Monday, September 12, 2016

Quotable: Kseniya Kirillova on Americans’ vulnerability to Russian propaganda

Donald M. Bishop, "Quotable: Kseniya Kirillova on Americans’ vulnerability to Russian propaganda,"

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Sunday, September 11th 2016
Because of some of their unique national traits, quite a few Americans, including younger journalists unfamiliar with Soviet and Russian history, have fallen from time to time for propaganda and disinformation spread by the Kremlin on satellite television and social media. Some of it may be a result of unfamiliarity with foreign policy issues, but American distrust of authority also plays a role. Some Americans accept without questioning claims that Russia was until recently or still is an essentially democratic nation, now under threat from the West, and therefore must defend itself.  Kseniya Kirillova, a Russian journalist who studies these issues, explains why some Americans fall for such propaganda from the Kremlin. “Many Western journalists simply cannot conceive of the scope of lying in today’s Russian state media and continue to judge the information flowing out of Russia by the same criteria as information from any other source,” Kirillova wrote. [Front abstract]

Author:         Kseniya Kirillova, a U.S.-based Russian journalist

Source:          BBG Watch.  A Russian version of her article, “Слабость Запада” (“The West’s Weakness”) was posted online by Radio Liberty.  
Date:              July 14, 2016

Key Quotes:

  • Everyone who follows the Russian state media in one way or another knows that for years they have used propaganda to justify every crime ordered by the Kremlin, especially war crimes, as a response to an alleged ever-increasing “external threat.”

  • Every such action by the Russian government is portrayed as a “necessary response” to allegedly hostile policies initiated by the United States.  Russian leadership, from Putin down to the last diplomat, echo the theme alleging that “NATO is breaking its promise not to expand in the East.” They accused the U.S. of “invading the sphere of Russia’s vital interests and organizing a coup in Ukraine.”  America “supports a Fifth Column,” “provoked a civil war in the Donbas region in Ukraine,” and so on.

  • Such ideas, successfully deployed inside Russia, have been refuted more than once by  Western journalists. Articles debunking the myth that “the West humiliated Russia” and demonstrating that today’s confrontation is a result and not the cause of Russian aggression have been published in the West. 

  • However, despite this, the arguments used by Russian officials continue to enjoy some resonance among certain groups of Americans.  The Kremlin media and the army of trolls working in tandem with them have hit accurately upon the weak spots of Western societies and successfully exploited them, to the Kremlin’s advantage. Some of these weak spots are:

  • 1.  Some Americans are naïve about foreign policy. * * *

  • 2.  Russian propaganda plays on Americans’ distrust of their own government.  * * *  Most Americans, including those who are highly patriotic, distrust politicians and corporate media. Americans consider a critical and suspicious attitude toward authority to be one of the main features of their democracy and see it as a guarantee against an authoritarian rule.  By itself, this is an admirable trait, but Russian propagandists have taken advantage of it with remarkable frequency.

  • The idea that government is a “necessary evil” from which one may expect any sort of villainy runs strongly within American political culture. Hollywood regularly portrays the FBI or the CIA suddenly discovering that they are only pawns in a large conspiracy, a power struggle between good and evil, which forces them to fight not only the bad guys but also their own government.

  • 3.  . . . . many Western journalists have long confused balance with objectivity. They feel they must show every side of an issue regardless of the veracity of the information and its source. This encourages Moscow to flood the internet with many different versions of reality in the belief that Western news media will accept them as “part of a historical record,” something that, in the final analysis, must have happened because it was reported.

  • Many Western journalists simply cannot conceive of the scope of lying in today’s Russian state media and continue to judge the information flowing out of Russia by the same criteria as information from any other source.

  • 4.  The cult of professionalism in America also plays into the hands of Russian propagandists. . . .

  • 5.  The Kremlin is an avid exploiter of American politeness and political correctness.  Americans don’t feel obligated to argue until exhaustion to prove they are right about something. 

  • Unfortunately, the Kremlin’s spin doctors are perfectly aware of the West’s many weaknesses and are adept at exploiting them. Despite the spread in the West of Russian “active measures” designed to confuse the public and to split the Western alliance, the United States is still unable to find a way to respond to the information war waged against it and to respond to the threat in such a way that the response would not impinge on the basic principles of American democracy.

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