Messing with the Truth: Disinformation in the West Spread by Max Blumenthal

Messing with the Truth: Disinformation in the West Spread by Max Blumenthal

28 November 2023
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If you repeat the same thesis for a long time, people will eventually believe it. It seems that Russia and its supporters in the West are guided by this principle. Pseudo-experts do not miss the opportunity to use any platform to spread narratives similar to Russian ones, whether it’s their own media’s YouTube channel or the UN Security Council. There are countless mechanisms for disseminating these narratives. Therefore, VoxCheck, in collaboration with the Center for Countering Disinformation of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, continues to explain how certain Western journalists distort reality by fitting it into narratives that echo Russian ones and how to counteract this.

Max Blumenthal is an American journalist, the founder, and editor of the news website The Grayzone. We immediately decided to check this publication on the Media Bias/Fact Check website, which explains how biased the media is and whether its journalists spread disinformation. According to the site, The Grayzone is considered a questionable source of information due to its systematic promotion of propaganda, conspiracy theories, and consistently one-sided coverage of events.

Photo of Max Blumenthal. Source: UN Security Council

The next step in getting acquainted with Blumenthal is searching for information in the search engine in various languages. The alignment of narratives expressed by the journalist with Russian messages is not accidental. Blumenthal has participated multiple times in broadcasts for the Russian media RT, collaborated with Russian radio Sputnik, as well as with Iranian Press TV and Chinese CGTN. In December 2015, he even attended the anniversary party of RT on the occasion of its 10 years on air, where President Vladimir Putin was present.

Interestingly, just a month after his visit to Moscow, Blumenthal founded The Grayzone. He also spreads narratives aligned with Russian viewpoints on his page on X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube channels of Western pseudo-experts, such as Russell Brand, The Zero Hour with RJ Escow. Later, we will delve into a more detailed analysis of the narratives disseminated by the American journalist.

On March 18, 2022, in the publication The Grayzone, Max Blumenthal wrote an article claiming that the tragedy at the Mariupol Drama Theater was staged because it happened precisely when “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi appealed to the US Congress requesting for a no-fly zone.” According to the founder of The Grayzone, the Ukrainian authorities were attempting to persuade the US to label Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” and engage in direct confrontation with Russia.

However, the alliance made it clear that Ukraine is not a NATO member and does not have the legal right to make such calls that somehow relate to the application of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. In the early days of the full-scale invasion, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the defense bloc would not deploy NATO troops or close the sky over Ukraine, as it would mean a direct confrontation with Russia. Therefore, Blumenthal’s and other “experts'” accusations of Ukraine provoking the alliance are absurd and unfounded. Such actions by the Ukrainian government would be futile and, therefore, make no sense.

In this thesis, another narrative resonated, echoing the Russian narrative that “Ukrainians are Nazis,” specifically referring to the Azov Brigade. Russian sources have been labeling Azov fighters as Nazis for nine years. This fake narrative was created in 2014 to demonize the Armed Forces of Ukraine, suggesting that they terrorize the civilian population in the east of the country due to their Russian-speaking identity and ethnic affinity with Russians.

In reality, Azov is a multinational battalion, including Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Russians, and Hungarians. As part of the National Guard, these fighters defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine and civilians from crimes committed by the Russian army. Therefore, the main purpose of the article is to shift the responsibility for military crimes from Russia to Ukraine and justify the unprovoked Russian aggression.

A year later, on April 13, 2023, a new publication by Blumenthal appeared on The Grayzone under the title “How NATO states sponsored ICC prosecutor’s Putin arrest warrant”: ICC prosecutor general Karim Khan raised millions from NATO states by crafting an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin […]. As The Grayzone has reported, the ICC’s warrant was inspired by a State Department-funded report that contained no field reporting, no concrete evidence of war crimes, and no proof that Russia was actually targeting Ukrainian youth with a massive deportation campaign. In fact, the investigators acknowledged finding “no documentation of child mistreatment, including sexual or physical violence, among the camps referenced in this report.” What’s more, the inquiry’s lead author told The Grayzone’s Jeremy Loffredo that “a large amount” of the Russian youth camps his team researched were “primarily cultural education – like, I would say, teddy bear.”.

This example is illustrative; pseudo-experts often refer to posts that do not exist or words that were never spoken because they know well that they won’t be fact-checked or asked to provide links. So, it’s easier to vaguely say that someone, somewhere, said something at some point, as it adds more persuasiveness to the speaker’s words and creates the appearance of supporting the claims with facts. And it doesn’t matter if it never happened.

Now, back to the facts: in reality, the results of the investigation and the testimonies of witnesses are kept secret for the sake of the investigation’s security and cannot be disclosed to the public. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the lead author of the investigation would disclose details of the case to a journalist who spreads narratives aligned with Russian ones and works for a publication with a low trust rating. Furthermore, the deportation of Ukrainian children is an undeniable crime by the Russian Federation, recognized by the PACE as genocide against the population of Ukraine. Most countries have condemned Russia’s actions in this regard.

However, the justification of crimes by Russian military personnel by an American journalist did not go unnoticed by Russian politicians. Therefore, on June 29, 2023, Russia invited Max Blumenthal to participate in a briefing at the United Nations Security Council.

Here’s an important disclaimer: pseudo-experts can promote their narratives both from the comfort of their homes, commenting on Russian media, and through significant platforms while being present at the UN headquarters. However, their presence in international meetings doesn’t necessarily make them more qualified. In front of any audience they reach, these “analysts” are likely to push the same disinformation narratives.

So during his speech, Blumenthal denied that Ukraine is a democratic country: “…we have been told by people like Senator Dick Durbin that Ukraine is literally in a battle for freedom and democracy itself. And therefore, everyone who opposes military aid to Ukraine opposes the very defensive democracy. According to this logic. So where was democracy in Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s decision to ban opposition parties, to criminalize the media outlets of his legitimate political opponents, to jail his top political rival and his deputies, to raid Orthodox churches and jail clergyman?”

In this short phrase, the journalist used several methods of disinformation. The first is simplification, as he attributed responsibility for all the listed decisions to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, despite Ukraine having a multi-party political system. As of March 2023, Ukraine had registered 377 parties (18 of which were banned).

Moreover, he employed exaggeration by not specifying how many opposition parties were actually banned. Readers unfamiliar with events in Ukraine might get the impression that all opposition political parties in the country were prohibited. Additionally, the journalist omitted the reasons behind this decision. The ban affected pro-Russian parties whose activities supported the enemy’s occupation. Other parties, such as “European Solidarity,” “Batkivshchyna,” etc., continue to function peacefully and are oppositional.

The claim about the ban on the Orthodox Church and the imprisonment of priests is manipulative. The decision of the National Security and Defense Council only applies to the Orthodox churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, which are subordinate to Moscow and Patriarch Kirill, who blesses the Russian army for criminal actions on the territory of Ukraine.

To verify the truthfulness of statements about the restriction of freedom of speech, one can do so in a few clicks. The organization “Reporters Without Borders” annually prepares a ranking of countries based on the level of censorship. According to data for 2023, Ukraine ranks 79th, while Russia is at 164th place. Apparently, Blumenthal made this statement to encourage citizens of EU countries to oppose providing military assistance to Ukraine, claiming that Ukraine supposedly does not share common values with allied countries and therefore does not deserve their support.

Rating of freedom of speech in Ukraine and Russia. Source: Reporters Without Borders

Next, Blumenthal employed the method of simplification, stating that if the U.S. and Europe stop supplying weapons to Ukraine, the war will end. Because American companies will no longer profit from selling military equipment and weapons, the incentive to continue the so-called proxy war will disappear, leading to peace. However, this plan does not take into account one crucial aspect: Russia invaded Ukrainian territory to expand its own territories. Russian officials have repeatedly stated that they do not intend to stop and aim to capture the entire Ukraine. Therefore, the situation will be much less optimistic than Blumenthal indicated, as the cessation of support from allies will not end the war but rather Ukraine will disappear. Peace can only come after the victory of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the return of the occupied territories.

In his speech, Blumenthal, like all pseudo-experts, appealed to the emotions of the audience, attempting to evoke dissatisfaction among citizens of EU countries by providing assistance to Ukraine. To give legitimacy to his words, he referred to his comrade Randy Credico, an American radio host who has collaborated with The Grayzone and whose rhetoric is filled with narratives resembling those of the Russian government.

Randy Credico. Source: Politico

Therefore, in his statements, Blumenthal employs various methods of disinformation, ranging from carefully veiled manipulations to outright deceptive assertions. Therefore, different approaches should be applied to counter these fakes.

The topics raised by the journalist, such as the attack on the theater in Mariupol or the denial of Russia deporting Ukrainian children, evoke many emotions. This is not accidental because the more emotions, the less critical thinking and attention to facts. So, first, it is necessary to calm down and focus on finding evidence of who is actually involved in the crime. All the arguments presented by the speaker can be easily refuted by searching for information in open sources; it just takes a little time and willingness.

Learn more about Max Blumenthal in this video:

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The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations