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The propagandist's translation dictionary How Russia's pro-Kremlin media ‘translates’ the news

Meduza
Photo: Sergei Fadeichev / TASS / Scanpix

Earlier this month, the newspaper Izvestia ran a story titled “Obama Says Putin is ‘Polite, Honest, and Punctual,’” based on Jeffrey Goldberg's piece, “The Obama Doctrine,” published in the Atlantic. But Obama never uttered this phrase. (What the US president actually said is that Putin is “scrupulously polite, very frank,” and “not completely stupid.”) Curious translations like this one, moreover, are anything but rare in Russia's pro-Kremlin media. At Meduza's request, Alexey Kovalev, the man behind the propaganda-busting website Noodleremover, presents some other notable examples of the Russian media's creative approach to translating news reports.

RIA Novosti: Media reports that a CBS journalist's comments about Putin's leadership angered Obama

What RIA Novosti said: “During an interview with the television network CBS, Barack Obama behaved rather nervously, the Western media noted. The president finally lost his cool when he was asked about the ‘challenge to US leadership’ from Russia, and gave a ‘strange’ answer.”

What actually happened: During an interview on October 11, 2015, CBS journalist Steve Kroft asked Obama about President Putin challenging US leadership. But there was nothing aggressive or strange about Obama's response. Here's what he actually said:

“Well Steve, I got to tell you, if you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we've got a different definition of leadership. My definition of leadership would be leading on climate change [...]. My definition of leadership is mobilizing the entire world community to make sure that Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon.”

Expert: US Vice President calls Ukraine the most corrupt country in the world

What Expert said: “Speaking before the Vekhovna Rada, Joe Biden announced that, in his opinion, Ukraine is the most corrupt country in the world. ‘Nowhere else in the world is there a country where corruption is as rampant as it is in Ukraine.’”

What actually happened: Speaking before deputies of the Rada on December 9, 2015, Joe Biden did in fact remark on Ukraine's difficult struggle with corruption. But he never compared Ukraine's situation to circumstances in other countries. Here's the line in Biden's speech that Expert was likely “translating”:

“But I can tell you, you cannot name me a single democracy in the world where the cancer of corruption is prevalent.”

RIA Novosti: DWN says Soros admits the EU faces collapse without help from Russia

What RIA Novosti said: “Soros has supported the plan to solve the immigrant problem, proposed earlier by [German] Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. The plan calls for the investment of billions in the countries from which refugees are coming. Like the German statesman, the billionaire [Soros] calls it his ‘Marshall Plan,’ while specifying that Russia would play a significant role. ‘Russia should absolutely be part of this Marshall Plan,’ Soros said.”

What actually happened: The publication Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, which RIA Novosti cited, was actually quoting an interview with Soros conducted by the news agency Bloomberg. In the interview, Soros addressed the sorry state of the European Union today and the need for a new “Marshall Plan” to confront the refugee crisis. But Soros mentioned Russia in an entirely different context. He's what he actually said:

“I have been in favor of it [a new Marshall Plan] all along. I proposed a Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe more than 25 years ago, in 1989 in Potsdam, when Potsdam was still in East Germany, and I said this would be a Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe, including Russia, and it should be financed by the Europeans, for a change.”

In this case, the translation mistake appears to belong to DWN, though RIA Novosti would have avoided recirculating the blatantly inaccurate report, if it had tracked down the original source, when researching the story.

REN-TV: Cameron has to defend comments about the crash of the Airbus A321

What REN-TV said: “Today, Cameron literally had to make excuses for a member of his staff, the British Interior Ministry head, who yesterday said publicly that the reason for the crash of the A321 [in Egypt] was likely an explosion, and that is why all flights between Great Britain and Sharm el-Sheikh were suspended. The British prime minister today corrected London's position, saying the version [of events] presented by British officials on Wednesday is ‘uncertain.’”

What actually happened: On November 5, 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the A321 plane crash in an interview with Reuters, but he said nothing about correcting London's position on the matter, not did he apologize for any statements by his cabinet. He is what the prime minister said:

“Look, we cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that that was the case. And so I act on the intelligence, I act on the advice of experts, and it's the right thing to do—to suspend these flights, until we can safely bring people home [from Sharm el-Sheikh].”

Izvestia: The US fears the successes of Russian television networks

What Izvestia said: “After some time, it's become clear that media outlets like Chinese state television, LifeNews, and RT are capable of really influencing their audiences.”

What actually happened: Izvestia was citing an article by Christopher Walker, the vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, published in the January edition of the Journal of Democracy. In the article, titled “The Hijacking of ‘Soft Power,’” Walker discusses the influence of state media outlets in China, Iran, and Russia. While Walker does mention LifeNews, he doesn't include it in the list Izvestia cites. Izvestia also ignores the fact that Walker directly accuses Russian TV networks (Pervyi Kanal, NTV, Rossiya-24, and none other than LifeNews) of mendacious reporting.

“For a long time, the West did not worry about authoritarian international media enterprises. Over time, however, it has become clear that outlets such as CCTV and RT are able to exert real influence.”

Most amusing of all, however, is that LifeNews published its own report on Walker's article, citing Izvestia's story. The headline read “LifeNews is recognized in the US to be the main threat to the American media's propaganda.”