and Politifact serves as a good example of the mainstream, legacy media creates its own narratives, and then cherrypicks facts that support that story line.

They're much more monolithic than one would imagine. The reporters sit around tweeting back and forth at one another like they're in an echo chamber or a group of cool kids sitting in a high school cafeteria.

For instance, the story line of how the mainstream media and the Democrats have worked together, over the last year or so, to try and stoke a new Cold War, is a very good example this dynamic. (Today, any connection to Russia or an expressed desire for better relations with the country is regarded with suspicion, at best, and evidence of potentially treasonous behavior, at worst.)

Political Opinions, With Facts as Backup

That wasn’t always the case. To make this point, look no further than Politifact.

Long before Donald Trump burst onto the national scene in a big way, and even before Mitt Romney was derided for claiming that Russia was a threat to American interests during the 2012 Presidential election, the legacy/mainstream media regarded news reports tying American politicians to individuals with ties to Russian government officials with skepticism.

So when, in the early days of GoLocalProv, during the 2010 gubernatorial election in Rhode Island, GoLocal published a report that detailed the fact that Lincoln Chafee consulted to a foundation (for tens of thousands of dollars), “The Center For Effective Governance” which was founded by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, Politifact was critical. Akhmetov had some questionable past dealings and was suspected by many in his country of serious crimes, GoLocal reported.

The Providence Journal Politifact story report downplayed Chafee’s connections to Akhmetov, and pointed out that the Russian billionaire oligarch had never been arrested or charged with a crime. The Politifact story wasn’t interested in Ahkmetov’s ties to Putin, apparently, since they weren’t mentioned.

Changing storylines

“All we found were suspicions, suggestions, innuendo, and conspiracy theories circulating in the rough-and-tumble world of an emerging Ukrainian democracy,” the Providence Journal wrote in its Politifact feature, referencing facts cited in a GoLocal article about Akhmetov.  

Can anyone imagine the media taking this type of stance against any of the innuendo or conspiracy theories about Trump’s Russian ties?

Yet that was in 2010. Remember, this was long before Russian hysteria had hit a boiling points in America because the Democrats and the media needed an angle to disparage Trump.

Today, suspicions, suggestions, innuendo, and conspiracy theories, particularly when they come from unnamed sources in “the intelligence community” are treated as Gospel truths.

For instance, last year, Politifact (the national bureau) took a much keener interest in Akhmetov. Specifically, the publication decided to take a look into his connections to Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager last summer.

The Russian Connection

In that story from 2016, when candidate Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort to run his campaign, Akhmetov was featured in the story as a high profile Russian businessman with connections to Vladimir Putin. Remember: at that time, (even moreso now) the media, particularly the national media, was busy portraying Putin as a grave threat to the United States, in an attempt to torpedo Trump and benefit Hillary Clinton.

“Paul Manafort, the adviser hired by Donald Trump to add stability and institutional know-how to Trump’s often scattershot presidential campaign, has long and deep reported ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine,” the Politifact report reads.

That’s a much different narrative. In this media narrative, 6 years later, Akhmetov is cast in a much more negative light.  

Akhmetov is characterized as a Vladimir Putin loyalist, who recommended Manafort work with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in an attempt to help him stay in power.

“Akhmetov, however, also was a supporter of Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s prime minister, a leader of the Party of Regions and an ally of Vladimir Putin. Yanukovych became president in 2010, but fled under escort to Russia after Ukraine’s 2014 revolution,” wrote Politifact.

Manaforts Russian Ties More Important?

The article implies that Trump’s hiring of Manafort suggests some subversive Russian ties between the campaign and the foreign power. It’s also worth noting that this article was printed long before the Russian hysteria hit a fever pitch.

The two examples show that as the legacy media’s narrative often evolves, certain facts or circumstances that would otherwise be overlooked are instead highlighted.

Along the same lines, Chafee caused a media uproar last month when he suggested that warmer ties with Russia weren’t necessarily a bad thing (a position he’s long held). Yet when GoLocal reported on his ties to a pro-Russian oligarch in 2010, the mainstream, legacy media published a highly critical report...of GoLocal. Go figure.

All of this shows why the media will continue to undergo its decentralization and folks begin to turn to alternative sources of information in order to get the facts.

Increasingly, the gatekeepers in the legacy media have less to guard, since folks can get the information from more unbiased, alternative sources.

We don’t need “Politifact” to do our thinking for us.

Russell Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Send him email at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.

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