A long list of reputable media outlets such as CNN and BBC have misquoted Italian police about a neo-Nazi group that fought for the government in Ukraine, falsely reporting that they were linked to Donbass separatists instead.
The Italian state police said on Monday that it had seized a cache of Nazi memorabilia and weapons – including a missile – from a neo-Nazi gang in northern Italy. The operation, the police said, was a result of a year-long investigation into far-right political movements who had fought “against the separatists” in Ukraine’s eastern breakaway region of Donbass.
Despite the rather unambiguous wording of the police statement, a host of mainstream media outlets got it dramatically wrong, essentially reporting the exact opposite.
Citing either the police or unspecified “Italian media,” Reuters, CNN, the Guardian, BBC, CBS – the list goes on – reported that the group “had fought alongside Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine” (CNN, Reuters), “took part in the Russian-backed insurgency” (The Guardian), or that the raid was carried out “as part of an investigation into Italian far-right help for Russian-backed separatists” (BBC).
While the original statement leaves little room for error, several Italian outlets did rephrase it to sound less precise, describing the neo-Nazis as having “taken part” in the Ukrainian conflict. The police tweet is worded in a similar way.
It is possible that multiple people jumped to the same wrong conclusion, or that an initial mis-translation got picked up by a crowd of media outlets known for their anti-Russian bias, who proceeded to skip fact-checking in favor of a narrative that reinforces it. Either way the strategy seems to be bearing fruit, as only a few commentators on social media have taken issue with the false report.
Italian media make sense: these nazis were on Ukrainean nazis side against Russian supported rebels. But BBC (embarrassed to be on the same side as these nazis in the civil war in Ukraine) lies and says the opposite. This is an orwellian-style propaganda piece. #thisispropaganda
— Helmholz Watson (@HelmholzWatson) July 15, 2019
The lack of critical thinking is particularly puzzling given the fact that rebel forces in eastern Ukraine have never been associated with the neo-Nazis, while the government in Kiev has relied heavily on so-called volunteer battalions, composed of Ukrainian nationalists and foreign neo-Nazi sympathizers, to do the fighting.
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