By William Dunkerley
International news is abuzz over the poisoning of yet another Putin critic. This time the victim is Alexei Navalny. He's been a de facto leader of activities in opposition to notorious Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Thankfully Navalny is still alive. He's now being treated in a Berlin hospital after becoming ill in Siberia.
The Washington Post reported: "After falling into a coma last week aboard a flight from Siberia, he was evacuated to Berlin for medical treatment."
Indeed, he was evacuated to Berlin following initial treatment in Siberia. But there is something suspiciously wrong with the Post's statement. Can you guess what it is? The report that he fell into a coma on the plane is bogus. He did not.
Where did the Post get that nonsense from? It could have been from the Associated Press. On August 21 it reported: "The 44-year-old opposition [sic] remained in grave condition in a Siberian hospital Friday more than a day after he became ill on a flight back to Moscow and fell into a coma."
I can see how that sloppy AP writing may have been misconstrued by the Post to mean Navalny fell into the coma on the plane.
But also on August 21, a New York Times report got the venue right: "Mr. Navalny was transported to the hospital [in Siberia] and fell into a coma." That's where the coma began, not on the plane. The Post certainly missed that important distinction.
Nonetheless there's still something very wrong even with the Times report. It's the manner in which Navalny ended up in the coma. Did Navalny really "fall into a coma"?
The above errors and falsifications had even been bested by a suspiciously specious report from Deutsche Welle on August 20. Get a load of this: "The 44-year-old ex-lawyer apparently only drank black tea before taking off from Omsk airport, which his team thinks was laced with a toxin that put him in a coma."
Navalny very well may have drunk black tea. But he did not take off "from the Omsk airport." He actually took of from Tomsk. When Navalny became ill in flight, the pilot made an unscheduled landing in Omsk so Navalny could seek treatment.
However, the most significant falsity in DW's report is in the statement that Navalny's team thought the tea "was laced with a toxin that put him in a coma." There's good reason to suspect that the tea was really laced with poison. But that's not what put Navalny into a coma. DW was negligent in not validating the assertion of the Navalny people.
And that's the mistake that is shared by the above media outlets and many others. I find one report after another that claim the Navalny slipped into a coma. It's an allegation that the poisoning was so severe that it precipitated a coma.
That allegation certainly sensationalizes the story. But it is absolutely untrue.
One online outlet, Meduza, even reported: "Alexey Navalny is in a coma and doctors aren’t sure why."
Aren't sure why?
The fact is that doctors in Siberia medically induced the coma to protect Navalny from the effects of the poison. He didn't slip into a coma from a poisoning. It was artificially induced.
I confirmed that with the hospital in Berlin. An official there verified that "the patient is in an intensive care unit and is still in an artificial coma."
So what's the big deal whether Navalny "fell into a coma" or was put into an "artificially induced coma"? The fact is that only one is true. "Falling into a coma" vastly inflates the drama. That leads to wondering why someone is doing that. What's their agenda?
Some reports liken the Navalny poisoning to that of reputed former spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. It was one of the biggest news stories of the time. A prevailing theme was that Putin was behind the hit job. And that's the allegation today in the case of the Navalny poisoning.
I know quite a lot about the Litvinenko case. In 2007 the International Federation of Journalists commissioned me to investigate the related news coverage. What I found is that the basic Putin-did-it story was a hoax, a fabrication by a political enemy of Putin's.
Frankly, I don't know if Putin was involved or not. What I did learn, though, is that those who fabricated the story didn't know either. It was just a smear job. I wrote two books to document the progression of that case: The Phony Litvinenko Murder, and Litvinenko Murder Case Solved.
Now the Washington Post is likening the Navalny poisoning to that of Litvinenko's. Its August 21 headline reads, "Why Poison is the Weapon of Choice in Putin's Russia." The story explains that "a British inquiry concluded that Russian agents were behind his death, and that Putin had likely approved the hit.
The Guardian commissioned me to evaluate the official inquiry report. It became obvious to me that the "inquiry" was not the trial that many thought it to be. There were no legitimate standards of evidence. The accused had no right to confront the accusers. The judge that chaired the inquiry lacked a basic qualification for the job. In the end it all determined nothing for sure. It was just another smear job.
The Guardian published my report with the headline, "Six Reasons You Can't Take the Litvinenko Report Seriously." The newspaper itself added, "Inquiry points the finger at Vladimir Putin and the Russian state, but its findings are biased, flawed, and inconsistent."
The Navalny story is still in its beginning stage. But already it's starting to show some signs of fraudulence that are similar to the Litvinenko affair. Many of the falsehoods seem to have come from Navalny's people. The majority of media outlets covering the story seem to be either unwittingly or deliberately complicit. They could have and should have known better.
Some did. For instance. on August 20, the Independent reported, "Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been put in a medically induced coma after suffering from what aides described as symptoms of poisoning." They played it straight, and so did a few others.
The incendiary version is the story that went mainstream, though. The thrust appears to be toward pinning blame on Putin sans facts. I don't know whether Putin had a hand in this poisoning. My focus is just on the media coverage. Their use of fabrication and innuendo to advance the allegation against Putin lacks integrity. And that's exactly what's suspicious here.