Russia: (Not- So) Spontaneous Combustion in the News

Invading sovereign nations and murdering political leaders have become national pastimes in the land of vodka and rubbles. The fact that these themes are in the news now can only mean one thing: Mother Russia and Papa Putin are at it again.

Today, five suspects were taken into custody, while one blew himself up with a grenade, after an investigation into last week’s murder of Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was shot in the back just two days before he was scheduled to lead an opposition rally against Vladimir Putin.

Let’s take a look at how different news outlets are covering this breaking story.

The Daily Beast, one of the more well known outlets in the blogosphere, ran a story titled, “In Nemtsov Murder: Five Suspects Taken Alive, Another Blows Himself Up.” The article focuses on two main questions; who are these people and what was their motivation?

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Photo Credit: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters: One of the Suspected Murderers

The article identifies the individuals as Chechens, citing that their names did not “sound Russian.” Unfortunately, very little information beyond their names and whether or not they admitted to the murder, was provided.

This article, while semi- informative, does more for the “tinfoil hat” community, than the rest of us. I say this because of the inclusion of tidbits like, “Boris Nemtsov’s friend, the prominent opposition activist and political analyst Vladimir Milov, finds it suspicious that on the night of Nemtsov’s murder federal security video cameras on a light pole over the murder scene were not working,” and “It appears that the FSB and the Putin government want to declare the case closed.” While statements like these may be relevant to investigators, for the rest of us, they only serve to fuel the paranoia of internet conspiracy theorists.

On the whole, this article is ok if you just want to know what happened and nothing more. This article is not for people attempting to understand why it happened. This is partially evidenced by its lowly place, three pages deep in a google search.

The Independent has become one of my go-to sources for international news. This is partially due to their prominent placement near the top of many search queries, but also for the quality of their reporting. The latter was in evidence for their article, “Boris Nemtsov killing: Suspect blows himself up and two others charged of shooting of anti-Putin opposition leader.” 

For starters, their photo-journalism blows The Daily Beast out of the water:

Zaur Dadayev is escorted by a policeman at the Basmanny district court in Moscow
Zaur Dadayev is escorted by a policeman at the Basmanny district court in Moscow.
Anzor Gubashev has been charged for his involvement in Nemtsov's murder
Anzor Gubashev has been charged for his involvement in Nemtsov’s murder

The two photos are powerful images of the two individuals who have been formally charged with the crime being escorted by Russian police. Just my remedial knowledge of the conditions inside Russian gulags (prisons) causes a shiver to run down my spine at the thought of what those two men are about to endure. The Independent also got photos of the three suspects who have yet to be formally charged.

Three suspects, named by Reuters as Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, Shagid Gubashev and Ramzan Bakhayev, hide their faces
Three suspects, named by Reuters as Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, Shagid Gubashev and Ramzan Bakhayev, hide their faces

The Independent paints a much fuller picture than that of The Daily Beast. They include a vitally important piece of information that the Beast somehow failed to include. That is, Nemtsov actually feared for his life and that Putin might kill him, and said so publicly.

The Independent manages to inform without overtly fueling conspiracy, ending the article with a simple account of the manner in which suspects were revealed to reporters and providing zero speculation as to who or what prompted the killing.

For me, broadcast news is a fairly boring medium. It features egomaniacal, suited blow-hards reading what someone else wrote . In spite of this (or maybe because of the money garnered from it) CNN manages to bring some top- shelf reporting to their online news division. CNN’s online article, “6th suspect in Boris Nemtsov’s killing dies in suicide, report says,” is an example.

CNN, being a broadcast outlet, have the advantage of showing actual footage from their television program in their articles. This adds a real voice from a reporter on the ground, which gives the piece a little more gravitas.

Like the others, CNN provides names of the suspects, but they also go the most in depth. For instance, they tell us that “Dadayev had previously served as an officer in a Chechen police battalion,” and that he “was the deputy commander of one of the Chechen Republic’s Ministry of Internal Affairs groups,” while the other suspect, “Gubashev, worked at a security firm in Moscow.”

The biggest difference between the CNN article and the others was the context and history provided. CNN went above and beyond by providing a recent history of prominent, opposition Russians that have been killed or imprisoned. They included a photo gallery of eight different critics of Putin, whose lives were not exactly changed for the better as a result.

CNN Photo Gallery: Boris Nemtsov
CNN Photo Gallery: Boris Nemtsov

All three did an adequate job writing about the bare bones of the story. The Independent and CNN provided significant visual value with their photos, but it is CNN who bested them both with the depth and quality of their reporting and writing.

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