Propaganda · Russia · Ukraine

How biased is: “Johnson’s Russia List”


In a never-ending quest to find unbiased coverage of events in the world, concentrating on the crisis du jour: Ukraine/Russia, today I am looking at the Johnson’s Russia List.  This list is a product of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

My attention was recently drawn to the list, as I am constantly looking for new sources of information about Russia and Ukraine.  I subscribed to the list, hoping to find a mix of pro-Russian, pro-Ukrainian, pro-Western and pro-whoever sorts of articles, all somehow related to Russia.  Since I have been studying Russia and the Soviet Union before that, for over 30 years, I ‘assume’ I have enough experience to make an informed judgement.

Here is the table of contents for today’s “Johnson’s Russia List”.

1. Financial Times: John Thornhill, It is time for the west and Ukraine to offer Putin a deal. Ukraine will never succeed with a hostile Russia on its borders.
2. Moscow Times: Putin Talks Obama, God and the Iron Curtain in New Interview.
3. TASS: Civil society must not be used to influence Russia from abroad – Putin.
4. TASS: Putin says he is not obsessed with approval ratings.
5. TASS: No-one untouchable in fight with corruption – Putin.
6. Kremlin.ru: Interview to TASS News Agency.
7. www.rt.com: Western sanctions are aimed at regime change in Russia – Lavrov.
8. TASS: Ukraine chooses non-bloc policy but NATO door still open – secretary-general.
9. Sputnik: German Foreign Minister Says Ukraine’s NATO, EU Membership Impossible.
10. Bloomberg: Medicine and Meat Out of Reach Amid Ukrainian Price Shock.
11. Kyiv Post: On revolution anniversary, anger over unpunished deaths.
12. www.rt.com: Bryan MacDonald, #Euromaidan 1st birthday: How the Kiev coup grew.
13. Sputnik: Ukrainian Crisis Rooted in Twenty Years of Poor Governance: US Expert. (Michael O’Hanlon)
14. Kyiv Post: Newsless Joe Biden’s disappointing visit to Kyiv.
15. The Kremlin Stooge: Mark Chapman, Jens Stoltenberg Tries Out The Latest NATO Meme – The Russian Air Force is a Menace to Civil Aviation.
16. Reuters: Russia puts losses from sanctions, cheaper oil at up to $140 bln/year.
17. http://readrussia.com: Mark Adomanis, How to Write about Russia.
18. www.opendemocracy.net: Natalia Antonova, Kremlinphobia, russophobia and other states of paranoia. The Russian government likes to regularly accuse the West of being ‘russophobic.’ They’re right, but not for the reasons they think.
19. Paul Goble: Window on Eurasia: De-Stalinization Hasn’t Been Completed in Russia, Lukin Says.
20. Russia Direct: Signs of Russia’s slide into isolation, from Australia to Serbia. Weekly Media Roundup: The Russian media focused on Russia’s performance at the G20 Summit in Australia, as well as attempts by the EU to pressure Serbia to impose sanctions on Russia.
21. Moscow Times: U.S. Ambassador John Tefft Unfazed by ‘Inevitable’ Slump in Russia Relations.
22. US-Russia.org: Now is the time to find a way out of the East-West confrontation: will Europe or Washington lead the way? (discussion panel)
23. Christian Science Monitor: Fred Weir, Russia, China plan war games, arms sales. Could alliance be in the cards? With Russia alienated by the West and China eager to buy high-end weaponry, a joint military pact – though still a long way off – looks increasingly seductive to both.
24. Carnegie Moscow Center: Maxim A. Suchkov, The Drivers of Russian Policy in the Post-Soviet Space.
25. Democracy & Freedom Watch: Caucasus is caught between two ambitious powers. (interview with Ronald Suny)
26. Asia Times: Pepe Escobar, Washington plays Russian roulette.
27. The Vineyard of the Saker: Q&A with the Saker by Controinformazione in Italy.
28. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Government Hour in the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 19 November 2014.

To make a comparison I used Google News search engine searching for Russia, to see the Google News results.  Even adjusting for time and date differential, the results are quite different. I cut and pasted in MS Word to make the formats similar.

  1. Washington Post Finland feeling vulnerable amid Russian provocations
  2. Business Insider Russia Is Losing Up To $140 Billion Per Year From Western Sa…
  3. The Moscow Times Russia is set to lose about $40 billion (32 billion euros) per year due to Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, Finance Minister Anton …
  4. Reuters Russia puts losses from sanctions, cheaper oil at up to $1
  5. Financial Times China, Russia and the ‘Sinatra doctrine’
  6. ​ RT Collective defense partnership: Russia and Abkhazia sign alliance
  7. CNN Russia accuses West of seeking regime change in Moscow
  8. Business Insider RussiaIs Losing The Currency Wars
  9. RT ‘Invest into space, not war’ –Russian cosmonaut urges Russia-US 
  10. The Moscow Times Spy Malware Deployed Against Russia by Unknown Nation, Report 
  11. Reuters Putin says Russia not isolated over Ukraine, blames West for frosty ties
  12. Reuters Russia suspends coal supplies to Ukraine: Ukraine energy minister
  13. Washington Post How the United States can counter the ambitions of Russia and China
  14. Bloomberg View Russia’s Project Moldova
  15. The Moscow Times Russia Cites Smuggling Concerns to Tighten Restrictions on 
  16. Pravda Russia tightens food embargo rules for Belarus and Kazakhstan
  17. RT iPhone ban during Russian military service claim false – Defense 
  18. ITAR-TASS Defense Ministry denies media reports on iPhone ban in the 
  19. Bloomberg Ukraine Shrugged Off as Russia ETF Swells to Record
  20. Businessweek Ruble Extends 6-Day Winning Streak on Oil: RussiaReality Check
  21. National Post Russia criticizes Canada for voting against its UN resolution to 
  22. Yahoo News Putin says he won’t be Russia’spresident for life
  23. CNBC Russia’s richest man on investing in Alibaba, Xiaomi

The results of the Google News search are certainly far less pro-Russian than Johnson’s Russia List.  I have been noticing this trend for the past several days.

I am certain GWU and the IERES students are far more objective than this superficial study indicates.  Perhaps the IERES students use a checklist, searching traditional Russian news sources first (never mind the bias from state-funded sources).  Perhaps these stories were in chronological order, as of Saturday.

As for now, I will view the “Johnson’s Russia List” as biased.  Not quite as badly as RT, RIA-Novosti (now Sputnik), ITAR-TASS and other Russian propaganda sites, but certainly leaning very favorably towards Russia.

When contacted for comment, David Johnson submitted: Zzzzzzz

I can only conclude the author, David Johnson, doesn’t care how they are portrayed.  This leads to a few conclusions, all pro-Russian.

As for Mr. Johnson, there is a highly negative article about him here, which basically accused him of being a Russophile. Another much dated review is here.  A fairly damning article by the New York Times is here, complete with quotes from then professor, now Ambassador Michael McFaul.  Russian apologist Dr. Stephen Cohen gives a fairly glowing endorsement of David Johnson in the article, as well.

Of note is this interview with David Johnson, excerpted from a Moscow Times interview.  In the interview Mr. Johnson states he would like to present more positive stories of Russia, which were difficult to find.  The link to the original article does not work, but the URL indicates the interview occurred in 2007.  This is before the Russian propaganda machine was pumped up with several hundred million dollars.

In “The media game: Putting on the Cold War goggles” by Ilaria Parogni, the author reviews the Johnson’s Russia List and concludes the list’s obvious bias towards Russia  will harm the list, “the listserv is bound to become a casualty of the game”.  The list has continued under various sponsors, so it is unstated whether the list may cease due to a lack of funding, a loss of interest or anti-Russian sentiment.

I previously reviewed the list at http://toinformistoinfluence.com/2014/10/28/popular-russia-listserv-said-to-be-increasingly-taking-the-view-from-moscow/, suggesting it for others with an interest in Russia.

I ran across another familiar name while researching this blog, Edward Lozansky, writing about Johnson’s Russia List for RT. Mr. Lozansky, for those of you who do not know the name, runs the Russia House in Washington DC.  The initial sentence indicates how he feels about Mr. Johnson.

For those who have not heard the name, David Johnson is one of America’s most respected journalists.

This sentences confuses me.  How is Mr. Johnson a journalist?

Bottom line at the bottom.  David Johnson provides a valuable service, he consolidates articles, mostly pro-Russian, into one condensed newsletter.  There is no analysis, only news articles and links to the original.  His list has been cited in many scholarly articles, because in the past it was difficult to gain access to articles from Russian news sources.

Is Johnson’s Russia List biased?  Yes, you betcha.  Is it a bad thing?  No, as long as one is aware of the bias before reading the articles, one can keep that perspective in mind and know the probable bias of the author and the probability that some of the facts may be invented or twisted, as is the norm in much Russian propaganda.

4 thoughts on “How biased is: “Johnson’s Russia List”

  1. Dear Mr. Harding:

    Another travesty giveaway to the Russians:

    The U. S. and 46 WWII Allies are losing billions of barrels of oil to Russians
    who are stealing it from southern Sakhalin Island, north of Japan. President
    Obama and Secretary of State Kerry need to press the Russians to leave the
    illegally militarily occupied southern Sakhalin Island, so that U. S. and Allies
    can start pumping oil for their taxpayers.

    In 1983 President Reagan was given false crucial info by State Department on the
    Soviet shootdown of Korean Air flight 007. State Department intentionally
    failed to tell Reagan that it was NOT Soviet territory where plane was shot.
    This resulted in Reagan’s describing the shootdown as being legally (but not
    morally) justified in his TV speech.

    The airliner was headed west toward Southern Sakhalin Island (north of Japan)
    when it was attacked by the Soviet jet. The airliner continued across Southern
    Sakhalin and made a water landing in Sea of Japan.

    The truth was the Soviets were illegally occupying Southern Sakhalin Island,
    south of 50 degrees north. They had no right of sovereignty for the land or
    surrounding airspace. This made their actions ever the more alarming.

    Lying north of modern Japan, Sakhalin Island measures 500 miles long by 50 miles
    wide, equivalent to the five states of Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode
    Island, and Delaware. Sakhalin Island south of the 50 degrees north was
    unquestionably part of Japan during World War II. It was invaded by the Soviet
    Union a couple weeks before the end of the war in August 1945. The Soviets and
    Russians have maintained this belligerent military posture ever since, including
    refusing to sign the peace treaty with Japan.

    For decades through the mid-1980s the State Department always marked maps of
    Sakhalin Island with a dividing line at 50 degrees north noting that the Soviet
    Union occupied it but was not sovereign. In September 1983, when the Soviets
    shot down the Korean airliner KAL007 over southern Sakhalin Island, the State
    Department removed the dividing line and notation on the map, lending legitimacy
    to the Soviet excuse of shooting down a civilian airplane in its “sovereign”
    airspace. Apparently the “detente” policy to accommodate the Soviets was in
    full swing. http://www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/rs/87009.htm

    Southern Sakhalin has extensive oil resources that the Soviets are exploiting in
    the billions of dollars. The resources actually belong to the World War II
    allies that defeated the Japanese. Except for the Soviets who did not sign the
    treaty ending the war.

    The Treaty of San Francisco signatories other than the United States and Japan
    are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ceylon
    (Sri Lanka), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador,
    Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras,
    Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands,
    New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Saudi
    Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and
    Viet Nam.

    It’s time for the U.S. to mobilize its allies and regain control over Southern
    Sakhalin, including its exclusive economic zone and airspace. It’s also time
    for the State Department to come clean with its hiding of these facts. The
    State Department should be pushing for the maximum public interest in
    international law. President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Congress
    should start pressing ASAP.

    State Department needs to apologize for false info it gave President Reagan to
    include in his speech.

    Detailed maps, treaty language, and other background are on
    http://www.statedepartmentwatch.org/SoSakhalinGiveaway.htm

    Carl Olson
    P. O. Box 6102
    Woodland Hills, CA 91365
    818-223-8080

    1. Okay, Carl. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. What are the chances of this ever happening? Why is Japan not screaming bloody murder about this? Besides the F up of the Department of State in 1983, of them giving the President bad information, how has the US been involved?

      Is this an issue that the State Department is actively, currently aware?

  2. I found this article on Johnson’s Russia List.

    That should be enough said.

    But I’d like to point out a few things in extreme brevity.

    First, you cannot assume that Google’s search algorithm and the SEO of various news sources is in any way indicative of an unbiased presentation of headlines.

    Second, Johnson’s Russia list is valuable precisely because it does not collect the same pervasive views on Russia that are prevalent in mainstream media. If so, then the Google News search would be enough. Or tuning in to Fox News or the Washington Post for that matter.

    For my part I am a Russophile and I am also a fan of the multipolar discourse the Russian government is currently peddling. As such I find JRL to be balanced, since I see plenty of articles that I find critical of the perspectives I hold. It’s not just a comfy place for fans of Russia to sit back and drink the Kool-Aid of Putinism.

    1. Andrew,
      First, let me thank you for pointing this out to me. I actually had this issue open but I had not read too far before I had to take other meetings.
      Second, touchè. David Johnson not only included a fairly negative review in his newsletter but he has subscribers who are loyal enough to defend him. This is a good sign for his newsletter.
      Third, I still stand by my initial review. The shoe is on the other foot, however. It is actually more difficult to find an article about Russia not written by a pro-Russian source, as RT, Sputnik (formerly RIA-Novosti and Voice of Russia), ITAR-TASS, GlobalResearch.ca and others praise Russia, praise Putin and there is only a whisper to account for opposing perspectives. The Voice of Moscow is a strange one, they tend to include at least one anti-Russian or anti-Putin article every day or two.
      I wonder if you’ve noticed a large spike in pro-Russian and pro-Putin stories as of late?

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