Douglas Herbert – Journalist
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“Disinformation for Dummies: Putin’s propaganda war in Russia, Ukraine and beyond”
“Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” That was the Anglo-Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift, writing in 1710. More than 300 years later, false narratives and bogus claims are at the heart of a relentless disinformation campaign that Vladimir Putin and Russia’s state media are waging to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Millions of (mostly older) Russians get their news from heavily censored, state-controlled TV. They are viewing this war through the prism of an aggrieved, ageing autocratic leader full of revanchist rage about lost empire. For them, the war in Ukraine isn’t an unprovoked invasion of a peaceful, democratic neighbor that was minding its own sovereign business. Rather, it’s a “special miltary operation” to defend ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine from “genocide” at the hands of a “Nazi” regime bent on attacking Russia with (non-existent) nuclear weapons. Never mind that Ukraine’s president is a Jew who lost several family members in the Holocaust. Putin’s through-the-looking-glass narrative bears no relation to reality. So does truth stand any chance of piercing the bubble of Russian propaganda? How can journalists with an eye on fairness, balance and factual reporting do their jobs in a country where free and independent news outlets are branded as “foreign agents”? Is there a way to outsmart Putin in the information war over Ukraine’s destiny?
Douglas Herbert, a New York-born, Paris-based TV commentator with France 24, parlayed his early love for languages, literature and travel into a journalism career that has taken him from New York and Philadelphia to Estonia, Russia, the UK and, for the past 17 years, France. As a freelance writer in the Moscow Bureau of The New York Times in the mid-90s, Douglas reported on a catastrophic oil spill in Russia’s Far North. Back in the US, he segued from covering Kremlin intrigue, to the Philly suburbs, as a reporter for a large metropolitan daily, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Douglas subsequently covered business and markets for CNN’s financial news website in New York, before crossing the Pond to work at CNN International in London, as a multimedia feature reporter focused on European issues. At France 24, a Paris-based news channel that he joined at its launch in 2006, Douglas gives his take on breaking international stories, in both English and French. He has covered numerous G7 and G20 summits, from Mexico to Québec to Northern Ireland, along with four US presidential elections. In 2021, Douglas helped lead France 24’s coverage of the Biden-Harris inauguration, from Washington, DC. He received his Masters Degree in Russian Studies from Harvard University, having studied in Moscow in the late 1980s, in the heyday of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. Since then, he has reported extensively from Russia and Ukraine, and was live at the scene when Russian troops – the “little green men” – occupied Crimea in February 2014. He is a regular conference speaker on US politics, and French and Russian politics and society. Douglas taught a graduate-level fact-checking course at Paris’s Sciences Po journalism school for seven years.