Sketchy Russian details complicate invasion coverage
For reporters, the confusion surrounding Russia’s attack on Ukraine has compounded the challenge of covering it — and made a CNN reporter’s downfall at an airport attacked on Thursday all the more remarkable.
While the invasion of Russia had been an ominous possibility for months, it unfolded with little reliable information from the attackers. Many journalists relied on sporadic audio and video recordings of bombs exploding in the distance, and details from Ukrainians and US intelligence, to try to tell the story of citizens in a Western-style democracy suddenly plunged into the war.
CNN’s Matthew Chance took a tip from a Ukrainian source when he and a crew rushed to an airport about 20 miles from the capital kyiv.
The Russians had attacked, but by the time Chance had arrived he had been informed that the Ukrainians had regained control of the airport. He approached soldiers guarding the gates for confirmation and was told he was mistaken.
He thought he was talking to Ukrainians.
“I said, ‘Where are they then?'” Chance later told The Associated Press. “He said, ‘We are the Russians.’ We said, what? We had no idea. The whole complexion has changed. Suddenly I realized that we had come across the forward position of the Russian airborne special forces that had been deployed a few hours ago to take the airport.
Chance was calm enough to ask permission to report live. He was told he had better hurry.
“I don’t think I’ve ever driven so confidently to a Russian checkpoint as I did today,” he said. “We didn’t realize they were Russian, of course. It might, in retrospect, not have gone so well.
Russian information was difficult to obtain and was not considered reliable. CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata said the network was sometimes able to cross-check details with Russian sources.
“We have to take this with a grain of salt, because the propaganda machine on the Russian side has stalled in recent weeks,” D’Agata said, “and it is sometimes difficult for our journalists to decipher what is right and what is not. do not go.
ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz said Ukrainian sources and, in particular, U.S. intelligence, have been a solid source of information about Russian moves as they happened.
Information from the Russian Ministry of Defense was sporadic and sometimes defensive; an announcement on Thursday said military, not civilian, locations were being targeted.
In retrospect, a new Russian regulation passed months ago was both chilling for journalists and a hint of what was to come. The regulation made it illegal for someone not registered as a foreign agent in Russia to reveal information such as troop movements or positions to a foreign entity.
“You don’t get the kind of access with the Russians that you get with other countries, other militaries,” Chance said. “Most of the information I get about this conflict comes from the Ukrainian side. They have a much more open culture, where the culture in Russia is much more closed and opaque, especially when you’re an American journalist or working with an American country.
News from Moscow that immediately preceded the conflict was considered suspicious because it was obvious that much of it had been recorded in advance, said Fox News Kyiv reporter Trey Yingst.
Yingst spent much of Thursday reporting live from a hotel rooftop. A text message from an adviser to the Kyiv mayor told NBC News reporter Erin McLaughlin to take cover because the Russians were firing a missile at the capital from Belarus.
“All conflicts are unpredictable, and this one especially is,” said Washington Post editor Douglas Jehl. He said the newspaper made the safety of its correspondents a priority, especially those where Russians were known to be stationed nearby.
As the media tried to make sense of what was happening on the ground in Ukraine, social media was flooded with decontextualized and fake footage, adding to the confusion.
Facebook and Twitter posts purporting to show Russia’s attacks on Ukraine have actually shown a series of different events, from a warehouse explosion in China in 2015 to Israeli airstrikes in 2021 in the Strip. Gaza. Users also shared real-life video game footage, amassing millions of views across all platforms.
In some cases, the responsibility for broadcasting distorted videos and images lies with the media themselves. The Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian newspaper, tweeted an almost 30-year-old image of a plane consumed by flames at an airshow in the UK, with a false claim that it depicted a Russian plane shot down by Ukraine. The post was later deleted for violating Twitter rules.
Television news and broadcast networks all interrupted their Thursday afternoon programming to air a statement and brief press conference by US President Joe Biden.
News outlets like the Associated Press, New York Times and Washington Post maintained ticker-like feeds that mixed news developments with observations on how the conflict was affecting Ukrainian citizens.
Marc Santora of The Times wrote at one point: “A woman’s voice, blaring from loudspeakers all over the city, disturbed the calm of downtown Lviv. She gave detailed instructions on what to do if the air raid sirens sounded. Take cover and stay put until they stop. People didn’t react much.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward interviewed a tearful woman who took refuge in a metro station in Kharkiv. ABC’s Raddatz said it was important to show the impact of the invasion on citizens – gas pipes filled with people trying to escape, a 7-year-old girl hearing an air raid siren for the first time.
Raddatz said she received a text message from a Pentagon official on Wednesday night telling her she was likely living in the last hours of peace in Europe for a long time to come.
“It made me sit up,” she said. “It was incredibly sobering.”
Associated Press writers Ali Swenson in New York and Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine