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New York Times published an article on Sunday, entitled “Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates Opponents”. The article itself is ok, I thought, though I didn’t read much of it, finding it a bit boring. Not great, mind you, but ok. A bit overdone, with some strange phrases like “far-flung places like Nizhny Novgorod, 250 miles east of Moscow.” (Excuse me? In Russia “250 miles east of Moscow” would be pretty much Moscow suburbs. Now, 4,000 mi – that’s “far-flung.”) If you've followed Russian politics at all, then there would be nothing to see here. But then they did an interesting PR move: they asked Russian Live Journal users for comments.

LJ is crazy popular in Russia, kind of like Orkut in Brazil. It sometimes seems like in Russia LJ=Internet. In fact, in case you haven’t been following social networking sites news, LJ was recently bought by a Russian company. So, with some help from Russian LJ leadership, New York Times got over a thousand comments. Which they then selectively translated into English and put up on the NY Times website. Apart from amazingly crappy translation (sometimes translating sentences to mean nearly the opposite), what I found sad is how the mix of the comments was rebalanced to make it seem like the Russian LJ community was split between the different opinions about the article: some people loved it, some hated it. Nothing can really be further from the truth: if the LJ’s opinion of the article can be summarized in one word, the world would be “shit”. Not “shit” as in “shit! we screwed” but as in “why do they publish such shit?” In fact, that’s literally a word that a good 10% of the posters seemed to use to describe it. Again, I don’t think the article deserves that designation, but if NY Times bothers to ask Russians for their opinion, it should present this opinion as is, or say “The words that the Russians used to descibe express their opinions of the article are not fit to be printed in a family newspaper.”

I went through the first ten posts translated by NY Times and the first 10 top-level posts in LJ and translated each of them roughly into “A-F” rating, where “A” would mean “You are right” and “F” would mean “Go write about your own f***\ing Guantanamo instead.” Then we get:

LJ comments:         D,D,F,F,F,F,F,F,C,C
Translated comments: D,F,C,D,A,C,C,D,D,A

Now, one can say that “Sad shit” is not a very mature comment, or that the first post was would have been to hard to translate (“And those people tell us to not put our fingers up our noses!” a reference too a joke where a kid says this after seeing his parents having sex.) NY Times could have said that from over a thousand comments, of which the overwhelming majority were extremely negative, they picked those that weren’t too offensive and made sure to include some of the positive ones to represent the minority opinion as well. But to just translate the comments like that and say those were the highlights…

The worst thing is that while ostensibly trying to help bring democracy to Russia by criticizing Putin’s regime, New York Times suddenly became Putin’s greatest aid, providing his supporters with yet another argument that American media simply can’t be trusted and that Russians should just rely on the Putinstate-owned sources instead.