It’s long been an open secret in Moscow that correspondent positions at Western newspapers are only available to journalists who are prepared to consistently take a strongly anti-Russian line.
And a current job advertisement from the Wall Street Journal publicly confirms this understanding. The Rupert Murdoch-owned business paper is looking for a new bureau chief based in the Russian capital, and the desired candidate must fit some stringent ideological criteria. Russian language skills are a “distinct advantage” but they can apparently be overlooked if a reporter is comfortable with the outlet’s agenda. These include recognizing that Vladimir Putin is a “beacon for right-wing politicians across Europe and even in the US,” and regarding the Russian president as “a champion of so-called illiberal democracy.”
Now, some Western far-rightists may express admiration for Putin, but the man himself appears to be personally quite liberal, especially by Russian standards. He has never once, in 19 years of national politics, denounced immigration or singled out ethnic groups. In fact, on the contrary, Russia has been the second-largest migration destination in the world, behind only the US, for much of the 21st century until it was recently surpassed by Germany after Angela Merkel opened its doors during the 2015 migrant crisis.
The Journal also declares that its new bureau chief must portray how Putin’s “traditional conservatism of blood and religion resonates amid economic uncertainty.” Something which, frankly, makes him sound like the leader of a radical theocracy. A description hardly fitting for the head of state of a multi-confessional (and largely secular) country, who has never been involved in a conflict specifically driven by religious fervor or differences.
As Twitter users have pointed out, the language of the advert rigorously conveys the worldview to which the Journal’s new hire must adhere. They need to accept that “Moscow (is) at odds with the US and much of the West” and get “inside Russia’s hacking complex.” And note the use of the word “complex.”
Also, “American officials’ assertions that Moscow used a campaign of hacking and disinformation to try to sway last year’s presidential elections” must obviously be regarded as a fait accompli. Even if most genuine Russian political experts, both domestic and foreign, are dubious about the veracity of the allegations and Russia’s capacity to exert much internal influence on a powerful country with a highly developed information space, such as the United States.
Put plainly, Western media coverage of Russia is generally appalling. There is a severe lack of properly trained journalists covering the beat, who are equipped with proper experience or education in the trade. And the vacuum is generally filled by enthusiastic greenhorns, usually liberal-arts graduates rather than journalism majors or reporters boasting prior experience in their homelands, keen to use Moscow as a back door to developing a career in high-profile Western news outlets.
This sort of ambition, added to poor job security and a hive mentality among their peer group, encourages them to submit copy which fits the unfavorable view of Russia held by editors across Western media, and in the Western establishment at large. These feelings - rooted in suspicion, fear, and intolerance - distort judgement and lead to extreme anti-Russian bias in English-language outlets.
The lack of proper training also results in dire reporting, which seems to fit a template. For instance, almost every dispatch focused on social or economic issues from Russia seems to begin with a person down on their luck, who usually only has one name. And pieces on politics are generally padded with quotes from a talking head from liberal opposition media or academia, who is reliably anti-Putin, for instance figures like Valery Solovey or Konstantin Eggert. At the same time, the 80 percent of Russians across society, who are broadly supportive of the Russian president, rarely get a mention at all. Because in the Western media realm, only opponents of Putin have valid opinions.
Western newspaper and broadcast output from here in Moscow amounts to the same people repeating themselves, over and over. But – while some operate on a nod and a wink in terms of recruitment – the Wall Street Journal is honest about the requirements. Let’s give them that.