WPost’s ‘Agit-Prop’ for the New Cold War

Exclusive: The Washington Post, the neocons’ media flagship, has fired a broadside at a new documentary after it blasted a hole in the side of the anti-Russian Magnitsky narrative, which helped launch the new Cold War, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A danger in today’s Western journalism is that the people in charge of the mainstream media are either neocon ideologues or craven careerists who will accept any official attack on geopolitical “enemies” without checking out the facts, such as with the Iraq War’s WMD myth or the curious case of Sergei Magnitsky.

Magnitsky’s 2009 death in a Russian jail became a Western cause célèbre with the accountant for hedge-fund executive William Browder hailed as a martyr in the cause of whistleblowing against a profoundly corrupt Russian government. After Magnitsky’s death from a heart attack, Browder claimed his “lawyer” had been tortured and murdered to cover up official complicity in a $230 million tax-fraud scheme involving companies ostensibly under Browder’s control.

The Washington Post building. (Photo credit: Daniel X. O'Neil)

The Washington Post building. (Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil)

Because of Browder’s wealth and political influence, he succeeded in getting the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress to buy into his narrative and move to punish the presumed villains in the tax fraud and in Magnitsky’s death. The U.S.-enacted Magnitsky Act in 2012 was an opening salvo in what has become a new Cold War between Washington and Moscow.

The Magnitsky narrative has now become so engrained in Western geopolitical mythology that the storyline apparently can no longer be questioned or challenged, which brings us to the current controversy about a new documentary that turns the case upside-down and again reveals the superficiality, bias and hypocrisy of the West’s politicians and news media.

The West’s reaction has been to block the public airing of the documentary – to any significant audience – while simultaneously branding it Russian “agit-prop,” the attack line used by The Washington Post in a Monday editorial. In other words, the treatment of the film is reminiscent of a totalitarian society where the public only hears about dissent when the Official Organs of the State denounce some almost unknown person.

In this case, the Post’s editorial writers under the direction of neocon editor Fred Hiatt note the film’s showing in a rented room at Washington’s Newseum and then seek to discredit the filmmaker, Andrei Nekrasov, without addressing his avalanche of documented examples of Browder’s misrepresenting both big and small facts in the case.

Instead, the Post accuses Nekrasov of using “facts highly selectively” and insinuates that he is merely a pawn in the Kremlin’s “campaign to discredit Mr. Browder and the Magnitsky Act.” The Post concludes smugly:

“The film won’t grab a wide audience, but it offers yet another example of the Kremlin’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to spread its illiberal values and mind-set abroad. In the European Parliament and on French and German television networks, showings were put off recently after questions were raised about the accuracy of the film, including by Magnitsky’s family. We don’t worry that Mr. Nekrasov’s film was screened here, in an open society. But it is important that such slick spin be fully exposed for its twisted story and sly deceptions.”

Watching the Film

After reading the Post’s editorial, I managed to get a password for viewing the documentary, “The Magnitsky Act. Behind the Scenes,” on the Internet and I was struck by how thoroughly dishonest and “highly selective” the Post’s editors had been in their attack on the film.

Washington Post's editorial page editor Fred Hiatt.

Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt.

For instance, the Post writes, “The film is a piece of agitprop that mixes fact and fiction to blame Magnitsky for the fraud and absolve Russians of blame for his death.” While it is correct that Nekrasov “mixes fact and fiction,” that is because the documentary is, in part, the story of his planned docu-drama which was intended to embrace and dramatize Browder’s narrative. Nekrasov begins the project as Browder’s friend and ally.

It was during the docu-drama’s production that Nekrasov begins to detect inconsistencies and contradictions in Browder’s storyline, including how a woman executive in one of Browder’s shell companies alerted police to the tax-fraud scam, not Magnitsky, and that Magnitsky as an accountant in the business was called in for questioning by police. In other words, Magnitsky comes across as a criminal suspect, not a noble whistleblower.

As the documentary proceeds, Nekrasov struggles with the dilemma as his scripted docu-drama portraying Magnitsky as a martyr falls apart. When Nekrasov’s questions become more pointed, his friendship with Browder also painfully unravels.

One of the powerful aspects of the film is that it shows Browder grow petulant and evasive as his well-received narrative begins to come undone, both in interviews with Nekrasov and in a videotaped deposition from a related civil case.

Key points of the deception are revealed not by Kremlin officials but by Magnitsky’s supporters who challenge pieces of Browder’s embroidered story, such as elevating Magnitsky from an accountant to a “lawyer.”

Another key piece of Browder’s tale – that corrupt police raided his offices to seize original corporate records and seals to set up shell companies to perpetrate the tax fraud – crumbles when Nekrasov shows Russian laws that don’t require such records and discovers that the registrations were accomplished by straw men apparently controlled by Browder and operating under powers of attorney.

Though I am no expert on the Magnitsky case – and there surely may be flaws in the documentary – what is clear is that the widely accepted version of the Magnitsky case, portraying him and his boss as noble do-gooders who become victims of a convoluted police conspiracy, is no longer tenable or at least deserves a serious reexamination.

But preventing the Western public from seeing this important film – and then demonizing it in a Washington Post editorial on the assumption that almost no one will see it – amount to the behavior of a totalitarian society where “agit-prop” does rule, except in this case it is anti-Russian agit-prop that escapes any serious scrutiny.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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19 comments for “WPost’s ‘Agit-Prop’ for the New Cold War

  1. Knomore
    June 21, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    It’s frightening in the extreme what has happened to the US under the control of NeoCon ideology in foreign policy affairs and the NeoLiberal economic catastrophe promulgated by so-called Democrats like the Clintons. It was Bill Clinton who made possible the “agitation propaganda” that runs this dismal picture show. The wholesale election fraud we’ve witnessed is necessary to give us more of the criminal Clinton clan. We don’t even bother with the pretense anymore although we’re probably still running about telling the rest of the world about our “great” democracy and free elections.

    We can count on Hillary to continue fighting with everyone who doesn’t agree with her “exceptional America” ideology–and more mayhem to keep her backers on Wall Street and in the military-industrial complex happy. The one thing that makes Donald look good is that he doesn’t always please the cabal.

    We’re in big trouble. Big, big trouble. Will we get out from under this without a nuclear conflagration?

    The future is looking dimmer and dimmer.

    Thanks for all you do, Robert Parry, to keep us informed.

    • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
      June 21, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      There are many things that we can do:

      – Boycott Wall Street and the Private Banks. Bank with Credit Unions and Community Banks.

      – Join the Public Banking Institute to push for the creation of State-Owned Banks on the model of the Bank of North Dakota.

      – Boycott the Entertainment Industry including the Main Stream Media that keep people ignorant or misinformed.

      – Push for people on the left to UNITE and build a third party that represents the people. There are already small parties that can UNITE under one party instead of being fragmented. Stop the EGOS from keeping people divided!!

      – Ride public transportation to reduce the need for gas!!

      – Be a minimalist and resist consumerism.

      – Treat your representative as your EMPLOYEES because they are!! It amazes me how TIMID Americans are when they talk with their elected representatives!!

      • Knomore
        June 21, 2016 at 2:49 pm

        Thanks, Dr., but I do write letters to my representatives that are not timid; in fact, sometimes I feel ashamed of my brash criticisms. I bank at a Credit Union and never read the MSM, rarely go to movies… BUT: It’s not enough.

        I know it’s a cup half-empty, half-full thing and that if I had better ego control and enormous patience I would tell myself that things are OK, that they’re going to work out just fine… But deep-down, do I believe that?

        No, I don’t believe that. And I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such blatant fraud as what we’ve experienced in this election cycle. It scares me that the probable next President of the United States doesn’t give a hoot about the law, about obeying the rules, about respecting the voice of the people.

        And I think those of us who have been bold enough to write out here on the internet under our own names how we feel may find that the NDAA (latest act) is quite ready to prove to us, personally, how scary things have become.

      • Peter Loeb
        June 22, 2016 at 7:21 am

        OLD PROGRESSIVE ILLUSIONS NEVER DIE…OR FADE AWAY”

        Dr.Soudy is perhaps impressed by old, basically failed progressive
        illusions of remaking society in their own image. Liberal
        progressive narcissism.

        Incidentally as strategy it unhelpful to go frantically in 10 directions
        —all improbable– at once.

        —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

        • Knomore
          June 23, 2016 at 1:29 pm

          I watched this yesterday on Democracy Now and felt it was helpful in explaining why those of us who’ve called ourselves Democrats for forever are feeling so out of the loop. It’s important, too, to remind ourselves of how great the contribution of the Clintons has been to the demise of progressive thought and activity in this country. I have stated that I will vote for Trump if it comes to him or her, if only because (1): I tend to believe the stories that the Clintons are so corrupt and she is so unelectable that they actually dreamed up Trump to give her a boost; (2) If perchance that is true, I want to make sure that they get their money’s worth…

          Also, am falling toward the idea that revolution of some sort or another is probably the only thing that will dislodge the insanity and other perversions that occupy Washington DC today. Trump is, for better or worse, probably more likely to incite a genuine uprising. It’s not good, not foolproof, but then, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

          And let us not forget that $hillary was a “Goldwater Girl.” Probably still is. (Forgot that I mentioned the following link in another post below…)

          http://www.democracynow.org/2016/6/22/thomas_frank_on_clinton_democratic_establishment?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=0d99fb653d-Daily_Digest&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-0d99fb653d-191476641

      • Solly
        June 28, 2016 at 10:40 am

        Fine. You get us started. LOL

  2. Drew Hunkins
    June 21, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Nekrasov deserves boatloads of credit here. He initially approached the project essentially assuming Browder was donning the white hat. Nekrasov let the facts and truth lead him to an uncomfortable conclusion, yet a conclusion filled with integrity. As far as Hiatt goes, when has he ever seriously questioned Washington’s empire or Tel Aviv’s bloody land grabs?

    • Knomore
      June 21, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      I’d like to see the documentary. Any chance of that, Mr. Parry? It’s difficult to understand the ins and outs of this fraud, especially since it occurred in a country that has been thoroughly vilified in our press and by our leaders. If the truth of Russia were presented to us full-face, who would recognize it?

      • Robert
        June 22, 2016 at 2:01 am

        I would, since I get most of my news from Russian media and other foreign sources. It seems that, in reality, USians are not that Russophobic at all, since the GOP base, which one would expect to be the most Russophobic segment of society, is supporting Trump massively, who claims he wants to be friends with Russia. Apparently the mostly no-nothing Democrat base is much more Russophobic than the GOP base (owing to the LGBTQ issue) which is quite strange.

        • Rob Roy
          June 23, 2016 at 2:36 am

          What is the name of the documentary and how can we see it? Thank you.

        • Knomore
          June 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm

          Would you mind sharing the news sources that you feel give good, fair and balanced, coverage of Russia? I tend to believe that most Americans are simply uninterested — and to the extent that they listen, they believe the garbage that is handed them by the US State Department and Fox News.

          About the GOP base supporting Trump massively… who are these people? My sense is that the GOP has scared itself royally with the advent of Trump, that they are doing everything possible to disown him, even taking up with Hillary instead. I saw one of the Kochs, (a so-called libertarian but I consider the Kochs far right wingers), recently suggesting that he might, in fact, support Hillary.

          In keeping with that old foreign policy tenet that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” I’m thinking that perhaps I need to vote for Trump if it comes down to one or the other. Because the cabal obviously detests him, Trump may bring on revolution and if we get Hillary, we will definitely need a revolution — so maybe Trump is the answer. Does that make sense?

        • Knomore
          June 23, 2016 at 12:28 pm

          I watched this yesterday on Democracy Now, Thomas Frank on his latest book on “What’s happened to the Democrats?” Don’t think that’s the exact title but I found it very helpful in explaining the oddity that is the Democratic Party today. I’m one, but plan to change that soon.

          http://www.democracynow.org/2016/6/22/thomas_frank_on_clinton_democratic_establishment?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=0d99fb653d-Daily_Digest&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-0d99fb653d-191476641

  3. Abe
    June 21, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Agit-prop (derived from agitation and propaganda) is media that forms with an explicitly political message. Mainstream media in general function as agit-prop.

    The Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a so-called “citizen research project” based in Moscow, is allied with various UK-based deception operatives including Eliot Higgins and Bellingcat, as well as the notorious Syrian Observatory for Human Rights disinformation outlet. Like Bellingcat, CIT purportedly uses “open-source data” ruse to “track Russian military actions” in Syria and Ukraine.

    Every one of these notorious agit-prop operations has been running at full throttle in support of Pentagon claims that Russian airstrikes on a U.S.-backed terrorist base in Syria involved cluster munitions.

    In December 2015, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both published reports accusing Russia of using cluster munitions “indiscriminately” on populated areas and violating a U.N. resolution.

    Russian officials disputed the reports and claimed in a Ministry of Defense statement that Russia’s air force does not use cluster bombs.

    The United States has also faced scrutiny for providing cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia that have been since used in the ongoing Yemeni civil war.

    After the July 16th air attack on the Al-Tanf terrorist base in Syria near the Jordanian border, Bellingcat loudly accused the Russians of “assisting ISIS” https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2016/06/21/al-tanf-bombing-russia-assisted-isis-attacking-us-backed-fsa-group-cluster-bombs/

    This past week, U.S. military officials have issued their most aggressive statements since Russia began its air campaign over Syria last year. The recent “dissent channel” memo from 51 U.S. State Department “diplomats” must be viewed in this context.

    Needless to say, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other MSM propaganda megaphones are blaring the latest accusations against Russia.

  4. Abe
    June 21, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    The MSM and faux “citizen journalist” agit-prop complex, aka the “Mighty Wurlitzer” of miltary-industrial-media agitation and propaganda for more war, is reaching a fever pitch.

    Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst, observes the following:

    Claiming that US military strikes against the Syrian government, or that “regime change” is the only way to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) is indeed far fetched and is in and of itself a fabricated justification for an otherwise entirely self-serving geopolitical objective the US has set for itself in Syria […]

    justifying greater military aggression by the US in Syria appears to be a “hard sell” for American policymakers, media and politicians. Militants in southern Syria were likely designated for this ploy specifically because they have the greatest chance of being separated and distinguished from US-backed militants in northern Syria.

    US-backed militants in Syria’s north are described even by the US itself as “intermingled” with extremists including Al Qaeda and even IS and have become increasingly difficult to defend diplomatically and politically as Syrian and Russian forces work on rolling them back.

    Undoubtedly US-backed militants in Syria’s south are likewise “intermingled” with overt terrorist groups, but because the conflict in the south has been neglected by not only US and European news agencies, but also Russian and other Eastern news services, there lingers an unwarranted “benefit of the doubt.”

    US Seeks Direct Confrontation with Russia in Syria
    By Ulson Gunnar
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2016/06/us-seeks-direct-confrontation-with.html

  5. Wendi
    June 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    For Abe, and everyone, I believe almost any international source before the MSM, but a hardsell sceptic of Brit stuff often fed to them from US “bad intelligence.” And this source, (also click to its home page), on this stage of US’s Assad war, rings my bell of truth. https://www.rt.com/news/347579-russia-us-patience-gerasimov/

  6. Robert McMaster
    June 21, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    After Browder sr. got the boot, he debated the ex-Trotskyist Max Schachtman in New York city. In that debate Schaftsman famously said ‘There but for an accident of geography stands a dead man’. Look it up. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

    Mutatis mutandis, his son. A crook, murderer, swindler, thief. Hit this guy as hard as possible according to the truth. The truth is enough with this guy it’s so bad. But hammer him hard and relentlessly. Stop being nice, Russia.

  7. June 22, 2016 at 8:37 am

    For more about Browder, see this investigative report at 100Reporters: http://100r.org/2014/05/russian-sanctions-highlight-role-of-western-enablers/

    For the same post with many links to backup documents: http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/2014/06/russian-sanctions-highlight-role-of-western-enablers/

    The mainstream press was uninterested in this story or the documentary proofs, most from court papers, that show Browder buying into a Russian offshore tax evasion scam. Browder refused to be interviewed. After the story was published, Browder never charged that anything in it was incorrect.

  8. bfearn
    June 24, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    It has always been important for countries that want more than their share to create a bogie man. When this was the aboriginal person in America the results were devastating. It has been the Russians for a long time but they never suffered as the aboriginals did because they might have fought back. Now that the Russians seem weaker there are too many powerful and greedy Americans who think that they can get rid of those damn commies once and for all. Sociopaths like this have risked wars based on BS before.

  9. L Garou
    June 30, 2016 at 7:45 am

    One of these days a cruise missile will fly through the WPost Editor’s window, just like they’ve been rooting, conniving, scheming the USA to do to other nations for their entire existence.
    The best part, though, will be the ending. You know, the part where the victims ‘get a rope’

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