--Flash! Russian opposition journalist murdered in Kiev.
--Bang! It was just the latest Putin hit job.
--Poof! The whole story turned out to be a hoax.
With those three steps the latest explosive news story about Russia went up in smoke. I'm talking about the widely reported murder in Ukraine of a so-called dissident Russian journalist.
But the murder hoax isn't the big story here. The blockbuster is how the media, Russia "experts," and politicians reacted to the purported murder before the hoax was exposed.
On May 30, NPR reported, "Fatally Shot Russian Journalist Was Targeted For His Work." CNN tagged along with, "Journalist, a Putin critic, killed in Ukraine."
Who did it? According to BBC, Ukraine's prime minister Volodymyr Groysman "accused Russia of being behind the killing." This sounds like the same old story: Putin just murdered another journalist.
There was only one problem here. Someone discovered on the same day this murder story broke that journalist Arkady Babchenko was actually alive and well.
The news of his murder was fake news. The Ukrainian government quickly tried to cover up its hoax. It came up with what sounds like a whopper of an explanation: They tried to tell us that the Babchenko hoax was all part of a plan to entrap some Russian hit man.
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. Who knows. But those caught spreading the hoax now have scant credibility left. Take for example the Ukrainian officials. They admit to lying about Babchenko's death and now expect us to believe their fanciful and unsubstantiated cover-up story.
And who is to believe NPR and CNN now? They jumped right onto the emergent hoax without any apparent thought of journalistic fact checking. The same goes for the commentators who were quick to spread the unsubstantiated story. All parties that put their reputations on the line now are seen with egg on their faces.
A good case study is Mark Galeotti, an academic with a long history of spreading misinformation about Russia. Writing in the Moscow Times Galeotti rhetorically asked, "Does the Putin regime murder its enemies as a matter of policy, does it simply create an atmosphere permissive of such violence, or is it now the scapegoat of choice?" Then he remarked, "The answer, of course, is all three."
Well actually it is not all three -- it is just the third: Russia is now "the scapegoat of choice." And Galeotti is now on record as a certified scapegoater.
Still commenting on the then yet-to-be exposed Babchenko murder hoax Galeotti proclaimed: "It is hard to see his murder as not directly or indirectly instigated by the Kremlin."
Galeotti is not new in the game of spreading false information about Russia. My book Litvinenko Murder Case Solved documents a whopper he told the Moscow Times in 2012. It was about Litvinenko's polonium poisoning. The official British submission held that the polonium likely came from an industrial or commercial source. Yet Galeotti fingered Russia, claiming only a sophisticated state run laboratory could produce it. He had no facts to back up that claim either.