What Russian Journalists Think Of How American Reporters Cover Putin & Trump

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Joshua Yaffa via The New Yorker,

As James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, put it, Watergate “pales” in comparison to the current political scandal surrounding the White House. For the past six months, the U.S. media has followed the story of Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election - and the question of possible collusion between figures close to Donald Trump and the Kremlin - with vigor, intensity, and the deployment of an extraordinary amount of newsroom resources. In advance of Trump and Putin’s first meeting, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, I decided to ask Russia’s sharpest and most experienced political journalists and investigative reporters what they thought of this coverage.

The Russian media is under nearly omnipresent pressure from numerous entities: political operatives in the Kremlin, who tightly monitor what is said in the press about Putin and the myriad arms of the Russian state; media owners, who neuter coverage and readily get rid of overly ambitious reporters and editors; and financial constraints, namely a small advertising market and a tiny number of readers willing to pay for independent journalism. The result is that the space for independent, muckraking journalism has shrunk further. Yet, even given these many constraints, Russia is nevertheless home to a coterie of talented and self-motivated journalists, who produce work that is courageous and illuminating.

I spoke to more than a half-dozen of them, all of whom found themselves in some way bemused, frustrated, or disappointed in the way that the U.S. press has covered Putin and Russia—especially concerning the question of election interference—over the last months.

On the whole, said Mikhail Zygar, a political journalist and the author of “All the Kremlin’s Men,” a well-sourced insider look at the cloistered world of Russian politics, the way the U.S. media has covered the Russia scandal has made “Putin seem to look much smarter than he is, as if he operates from some master plan.” The truth, Zygar told me, “is that there is no plan—it’s chaos.”

By way of an example, Zygar narrated what he saw as the total disorder that has marked Russia’s military campaign in Syria, which began with a surprise incursion of air power, in September, 2015. Putin seems to consider the intervention a success, because it outmaneuvered Western attempts to isolate him and elevated him to the position of global statesman; but, whatever the achievements, they came out of an absolutely slapdash policy, according to Zygar. “Nothing was calculated,” Zygar said. “There was no strategy, no preparatory work, no coördination with Iran, none with Turkey either, which is how we almost ended up in a war—not to mention the huge amount of money that was simply stolen in the course of this operation.”

According to Zygar’s sources, Putin forced Russia’s military prosecutor into retirement, in April, before he could deliver a report to the country’s upper house of parliament that would have revealed substantial financial losses in Syria due to corruption. Such cynicism and malfeasance is more the rule than the exception, Zygar said. He retold the story of how Putin showed Oliver Stone a video that was supposedly of Russian forces bombing ISIS fighters - “our aviation at work,” Putin told Stone - which turned out to be a lifted clip from 2013 of U.S. pilots attacking Taliban positions in Afghanistan. Zygar shook his head with laughter. “They couldn’t even film a two-minute video!”

From the beginning, much of the U.S. coverage of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has focussed on the hacks of the e-mail accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign adviser, John Podesta. There is little concrete information available regarding the world of Russian state hackers, with reporting on the subject somewhere between difficult and impossible. Some of the best reporting appeared in an investigation last winter by Danya Turovsky, a correspondent for Meduza, an online publication that is based in Riga, Latvia, in order to circumvent the pressure and attempts at censorship faced by newsrooms in Moscow. (Turovsky and his editors ended up in a dispute with the Times, with Meduza claiming that an article from a series on Russia and its projection of power abroad, which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize, were based on Meduza’s reporting and not given proper citations. After an internal review, the Times determined that the article in question was based on original reporting.) In his articles, Turovsky identified private companies that had lucrative cybersecurity contracts with Russian intelligence agencies, uncovered Russian military-recruiting videos for would-be hackers, and documented a case of Russian officials testing a DDoS attack.

When I asked him what he thought of how American journalists have described both the composition and tactics of Russian hacking squads, he said that the general understanding “is correct, but, all the same, there isn’t really much in the way of real evidence.” It’s one thing to say Russia has both the motive and, with its cyber forces, the technical ability to hack U.S. accounts, Turovsky told me—but, after that, things get very murky. “We can be sure that Russian cyber forces exist, that there are a lot of people involved, that the special services are capable of something like this—but that doesn’t mean we can say with one-hundred-per-cent certainty they are guilty.” It appears that the primary sources for many Washington-based reporters are U.S. intelligence agencies, which unanimously concluded that the effort to disrupt the election was directed by Putin and emanated from Russia. That makes it possible that American journalists know more about the hacking than their Russian colleagues do.

Still, Turovsky is suspicious of the level of specificity in U.S. reporting on Russian hackers. For example, the way that the terms “Fancy Bear” and “Cozy Bear”—nicknames for hacking units linked to Russian intelligence services—entered the American journalistic lexicon gave him pause. “As I understand, there aren’t really groups, just a lot of different people who do this work; it’s pure conjecture to think they form into discrete, particular squads that you could call this or that,” Turkovsky said. He told me that, during the course of his reporting, he was struck by how technologically backward much of the Russian state’s security apparatus appeared—a nuance he said that he hasn’t often observed in American press coverage of the situation. Once, a source took Turovsky inside a cybersecurity facility run by the F.S.B., Russia’s main security service and the successor agency to the K.G.B. As he described it, “the F.S.B. officers had to give up their phones upon entering. There were no computers connected to the Internet—just one for each floor. To access it, they have to sign up in advance and get a key that was good for a certain amount of time. They were complaining that it was impossible to investigate anything in such conditions.”

Even as Turovsky was cautious about some of the more sweeping allegations directed at hackers working for the Russian state, he acknowledged that the chances of the claims being true were just as high as the chances of them being false—that is the hall-of-mirrors reality of reporting on Kremlin plots and intrigue. “Oftentimes, in Russia, what seems totally absurd actually turns out to be the truth,” he said, pointing to the story, reported in detail by my colleague Adrian Chen, of a so-called “troll farm” run out of a nondescript office in St. Petersburg. “Who would have imagined there was a building where people go to work and get paid salaries to sit all day and write online comments in different languages?” Turovsky said.

I also spoke with Roman Shleinov, an investigative editor at Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that was home to Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless reporter killed in 2006, and which first broke the news of an anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya. Shleinov was the Russian coördinator for reporting on the Panama Papers, which revealed high cash flows to offshore accounts run by close Putin friends and associates. He told me that the U.S. press was unduly focussed on the particulars of real-estate deals surrounding Trump, parsing which Russians had purchased apartments from Trump or lived in buildings operating under the Trump name. “It’s hard to say for sure, but the idea that a Russian person who buys an apartment somewhere—say, in Trump Tower—is trying to get influence over someone, to me it seems strange,” Shleinov said.

The most important thing that U.S. reporters should remember, Shleinov told me, is that “money is fleeing Russia in all directions, people are trying to invest anywhere they can, to get their assets out before the secret services or their competitors show up and try and take them all.” On the whole, Shleinov said, a wealthy Russian—even a politically connected one—is likely buying real estate abroad “as a place to run to,” not on Putin’s orders.

Shleinov was more intrigued by the meeting, last December, between Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, and Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, or V.E.B., a Russian state bank. What exactly the two discussed is under some dispute. The White House said that Kushner was acting in a political capacity. V.E.B. said that the meeting was about business interests. Shleinov called the very fact that the two sat down at Trump Tower “curious—now that’s interesting, something to actually talk about.” He went on to explain V.E.B.’s role in the Putin state: “All these state banks are not really businesses, they are meant to carry out state functions. If the head of V.E.B. was talking about possibly financing projects connected to the son-in-law of the President of the United States, that was certainly discussed on the highest levels here in Moscow.”

A notion I have heard from Russian journalists again and again is that the U.S. media, in its reporting of the possible Russia ties of Trump associates, can veer toward trafficking in the conspiracy theories that define so much of Russian coverage of the United States. Elena Chernenko is head of the foreign desk at Kommersant, a Russian paper that started out as a respectable and independent chronicler of business and politics but is now a rather muted one. Chernenko is among its remaining high-profile reporters, and the paper’s international coverage continues to be strong. She has written on Russian foreign policy and the country’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, for the past seven years. Every morning, before she reads the Russian press, she checks the Times and the Washington Post. For years, she said, they represented a “moral compass and a model of what I strived for.” These days, she said, it seemed as if American journalists had lowered their standards when reporting on Russia. “Now, I don’t exclude that this indeed was an operation carried out by the Russian special services,” she told me, referring to the notion of Russian effort to influence the election. But, so far, she hasn’t seen incontrovertible evidence. “The way the American press writes about the topic, it’s like they’ve lost their heads,” she complained.

Chernenko compared the U.S. media’s fixation on the comings and goings of Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador in Washington, to how the Russian media treated Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. “The state media would take every one of his unfortunate statements and blow it up to an unimaginable degree,” she said. On state airwaves, McFaul was portrayed as being behind all manner of nefarious American plots to weaken Russia, a narrative that Chernenko said she now sees in reverse. She thought it was silly then, and she thinks the same of it now. For her, the height of the U.S. media’s “unbelievable hysteria” came when Lavrov visited Trump at the White House, in May. American journalists were kept out of the meeting but a photographer from a Russian state news agency was allowed to attend and take photos of a grinning Trump hamming it up with Lavrov and Kislyak. “Lavrov did what he always does, he is not guilty for the fact the White House did not let in the American press,” Chernenko said. She told me the resulting speculation in some corners of the U.S. media that the Russian photographer may have sneaked a listening device into the Oval Office was “full face-palm.”

Perhaps the most unexpected skeptic of U.S. coverage whom I talked to was Alexey Kovalev, who runs an online project called Noodleremover, a play on the Russian expression “to hang noodles on your ears,” which means to knowingly tell someone nonsense. The Web site is dedicated to debunking the most galling factual errors on Russian state media, with RT a regular and favorite target. Kovalev described himself to me as “one of RT’s biggest critics,” and added, “but I’m critical of what deserves to be criticized: namely, that RT is home to conspiracy theories, has a general disregard for objectivity, and gives a platform to lunatics to get on air.” But Kovalev is convinced that the channel’s reach and propaganda effect in the United States are minimal, and that the attention it has received is “absolutely oversized” compared to its actual power in affecting the American political agenda—which he said is basically zero.

“Bernie Sanders gave a forty-minute interview to RT,” Kovalev said, pointing me to comments in which the head of the channel, Margarita Simonyan, called Sanders the “coolest” candidate in last year’s campaign. “And nobody gave a shit. You know why? Because, in truth, nobody really watches RT.” He explained that the channel’s broadcast footprint in the United States is so small that it fails to register on the Nielsen ratings system. And when people do watch, they tend not to click on political content. A 2015 investigation by the Daily Beast showed that, on RT’s YouTube channel, “political news videos, featuring the content by which it seeks to shape Western opinion and thus justify its existence, accounted for a mere 1 percent of its total YouTube exposure.” Kovalev said that, these days, the biggest beneficiaries of all the undue attention are RT executives, Simonyan above all. “People in RT have been telling me it’s been six months of Christmas for them,” he told me.

That echoes another refrain I heard from several Russian journalists: that Putin, like a naughty kid in school, finds all this attention—even if its uniformly critical— flattering and even rewarding, a salve for years of feeling ignored. Zygar told me that, as far he understands, Putin “likes the image of himself as a kind of Bond villain, that Fareed Zakaria calls him the most powerful man in the world. That’s what he has been aspiring for this whole time, that he is respected, on the top of the world.” When I spoke with Anton Zhelnov, a political reporter at Dozhd, a scrappy and creative independent cable channel, which is in perpetual danger of shutting down, he said that his contacts in the Kremlin can’t help but be pleased by the multiple U.S. investigations into Russian interference, whether by the media or Congress. “Yes, it’s unpleasant, but at the same time they like that Russia is being discussed all the time, that Russia has become a topic in American politics. They like this very much, and don’t try and hide it in private conversations,” Zhelnov said.

Ultimately, among the Russian journalists I talked to, one of the most consistent reactions is simple exhaustion with the endless amount of Trump-Russia coverage.

“I have the sense a lot of these articles are being published without new information, that we are going around in circles,” Turovsky, the Meduza journalist, told me.


Yet he still starts his day browsing the headlines in the American press, a ritual that takes an hour or more.  “Of course, what can I do,” he told me.


“I read this stuff every day.”


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earleflorida's picture

america is failing to understand the power of the internet, for those abroad whom yearn to learn...!

HRClinton's picture

(((Joshua Yaffa))).

Got it. 

idea_hamster's picture

*surviving Russian journalists


luky luke's picture

Putin IS smarter than all those potus bozos. He outsmarted the LONG ARM of every US administration.


chumbawamba's picture

To get a view of what Russian journalists are saying about Putin, let's consult with a New York Jew.

I am Chumbawamba.

giovanni_f's picture

"I spoke to more than a half-dozen of them". Translation: "In order to render my fake analysis credible I am referring to seven selected Soros-funded, Navalny-affiliated corruptos from the Moscow chapter of the globalist regime change combo".


JethroBodien's picture

The Olympic games they hosted told us everything we need to know.

SoilMyselfRotten's picture

I guess those Russian investigative journalists have never heard of Seth Rich either. Thanks NYer!

Lurk Skywatcher's picture

pfft. How convenient that the only true investigative journalists in Russia all seem to be virulent anti-putin, extremely critcal of anything the russian government does, and only too happy to parrot American propaganda?

The fact that they lowered themselves to even speak to someone from the New Yorker shows exactly the calibre of journalism they believe in, and would of course create the desired impression in those who lower themselves to read the New Yorker.


PhilofOz's picture

Bloody hell, those (((triple parentheses))) have their finger in every pie these days!

earleflorida's picture

hmmm... agree to disagree[?] --- but, one learns by reading the losing side arguments/narrative before swallowing the 'whole story' of pure fantasy scripted by rigthousness?

modern man defines good v. evil by how big the gun he holds!

got it HRC

order66's picture

The fact that you use the phrase Russian "journalist" is laughable. Country is dominated by state run media that is 100% propaganda. Credible.

rejected's picture

At first I thought you were talking about American Urinalists.LOL...

The US even has their own little propaganda agency and passed a law recently allowing government to bullshit us even worse then they have in the past. Amazon even creates the cloud for the CIA, and who owns Amazon... and the Washington Post?  Mockingbird is alive and well in the US.

This information is readily available,,, Partake in it.

shovelhead's picture

It may be bullshit, but at least it's LEGAL bullshit now.

So we got that going for us.

slipreedip's picture

Russian Journalists, are probably a damn site better than the paid media whores that america suckles at the tits of.

How fake do you want your news? How much speculation would you like with that? How much rage do you want to feel afterwards?

Home of the free association, Land of the deluded into thinking their wage slavery is brave.


stinkopower's picture

Who gives a fuck what Russian journalists think?

Fuck them and fuck Russia.

Stackers's picture

Ok, lets go with Russia DID hack Podesta's emails. It is also confirmed all those email were real.

So, Thank you Mr. Putin for showing the American people just how corrupt their political parties are ?

Walter White's picture

russian journalist?  now that IS funny..

LetThemEatRand's picture

Oh for the days when I could read an article like this and think to myself "thank God that here in America we have an independent press instead of propaganda."  Let's face it.  It sucks to not be in the club.

shovelhead's picture

The funny thing about information is that it really doesn't matter if it's true or not.

People only want to believe information that confirms their world view anyway, which is exactly the same from the top to the bottom.

In or out of the club, the purveyors of intel or news knows what their "customers" want and color outside the lines to meet their customers demands.

It's how you stay relevant in the "news" business.

Global Hunter's picture

This article is way libtarded than I read on ZH before. People who subscribe to The Economist will love this one.

giovanni_f's picture

I just heard CNN intends to use this extremely unbiased and well researched article as basis for their next bombshell revelation series

Krungle's picture

The MSM is getting kind of metta here....interview dissident journalists in Russia about how silly the American media is in covering Russia, all while dropping a bunch of anti-Putinisms, but trying to look sympathetic to Russians. It is totally transparent. If writing for the New Yorker wasn't enough to disqualify anything he writes, he also writes for Foreign Affairs, the Economist, etc. And he seems to have built a career on Putin hit pieces.

LetThemEatRand's picture

The article is a propagandist interviewing other propagandists about the problem with propaganda.

BlindMonkey's picture

So I am running through all the bias that "The New Yorker" has and I'm drawn to "the tribe".  


I have doubts about how objective any "tribe" news outlet is going to be.  This is obviously not to say that they are necessarily wrong but just that I don't trust them.  To say that Russia went into Syria with no planning seems....silly to me.


There is, of course, no possible connection Joshua Yaffa would possibly have with certain "tribe" interests in making the Russians look bumbling.....   /sarc

BlindMonkey's picture

Oh yes.  Joshua Yaffa is a one-trick propagandist.  Just look at what he writes for "The New Yorker".


A fine man of the tribe.  He will go places....



Shemp 4 Victory's picture


The article is a propagandist interviewing other propagandists about the problem with propaganda.

Let's take a look...

It appears that the primary sources for many Washington-based reporters are U.S. intelligence agencies, which unanimously concluded that the effort to disrupt the election was directed by Putin and emanated from Russia.

Four of seventeen is equivalent to unanimity? Propaganda confirmed.

That makes it possible that American journalists know more about the hacking than their Russian colleagues do.

That's because American 'journalists' are complicit in writing the script of the official narrative.

TeethVillage88s's picture

Jezus fucking Christ! This is total Cliche from 1980s... "what Russians said about US Military"

" The truth, Zygar told me, "is that there is no plan - it’s chaos."

God Damned!

Fucking get a clue on Foreign Policy. Calling US Military Chaos is not News.

Neochrome's picture


In their TV report yesterday about Islamic State financing and the claimed U.S. hits on oil trucks they used the videos Russia provided without revealing the source. You can see the Russian videos played within an interview with a U.S. military spokesperson at 2:22 min.

The U.S. military spokesperson speaks on camera about U.S. airforce hits against the Islamic State. The video cuts to footage taken by Russian airplanes hitting oil tanks and then trucks. The voice-over while showing the Russian video with the Russians blowing up trucks says: "For the first time the U.S. is attacking oil delivery trucks." The video then cuts back to the U.S. military spokesperson.

At no point is the Russian campaign mentioned or the source of the footage revealed.

Any average viewer of the PBS report will assume that the black and white explosions of oil trucks and tanks are from of U.S. airstrikes filmed by U.S. air force planes.

The U.S. military itself admitted that its strikes on IS oil infrastructure over the last year were "minimally effective". One wonders then how effective the claimed strike against 116 trucks really was. But unless we have U.S. video of such strikes and not copies of Russian strike video fraudulently passed off as U.S. strikes we will not know if those strikes happened at all.

MuffDiver69's picture

Look...the main point of this pointless article is everyone is sick of this shit. There is no evidence and the more it goes on the more people tune out...I can go to dozens of websites and see the cool shit the Trump administration is doing for this country,

if you are stuck in the MSM bubble you know nothing of what's taking place in the real world...In many ways this is the best thing to put the nail in legacy media coffin...I don't know anyone who cares about this shit anymore..No one...I doubt CNN would cover the next airline crash...It's that bad...

SillySalesmanQuestion's picture

Face it. All the spook agencies, in all the world, all need to be blown to hell and back...
Along with the politicians, the banksters, the media, the pharmaceutical companies, the...

PitBullsRule's picture

Putin is worth 40 Billion, we don't need two-bit journalists living in sleazy Russian apartments to tell us how intelligent he is. He's outsmarted that whole country of commie back-stabbers.

Of course it looks chaotic, central planning never works, its always chaotic. There's no way Putin could run that whole country efficiently, thats why we fight agains central planning in the US, because we know it doesn't work. Why haven't you commie assholes figured that out yet?

Lets look at Russia's accomplishments during its history of Communism. Ever seen a Russian car? Nyet! Ever seen a Russian cell phone? Nyet! Ever seen a Russian nuclear power plant? Yes, Chernoble. Ever seen a Russian computer? Nyet! Ever seen a Russian election that wasn't rigged? Nyet! You guys have more resources, more land, and almost as many people as all the major 1st world countries, and you're always trailing, WAY behind. Its because Central Planning and Communism don't work. You have a failed system, so why do you want to fuck up our system? First you should un-fuck your own system, then you can worry about our system.

Shemp 4 Victory's picture

In the US, the propaganda and ideological brainwashing stronger than ever the Soviet.


ebear's picture

Nobody in Russia took the Soviet Union seriously. Their attitude was summed up in a popular cliche:  "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us."

If I wanted insight into the direction of the FUTURE Russia, I wouldn't be talking to journalists who by definition have some kind of an axe to grind, whether real or not.


I'd talk to kids just coming out of high school.  I'd ask them what kind of future they see for themselves, what sort of careers they've considered pursuing, how they see themselves as different from their parents and grandparents. I'd want to know who their heros are, who they idolize.  I'd look at their music and street culture.  Stuff they came up with themselves, or had a big hand in creating.

For example:





Basically I'd want some kind of overview of where the next generation is headed, not where old farts like Putin and Lavrov think it should go (even if they do get it right sometimes).

It's easy to cast Russia in a bad light - plenty of bad stuff goes on there - but that's true of just about anywhere.  I don't look for that.  I look for the sharp kids that are going to make a difference somewhere down the road, and I see lots of them in Russia.

OK, this right here, to me speaks volumes:


The guy singing is an 8th century monk and the song is about how beautiful Russia is.  Now look at the clothes the kids are wearing.  No, this isn't a Medieval festival, those are modern designs incorporating ancient themes, brought to you by the sponsors of the video.

There's a cultural revival going on in Russia right now, and it's being driven by young people rediscovering their history and interpreting what it means to them.  Basically, it's becoming hip to be Russian.  I mean, seriously, when was that ever the case, and yet now it is.  That's a very encouraging sign.

OK, I think I've said enough.  Wouldn't want "The Government" to think I'm some kind of subversive element or, heaven forbid, Enemy of the State.

but hey...


Lurk Skywatcher's picture

the 1980's called, wants to know why you are stuck in the 1960's.


slipreedip's picture

Mika and Joe  - basically your moonlighting style of will they wont they news reading/opinion

Rachel Maddow - Ohhh Im so enlightened Im getting my media from a lesbian

Anderson Cooper- Ohhh im so enlightened im getting my news from a gay dude

John Oliver }

Daily Show }

Full Frontal }           im young enough to want to get the humour but too stupid to want to know if its actually true.

Stephen Colbert }

Fox and Friends - The way hitler would like to get his news.



Genby's picture

Who are these schmucks? I googled them, looks like the same lieberal cohorts as FNN.

stant's picture

Russian s are alot of things, stupid isn't one of them. Americans need to give up stupid

AurorusBorealus's picture

I think that reading this article may be the most time that I have wasted this year.  What drivel.  Was there a point to any of this?

ebear's picture

"Was there a point to any of this?"

Yes there was.  It's yet another hit piece disguised as impartial journalism.  There's a been a few of these lately on ZH, enough to call it a pattern even.

PabloFrench's picture

Indeed. the best part is where he nonchalantly states "“Oftentimes, in Russia, what seems totally absurd actually turns out to be the truth,” pointing to the story of a so-called “troll farm” run out of a nondescript office in St. Petersburg."
I guess I must have been working there then in 2014 going on the amount of accusations i received at the time.

Schmuck Raker's picture

"...Turovsky, the Meduza journalist, told me. ~~~ Yet he still starts his day browsing the headlines in the American press, a ritual that takes an hour or more.  “Of course, what can I do,” he told me.

I hope the author told him about ZH.

not dead yet's picture

Or the other reporter who is a long time reader of the NY Slime and Washington Propaganda Post and how dissapointed she is of the recent coverage. These two rags have always been government stooges. Especially the Washington Post that goes on a full scale offensive to destroy anyone who prints truth the government doesn't want known.

I Feel a little Qeasy's picture

What a load of shit, probably more CIA disinformation. Utter crap.