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‘Fuck the Pulitzer — I just want a hyperlink’ Russian journalists say ‘The New York Times’ should have acknowledged their investigative work in the newspaper's award-winning reports about the Putin regime's ‘predations’
On May 4, 2020, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced the latest winners of the most coveted award in journalism. The staff of The New York Times won prizes in three different categories: international reporting, investigative reporting, and commentary. The first honor was awarded for “a set of enthralling stories, reported at great risk, exposing the predations of Vladimir Putin’s regime.” The winning work includes six articles and two videos. Not one of the stories is actually set inside Russia: the reports are about wars in Libya and Syria, elections in Madagascar and the Central African Republic, and murders in Bulgaria and Ukraine.
Russia’s embassy in the United States immediately criticized the Pulitzer Prize Board’s decision, writing on Facebook: “We consider this series of articles by The New York Times about Russia as an excellent collection of undiluted Russophobic fabrications that can be studied as a guide for creating false facts.”
Russian diplomats, however, weren’t the only ones indignant at the prize selection. Roman Badanin, the editor-in-chief of the investigative news outlet Proekt, wrote on Facebook: “I have no illusions about the real role of Russian journalism in the world, but I have to note: two New York Times investigations, for which this honored newspaper won a Pulitzer prize yesterday, repeat the findings of Proekt articles published a few months before. I would also like to note that the winners did not put a single link to the English version of our article, even when, for example, eight months after Proekt, they reported the activities of Evgeny Prigozhin's emissaries in Madagascar.” In a comment beneath his Facebook post, Badanin later added, “Fuck the Pulitzer — I just want a hyperlink [to Proekt’s reporting].”
Badanin refers to a series of articles Proekt started publishing in March 2019 about Evgeny Prigozhin’s activities in Africa. One of the winning works that earned The New York Times its new international reporting Pulitzer Prize was an article by Michael Schwirtz, released in November 2019, titled “How Russia Meddles Abroad for Profit: Cash, Trolls and a Cult Leader,” which appeared eight months after Proekt’s “Master and Chef: How Evgeny Prigozhin Led the Russian Offensive in Africa” and repeats many of the same findings. Both reports chronicle the same events: Madagascar’s 2018 presidential election and Russians’ role in the campaign. Both articles also describe many of the same circumstances and characters, like the Russian political strategists whose support shifted during the race and even the nickname they gave the incumbent president, who ended up losing his reelection bid by a landslide.
“Their report about Madagascar from November 2019 repeats all the main and even secondary conclusions from our reporting about Madagascar and Africa generally between March and April last year,” Badanin told Meduza. He clarifies, however, that he is not accusing journalists at The New York Times of plagiarism. “I’m certain that they did everything themselves — they found sources, did the fieldwork, and so on. For me, though, the main issue is something else: nowhere in the story did they acknowledge that we’d already reported on this topic. Either they were unaware of our work (which would be a professional issue) or they didn’t want to devalue their own work with links to some small media outlet in Russia (in which case, this is an ethical problem).”
“The Times began reporting on Russian activities in Madagascar in January 2019, when Michael Schwirtz was given documents by The Dossier Center, the London-based organization credited in The Times article,” a spokesperson for The New York Times told Meduza. “Proekt’s report was published months after Michael had begun reporting on the subject. He did not use any material published by Proekt.”
On May 6, Schwirtz himself responded to Roman Badanin and several other Russian journalists who have complained about the absence of references to their work in prize-winning articles published in The New York Times. (A day earlier, Roman Dobrokhotov argued that two other winning works last year from The Times repeated information first reported by his news outlet, The Insider, and the investigative team at Bellingcat.) “I never once used information published by Bellingcat, The Insider, or Proekt without mentioning them or linking to them,” Schwirtz tweeted (in Russian). “I can speak for my colleagues at Proekt when I say it doesn’t matter whatsoever if you started digging before or after [they did]. What matters is that they published first. After that, you can’t ignore the information they reported if it coincides with yours, even if you got it yourself independently,” responded Dobrokhotov.
Three years ago, The New York Times also won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting thanks to its Russia coverage. The Prize Board honored the newspaper that year “for agenda-setting reporting on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad, revealing techniques that included assassination, online harassment, and the planting of incriminating evidence on opponents.” Like today, The Times faced allegations from the Russian media — in this case, Meduza, it so happens — that Russian investigative journalists first broke the stories that later attracted American reporters’ attention. One of the winning works from 2016, written by New York Times Moscow correspondent Andrew Kramer and titled “How Russia Recruited Elite Hackers for Its Cyberwar,” largely repeated the content found in two articles written by Daniil Turovsky (The Times cited one of these stories in its text). As they do now, spokespeople for The New York Times argued that the paper’s award-winning work was the result of original reporting, stating that citations were made where necessary.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock
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