A recent blog post in the obscure Business News Europe attempts to take the Economist magazine to task for anti-Russia bias leading to fact errors. What it succeeds in doing is proving that pro-Russia bias is at least as toxic.
The most amazing thing about the piece is that while criticizing the Economist for publishing anti-Russia “rants” based on emotion rather than facts, the author Ben Aris, who is BNE’s editor in chief, does exactly the same thing while defending Russia. His hysterical screed is at least as one-sided, emotional, anti-Economist and fact-challenged as the Economist piece he purports to criticize. It makes for hilarious reading.
Unsurprisingly, Aris is a frequent contributor to Russia Beyond the Headlines as well as Russia Today, the Kremlin-owned and -operated propaganda websites. So it’s hardly surprising he’d be unable to tell the truth about Russia.
Here are the errors, lies, fabrications and falsehoods Aris offers in his crazed, one-sided diatribe pandering to Putin:
(1) Aris writes: “The trouble is that, rather embarrassingly, the latest survey released in December [by Transparency International] showed Russia going from the ‘most corrupt country in Eastern Europe,’ to the “least corrupt.’ This even happened close to International Anti-corruption Day on December 9, yet none of the western press bothered to report it.”
This is just totally false and outrageously dishonest and inaccurate. TI’s latest 2013 survey gives Russia 127th place for corruption. Poland is #38, Hungary is #47, Czech Republic is #57, Slovakia is #61, Serbia is #72 and Bulgaria is #77 – every one of them far less corrupt than Russia. So it’s really no big surprise that the “western press” didn’t report Russia is the least corrupt in Eastern Europe.
They didn’t because it’s not.
We sent a tweet to Aris about this blatant error. He didn’t respond or correct. Nice ethics there, Mr. Aris!
(2) Aris writes: “The Kremlin said the pure Games-related spending was closer to $5bn-7bn, but these comments have simply been ignored by almost everyone.” He criticizes the Economist for failing to cite sources: “Journalism 101: ‘when citing statistics, you need to attribute them to the valid source so they can be checked.’”
Notice how while calling for citing sources Aris cites none to support his claim about “pure Games-related spending”? Isn’t that rather hypocritical?
The amount of money spent on the venues is not, of course, the issue, nor is the total amount. There’s nothing wrong with Russian spending big to give the world a first class Olympics, to quote LR founder Kim Zigfeld. The problem is that most of that money, where ever it was targeted, was stolen. The humiliating exposure of the poor quality of the venues once they started being used is clear, unquestionable proof of this.
(3) He writes: “Sochi is about as “unsuitable” for a skiing event as California or Granada in Spain, which also both have skiable mountains within easy driving distance of hot beaches.
Neither Granada nor California have ever has never hosted the Winter Olympics. As our reader “Mark” points out, California did host them once. They took place in Squaw Valley in Northern California, near the mountainous Lake Tahoe. You won’t find any palm trees surrounding Lake Tahoe, nor any salt water “hot beach” resorts, but during the summer you certainly could swim there. There was massive controversy over the selection of Squaw Valley in Europe due to its climate and lack of facilities, just as was the case with Sochi. How odd that Mr. Aris chose not to mention this while claiming that it was somehow bizarre for the Economist to raise such issues.
(4) He writes: “Putin is enjoying in the latest polls from the independent Levada Centre a popularity rating of 68% – his highest level since 2002.
Actually, Levada’s data shows that less than one third of Russian voters are committed to choosing Putin for a fourth term. Aris accuses the Economist of cherrypicking and “twisting” facts, but it’s actually Aris doing that.
(4) He writes: “Oil prices have gone up since the 1990s, but then so has the price of coffee in London. In real terms, the price of oil is not that far off the long-term average of $25 a barrel now that it was under Yeltsin.”
WHAT??? The inflation-adjusted price of oil when Yeltsin left office was $23.08. Today it is $87.52, almost FOUR TIMES higher. Just. WTF??
(5) He writes: “More confusingly, when Putin took over oil was at $10 a barrel, yet in 2000 the economy grew by 10%. And it continued to grow by around 4-5% until 2005, and only then did the price of oil take off, climbing to a high of $150 a barrel. So if Putin’s recovery is entirely due to oil, how is it he managed to produce growth with the same oil prices that Yeltsin had?”
As noted above, oil was $23/barrel, not $10. More importantly, Russia’s economic growth in 2000 was due to Yeltsin’s policies in 1999, not Putin’s policies in 2000. Putin’s policies only started getting enacted in 2000, they didn’t take effect until 2001. At that time growth immediately plunged, and it has never matched the level Yeltsin had when he left office.
(5) He writes: “Likewise, 2% growth predictions are not the consensus view and actually well below every one else’s estimates. Investment banks are predicting growth in a range from 2.4% and 3.5%, with the official Ministry of Economy predicting 2.8%. Indeed, the World Bank is ‘mildly optimistic’ and predicts 3.1%.”
Do you notice how, once again, Aris fails to provide real sourcing even as he demands it from the Economist? Which “investment banks”?
This is just another incredible, breathtaking lie. Russia’s own minister of economic development has openly admitted that for the next fifteen years Russia’s economy will be in the doldrums and will lag far behind the world average, and that during this time Russia’s share of world GDP will plummet dramatically.
(6) He writes: “Russia’s total dependence on oil is a myth.” Then, for the first time, he actually tries to prove something, citing a study from Finland.
Well. So Russia is not dependent on oil, huh? That’s quite a big story for such a little fellow. Unfortunately, the facts are quite different. The facts clearly show that the Russian stock market precisely tracks the price of oil, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and development has conclusively shown Russia’s dependence on oil and its precarious economic fundamentals, notwithstanding any obscure study Aris may seek to quote.
(7) He writes: “More generally, Russia’s recent successes in carrying out reforms (albeit at a slow pace) are also completely omitted. Russia has risen from 120th to 92nd in the World Bank’s Doing Business index; it was the world’s ‘best tax reformer’ in 2013, according to a recent PriceWaterCooper survey; and Moscow was ranked in the top three most attractive retail locations in a survey last year from Jones Lang LeSalle.”
“Albeit at a slow pace”????? Really???? Moving from #120 in the world to #92 is not anything any serious person can claim as somehow significant. Aris totally ignores a horrifying litany of studies from around the world that confirm Russia is going backwards, not forwards, and is easily defeated by many third-world states. It’s simply amazing that Aris can attack the Economist for being one-sided and then do exactly the same thing himself. Appalling.
(8) And he finishes with this amazing whopper: “Indeed, far from being a basket case, Russia’s fundamentals are a wet dream for most European central bankers. Russia is in a league of its own if you compare debt (one of lowest in the world), budget deficits (almost none), currency account balance (positive) or unemployment (20 year record lows) with that of any country in Europe. But most compelling of all is in 2013 Russia was in third place in the UN’s foreign direct investment ranking: FDI inflows to Russia jumped by 83% to $94bn form the year before. The trouble is, all these numbers are a bit awkward and don’t really fit into this leader’s narrative – so they were just left out. That was easy, eh?
Easy, yes. It’s very easy to lie, ignore facts and data, and spew forth a torrent of emotional hogwash in the service of your Kremlin masters. But it’s very hard not to get caught doing so, as Aris just has been.
Russia has low debt because it has little money and hoards it rather than investing it in the population, which is getting sicker by the day and doesn’t rank in the top 125 nations in the world for life expectancy. The Russian ruble just hit its lowest level ever against the euro.
The FDI results Aris refers to are acknowledged by everyone to be a one-off occurrence due to a transaction with BP in which, ironically, the company was actually divested of meaningful control over its investments in Russia. The trouble is, this fact doesn’t fit into Aris’s narrative that he’s smarter and more honest than one of the world’s leading business publications, so it was just left out.