The New Yorker's Masha Gessen pointed out to CNN's Brian Stelter that "amplifying ridiculous messages" from Russian propaganda sources is "NOT journalism 101."
April 17, 2022

It was very nice to see someone on CNN called out for the fact that showing "both sides" of a story when one side is obviously lying to you is definitely "NOT journalism 101," and in fact, the "exact opposite" of journalism.

That's what happened during an interview on this Sunday's Reliable Sources when host Brian Stelter opened a segment talking about the sinking of one of Russia's world-class warships, the Moskva, off the coast of Odessa this week. As Stelter discussed, Russia was trying to blame the incident on an ammunition explosion on the ship, and Russian state media released video this Saturday "showing dozens of sailors allegedly those who escaped from the Moskva."

After Stelter introduced his guest, The New Yorker's Masha Gessen, and tried to "both sides" the information coming out of Russia and Ukraine, Gessen let him have it for amplifying Russian propaganda.

STELTER: I think we need to unpack soft of the information wars with regard to this warship, because I'm seeing contradictory messages from Russian state media. On the one hand, this ship was not attacked by Ukraine, there was a fire they claim and that's what went wrong. On the other hand, you have pundits on Russian state TV saying bomb Kyiv, this is war, we need to retaliate for the sinking of our ship. Can both those messages be true? Do they make sense together?

GESSEN: Brian, what we are doing right now is exactly what Russian propagandists want you to do. Which is amplifying ridiculous messages. Do you not understand?

STELTER: Tell me more.

GESSEN: You know, everything that we hear from Russian official sources, everything that is on Russian TV is a lie, right? This has been documented over and over again. I really don't see why we would go on broadly watched CNN program and try to engage with these lies.

That is, we know that these are propaganda messages, right? The only legitimate way to look at the Moskva is to say, okay, here is what is known and here is what we don't know. Right? Anything that comes from the Russian propaganda machine is unreliable and engaging with it is irresponsible.

STELTER: I think that's really, really interesting and it's exactly what news rooms are wrestling with, including the CNNs of the world, where, you know, think about journalism school 101, right, Masha, you are taught to present both sides, ask for comment, try to be very careful not to jump to conclusions, and yet in this particular situation, in a 21st century information war, where propaganda seems to win the day, some of those journalism 101 rules may have to be revisited. What would you say?

GESSEN: I would say that those are not journalism 101 rules. I think journalism 101 rules are to begin with evaluating your sources and you don't go back over and over again to somebody who has been lying to you.

That is the classic both sidism and classic false equivalency. There is no equivalence between the Ukrainian information sources and Russian information sources. The Ukrainian information sources by and large in the more than 50 days this have war have proven to be largely reliable.

Russia information sources over more than 50 days this have war, and preceding it have proven to be profoundly consistently false. Setting them side-by-side is completely irresponsible. This is not journalism 101, it's the exact opposite of it.

Now if someone could get through to them when it comes to Republicans, Fox "news," and other right-wing media outlets. What she just said about Russian propaganda is absolutely true here as well, and it's long past time the other media outlets quit showing any of them any deference.

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