The Times is not
alone in this media fraud. Here are some other equally false variants:
"Britain Says Ties with Russia Played Part in Litvinenko Ruling"
(Reuters), "May [Home Secretary Theresa May] Cites Moscow Relations as
Factor in Litvinenko Decision" (Financial Times), and "Litvinenko Inquiry
Request Refused for Fear of Alienating Russia" (Guardian).
These headlines simply don't comport with the facts. The media are reporting on
a July 17 letter issued by Home Secretary May. In it she reprimands Litvinenko
coroner Sir Robert Owen for not fulfilling his statutory responsibilities. But
nowhere does she even mention Russiaor Moscow, much
less suggest she or her government are in fear of alienating the country. She
doesn't even hint at that. The claims in the headlines I've cited are patently
false. And the headline intimations that there won't be a further investigation
into the death? Completely bogus, too.
Stories of collusion between the UKand Russiato thwart justice in the Litvinenko case are not new, however. Even before
May's letter was sent, a July 12 Daily Mail headline proclaimed, "UK'colluded' with Kremlin to block inquiry into death of poisoned Russian spy
BBC chimed in, too. In a story on the same day, it quoted an observer: "There's
some sort of collusion behind the scenes with Her Majesty's government and the
Kremlin to obstruct justice."
Didn't the media outlets check for facts? Indeed, are there facts to back up
The media outlets offered no
substantiation for the claimed collusion. A couple of sources were cited. But
the sources gave no substantiation either. Suspiciously, they seem to be
associates of the late Boris Berezovsky. He was a fugitive Russian oligarch
hiding out in London.
By his own admission, he had big plans to destabilize Russia, incite bloody revolution,
and throw out the constitution. What's more, the Berezovsky-related sources
cited in the press have demonstrated questionable credibility themselves. Why
didn't the media scrutinize what those people were saying?
Berezovsky was a master media manipulator. His outlandish aspirations, and the
counterfactual tales he uttered trying to achieve them, have received serious
coverage by major media outlets around the world. This went on for over a
decade. That adds up to a lot of journalistic malfeasance.
Alleging British-Russian collusion is a
theme that the Berezovsky clan has used repeatedly. Following a coroner's hearing
in late February, a media blitz emerged contending that Russia and Britain are conspiring to suppress
potentially relevant secret British documents. Attorney Ben Emmerson said the
British are "dancing to the Russian tarantella." He is a lawyer
widely reported to have been paid by Berezovsky to represent the widow
That seems to be the modus operandi of the Berezovsky group: A hearing or a
judgment doesn't go their way. Then all of a sudden there appears a barrage of
news and social media stories advancing scurrilous allegations that have no
apparent basis in fact. The media outlets gobble up the sensational-sounding
stories without checking the facts. And the public is ill-served by a host of
reports that are simply journalistic garbage.
The July 12 specious stories flooded international news in the wake of a
coroner's hearing on the case. Perhaps the most prevalent of those stories is
the tale of the "public inquiry." Typical headlines included "UK
Refuses to Hold Public Inquiry into Litvinenko Poisoning" (Reuters), and
"Litvinenko: No Inquiry into Spy's Death" (Sky News). The Wall Street
Journal tweeted, "UK Won't Hold Public Litvinenko Inquiry," as did
the Huffington Post, "UK Declines to Hold Public Inquiry into
These Berezovskyesque reports make it sound like the British government wants
to put a lid on whatever it was that happened to Litvinenko. I don't know
whether it does or not. But these media reports are fundamentally misleading.
You see, "public inquiry" doesn't mean what it sounds like. Common
sense says the term means an inquiry that's out in the open. But in this case,
the words are a tricky technical term. It's actually a misnomer. According to
British law, a "public" inquiry actually can be conducted behind
closed doors in secrecy. There never was any intention that the public inquiry
be completely transparent. The media reports about this give entirely the wrong
impression. I didn't see any that clarified the use of the term to set the
record straight. Either they were just witlessly going along with the
Berezovsky crowd, or they didn't care enough to understand what they were
reporting. Or worse.
Many of the media stories spoke as if there naturally should be a public
inquiry. It would have been worth asking why. There have been curious deaths of
people far more important in the world than Litvinenko that were not subject of
a truly open or public inquiry. The Warren Commission inquiry into the death of
President John F. Kennedy, for instance, was conducted primarily in closed
sessions. Even Elvis Presley didn't get a public inquiry into his death. Why
Right from the beginning, the Litvinenko coverage has presented a panoply of
misinformation. The basic media story that Litvinenko was murdered on orders of
Russian president Vladimir Putin was a fabrication of Berezovsky's. I detailed
that in my book, The Phony Litvinenko Murder.
There is ample evidence that any stories or allegations coming from the
Berezovsky clan should receive extreme scrutiny. Berezovsky himself was
declared "inherently unreliable" by a British high court judge.
Berezovsky is not the only unreliable one. His right-hand man claimed
Litvinenko had dictated to him a deathbed allegation fingering Putin. But it
was a hoax, too. The hoaxer later confessed that the so-called deathbed
statement contained his words, not Litvinenko's.
Despite all that, most media outlets continue to refer to the deathbed
accusation as though it were factual. And now they are referring to a potentially
secret inquiry as "public." Perhaps the final kicker is the
"spy" moniker widely given Litvinenko by the media. There's no
reliable evidence that Litvinenko ever did espionage work. He wasn't a spy, and
he never worked for the KGB.
What is most puzzling is why any
legitimate journalist would believe any story told by anyone who was a member
of Berezovsky's inner circle. Are the journalists severely gullible, or
corrupt, or incompetent, or do they simply not care about getting things right?
Whatever the case, it is a sad commentary on the media that almost all
news stories about the Litvinenko case amount to nothing more than a
William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant, and author of The Phony Litvinenko Murder.