So you know how the Western commentariat carries on about how Russia Today fawns over the Kremlin and propagates anti-Western propaganda, while shamelessly peddling itself as a paragon of universal truth and uncompromising objectivity? Welcome to the next installment in the never-ending annals of Western media hypocrisy, brought to you courtesy of Dorothée Olliéric, hack zhurnalizdka extraordinaire of state TV station France 2.
On the morning of August 10, at the height of the Great Russian Heatwave, Olliéric contacted Alexandre Latsa, a Moscow-based French blogger*, through Facebook. “I’m in Moscow again for a few days,” she said, ”I’m looking to interview someone on the failure of the Putin system in this crisis, if possible a blogger who goes to the real news away from Russian state TV, etc”. After a few hours, in response to Latsa’s queries, she clarified that the interview’s purpose would be to link the news on the wildfires and deaths to “explain the failure of Putin’s system” and on how to get access to information in a country where the state “says nothing, hides everything”. She concluded by asking Latsa if he or a Russian friend could participate in an interview.
In the late evening, she asked Latsa if he had received her message and asked him if he could do an interview the next morning on the subject of “bloggers who are looking for true information to report on the crisis and on the failures of the Putin system”. After failing to get a response after a little more than an hour, a seemingly flustered Olliéric wrote, “Well then Alexandre, no longer responding to France 2???”
You can find Latsa’s answer to Olliéric in French, Russian and English at his post France2 – Франс 2 и Я… In my view, this fictionalized response from Olliéric, written by one of the commentators, just about sums it all up: “I’m too lazy and incompetent to do my dirty work myself, so I’m looking for someone who is silly enough to do my dirty work for me and lowly enough to distort the facts to please my editor… If I fail to cook the story his boss wants, I’ll fail to sell it to my editor. And if my stories fail to sell with my editor at France 2, I’ll be outta my job faster than you can say independent western media“.
In the event, the presenter Olliéric had to do most of the cooking herself. On the next day, the day that Latsa’s interview may have been, she was “semi-obsessively repeating the assertion that Putin’s system failed” and (falsely) claiming that the Kremlin wasn’t accepting international aid.**
As I noted in my own post on Russia’s torrid summer, the main reason for the savage wildfires was the unprecedented magnitude of the heatwave, which may have been the most severe to hit Central Eastern Europe in 15,000 years! Barring findings to the contrary by objective researchers – as opposed to the hack journalism purveyed by Dorothée Olliéric or Julia Ioffe (who even found a way to blame the poor Mongols!) – it is not unreasonable to posit that, in general, the Russian state made the best it could out of a bad situation.
Yes, I know. There were many cases of of unresponsive authorities, of information censorship, of outright corruption in saving the homes of rich dacha owners before state property. But consider this from another angle. Why did more than three times fewer Russians die of wildfires than did Australians in their (milder) Black Saturday bushfires last year?
Ultimately, even most Russians themselves – the people, you know, who actually had to live with the wildfires – would disagree with the stories peddled by the Western media about them. The two most attributed causes of the wildfires, according to an opinion poll by Levada, were the unprecedented severity of the heatwave and the Soviet-era policies of draining the peat bogs. And, contrary to the many proclamations floating about last month that the regime’s popularity was crumbling in the heat, the latest approval ratings indicate that the wildfires made nary a dent in the tandem’s political fortunes.
* And latter-day Walter Duranty, if Ukrainian nationalists are to be believed.
** For more on the rigorous standards of French coverage of Russia’s wildfires, see also Le Figaro et la Russie… ou comment des grévistes de la faim sont choisis pour illustrer la canicule.