Fake News Gets Its Closeup With “Mr. Jones”
Even those well versed in “Fake News” may not know the name Walter Duranty.
Duranty served as The New York Times’ Moscow Bureau Chief from 1922 to 1936. During that time he repeatedly did the Soviet’s bidding, earning a Pulitzer for being the Baghdad Bob of his era, particularly regarding rumors of crippling famines.
“Conditions are bad, but there is no famine,” he wrote in a dispatch from Moscow in March of 1933 describing the “mess” of collectivization. “But – to put it brutally – you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
The Atlantic estimated at least five million people died across Russia in the politically-driven famines Duranty denied. To be fair, other members of the foreign press played along with the Soviet line, too.
Now there’s a major motion picture about Duranty’s Fake News pursuits, but the focus is the journalist who risked everything to prove him wrong.
James Norton plays the title character in “Mr. Jones,” the story of a stringer who snuck into Ukraine and discovered the truth Duranty and co. covered up. Freelance reporter Gareth Jones evaded Soviet keepers and met the starving citizens paying the price for Stalin’s collectivization policies.
Peter Sarsgaard memorably plays Duranty, who lived lavishly by parroting Soviet propaganda. The actor spoke to ET Canada about the movie, and he shared a bit of his own Fake News in the process. Here, he explains why Fake News happens and how he claims it isn’t ideologically driven.
“They do it to improve their own ratings. They have a popular show, job security and make their large paycheques. It’s so rarely [emphasis added] because they actually believe by distorting the truth or by lying or doing whatever they’re doing that they’re advancing a personal agenda that they really believe in,” he says, citing investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman and The Intercept as the ones following in Jones’ footsteps to share the truth in a world inundated with “fake news.”
Sarsgaard cites two liberal journalists at the end, but it’s what he said prior that matters. There’s a reason journalists routinely take President Donald Trump out of context in stories and on social media. It makes Trump look badly to do so, even if scores of Twitter users alert them to these errors.
It’s the same reason the “Charlottesville Lie” endures. Did any journalist fact check Joe Biden when he cited that lie at the start of his recent presidential campaign?
Of course not.
These journalistic “errors,” including a wave of fabricated stories, keep happening, though. What do they have in common? Almost all of them work against the president and his agenda.
Sarsgaard dismisses the chance that Fake News stories have a political component. Common sense says, nay screams, otherwise.
One final thought. The New York Times reviewed “Mr. Jones,” giving it a solid grade based on its cinematic bona fides. What did the newspaper say about Duranty’s role in the film and the true story behind it?
It’s a purposeful whirl that conveys the chaos that he experiences as he gets his bearings and meets other foreign journalists, whom the authorities have restricted to the city. The most important and mysterious of these is Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow bureau chief and a Stalin apologist, played with cool, silky menace by Peter Sarsgaard. (Duranty is said to have coined the term Stalinism and reaped its rewards with a luxurious lifestyle; among his acquaintances was the occultist Aleister Crowley.)
That hardly captures the scope of Duranty’s actions. You’d think the newspaper that played a critical role in his monumental deceptions might have more to say on the subject.