On the Reuters “Exclusive” on Rebel Buk Possession Confirmation

July 25, 2014

The Reuters news organization, part of the US based Thomson Reuters corporation (NYSE:TRI), had this exclusive announced with this screaming headline

Exclusive: Ukraine rebel commander acknowledges fighters had BUK missile

Within 24 hours, this article was retweeted about 1040 times and had 231 favorites: it was headlined 133 separate news outlet. I am sure it was linked to many more articles, blogs, rants (nowadays all the same thing) as the Smoking Gun so far.

This is it! Case closed! In your face Putin!

A Request for the Reader

Before commenting on the report, I’d like the reader to do two things:

1. Read the headline slowly. Without reading the story what would you guess the story was about?

Would you assume the summary was

(A) that THE Rebel Leader of ALL Rebel forces ADMITTED to HIS forces having the Buk?

Or

(B) that A Rebel Leader of SOME of the Rebel forces CLAIMED that OTHER rebel fighters had the Buk?

So which would you think the headline points you to?

2. The second exercise that I’d like the reader to do is a time consuming and fairly shocking request: please READ the article. Go on. Its 1025 words. 26 paras. I’ll wait.

Commentary

If you actually reads the article: congratulations. You’d represent a fraction of the people who just read the headline and made up their minds.

A few observations

Which of the two Summaries (A) or (B) above was the article about? Personally I thought (B) summarized the story better. How about you?

Actually here’s the very first para (with my highlights) of Reuter’s intrepid Anton Zverev’s gripping narrative

A powerful Ukrainian rebel leader has confirmed that pro-Russian separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the type Washington says was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and it could have originated in Russia.

At this point even a “Putin is the AntiChrist” Reader should start having some questions. What’s the difference between “Ukrainian Rebels” and “Pro-Russian separatists”. Aren’t they all the same? So there are different militias with different agendas? All against the government? And this guy is the commander of one of the militias? And what’s this “could” have originated in Russia?

But at least he “confirmed” it right? So that’s good! So the Rebels for sure had an active Buk that they could have got from Russia which they could have fired which means …. that Putin is directIy responsible for killing babies. The logic seems airtight!

As one goes down the story – and it does read like a gripping thriller – there are many twists and turns. He’s blaming the other Rebels! No he’s blaming the Russians! Oops now he’s blaming the Ukranians for provoking / fooling the Rebels! There were Buks captured from the Ukrainians! But they were duds! Maybe the Russians had some! But perhaps they are gone back across! Or something! And here now as a break from your regular programming, is some commentary from your ever dependable US State Department sternly reminding us that Ukraine must never, ever be blamed.

Whoo! What a ride! What a rush! The Buks were being wheeled around and swapped like something from a Benny Hill Show.

And then, towards the end, we come to a major plot twist with this actual quote

“What resources our partners have, we cannot be entirely certain. Was there (a BUK)? Wasn’t there? If there was proof that there was, then there can be no question.”

What the hell dude? Now you are getting all Sartre and Shakespeare like about the Buk? After all of this it’s “Was there A Buk or Not a Buk, that’s the question”?!

This is the CRUX OF THE STORY! And now, towards the end of the story, you’re saying you’re not sure about whether the rebels had a Buk or not?? All this is still just speculation then?

And “no question” about what? That they used it? Tell us for Fuck’s sake. Don’t leave us twisting in some sort of Inception mind-melting hell.

And he then ends with this statement which somehow immediately brought to my mind Camus’s “The Fall” as well as the conversations between Willard and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

He added: “I am an interested party. I am a ‘terrorist’, a ‘separatist’, a volunteer … In any event, I am required to promote the side I represent, even if I might think otherwise, say otherwise or have an alternative view. This causes real discomfort to my soul.”

Fade to Black. Roll Credits.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood and Mohammad Zargham)

Silence.

My story review would be 4 stars for a thrilling ride. He had me guessing all the way!

Conclusion

Have you ever finished a book, a story like Kafka’s The Judgment and thought “What the heck happened?”

As in the The Judgment‘s conversation between Georg and his Father, this one between Reuter’s Anton Zverev and this Rebel commander Alexander Khodakovsky, is a bit surreal. What exactly did the guy confirm / allege / claim / see? Was this like a formal interview or a late night drinking session?

I don’t know. I read the story a few times and I’m still puzzled. I don’t see him at the end confirming anything: he seems to be rambling and talking in circles. I can imagine him telling Zverev “You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill”.

I mean, like after any good work of literature or film, there are so many unanswered questions: central among them – did he actually confirm anything?

(Another question is how does the Reuters style-guide recommend one assigns who’s a Rebel and who’s a Separatist; and whether that should be preceded by “Ukrainian” or “pro-Russian””. I mean how do we know who the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys are? Or are they ALL bad? Don’t give us Shades of Gray!)

Summary

In the final analysis, I think the headline is highly misleading to the actual content of the story, to the point of being highly biased to suggest a particular storyline.

What I DO think is that an objective headline would read

“A Rebel Commander’s Musings on the Alleged Buk’s Origin”

With a subheading

“A Warrior Philosopher’s Reflections on Rebellion and Semiotics”

Epilogue

Hours later (presumably when the hangover had worn off) Khodakovsky issued a retraction

“We were discussing theories but one simple phrase was cutting throughout like a red line that I do not have the information on militia possessing such kind of a weapon,” Khodakovsky said in an interview with RT, or Russia Today.

Oh OK. Nevermind then.

Of course, by now the original Reuters article spread like wildfire through the World and blogosphere, and is now part of the official Western canon.

And so it goes.

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2 Responses to On the Reuters “Exclusive” on Rebel Buk Possession Confirmation

  1. Pingback: Economists Attack on Putin’s “web of lies” based on web of lies | ludwitt

  2. Pingback: The Economist’s Latest Propaganda Based on Web of Lies | ludwitt

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