NYT Retracts Russian-Photo Scoop

Exclusive: After starting a propaganda stampede – with a lead story about photos of Russian troops purportedly in Ukraine – the New York Times admits the pictures really don’t prove much, and one photo was labeled as snapped in Russia when it was really taken in Ukraine, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Two days after the New York Times led its editions with a one-sided article about photos supposedly proving that Russian special forces were behind the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine, the Times published what you might call a modified, limited retraction.

Buried deep inside the Wednesday editions (page 9 in my paper), the article by Michael R. Gordon and Andrew E. Kramer – two of the three authors from the earlier story – has this curious beginning: “A collection of photographs that Ukraine says shows the presence of Russian forces in the eastern part of the country, and which the United States cited as evidence of Russian involvement, has come under scrutiny.”

Photograph published by the New York Times purportedly taken in Russia of Russian soldiers who later appeared in eastern Ukraine. However, the photographer has since stated that the photo was actually taken in Ukraine, and the U.S. State Department has acknowledged the error.

Photograph published by the New York Times purportedly taken in Russia of Russian soldiers who later appeared in eastern Ukraine. However, the photographer has since stated that the photo was actually taken in Ukraine, and the U.S. State Department has acknowledged the error.

In the old days of journalism, we used to apply the scrutiny before we published a story on the front page or on any other page, especially if it had implications toward war or peace, whether people would live or die. However, in this case – fitting with the anti-Russian bias that has pervaded the mainstream U.S. press corps – the scrutiny was set aside long enough for this powerful propaganda theme to be put in play and to sweep across the media landscape.

Only now do we belatedly learn what should have been obvious: the blurry photographs provided by the coup regime in Kiev and endorsed by the Obama administration don’t really prove anything. There were obvious alternative explanations to the photos that were ignored by the Times, such as the possibility that these were military veterans who are no longer associated with the Russian military. Or that some photos are not of the same person.

And, one of the photos featured by the Times in its Monday lead article, purportedly showing some of the armed men in Russia, was actually shot in the Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, according to Maxim Dondyuk, the freelance photographer who took the picture and posted it on his Instagram account.

Here is the tortured way the Times treated that embarrassing lapse in its journalistic standards: “A packet of American briefing materials that was prepared for the Geneva meeting asserts that the photograph was taken in Russia. The same men are also shown in photographs taken in Ukraine.

“Their appearance in both photographs was presented as evidence of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine. The packet was later provided by American officials to The New York Times, which included that description of the group photograph in an article and caption that was published on Monday. … The dispute over the group photograph cast a cloud over one particularly vivid and highly publicized piece of evidence.”

Then, after noting Dondyuk’s denial that the photo was snapped in Russia, the Times quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as acknowledging “that the assertion that the photograph in the American briefing materials had been taken in Russia was incorrect. But she said that the photograph was included in a ‘draft version’ of a briefing packet and that the information has since been corrected.”

But the misidentification of the photo’s location as Russia, not Ukraine, was not some minor mistake. If the photo was taken in Ukraine, then the whole premise of the claim that these same guys were operating in Russia and have since moved to Ukraine collapses.

Note how the Times framed this point in its Monday article: “Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.” Then, the cutline below the photo read: “Soldiers in a group photo of a reconnaissance unit, which was taken in Russia, were later photographed operating in towns in eastern Ukraine.” There was no attribution. The location is stated as flat fact.

Still, the Obama administration is not going to let its sloppy mistake get in the way of a potent propaganda theme. According to the Times, Psaki insisted that there was plenty of other classified and unclassified evidence proving that the Russians are behind the eastern Ukrainian uprisings, but none of that supposed evidence was included in Wednesday’s story.

The problem for the Times, however, is different. Many of the flaws in the photographic evidence were there to see before Monday’s front-page article, but the newspaper was apparently blinded by its anti-Russian bias.

For instance, the article devoted much attention to the Russian skill at “masking” the presence of its troops, but that claim would seem to be contradicted by these allegedly secret warriors posing for public photos.

The Times also ignored the fact that the U.S. Special Forces – and indeed the special forces of many other nations – also seek to blend in with the populations by growing beards and wearing local clothing. This is not some unique tactic employed by the nefarious Russians.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Another NYT-Michael Gordon Special?”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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16 comments on “NYT Retracts Russian-Photo Scoop

  1. incontinent reader on said:

    Gosh, Bob, the NYT should be paying you for doing their job- and giving them a clinic in the process. (A good journalism school would be advised to pick up on your articles and use them in a case study, to teach what to do and what not to do.)

    At least the Times responded, even if today someone else there (Tom Friedman) spewed more pro-Kiev smoke and b..s.. Why, I ask myself did he have to misrepresent the issues at hand and pretend that Russia had been forcing Ukraine to deal with it exclusively to condemn Ukraine to a permanent status of serfdom and corruption, or couldn’t bring himself to mention that it was the EU that was trying to force itself on Ukraine as its exclusive partner, and the EU that coerced an agreement with Ukraine’s constitutional leader which it abandoned within a day, or address the impact on Ukraine of the EU’s austerity package, or what the benefits to Ukraine of a non-exclusive multilateral relationship could be, or why Russia cannot allow Ukraine to become a member of NATO, or what the deep historical relationship is between the people of Ukraine, a paper state without any real independent history, and Russia of which much of Ukraine was a part, etc., etc.

    Propaganda comes in all forms. TF’s is the fluffy phony baloney variety.

  2. You should also add that most of these guys have been identified as Ukrainians (both local and Crimean) and Cossack freelancing volunteers (from the Terek Cossack communities in Southern Russia.) I mean, their names and ages, residences – everything.

    Indeed, most of this has been clear for weeks to people who have followed this closely. The extremely bad intel on “specialized Russian weapons” and such was debunked weeks ago as well, but Ukrainian authorities and the US State Department appear to have a tough time catching up (or far more likely, it’s not in their interest to “catch up”.)

  3. Impishparrot on said:

    Ukraine finds itself in the bulls-eye of US/EU/NATO’s “Economic Hitmen.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqdiyY5waMM

    Another USG military/industrial/financial/intelligence/media complex clustersuck.

  4. bobzz on said:

    I watch NBC nightly news with Brian Williamson to see what they don’t say as much as what they do say. He was literally brimming with confidence that these photographs “proved” Russian involvement. Had I not been reading Consortium News, I would not have been able to silently think, “You have no idea what you are talking about. You are supposed to be informing me and you are the one misled.”

    • Eileen K. on said:

      I watch NBC Nightly News as well, for the same reason(s). Brian Williams is so full of himself (a case of narcissism, perhaps?) spouting the US/EU/NATO propaganda as a Zionist puppet always does. I know what he omits; it’s the real truth on who the actual instigators are, and it’s not the Russians.

      Sorry, Brian; your bloviations don’t convince the majority of Americans on this issue.

  5. mrtmbrnmn on said:

    Have you heard the latest Polish joke? Our rogue nation has despatched 150 mugs from
    the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team to POLAND (!) in the crude hope they can goad Putin into World War 3. Ha! Ha! Ha! This entire grotesque effort by our ruling villains can only end in a tragic mess. But then the goal is not to win wars anymore, just have them. That’s where the money is…

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      Actually, this could start a war with…Poland! Today in European news, local nationals staged a big protest demanding to have U. S. Servicemen prosecuted in local courts for violent crimes rather than in military courts. It seems some of our NATO “allies” are happy to have us visit Poland.

  6. carroll price on said:

    I wonder why anyone would take seriously anything that’s published in the Hymie Town Times. The people who own this newspaper are members of a sub-group that’s known and recognized world-wide for harboring a propensity for creating forged documents and manufacturing far-fetched tales that are easily disproven when subjected to common sense analysis based on the recognized limits of physical science and confirmed historical facts.

  7. Traveler on said:

    Is there anyone left still believing anything coming out of the US media and gouvernement circles?

  8. John F on said:

    Thanks for the excellent story, Robert Parry.

    You mentioned the New York Times reporter Michael R. Gordon. Those with a long memory remember some earlier journalistic misdeeds by Michael Gordon. He was a co-author with Judith Miller, another NYT reporter, on a series of articles that helped to lie us into the war in Iraq. Those article reeked so badly that someone had to take the blame. Judith Miller war fired but Gordon was not. Now he’s up to his old tricks.

  9. Konstantin on said:

    U.S. intelligence agencies themselves are involved in the events in Ukraine. And what moral authority the United States have even suspect someone in part in protests in the East of Ukraine?
    Russia has long been a duty to keep peacekeeping troops in Donbass and protect civilians subjected to genocide by the illegitimate domains!

  10. Valery on said:

    United States does not want to know the truth.

  11. Frank on said:

    The New York times has been run by the Jewish Sulzberger family for many years. Perhaps this is why they lie so much with regards to Iraq, Syria(both are Muslim and enemies of Israel) and Russia(have strongly embraced Christianity in recent years and kicked out many Jewish oligarchs).

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