Friday, March 10, 2017

Why Sources Matter

There is an old journalistic trick. It's called planting a story. Only now it's done online. And Chrystia Freeland is the latest example of how it works. Michael Harris writes:

This week, one of the true stars of Canadian journalism, Bob Fife, published a story in the Globe & Mail that made waves. And for good reason. It hit all the hot buttons from bygone wars. According to Fife’s story, Freeland had known for 20 years that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the chief editor of a Nazi-controlled newspaper in occupied Poland.

Although Freeland had mentioned her maternal grandparents in articles and books, she had never stated that her grandfather, Mikhail Chomiak, had been a Nazi propagandist for the Krakow News. Or that the paper had published articles supporting Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. This, despite the fact that Freeland helped edit a scholarly article written by her uncle on this very subject back in 1996.

Where did the story come from? We're learning that Russia plants lots of stories these days. Why? Well, consider:

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in the wake of a so-called “referendum”, Canada imposed sanctions against Moscow. In retaliation, Freeland and twelve other prominent Canadians, including then-Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, were banned from travelling to Russia. Cotler had long advocated on behalf of political prisoners in Russia and was a supporter of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who died in prison after accusing Russian officials of colluding with organized criminals.

It was after Freeland was appointed minister of Foreign Affairs that stories began to appear on the internet, especially on pro-Vladimir Putin websites — stories about the Ukrainian side of her family. They had titles such as “A Nazi Skeleton in the Family Closet”. Her maternal grandfather, Mikhail Chomiak, grew up in Western Ukraine and graduated with a Master’s degree in law and political science from Lviv University. He became a journalist in 1928.

The stories on these pro-Russian websites detailed how during the Nazi occupation Chomiak edited a Ukrainian language newspaper, Krakivski Visti, that spread anti-Semitic, Nazi propaganda. Some of Ukraine’s most prominent intellectuals wrote for the paper — those who had survived mass arrests and executions. The newspaper has been described as “a Ukrainian paper edited within the German reality.” It was a kind way of describing collaboration.

After the war, Chomiak immigrated to Canada. His daughter — Freeland’s mother, Halyna — was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Her paternal grandmother was a war bride from Glasgow — lucky to be on the winning side of a war that crushed so many young people.

Freeland got back on Russia’s radar as Canada’s policy on Ukraine developed with the Liberals in charge. On March 6, 2017, Canada announced a two-year extension of Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine — Operation Unifier, which is part of a wider NATO mission. She was seen as an enemy of Russia with a personal animus against the Kremlin. 

Knowing what we now know about Russian interference in the American election, we'd be foolish to think that the Russians will leave us -- or any perceived enemy -- alone. But there are a couple of lessons to be drawn from all of this:

1. All of us have skeletons in our closet. And  all of us have relatives -- past and present -- who have not been paragons of virtue. That knowledge should, but often doesn't, vaccinate us against self- righteousness.

2. The sources we choose for our information are critically important. It would appear that Donald Trump has been relying on Breitbart News to explain the world to him.That fact might go a long way to explain why every time he opens his mouth he can't be believed.

Sources matter.

Image: Politicoscope


Lorne said...

Paul Wells has an interesting colum on this topic today, Owen:

Owen Gray said...

Wells is right, Lorne. None of this takes away from her work. My father was a World War II vet. He did not tell war stories and he did not spend his time in the company of those who did -- not because they didn't happen, but because he saw no point in re-living them.

Anonymous said...

Not to worry: deep state spooks, MIC generals, bribe-taking politicians and fake news journalists will save us from the evil empire.

We need to shut down the internet to stop the Ruskies from hacking our democracy! In a real democracy, corporations determine what factual information is made available to the public. Not commie evildoers!


BTW: the Ukrainian 2014 'revolution' was a US operation. (Since the Americans are the good guys they can do whatever they want and it's still good!)

Owen Gray said...

Let's not lose focus here, MAGA. My point is that some sources of information are more reliable than others.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sure, sources matter. Yet even scurrilous sources can disseminate truth when that suits their purposes. The truth of the statement, to me, is probably more significant than the source although both must be taken into account. The Breitbart analogy is not helpful. There, not only is the source dodgy, but rarely is the information true or accurate.

If the sins of the father or grandfather mattered much, how would John Kennedy ever have reached the White House?

I haven't followed this story. Did Freeland do something to mislead people? Is she an anti-Semite? If not, who cares?

We also have a weak grasp of anti-Semitism in Europe. It's naive to think this was something created by the Nazis. Russia's pogroms are legendary. Anti-Semitism was rife in Poland long before panzers rolled through Warsaw. It swept in from Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. As we see in the United States today, malignancies of this sort tend to flourish in countries that succumb to authoritarianism.

Owen Gray said...

The Kennedy analogy is instructive, Mound. Old Joe Kennedy worked hard to put his son in the White House. But the son's perspective on the world was not his father's. And you're right. Anti-Semitism in Europe existed long before Hitler used it for his own purposes -- just as the bigotry which helped propel Trump to the White House has always been deeply embedded in American history.

Jay Farquharson said...

Owen Gray said...

The comments are interesting, Jay -- as is the author's background. What's important is not only the facts presented but the context -- or prism -- from which they're viewed.

Jay Farquharson said...

Her Grandparent's background isn't really all that "interesting" or "controversial", given that post WWII, given "anti-communism", Canada imported a lot of Nazi's, deliberately, and accidentally.

You might remember our little Ustashe problem in the '90's.

The questionable "issue" with Freeland is that she's held her Grandparents up as an "ideal" on freedom and liberty vs. "Evil Russia".

Not cool.

My Grandad lost his oldest brother, brutally, ( a Missionary in China) to the Japanese, in the late 1930's. He held a grudge against all Japanese until the day he died.

I don't use him as a model.

Consorteum News is Robert Parry's site, he of Iran Contra, etc fame

After the MSM got done with killing his career, driving Gary Webb into suicide with slanders and attacks, (Killing the Messenger), he took to the internets and indy media.

On the bright side, while my Grandparents on my Dad's side were racists, they wern't card carrying Nazi's.

The world is a very complex place, and a key role of propaganda, both ours and theirs, is to try to make it very simplistic and black and white.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Jay, that things are rarely simplistic -- particularly what happens during and in the aftermath of war. It is unfortunately true that the sins of the fathers are visited on succeeding generations. But some succeeding generations try hard to live lives different than their forebears. Freeland is doing that.

Jay Farquharson said...


She has repeatably claimed her Grandparents "fought" for freedom and democracy.

The issue isn't that her grandparents were Nazi's,

The issue is her public position that they sorta wern't.

If she hadn't brought her grandparents into the politic's, it would be a non-issue.

Owen Gray said...

That's disturbing, Jay. It brings up the question of what you do -- or don't do -- to survive a war. Perhaps the lucky one are people like my father, a veteran who always claimed that he survived because of "pure dumb luck."

Anonymous said...

"Knowing what we now know about Russian interference in the American election"

Exactly what DO we know about Russian interference? What with all the usual general American arm-waving for which I'd give them a 100% grade in paranoia and fake "how can they do this to us, interfere in our sacred American democracy" BS, release of a report that gave zero details but "confirmed" Russian interference, I am led to the conclusion that we know eff all. So maybe they hacked the DNC computers. Should I be alarmed, anymore than if they hacked Liberal Party HQ? Did they affect vote count? Well, nobody claims that, they just hope the average dumb podunk Yankee "thinks" they did, by repeating headlines that leave out the DNC part. Typical. Have you bought the line too?

And it's a bit rich for the US to complain when they interfere all the time in other countries, documented for decades. If the advice isn't taken, well send in the Marines or drones. For Americans to complain about foreign interference is the height of self-absorptive "we are so special" navel gazing righteousness.

As for Freeland, I have no time for her whatsoever. From writing a book about the awful 1% a few years ago, appearing on Bill Maher's TV show as a regular (and what a strange goat he is), she turned into a dutiful little neoliberal on the free trade file with the CETA running around and dunning of the Walloons complete with tears.

In January last year, she cost the Canadian taxpayer some $20K when returning from Hong Kong by stopping in LA and appearing once again on Bill Maher's TV show to essentially boast- lookit me now!

As has been dutifully noted by many commentators, the hate that fills the progressive left, of which I had thought I was a part, for Trump, has them backing CIA and old State Department hacks like Billary in the fight to teach them damn Russkies a lesson, just to dun Trump. Less than a year ago, Hillary was reviled for her hawk-like attitude, her desire to wipe out Assad come what may by making war illegally in a country the US had never been invited into in the first place, have another go at Libya, station troops on Russian borders while rattling the sabres and getting JT to go along with the BS, and generally acting like an out of control neocon on steroids. She was regarded as awful, but perhaps a slightly better rotten choice than the Great Orange Blossom. Both presidential candidates were bloody awful, or Sanders wouldn't have had a look-in.

I dunno, when I read some of these progressive blog posts these days, I wonder if memory is failing and is too short to be of much use. Way I see it anyway.

Bill Malcolm

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Bill. There is a lot in your comment. I agree that the choice between Trump and Hilary was an awful choice. Neoliberalism has narrowed the choices available to voters for sometime. As more information comes out about Russia's cyber activities -- such as the attack on Yahoo accounts -- many will go through a wholesale rethinking of our political system and how it operates.

I will not predict where and what will happen after that.