The Times is not alone in this media fraud. Here are some other equally false variants: “Britain Says Ties with Russia Played Part in Litvinenko Ruling” (Reuters), “May [Home Secretary Theresa May] Cites Moscow Relations as Factor in Litvinenko Decision” (Financial Times), and “Litvinenko Inquiry Request Refused for Fear of Alienating Russia” (Guardian).
These headlines simply don’t comport with the facts. The media are reporting on a July 17 letter issued by Home Secretary May. In it she reprimands Litvinenko coroner Sir Robert Owen for not fulfilling his statutory responsibilities. But nowhere does she even mention Russiaor Moscow, much less suggest she or her government are in fear of alienating the country. She doesn’t even hint at that. The claims in the headlines I’ve cited are patently false. And the headline intimations that there won’t be a further investigation into the death? Completely bogus, too.
Stories of collusion between the UKand Russiato thwart justice in the Litvinenko case are not new, however. Even before May’s letter was sent, a July 12 Daily Mail headline proclaimed, “UK’colluded’ with Kremlin to block inquiry into death of poisoned Russian spy Litvinenko.”
BBC chimed in, too. In a story on the same day, it quoted an observer: “There’s some sort of collusion behind the scenes with Her Majesty’s government and the Kremlin to obstruct justice.”
Didn’t the media outlets check for facts? Indeed, are there facts to back up the allegations?
The media outlets offered no substantiation for the claimed collusion. A couple of sources were cited. But the sources gave no substantiation either. Suspiciously, they seem to be associates of the late Boris Berezovsky. He was a fugitive Russian oligarch hiding out in London. By his own admission, he had big plans to destabilize Russia, incite bloody revolution, and throw out the constitution. What’s more, the Berezovsky-related sources cited in the press have demonstrated questionable credibility themselves. Why didn’t the media scrutinize what those people were saying?
Berezovsky was a master media manipulator. His outlandish aspirations, and the counterfactual tales he uttered trying to achieve them, have received serious coverage by major media outlets around the world. This went on for over a decade. That adds up to a lot of journalistic malfeasance.
Alleging British-Russian collusion is a theme that the Berezovsky clan has used repeatedly. Following a coroner’s hearing in late February, a media blitz emerged contending that Russiaand Britain are conspiring to suppress potentially relevant secret British documents. Attorney Ben Emmerson said the British are “dancing to the Russian tarantella.” He is a lawyer widely reported to have been paid by Berezovsky to represent the widow Litvinenko.
That seems to be the modus operandi of the Berezovsky group: A hearing or a judgment doesn’t go their way. Then all of a sudden there appears a barrage of news and social media stories advancing scurrilous allegations that have no apparent basis in fact. The media outlets gobble up the sensational-sounding stories without checking the facts. And the public is ill-served by a host of reports that are simply journalistic garbage.
The July 12 specious stories flooded international news in the wake of a coroner’s hearing on the case. Perhaps the most prevalent of those stories is the tale of the “public inquiry.” Typical headlines included “UK Refuses to Hold Public Inquiry into Litvinenko Poisoning” (Reuters), and “Litvinenko: No Inquiry into Spy’s Death” (Sky News). The Wall Street Journal tweeted, “UK Won’t Hold Public Litvinenko Inquiry,” as did the Huffington Post, “UK Declines to Hold Public Inquiry into Litvinenko Death.”
These Berezovskyesque reports make it sound like the British government wants to put a lid on whatever it was that happened to Litvinenko. I don’t know whether it does or not. But these media reports are fundamentally misleading.
You see, “public inquiry” doesn’t mean what it sounds like. Common sense says the term means an inquiry that’s out in the open. But in this case, the words are a tricky technical term. It’s actually a misnomer. According to British law, a “public” inquiry actually can be conducted behind closed doors in secrecy. There never was any intention that the public inquiry be completely transparent. The media reports about this give entirely the wrong impression. I didn’t see any that clarified the use of the term to set the record straight. Either they were just witlessly going along with the Berezovsky crowd, or they didn’t care enough to understand what they were reporting. Or worse.
Many of the media stories spoke as if there naturally should be a public inquiry. It would have been worth asking why. There have been curious deaths of people far more important in the world than Litvinenko that were not subject of a truly open or public inquiry. The Warren Commission inquiry into the death of President John F. Kennedy, for instance, was conducted primarily in closed sessions. Even Elvis Presley didn’t get a public inquiry into his death. Why Litvinenko?
Right from the beginning, the Litvinenko coverage has presented a panoply of misinformation. The basic media story that Litvinenko was murdered on orders of Russian president Vladimir Putin was a fabrication of Berezovsky’s. I detailed that in my book, The Phony Litvinenko Murder.
There is ample evidence that any stories or allegations coming from the Berezovsky clan should receive extreme scrutiny. Berezovsky himself was declared “inherently unreliable” by a British high court judge.
Berezovsky is not the only unreliable one. His right-hand man claimed Litvinenko had dictated to him a deathbed allegation fingering Putin. But it was a hoax, too. The hoaxer later confessed that the so-called deathbed statement contained his words, not Litvinenko’s.
Despite all that, most media outlets continue to refer to the deathbed accusation as though it were factual. And now they are referring to a potentially secret inquiry as “public.” Perhaps the final kicker is the “spy” moniker widely given Litvinenko by the media. There’s no reliable evidence that Litvinenko ever did espionage work. He wasn’t a spy, and he never worked for the KGB.
What is most puzzling is why any legitimate journalist would believe any story told by anyone who was a member of Berezovsky’s inner circle. Are the journalists severely gullible, or corrupt, or incompetent, or do they simply not care about getting things right? Whatever the case, it is a sad commentary on the media that almost all news stories about the Litvinenko case amount to nothing more than a journalistic flimflam.
William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant, and author of The Phony Litvinenko Murder.