The Associated Press has once again become a platform for spinning skillfully veiled narratives designed by Russian propaganda.
Russia has long grown infamous worldwide for its propaganda and pretty much no one can anymore refer to Russian journalism as objective or trustworthy. However, in the context of hybrid warfare, it's not only their own media that the Russian propaganda masterminds tend to exploit but also the range of their affiliates beyond Russia's borders. Moreover, such an affiliation may be either explicit or well-concealed. What's most threatening about it is that sometimes they're not just undercover affiliates of Russian propaganda, but real journalistic camouflage traps.
But first things first.
This week, one of the largest international news agencies, the Associated Press, published the piece titled "Ukraine's hospitals under strain, even with few virus cases", covering the fight against coronavirus in Ukraine. It was authored by Mstyslav Chernov and Yuras Karmanau, who spoke about the hard work of Ukrainian medics in the city of Chernivtsi and other settlements.
And it would seem that the article is all about respect for the difficult work of Ukrainian medics. But from the very first lines I just sensed a painfully familiar narrative I'd met more than once on other media platforms of the ".ru" domain.
So the article tells about medics forced to wear improvised protective face masks and suits, plastics bags wrapped over their shoes instead of special protective covers, 250 patients shoved into a hospital designed for 150 beds, the autopsy of COVID-19 victims' corpses after people just die right in the streets, and home-made suits, which some local shoemaker makes for health workers!
Of course, Ukrainian health care is facing a number of issues, especially in areas where the COVID-19 spikes are being observed, of which Ukrainian media report systemically. But, what the Associated Press journalists reported seems to have been borrowed from some post-apocalyptic reality. Or, perhaps, better say, purposefully put into the relevant setting…
For example, an article by an American-based news agency describing almost surrealistic horrors has already attracted attention of Russian outlets. The so-called "gray" segment of low-profile Russian media, online forums, and simply raging patriotic bloggers have been widely sharing the AP piece with a universal caption: "American Journalists Report…" I did mention the authors of the said article, but I'll get back to them in a bit.
The fact is that Russia, while concealing the extent of the epidemic on its own soil, spins fake news and or and manipulative material regarding the epidemiological situation in other countries. Among the priorities of Russian propaganda is the emphasis on the COVID-19 developments in the United States, its military intelligence-driven "rescue mission" to Italy, as well as Ukraine – where Russia has chosen to just exaggerate coronavirus-related issues. After all, it can't be that Ukraine has been coping with the coronavirus spread much better than Russia, right? Or can it?
While everything is clear with the heated interest among the Russian media in the said article, then what's wrong with the article itself?
When some media outlets quote my pieces, sometimes they wrongly refer to me as a journalist. This is a fundamental misconception because I've never been one. Once in my life though, I did a photo report. I came to a military unit hosting Marines where the base was absolutely unprepared for winter frost. Upon my arrival there, I captured every visual piece of evidence that would prove the military base was in fact unprepared for winter – disconnected, rusted or severed water utility pipes.
Although I'm no journalist, I do know what a photo fact is and how much the content of the article depends on factual proof to back it.
The article by Chernov and Karmanau is full of photographs, while I didn’t see in any of them "home-made" protective suits made by a "shoemaker". I didn't see "improvised" face masks. As for the autopsy of the coronavirus victims' bodies, the "American" journalists were apparently unaware that coroners don't perform autopsies on such corpses.
The only case that took place in Ternopol was the one that was covered in the report of the Associated Press – without any explanation that this was by no means a mass phenomenon.
So the AP article seems to be skillfully juggling facts, while mixing them with absurd assumptions, and then again, shifting to real events. This, in turn, leads to an imminent distortion of reality.
Interestingly, this isn't the first time the authors of the said report, Mstyslav Chernov and Yuras Karmanau, apply this tool in their pieces.
Back in 2018, the Associated Press published an article "Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp" claiming that teems are actually taught under government auspices to kill people. The report initially stated that the authorities in Ukraine, namely, the "Ministry of Youth and Sports" allegedly earmarked UAH 4 million to fund the "nationalist camp".
However, it turned out that the camp in question never received any financial support from the government. Nevertheless, the report by "American" journalists Yury Karmanov (of Belarus) and Mstyslav Chernov (of Ukraine), did well with raising the hype and was thoughtlessly shared not only by ABC News, the Washington Post and the British Daily Mail, but also gladly picked up Lenta.ru, Channel One and a plethora of Russian misinformation cesspools. Meanwhile, that piece fit really well into Russian propaganda lines about rabid ultra-nationalism in Ukraine, while also diverting attention from Russia's YunArmy organization – the government-funded analog of the notorious Hitler Youth.
No comment here, really. I could only recommend that the Associated Press be more vigilant about reporters who have repeatedly proven that some of their pieces remain extremely manipulative, albeit able to amaze at first glance.