EDITORIAL: Olga Ivanova, Liar or Neo-Soviet Patsy?

Olga Ivanova, 2007 Muskie Scholarship Program, Duquesne University

Olga Ivanova, 2007 Muskie Scholarship Program, Duquesne University


Olga Ivanova, Liar or Neo-Soviet Patsy?

On August 15th, a Russian graduate student in journalism from Duquesne University named Olga Ivanova published an op-ed article in the Washington Post. In it, without attribution to any specific source, she repeated as fact the following Kremlin propaganda statement:

Within hours, Georgian troops destroyed Tskhinvali, a city of 100,000, and they killed more than 2,000 civilians. Almost all of the people who died that night were Russian citizens. They chose to become citizens of Russia years ago, when Georgia refused to recognize South Ossetia as a non-Georgian territory.

She then compared Georgia’s attack on its breakaway province of Ossetia to the actions of Nazi Germany that led to World War II, implying Georgia’s democratically elected leader was analogous to Adolf Hitler.  As far as we can tell, that’s Olga pictured above, showing her participation in the Muskie Scholarship Program of the U.S. Department of State; apparently, the U.S. government funded all or part of her education. Click here to listen to her being interviewed by NPR.

These factual claims by Ivanova were not only totally false, they were made based solely on statements issued by the Russian government, a highly interested party, without disclosing that fact to Post readers, and Ivanova has done nothing to set the record straight — all while purporting to lecture Americans about their journalism standards. 

Here’s the real story.

As far as we know the source of the claim about “2,000” killed and a “destroyed” city was the Russian government alone. On August 18th, for instance, the Moscow Times reported that “on the second day of the conflict, Aug. 9, Russia’s ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, declared that more than 2,000 Ossetian civilians had died.” To our knowledge, no independent third-party confirmed the Kremlin’s self-serving claim. To our knowledge, Ivanova put blind faith in the Kremlin’s own account, without telling her readers she was doing so.

But, as the MT noted in the August 18th story, within days the Russian government itself had reduced the figure to 1,600 and the MT reported that by the second week “some human rights activists on the ground said, however, that they were struggling to find even 100 slain Ossetians.”

It turns out that the activists were right.

On August 25th, the Washington Post itself reported: “Witnesses and nongovernmental organizations say that although widespread looting and some detentions occurred, far fewer civilians died than originally reported. In fact, on bothsides it has been hard to find people with firsthand knowledge of deaths in a war that sparked the biggest crisis in Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States since the Soviet Union collapsed.” In regard to the assault on Tskhinvali, the Post reported:

In the wake of the fighting, a few facts have become clear. Tskhinvali was not flattened by the Georgians, though in recent days, an unknown number of Georgian villages in South Ossetia have been burned. After a public backlash, the Russians seemed to clamp down on the militias, but about 160 forced detentions have been reported in Tskhinvali. A large number of unexploded cluster bombs have been found.

Russian officials adjusted their figures last week to 197 dead — 133 Ossetiansand 64 Russian soldiers. Georgia now says 400 Georgians were killed, half of them in the military — with 150 to 180 soldiers still unaccounted for.

So, first it was “2,000.” Then it became rapidly “1,600.” Now, weeks later, it’s down to 133, along with 64 Russian soldiers. And Tskhinvali? It was “not flattened.” Or, to use Ivanova’s word, it was not “destroyed.” Russia used cluster bombs, and killed at least as many Georgians if not more. Rampant looting occurred, and several ethnically Georgian villages in Ossetia were razed by the separatists.

In other words, the Russian government lied brazenly to the Russian people, and to the world, in order to whip up support for its naked imperialistic aggression towards Georgia.

On August 16th, writing on Pajamas Media, LR publisher Kim Zigfeld responded to Ivanova’s screed in the Post, exposing its falsity and hypocritical bias (embarassingly, Kim noted in her piece, a report challenging the casualty figure appeared in the New York Timesthe same day as Ivanova’s op-ed). The next day, after first confirming that she would agree to be interviewed about her article, Kim sent Ivanova a list of 26 questions to be answered by the author for publication on La Russophobe. She promised to publish Ivanova’s answers verbatim, without editing. Three days later, on August 20th, Ivanova responded to the list without answering a single one of the questions. She stated “I had so much fun reading these questions” but claimed “I’ve been very busy these days with my work.” She then indicated that she wished to answer only some of the questions, explaining that she didn’t want to do any work to provide source material or answer any personal questions.

We have to question the morality of someone who finds it “so much fun” to read questions that challenge her professionalism and discuss a bloody war in which hundreds of people lost their lives.  We also question the judgment of someone who would say so to the publisher of La Russophobe.  But that is, perhaps, beside the point.

Ivanova raised objections to 12 of the 26 questions. For instance, although Ivanova stated in her op-ed that she “wished she could fly back to Russia,” she didn’t want to answer question about why she was unable to do so, saying it was “too personal.” Although Ivanova called in her op-ed for objective reporting on Russia, she didn’t want to provide any links to articles she had published criticizing material about Russia that she found too one-sidedly pro-Russia, and told Kim she should go look for them herself. That suggestion is a ludicrous one, since “Olga Ivanova” is an extremely common name and there would be no way to confirm whether any given story belonged to Ivanova herself without asking her. Equally insane is suggesting that we sift through her entire body of work to find the needle in the haystack where she adopts a critical view of pro-Russia reporting. She also said she didn’t want to talk about who was paying for her education or what qualified her to receive it, nor did she wish to name any person who was using their American education to work for democracy in Russia, as she claimed many had previously been doing. This evasiveness undermines her credibility, to say the least.

But all that, too, is mostly besides the point. By far the most important question on Kim’s list was the one that asked Ivanova for her source regarding the “2,000” and “destroyed” claims. She expressed no objection to the question of any kind, but failed to answer it, seeming to raise a smokescreen of objections to other questions and using that as an artifice to suggest we might not want some of the questions answered but not others. In other words, classic neo-Soviet propaganda tactics.

Kim wrote to Ivanova again on Monday and asked her to comment on the reports referred to above, showing that her claim of “2,000” Ossetians killed and a “destroyed” city were totally false. She asked for a retraction and apology, and said she would publish it unedited. Kim provided Ivanova with all the links referred to above.  Ivanova refused to comment, saying she might get around to answering the questions at some time in the indefinite future.  She stated: “I am not a public person at all – my opinion is MY opinion.”  So that is why, of course, she wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post and offered the gratuitous personal information that she wished she could go home to Russia!

Meanwhile, of course, Ivanova is entitled to her own opinion — but not her own facts. That she won’t correct the record (or stand by her report) when facts she has reported turn out to be false strongly indicates there is something deeply wrong with her journalistic ethics.

It should be noted that Kim has told Ivanova she can have as much time as she likes to formulate her answers to our questions, and told her as well that we will publish a partial set of answers, giving the complete list of questions and Ivanova’sreasons for refusing to answer some of them.  So if she ever does choose to stand behind her article, we will publish her responses. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Meanwhile, we’d still like to know whether any Russian newspaper with status equivalent to the Washington Post has published an attack on the Russian government similar to the one Ivanova wrote about the United States. So far, nobody has been able to provide us with a single example.

21 responses to “EDITORIAL: Olga Ivanova, Liar or Neo-Soviet Patsy?

  1. “She then compared Georgia’s attack on its breakaway province of Ossetia to the actions of Nazi Germany that led to World War II”

    WWII – isnt that the one that started when Russia and their friends the Nazis invaded Poland?


  2. Russians can rightly claim that they were buffering their western frontier when they invaded Poland. Is their claim valid? The answer likely depends upon which side of the Bug you’re living. So, too, can Moscow argue with conviction that it’s victory over the Japanese at Khalkin Gol was a key moment in the security of Russia’s eastern frontier. Indeed it’s likely that Japan’s catastrophic defeat at Khalkin paved the way for a safer and much more effective assault on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.

    It’s hardly fair these days to criticize a budding collegian for her faulty knowledge of World War II: I know countless middle-aged friends who are embarrassingly ill-educated on the war, even though their mothers and fathers fought and–in some cases–died in it. Ask the average American today the location of the Ilu River, Betio, and “Sugar Loaf Hill,” and you’ll undoubtedly receive a blank stare. With Holocaust survivors passing at an astounding rate, it won’t be long before the soul-stirring phraseology “Never forget!” will be replaced with the tepid words “Try to remember!”

    I, for one, can forgive Ivanova her faulty knowledge: After all, she’s a very cute little babe–indeed much cuter than Saakhashvili, whom, I’ve been told of late, similarly received some of his formal education in the U.S.

  3. She is a complete moron. It is a shame that people like her call themselves journalists!

  4. hypocrisy rules

    Are you still denying that it was the nutty prez of Georgia who (under USA orders or approval, or encouragement) ardered attack on Ossetia? If you still do who cares What we care about that Russian prez did the right thing and recognized those two territories as independent states. That is double the Kosovo that US recognized because they have a huge base there called Bondsteel. Now the shoe is on the other foot and these new states will become part of Russia the moment Kosovo becomes part of Albania which is the master plan of Bush’s and Albanian terrorist. The Russia showed with this that they will not be pushed around anylonger not even by US. They are a bigger country and richer too. They do not need US but US needs them far more. Finally the tide turned and we are heading to new balance or the new final imbalance. It is your choice. Russia will not back off from ANY challange. The new “management” is not your drunken Yeltzin era and you’d better learn to live with it and like it. DA?

    LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS: Georgia attacked Ossetia only after Ossetia (a) attacked Georgia and (b) refused a cease fire. That came on the heels of Russia repeatedly violating Georgian airspace and being condemned by the United Nations.

    The USSR would not “back off” from any challenge either. And look where the USSR is today. Do you want to be in that place too? If so, you are a fool.

  5. Will we she be available on russianbrides.com? HAH Hah hah… blah

    I found this to be a fascinating article.


  6. I doubt that Olga is a moron. I think she is a well-placed Soviet mole who is here to do exactly what she is doing–spread Russian propaganda. And yes, Misha, Russia always makes sure its female spies are cute so dumbos like you will fall for their charms and so that you use a different organ than your brain.

    And you, hypocrisy rules, are undoubtedly a leftie who can always figure out how to excuse the crimes of your good Bolshevik friends by using faulty examples and moral equivalence. We can see right through you.

  7. Like Tsarist Russia, the USSR was destroyed because of the enemy’s fifth column – Russian intelligentsia that opposed any government of their own country and was always only too willing to side with its enemies. Today that sleazy team nearly disappeared.

  8. hypocrisy rules

    Re your “response”: Lies, lies and more lies. The Russian peacekeepers were between them and Ossetia had no reason to “attack” Georgia. They had their territory secured and did not need or want more. The Russians don’t want anyone’s territory and don’t need it either, but they will protect their people everywhere, unlike the Serbs when they had a chance. Remember the Croatian cowardly attack on Krajina Serbs with american arms and training? At that moment Serbs had a chance to do the same thing what Russians did whenOssetia was attacked but they did not because the crazy Milosevic and Tudjman made a deal over what they call east Slavonia. Tujdman betrayed Milisevic later and the rest is history. Similarity all over thie issue. Now that Medvedev recognized these as indepandent states he gave Bush double dose of Kosovo medicine. That is another sign that the new Russian management means business. The free ride for US is over. As to those easter euro countries that put US rockets in place. That is Ok too. But they must know that in an event of serious confrontation between Nato and Russia they will be first to be turned into radiactive wastland. So if that is OK with their “democracies” why should Russians worry. There is every indication that Russia will not back down even in the even similar to Cuban crisis, especially since Nato/US is creating one on the borders of the biggest country in the world, that no one EVER beat. Yes they hurt them many times but neve beat on their own land. They know how to defend it and will again.
    So let’s all get along and stay away from places that are of no concern of yours. Especially since Russia did nothing to US or Nato and has not attack ANYONE since the end of SSSR unlike our world pilicemen US/nato.
    Thanks to US admin we have entered what I define as COLD STANDOFF, right inWaters and lands of Georgia. Is it going to evolve into new Cols War? Maybe. The Russian prez said and he means it, “We are neither affraid nor we want to Cold War,. It’s up to the west to develop good relations with Russia” something like that , if not word for word.

  9. Tskhinvali is a city of 100,000!!!!?????

    The TOTAL population of S. Ossetia, run by the gangster Kokoity, KGB thug, is not even that much.

    It’s anywhere from 73,000 to 90,000 – TOTAL for ALL of S. Ossetia.

    And none of the rooskie Kremlin mouthpieces have yet been able to give a breakdown of the population in S. Ossetia.

    Because rasha thinks that everyone in S. Ossetia is a “rooshan citizen.” After all, they have rooshan passports, which rasha handed out like candy, don’t they?

  10. I wish Washington would listen to what ‘hypocrisy rules’ just posted 12:47pm, 8-27-08), instead of calling for reprisal for Russian entry into Georgia. Indeed the U.S. at this particular time in history is in no position by which it might morally dictate to anyone, including Russia.

    Thanks for sharing it, hr.

  11. valery gergiev used the 2,000 figure too, and i’ve seen that figure cited elsewhere.
    that’s what happens when the russian gvt media throws out a figure, esp if its the first figure thrown out. it sticks, esp with people who WANT to believe that the casualties were that high.
    does a brilliant man like gergiev, for example, really believe the russian state media?? russians know better than most about the lies of the official media. no, he knows they lie, of course he knows this—-but he’s biased in favor of putin so he believes what he chooses to believe.
    poor little stupid olga ivanova is the same as the great and brilliant gergiev—people will choose to believe what they want.

  12. about rooshan media:

    the sovoks had a saying, but I’ll define terms first —

    izvestiya means news

    pravda means truth

    I think there were 2 papers, one named Izvestiya, and one named Pravda.

    The saying was –

    “In Pravda, there is no izvestiya, and in Izvestiya there is no pravda.”

  13. HR, there is a HUGE difference between Oseetia and Kosovo. Ten years ago in Kosovo, the Serbs were conducting ethnic cleansing, and in the process were deliberately killing Albanian muslims. In this, they were backed by their “slavic buddies” the Russians. Kosovo has a just reason to want to be independent. Would you want to remain part of a country that tried to exterminate your kind? Further, the White House had no prior knowledge that the Kosovars would seek independence. Jump to Ossetia, as this article points out, the Kremlin’s claims of “2,000” Ossetians killed are flat out wrong.

    Hitler had his apologists, Stalin had his, and now Putin has his own. History repeats itself.

  14. She is cute though. Nice smile. Good teeth.

  15. Poor Olga is not dumb, she is most likely a mole sent here to try to fool Americans about good ole Mother Russia (Putin’s KGB version). Too bad, that a whole lot of us, in America and Europe are so very easy to fool. We don’t want to hear or believe unpleasant things, in general. But as to many Russian people, in Russia or abroad: it is amazing how many of them seem to have swallowed Putin’s propaganda too. They really should know better.

  16. “hypocricy rules” apparently picked a fitting name for himself. As far as Misha is concerned, she’s not only a mole but she’s got a mole where her brain should be. I hope all Ruskis are as brilliant as she is…

  17. hypocrisy rules

    For Brian and those who believe him: Kosovo is a very complicated issue but has lot in common what is happening in Georgia and the two new indep. states. So we will not even try to explain it. Just re his claim that US did not “know” Kosovo would seek independance. How naive is that to call it in polite terms? Just go and google “bondsteel” and you will have your answer. When they moved into Kosovo after the Serbs let them, US almost imediately started the building of a massive military base caled Bondsteel. It is so huge (look at satelite image) that very few in Europe can match it. Why? The simple answer is to control the souther Balkans as part of the US’s encirclment of Russia. They did not know about Kosovo’s indep.? How stupid the americans would be to invest billions in the base and have sovereign Serbia throw them out once the crisis in Kosovo is over, even if it took another 50 years. They knew it and that was the price the Kosovo terrorist turn american approved “democrats” had to pay for US recog. of their “inependance”. So far only about 30 countries recog. this and they all are asskissing american frindas. The US knows and planned it that part of Kosovo they gave muslims (1/3 is still controlled by Serbs and it will never be part of Kosovo under muslims), will be joined with Albania the most criminal country in Europe with main export illicit drugs and white slaves to Europe.( They also have brought back the “blood vendetta” as their prime cultural value. Over 5000 people were alrady killed and the government does nothing. So next time Brian you want to go there to visit, make sure don’t offent anyone. They will chase you all the way to USA)
    These are USA frineds? Well USA was never choosy in morality of their friends as long as they suit them. and their goals.
    As for the 2 new countries, they too will never be recog. by the US or UN (as Kosovo will not be by Russia, China etc and UN) so they too will join Russia as their territories as part of Kosovo will be to CRA (crime republic Albania). Which is going to happen first is immaterial. The Russians are patient people and are in no hurry. However once Kosovo goes so will the two decent and honest state unlike US’s criminal friend.
    Politics & war what is it good for? Absolutelly EVERYTHING!

  18. Olga is a pretty poor rep of the FSB. Clueless to say the least. She was at a loss for words when NPR asked her why the Russians had not pulled their troops out of Georgia.

    She claims that she can no longer trust US newswpapers because of the bias they showed against Russia. She failed to mention that US newspaper have been pretty open about expressing the Russian side of events. However, when independent investigations expose Russians allegations as fraud, like calling Georgia’s attack Genocide, should the editors turn a blind eye? And this bias US media did invite her and Sergei Lavrov to write op ed pieces in their newspapers. NPR gave Olga 8 minutes to defend Russia. When I was in Moscow last week, there was no kind of press freedom. No one asked me my opinion on the radio and no one asked me to write a piece for a Russian newspaper. Even if someone had, I am sure it would have been censored and I would have been deported. I am sure Olga is back in her cozy dorm, reading her emails and continuing on with her life in America. Why is Freedom so hard to grasp?

  19. The answer is Olga hates America and the freedom it represents. She uses our freedoms against us in classic Soviet style. She’s simply a Soviet agent.

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  21. Here is something to think about before you vote this year. America is generally disliked but people of America are not. When we say we don’t like America we mean your socio-economic system that is designed to *&^% everyone in the name of your rich and powerful and for their benefits. You have a trrible social injustice. Just watch those people leavin NO this morning due to Gustaf. Most are so poor thay don’t even have luggage to pack their stuff but use garbage bags. This is what people all over the world dislike about America not your “freedom” although most would not want that freedom in their countries. It means poor and super rich and few in between. Thanks but no thanks.
    Now we do like America much better or dislike it less when it is DEMOCRATIC admin. We loved America of Kennedy, Carter, Clinton but not Regan, 2xBush and now terrible prospect of McBush again. This is what you should think about when you go into that voting room. Your very future will depend on it.

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