Disinfo: Russian Embassy caught The New York Times juggling facts on coronavirus mortality rate

Summary

Our embassy in the United States caught The New York Times, the largest American newspaper, juggling and hushing up facts that are clearly not in the US’s favour. The day before, an article appeared on its pages stating that the Moscow Department of Health allegedly intentionally underestimates the statistics of mortality from coronavirus. The New York Times cited figures as evidence. In April of this year, 1700 more people died in Moscow than in April of the past year, although according to official deaths from COVID, about 650 were registered.

Our Health Department published the answer on the pages of the same publication: it makes no sense to compare the increase in mortality in the monthly dynamics. This is too small to identify trends. In addition, if we take, for example, the numbers of 2018, the difference will be much smaller.

Disproof

The NYT in its article "A Coronavirus Mystery Explained: Moscow Has 1,700 Extra Deaths" and FT in the article Russia’s Covid death toll could be 70 per cent higher than official figure" from May 11, said that data released by Moscow’s city government on Friday shows that the number of overall registered deaths in the Russian capital in April exceeded the five-year average for the same period by more than 1,700. That total is far higher than the official Covid-19 death count of 642 - an indication of significant underreporting by the authorities.

Within two days, on May 13 (the day that the TASS' article was also published), the Moscow City Health Administration’s statement admitted that, indeed, over 60% of deaths from COVID-19 were accounted in Russian statistics as deaths “from obvious alternative causes” such as heart attacks, stroke, cancer and others. The same principle of attribution of deaths of patients with coronavirus is implemented in at least several Russian regions, for example, in the Chelyabinsk region: here, official death statistics openly divides those with confirmed coronavirus into those for whom COVID-19 became the "main" cause of death with those who are classed as having had "concomitant disease". For comparison, see the principles of WHO. Indeed, coronavirus may trigger other diseases, such as heart attacks, but without coronavirus the victim may have had been alive.

Russian MFA's threatened to cancel the accreditation of both NYT and FT in Russia. On May 18, the NYT published a letter of response by the Head of Moscow's health department as an "opinion": "We perform an autopsy in every case, and therefore we are confident in the accuracy of our data. An increase in mortality rates is natural with an increase of acute respiratory viral infections, which aggravate the underlying illnesses".

The practice of a right to response has nothing to do with "being caught juggling facts".

See more disinformation cases on the coronavirus.

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 198
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 19/05/2020
  • Language/target audience: Russian
  • Country: Russia, US
  • Keywords: coronavirus
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Conspiracy theories are useful for human societies

Conspiracy theories quickly give a fallacious explanation of a reality that can be stressful and traumatic. Thinking that a small group of people caused all catastrophes helps people and human groups to cope with this trauma, overcome their stress, accept the situation and adapt to the new reality.

Therefore, it can be concluded that conspiracy theories are useful even if this contradicts the way they are usually presented. Conspiracy theories brings more good than bad.

Disproof

This case is an example of how a harmful disinformation claim can be mendaciously disguised as an "opinion". The argument that conspiracy theories bring more good than bad, especially in context of the present pandemic, flies in the face of reality. Extensive research and analysis details the dangerous consequences of belief in conspiracy theories, including the negative impact they may have on public health. This claim is part of the pro-Kremlin disinformation effort to legitimise conspiracy theories.

While it is true that conspiracy theories can provide convenient explanations of a reality that's stressful and traumatic, it is false and irresponsible to suggest that they play a positive role in helping accept reality or adapt to a new situation. In his book The Opium of Fools, Rudy Reichstadt denounces the excessive indulgence intellectual circles have towards conspiracy theories. Reichstadt argues that conspiracy theories do not constitute psychological help to cope with traumas; while faith helps, incorrect knowledge does not. Furthermore, in crisis situations, the spread of conspiracy theories can seriously jeopardize public health.

Bloomberg fakes Putin’s approval numbers

The US news agency Bloomberg has reported, citing figures by the Russian state pollster VTsIOM, that Putin’s rating dropped to a record low of 27 percent in April as the coronavirus pandemic continues to weigh on the national economy.

The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the report, showing that the real figures provided by VTsIOM (67-8%), which Bloomberg claimed to cite, were altered in the report.

“The editors of Bloomberg continue to show complete disrespect for its readers. They probably hope that their audience will not check Russian sources and find a real WCIOM data”, the Russian Embassy in the United States said on Twitter.

Disproof

The story advances a recurring pro-Kremlin narrative which casts Western media as biased against Russia. Under this narrative, outlets such as Bloomberg will not hesitate to report bogus statistics for the sake of impressing their Russophobic prejudices on unsuspecting readers.

VTsIOM's statistics on public trust in politicians are based on two different survey questions, which in turn produce two different percentages.

Sanctions against Russia are ineffective

Sanctions against Russia are ineffective, not only did they fail to improve the situation in Ukraine, but also failed to influence the policy of Vladimir Putin. They only lead to the degradation of trust in Europe of our relation with the Russian partner.

There is now a  very important problem: the pandemic of Coronavirus. Europe should investigate the origin of the virus instead of extending the sanctions every six months, it would re-establish trust and trade within Europe with the Russians.

Disproof

Recurrent narrative about the  sanctions against Russia claiming they are useless and counterproductive. An additional element is added about the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

The EU sanctions were introduced as a political response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and deliberate destabilization of Ukraine. The introduction, extension or possible removal of the EU restrictive measures is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.