Putin pounced on a Fox News interview in which an Ossetian woman trying to praise Russia is cut off by the interviewer. Maybe he'd only seen the Russian-dubbed version, when the interviewer, almost comically, coughs and hums loudly over her speech.
When Vladimir Putin was invited to speak on CNN on 28 August, he made a point of bringing up the Fox News interview of a young Ossetian of US nationality, who was visiting Tskhinvali when she witnessed combat between Russia and Georgia. The 12-year-old had come to the studio accompanied by her aunt. After describing what she saw in South Ossetia, she condemned the Georgian attack and thanked the Russians for their help. Her aunt then continued the anti-Georgian attack by blaming president Saakashvili for the war- until she was cut off by a well-timed publicity break.
Although the pair reappeared on the channel after the break, the Russian blogosphere saw the event as proof of censorship by the American media, who they said refused to hear the truth, and placed the ad break to shut up the girl and her aunt. However, the version they were basing their attacks on had been retouched, to emphasise this supposed censorship, by Russian broadcasters. And it's also that version that Putin makes reference to during his interview with CNN.
The Fox interview with the Ossetians
The Fox News version:
Russian channel RTR’s version:
The Fox interview was notably aired on RTR's top news shows. The channel went even further to make another version, where this time the girl has no chance to speak at all, and her aunt's interview after the ad break is reduced to 12 seconds, when originally she had 25 to conclude her point. But the best part has to be the overly dramatic coughing and humming from the dubbing of the presenter, giving the impression that he tried to cover up what his guest was saying.
Translation of the RTR piece:
The Russian host:
An Ossetian girl and her aunt who've been living in the USA for several years, but who came under bombing when visiting their homeland, have been invited on to a live programme on Fox News TV channel. Apparently, the journalist thought that the talk would go along with of US politics. But they were wrong.
The American host (a Russian voiceover):
This war... I can't even imagine, a 12-year-old girl going through all this. It must've been horrifying.
The aunt (a Russian voiceover): Yes, it was horrifying. I want to say it on television. I want you to know who's to blame for all this, in this conflict. It's Mr Saakashvili who started this war.
The voiceover of the American host starts coughing and mumbling very loudly. The following words are accompanied by the coughing.
The aunt (a Russian voiceover): It's Mr Saakashvili who's the aggressor. Two days my people, Ossetian people were killed, and bombed, two thousand people were killed. I'm against it.
The host: Unfortunately we have a commercial break, then we'll be back to the studio.
The aunt: I know, you don't want to hear all that.
The host: We'll be back in a moment.
The host: Hello. We're back in San-Francisco. The programme ended a minute ago, but I want to give you 30 seconds to conclude your thoughts. Come on!
The aunt: My house in South Ossetia where I lived... We can blame only one person.
The host: Ten seconds.
The aunt: And the Georgian government. I'm not blaming Georgian people. I blame the Georgian government, and he [Saakashvili] has to resign.
The host: Yeah, that's what the Russians want to hear. If I had more time, you would get it, but I have but five seconds. Thank you. That was a young girl from San Francisco. I understand, there are gray areas in war.
The irony of the matter is that this account of disinformation tricked even Putin himself. In the interview with CNN, the Russian PM refers to the coughing and wheezing of the Fox News interviewer, which only existed on the dubbed Russian version.
Putin on CNN: "Is that an honest and objective way to give information?"
On 28 August, the Russian PM was interviewed by Matthew Chance on CNN.
The interview was translated by CNN here.
Let's recall, for example, the interview with that 12-year-old girl and her aunt, who, as I understand, live in the United States and who witnessed the events in South Ossetia. The interviewer at one of the leading channels, Fox News, was interrupting her all the time. All the time, he interrupted her. As soon as he didn't like what she was saying, he started to interrupt her, he coughed, wheezed and screeched. All that remained for him to do was to soil his pants, in such a graphic way as to stop them. That's the only thing he didn't do, but, figuratively speaking, he was in that kind of state. Well, is that an honest and objective way to give information? Is that the way to inform the people of your own country? No, that is disinformation."