On May 23, 2004, here’s what David Johnson published on his “Johnson’s Russia List” about Anna Politkovskaya:
Politkovskaya’s article in the [sic] Newsweek on the “Children of the war” in Chechnya contains a gross distortion of facts. The only concrete example she gives about suicide bombings by children to “avenge their relatives” is an outright lie. This is demagoguery at its [sic] worst. It is truly unfortunate that much of the western media relies in [sic] Chechnya coverage on the likes of Politkovskaya, whose writing is full of misrepresentations and lies, such as the above example.
This statement appears in the JRL archives for 2004, but not Anna’s article from Newsweek. In other words, Johnson’s website doesn’t even give Anna the chance to defend herself. There’s no indication that Johnson offered Anna or anyone on her behalf the chance to submit a simultaneous response to the charges, nor any indication that Johnson fact-checked them before running them. It would be interesting to know how many times Johnson has allowed Vladimir Putin himself, a proud KGB spy, to be accused of “gross distortions and lies” on the JRL.
Who wrote these accusations, and what was his source material for questioning Anna’s report about the weaponization of children in Chechnya? The author was Kirill Pankratov, and the sole source was the Russian newspaper Izvestia. Just a few problems with relying on this author and source:
- Pankratov has absolutely no credentials. Check out his home page. Although Johnson identifed him as a “PhD” he didn’t tell his readers that the PhD is in “Physical Oceanography” not politics, that he also fancies himself a writer of, to quote him, the “erotic (very explicit, a warning should be added)”. Pankratov makes absolutely no attempt in his JRL diatribe to establish his credentials for criticizing the ethics of one of Russia’s most famous and well-respected journalists. That’s because he has none whatsoever. The only publication credits he claims are the JRL, the Moscow Times letters page and, of all things, the exIle.
- Pankratov is a rabid Russian nationalist and a member of the crazed Russophile cabal known as Intelligent.ru. He made no attempt in his JRL screed to mention this fact.
- Pankratov refers to “several lengthy articles in Izvestia” but doesn’t even give a date for one of them, much less an author, much less a link to the actual material, and he doesn’t quote a single word of their contents. When challenged to do so by a JRL reader, Pankratov produced these two links: http://main.izvestia.ru/life/19-02-04/article44507
http://main.izvestia.ru/conflict/09-02-04/article44082 — try them. Neither one works. Even if they did, Izvestia is published in Russian. David Johnson can’t read Russian. Why did a reader have to make this request rather than Johnson, the editor? Don’t ask La Russophobe, ask Johnson. Here’s his email: email@example.com
- Pankratov does not quote anything published in Izvestia, or any other source, accusing Politkovskaya of dishonesty or even inaccuracy. As far as can be told, he’s merely making his own comparison between something he claims to have read, but did not cite, and what Politkovskaya wrote in Newsweek. This isn’t surpising, since Politkovskaya used to work for Izvestia. So it’s rather psychotic for Pankratov to blame the “western media” for relying on her when his own source used to do so. How did David Johnson dare to publish something from such a nobody, relying on no source material, accusing Politkovskaya of fraud? Don’t ask me, ask David. Here’s his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pankratov does not acknowledge any of Politkovskaya’s international awards for journalism.
- Izvestia has one or two small problems with credibility of its own. It is regularly accused of ethical violations, and as Salon wrote in September 2004 it is “controlled by businessman Vladimir Potanin through the Prof-Media publishing house, Izvestia has a reputation for steering clear of overt criticism of Putin.” Russian newspapers are generally infamous for publishing stories by anonymous reporters which have been bought and paid for by their “sources” and, with more than a dozen contract hits on their journalists just since Valdimir Putin came to power, they’re hardly likely to be bastions of truth.
- Izvestia is also somewhat conflicted where Anna is concerned. Here’s what she wrote about the paper in September 2004 in the Guardian: “Izvestia belongs to the nickel baron Vladimir Potanin, and throughout the summer he was trembling in his boots because he was afraid to share the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man, who has been arrested on fraud charges. He was doubtless trying to curry favour with Putin.” That was then. Today Izvestia belongs to Gazprom, and hence to Vladimir Putin, KGB spymaster. As reported by leading Russian journalists Yevgeny Kiselyov, Izvestia attacked Politkovskaya in a truly insane manner just moments after her killing. Kiselyov wrote: “I feel embarrassed for many of my colleagues. Alexander Mamontov, the editor of Russia’s oldest and still-respected newspaper, Izvestia, which recently has recently taken an increasingly pro-government line, said that Politkovskaya’s professional activities ‘had not the slightest thing to do with what happened to her.’ This was just hours after the murder, when no one knew any details of the crime. I wonder what he knew that enabled him to make such a categorical statement.”
If you want to complain to David Johnson in regard to this outrageous smear on the reputation of one of the world’s great journalists, who is no longer alive to defend herself and probably didn’t even know the JRL existed, here’s his email: email@example.com. It’s up to us to protect Anna’s memory and our own self-respect.
One of LR’s readers has already written Johnson to complain about the smear against Anna. Here is his letter, a copy of which was shown to LR and several others before it was sent:
I would like to most respectfully request that you review the following page on your website http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/8220-15.cfm and consider deleting it. As I am sure you can understand, the recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya, likely at the hands of Kremlin-friendly forces, makes this page seem to be in extremely bad taste, to say the least, under even the best of circumstances regarding its author’s motivations. It could even be used by her enemies to justify her killing, and hence inflame further an already incendiary situation. And, as I believe you well know, this author is not a highly respected and credentialed source but rather a strident Russian nationalist without any credentials at all in the area of politics where he opines. It seems quite inappropriate to me (and I am not speaking only for myself) to allow such a person to label Ms. Politkovskaya’s work “outright lie” and “gross distortion.” Not only does he fail to cite any respected source material which has leveled such a charge at Ms. Politkovaksya, but the source of the “facts” which he claims contradict her reporting is the Russian newspaper Izvestia, hardly a beacon of journalism in the world today. To put it mildly, in the light of Ms. Politkovskaya’s brutal killing, a number of us find this page inflammatory and deeply offensive, and we are sure you had no such intentions in publishing it. It is one thing to disagree with Ms. Politkovskaya’s reporting while she is alive, quite something else to accuse her of “lies” and “distortions” on such a flimsy basis and without acknowledging the countless professional awards for journalism she has received, especially after she gave her life for her profession and her country. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.
Here’s Johnson’s response:
Thanks for getting in touch. I don’t think it appropriate to be deleting content from the JRL archive. Or any historical compliation of material anywhere. Only in Stalinist Russia, one might say… Obviously the piece you don’t like had nothing to do with and would in no universe have anything to do with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.Why would you suggest such a notion? I don’t think we should be going around trying to get rid of criticism of Mrs. Politkovskaya. I’m sure she would no approve of this. That is no credit to her memory. Sorry to be blunt.
So, Johnson makes absolutely no attempt to stand behind the content of the statements smearing Anna’s reputation and does not deny any of the allegations made against those statements by the reader. Instead, he attempts to justify the status quo by arguing that any attempt to correct the record would constitute Stalin-like censorship. Apparently, he’ll leave content unaltered in the JRL website forever no matter out inaccurate or slanderous it might be. This is profoundly outrageous. Apparently, Johnson has never heard of being sued for libel and called to account for destroying a person’s reputation based on false statements (the estate of Ms. Politkovskay would be perfectly justified in suing Johnson for libel). If he were sued and lost, he’d surely remove the offending web page in a heartbeat.
Is he really saying he thinks Anna would want outrageous lies about her character and professionalism to remain on the Internet forever rather than being corrected? Can he be that far gone? Notice how unfairly he claims that the reader alleged that the statements could have caused Anna’s murder; the reader said no such thing. The reader simply said that this attack on Anna could be used to justify the murder in its aftermath, to undercut calls for justice in response to her killing by her crazed Russian nationlists critics, and that’s perfectly accurate. In fact, it already HAS been used to attack her by the Accidental Russophile, as La Russophobe has already documented. What’s more, how in the world does Johnson know that this writer had nothing to do with the killing? How dare he make such a statement — unless of course he knows who the real killer was and why he acted?
Maybe Johnson is right, though. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to simply have him remove this outrageous smear against a martyred hero. Maybe what actually needs to happen is that Johnson needs to publicly admit he made a mistake in publishing it, and append an appropriate clarification of the record to the page where it now appears. Or maybe he should actually be sued for libel and sort the whole thing out in the press and in a courtroom.