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Al-Jazeera, Others Spread Counterfactual Stories about Litvinenko, Arafat

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The Yasser Arafat story that broke in July brought on a new wave of incessant references to Alexander Litvinenko's alleged murder by polonium in 2006. The Arafat reports went viral in the mainstream press and social media. Al-Jazeera seems to have been at the source of them all. It was trumpeting the discovery of polonium contamination on the garments Arafat wore near the time of death. Al-Jazeera was suggesting that Arafat like Litvinenko could have been poisoned.

Here's what Al-Jazeera was saying about Litvinenko: "Polonium was used to kill Alexander Litvinenko, a onetime Russian spy turned dissident."

Well, that flies in the face of the facts. Back in October 2011, while researching my book, The Phony Litvinenko Murder (http://www.omnicompress.com/plm), I sought official confirmation of my understanding of the case. My research was indicating that the London coroner hadn't ever concluded that Litvinenko was murdered or that polonium poisoning was the cause of death. So I asked for verification. The coroner's office wrote back: "That is correct, William. Thanks for seeking clarification."

When I started seeing all the Al-Jazeera and copycat stories in July, I thought that perhaps something had changed. Did the coroner recently conclude that Litvinenko had been murdered and that polonium was the cause of death? So, I questioned the coroner's office again:

"Has the coroner issued a finding on the cause and manner of death of Alexander Litvinenko? My understanding has been that no such finding has been reached. But world media, in connection with the recent stories about Yasser Arafat, have been widely reporting that polonium was used to murder Litvinenko. Thus I am interested in knowing if the coroner has made a determination of the cause and manner of death in the Litvinenko case."

The answer came back: no new determination. So the authoritative word is still the same. No murder, no polonium, still to this day. But Al-Jazeera was continuing to issue its counterfactual news stories. That made me wonder if anything Al-Jazeera was reporting in its Arafat stories is correct.

According to French news agency AFP, "On Tuesday [July 3], Al-Jazeera television broadcast the results of a nine-month probe it commissioned into the 2004 death of the veteran Palestinian leader that indicated he could have been poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium."

That report also said the polonium had been detected at the Institute of Radiation Physics in Switzerland, where Arafat's clothing had been sent for testing. I found a copy of the report. It doesn't say what Al-Jazeera says it says. It seems to heap evidence on an opposite conclusion.

Al-Jazeera says the report indicated Arafat "may have been poisoned with polonium." But the report says the polonium detected is "not sufficient to determine the causes of death." It adds that "some of the findings in the forensic report are inconsistent with an acute radiation syndrome."

Did Al-Jazeera misunderstand the report? Or is it trying to put one over on its audience?

There's something else Al-Jazeera got wrong about Litvinenko. Its reports called him a "onetime Russian spy turned dissident." I offer evidence in my book that he never was a spy and hadn't worked for the KGB. And calling him a dissident? When I hear "Russian dissident" I think of Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and Bonner. They are well-recognized Russian dissidents. Litvinenko had been quite a critic of Putin, and many media reports claimed Putin put out orders to kill him. My book shows that was all trumped-up. To put Litvinenko in the same category as Solzhenitsyn et al is just plain nonsense.

Originally, I toyed with calling this article, "Who Framed Vladimir Putin." A 1988 film called "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" inspired the idea. In that movie, cartoon characters interacted with real people in a who-done-it fantasy comedy. That's the same situation that Putin is in these days. Except there isn't anything funny about it. The media have become the cartoon characters here. They've failed in their responsibility to be reliable reporters of fact-based news.

 

William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant based in New Britain, CT. He works extensively with media organizations in Russia and other post-communist countries, and has advised government leaders on strategies for building press (more...)
 

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