Award of Excellence in Russia Reporting

I have several times proposed the creation of the Porcelain Cup for Excellence on Russia Reporting. But people to whom I have mentioned this idea object that Edward Lucas would always be the winner. Here, for example, just to pick the first one Mr Google turns up from 2012:

The Russian regime’s dogged defence of the blood-drenched Syrian dictatorship, and its persecution of the Pussy Riot musicians for their stunt in Moscow’s main cathedral, display its nastiest hallmark: support for repression at home and abroad.

Why that sentence could have been written at any time with an appropriate change of “blood-drenched dictatorship” (Chechnya, Iran, Venezuela) and persecution of the victim du jour (Khodorkovskiy, Navalniy, Joan of Arc). There are indeed a few giants whose record of Excellence is spread over so long a time and over so wide an area that they are an unbridgeable distance ahead of their fellows. There are sources, like The Economist, that have built up such a lead in Excellence – here from 1993 “By sending in the tanks, Mr Yeltsin has placed the generals in the realm of politics” – that nothing can now touch them. My suggestion would be to create a rule that a winner cannot be nominated again for a certain period. After all, other proponents of Excellence have to have their opportunity too.

And, there is so much Excellence to choose from. Who can forget Miriam Elder turning the loss of her dry cleaning ticket into an exposure of Putinism? Or Masha Gessen on Putin the “street thug” – could she have been the first to apply that useful word? Remember the NYT in May 2014: Monday’s front page “Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia”; Wednesday a bit of doubt; entire story trashed Thursday “Aftermath of Ukraine Photo Story Shows Need for More Caution”. Sometimes the Excellence is found in omission; like the two reporters who actually said they saw Russian forces invading Ukraine but alas! had forgotten their smart phones so that there were no photos, movies or GPS coordinates and we just had to take their word for it. And Sochi! What a high tide of Excellence! The toilets! The piles of dead dogs! The brown water! The doorknobs! Excellence was everywhere. (On toilets by the way. Let’s pretend you’re a plumber and I’m the guy that puts up the partitions around the toilets. And we have a lot of toilets to install. What do you think the best way to do it would be? Stalls first and then the toilets? Both at once? Of course not. You spend a day putting the toilets in and I put the partitions up around yesterday’s toilets. Along comes a reporter and photographs your day’s work and we have a great story. Question Dear Readers: are the reporters too stupid to figure that out, or are they just propagandists? This particular doorknob was propaganda, although he had the grace to admit it.) And here are a few more I noticed all in the same week in November 2014. The work of the judges will not be easy.

But occasionally a new talent appears who rapidly establishes a position of outstanding Excellence. Such a one is Natalie Nougayrède. I first noticed her with this one: “Europe is in crisis. Once more, America will have to step in to save us” in January. Starting by comparing Joe Biden with George Marshall (!) it just gets better. Read it and then read the comments: more than 2300 pouring scorn on her. March brought us “Putin’s long game has been revealed, and the omens are bad for Europe” in which we learn that Putin “weaponised” the refugee crisis, made it worse or something. 2000 scornful comments this time.

But what really puts her in front for the Porcelain Cup Award is this paragraph from “Kill it, spin it – Putin will do anything to stifle the Panama Papers story.”

The fact that Putin’s name does not appear in the Panama Papers will not calm the paranoia and conspiracy theories that his regime thrives upon. Indeed, these revelations will be seen in Moscow’s ruling circles as part of a CIA-led operation involving the manipulation of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ media.

I probably lack the subtlety to get her point but I don’t get her point. 1) Her newspaper and many others headlined Putin in the Panama Papers 2) the word “Putin” does not appear anywhere in the 11 million documents. And yet she thinks it would be very wrong for the Russians to assume that there was any “conspiracy” to smear Putin. So what was it then? A mistake? A slip? Some very junior flunky, who has been severely punished, did it? They read that so-and-so had put in umpteen billion dollars and that’s close enough to Putin? A computer glitch? No one in the Guardian reads the paper? But it’s good to know that Natalie Nougayrède thinks Russians would be quite wrong to be suspicious.

I’m sorry that the editors have not allowed comments this time; I was hoping to learn some new contemptuous epithets.

Well, if that paragraph isn’t an outstanding example of Excellence in Russia Reporting, I don’t know what is. And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is without any hesitation, that I nominate Natalie Nougayrède of the Guardian for the Porcelain Cup for Excellence in Russia Reporting.