The public didn’t need any more reason to see the media as untrustworthy, agenda-driven, and unwilling to take even the most basic steps to authenticate stories before reporting them. But, this week’s staging of the death of anti-Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko by Ukrainian authorities has once again exposed the lazy, bloodthirsty, Machiavellian side of international media outlets and so-called ‘journalists’ whose job seems to be regurgitation, not original reporting.
Of course, Ukrainian authorities deserve a large share of the blame for willfully deceiving the public, thus betraying their trust. When a government states unequivocally that a man has been shot three times in the back outside of his apartment in Kiev, and that he has been pronounced dead on his way to the hospital, no average citizen can be blamed for assuming that such black-and-white facts would have to be true. Even in countries where news and propaganda are one in the same, fudging the facts regarding whether somebody has a pulse or not is rare.
So, when international news outlets received the ‘official’ account of what happened from government-affiliated Ukrainian authorities, there was little hesitation to rush the story to the top of website home pages. Surely, in several of those news rooms, fist pumps, silent ‘you-go-girls’ and verbalized self-congratulations abounded as unabashedly partisan journalists received what they believed to be more confirmation that Vladimir Putin is the heartless, clumsy assassin which he is consistently portrayed as.
‘After writing about a crashed Russian military plane in 2016, Mr Babchenko said he received death threats and left his home country.
He first moved to Prague and later to the Ukrainian capital. He was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin.
The journalist was reportedly shot several times in the back.
Kiev police chief Andriy Kryshchenko told local media they suspected Mr Babchenko was killed because of his "professional activities".’ (BBC)
In other words, according to the Kiev police chief, Babchenko was killed by assassins dispatched by the Kremlin because he continued to speak critically of Russian government affairs.
Except, as Babchenko appeared very much alive in a televised press conference the next day, the world found out that none of it was true. Babchenko wasn’t killed at all, he was alive and well. As authorities explained – well, said, not really explained – Babchenko had faked his death at the behest of government-employed authorities in order to catch the ‘real assassins’.
Babchenko was on-record at the press conference as dropping an all-time quote:
"I'm still alive," he said, as his mouth move and his heart pumped.
Uhh, ya think?
Even as Babchenko confirmed to the world what our eyes were telling us to be incontrovertible – he was, in fact, still alive –Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, continued to imply that Babchenko was going to be assassinated, if not for the Ukrainian fake death scheme thwarting the hit.
Incontrovertible fact: Arkady Babchenko was decidedly not assassinated by Russians, or anybody.
Statement we’ll have to take Ukrainian official’s word for: there were, in fact, real assassins who are now in Ukrainian custody.
But, were there really Russian assassins on their way to take Babchenko’s life?
If so, how exactly did the bullets-in-the-back death hoax work to stymie their plans? How did it facilitate the apprehension of those supposed assassins?
Those would-be killers’ identities haven’t been revealed, and obvious questions which the public now deserves answers to remain. So, we’ll just have to take police chief Gritsak’s word for it, right?
Sorry, but that’s not the way it works. That’s not how any of this fake death stuff works. Unless, of course, you’re inclined to cling to the idea that of course Russia kills any journalist who speaks out against Vladimir Putin or his government.
Nevermind that the murder of Russian journalists, while still far too high a number, has decreased since Vladimir Putin took office, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ statistics. Many in the media will be more than happy to overlook the fact that Ukrainian authorities faked a death and reported the opposite of the truth, so long as it means that Vladimir Putin and his ‘assassins’ remain the antagonist in the story.
But many will not play along.
The ever-diminishing contingent of true journalists who understand that, while the public faith in reporting is virtually nonexistent at this point, certain lines aren’t to be crossed. Not only because once you pull a ‘gotcha!’ story on the public once, they should never be expected to believe you again. But also because the media, while occasionally tasked with not reporting on a story when lives are involved, should never be used as a pawn to intentionally deceive.
But, in this case, they were used as pawns. Most in journalism are justifiably pissed about this, but others – not true journalists at all – remain alarmingly understanding of it all.
What is truth, anyway?
After all, media is not what it used to be. Journalism isn’t what it used to be. Several outlets not only are willing to intentionally deceive, they take pride in it. Whether that means misrepresenting facts, taking words out of context, indulging in villainizing and hyperbolic rhetoric towards world leaders, or simply reporting that a journalist was shot in the back while they remained alive, plenty in the media world will continue to see these unethical practices as a means to a more important end.
Their job, in their minds, goes beyond simply reporting the cold, hard facts. They are part of a higher calling, as actors propagating untruths so that a greater goal can be accomplished. Whether that goal is regime change, domestic fragmentation, or swaying the public toward one side or the other in an election, reporting, in their mind, doesn’t adequately define their role in the grand scheme.
Such a mentality represents the death knell of not only honest reporting, but an enlightened society. Those who still care about the facts and work to inform, not deceive, the public to create an empowered, instead of a powerless, populace can only watch in horror as the mindless flock in increasing hoards toward the lie-spouting, fearmongering light of unashamed propaganda.