How one British journalist powers a Western-media disinformation machine — RT Russia & Former Soviet Union

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A mysterious hack manages to churn out thousands of fake news stories about Russia, yet hardly anyone knows who he is

Will Stewart is one of today’s most productive British journalists. In fact, he might just be one of the most widely published hacks in the history of the trade. Each year, hundreds of his articles are published in major publications. However, most of his work is an attempt to incite fear and hatred.

Russians are no strangers to bad press. Cold War narratives haven’t gone anywhere and even prior to the Ukraine conflict, Western journalists used any opportunity to publish sensationalist news about the country, regardless of whether it had any basis in reality. 

A 2019 study showed that only 2% of all items published about Russia in Western media were positive. Which left 98% as either negative, or deemed neutral. 

The most impressive fact, however, is that a single man was behind many of them – Stewart, who has apparently worked in Russia since 1993.

Stewart’s portfolio on MuckRack boasts almost 15,000 articles in over 40 publications. Most of them are about Russia and are written in the same style: a scandalous headline, a manipulative account of events, and a few quotes from controversial experts. Stewart is most often published in The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Mirror – British tabloids that typically pay equal attention to sensationalist themes.

Stewart’s articles provoke various reactions in Russia. Some of his writing simply makes people laugh, while some of it annoys readers with its outright lies and insults.

The correspondent nobody knows

Many foreign correspondents have worked in Russia throughout the years and continue to do so. Their work is generally routine – they attend press conferences, arrange interviews, and collect information through their contacts and other sources.

Of course, foreign journalists are affected by the current political tensions. Notably in terms of status. For example, at President Vladimir Putin’s last press conference, a New York Times correspondent was humbled when the Russian leader said he would first answer a question from the Chinese Xinhua agency, and only then would talk to the American journalist.

Stewart, however, is apparently above attending press events and interviews. Despite allegedly working in Russia for many years, he doesn’t appear at press conferences or on talk shows, and generally doesn’t like to show his face – you won’t find his photo anywhere on the internet.  

Some Western journalists, including those who’ve worked in Russia for decades, don’t know Stewart either, and admit that they “have never seen him face to face.”

Stewart also has no significant “paper trail,” apart from the company East2West, registered in 1996, in which he’s listed as both the secretary and the director. This entity owns the rights to the illustrations used in the mysterious journalist’s publications. However, most of them are screenshots from Russian news videos.

Stewart, of course, is not a ghost and is a very real person – otherwise he wouldn’t have been accredited by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, he has no need to attend press events, or communicate with speakers and colleagues in Russia. It has long been known that Stewart is the manager of a group of stringers who gather provocative stories and pass them on to him to “package” the plots for Western media.

This working model does not allow for in-depth story development, but it does allow for churning out news by the dozen. And with the use of simple techniques, they can be made shocking and click-worthy.

How fake news is made

Anyone who’s worked in the media, and in fact, any attentive reader, will easily discern Stewart’s tactics. He uses clickbait headlines and omits facts or other context that could shed a different light on his stories. 

Take a recent article, ‘Ex-Russian beauty queen sobs as she’s arrested for throwing party under house arrest’. The title evokes a sad feeling which in fact has nothing to do with reality. 

The article is about Elena Blinovskaya, a blogger who’s been accused of tax evasion. She has been placed under house arrest, although that didn’t prevent her from throwing a party – which in her case is against the law. At her trial, she complained that she isn’t able to take care of her children.

What Stewart forgot to mention is that in Russia, Blinovskaya is famous not for winning the 2016 Miss Russia beauty pageant, but for being a fake professional guru. She earned her impressive fortune by selling the ‘Marathon of Desires’ personal development course. In the article, Stewart calls it “a service to help empower women to make dreams come true.” In fact, the course consisted of “positive affirmations” for which clients paid thousands of dollars. It was a scam. 

Many people accused Blinovskaya of fraud, but last year she was found guilty of tax evasion in the amount of around $10 million. She tried to flee the country, but was detained on the border with Belarus.

Stewart effortlessly spun a narrative turning a tax-evading blogger into a victim of the regime, and later he did the same thing with a little-known rapper who left Russia. In December 2023, Nikolay Vasilyev, known as Vacio, made headlines when he attended a bloggers’ party in the nude, save for a Balenciaga sock covering his genitals, with the words “the ugly fear beauty” scrawled across his back. He was promptly arrested for public indecency. Fast forward to May, and Vasilyev received a military enlistment summons and promptly vanished, only to resurface in the USA. His departure was shrouded in mystery, with no public statements made. Back in Russia, the saga of Vacio quickly faded from memory – after all, he wasn’t particularly well-known before these events.

In Stewart’s retelling, however, the tale takes on a more dramatic hue. According to him, Vasilyev somehow managed to “scandalize Putin” with his bold fashion statement at the party, “outraging” the president in the process. Stuart goes on to suggest that Vasilyev even “defied Putin by fleeing to America.” It seems that Stewart’s choice of protagonists is rather limited, to say the least.

Stewart also has some downright absurd articles. A while ago, he produced another impressive headline: ‘Vladimir Putin finds new love with London-educated historian who wants to censor Russian internet’. The article was ridiculed on Russian social media because Stewart claimed that the Russian president was having an affair with Ekaterina Mizulina, the head of the Safe Internet League.

Mizulina is known for working with children, scolding rappers for their supposedly “wrong” lyrics, and making short-form videos in which she talks about her work or simply dances. 

What made Stewart think that Mizulina was having an affair with Putin? Probably the fact that they have similar views on traditional values and Mizulina resembles other women whom the tabloids have labeled as Putin’s “mistresses.” Now that’s truly impressive investigative journalism.

At least Stewart is consistent. He has a handful of “classic” themes that he frequently writes about – for example, he’s consistently outraged by attractive women in the Russian Armed Forces. Military beauty pageants interested him both before the Ukraine conflict, in 2020, and afterwards, in 2022. The journalist generously used terms like “bizarre” and “sexist” to describe these contests. Of course, Stewart failed to mention that the participants were evaluated not only by their physical appearance, but also based on their professional skills.

The arrogance and absurdity of Stewart’s articles is both surprising and laughable. But sometimes, he really goes too far in the pursuit of scandalous headlines. 

Fake deaths, real deaths, and fake news

Russia has quite a few conspiracy theorists. One of the most famous is Valery Solovey. 

 

The former professor is famous for spreading bizarre ideas – for example, every year he declares that “Putin will leave in a few months” and foreshadows a major political crisis. So far, none of his predictions have come true.

But his most “significant” conspiracy theory is the popularization of the idea that Putin has body doubles. A while ago, Solovey claimed that the Russian president had died after a long illness, and power in the country had been seized by conspirators along with Putin’s doubles.  

In Russia itself, no one takes Solovey’s theories seriously. But of course, Stewart couldn’t fail to pick up such a fascinating story. 

Putin’s mysterious ‘illness’ and his body doubles quickly became one of Stewart’s favorite themes. His articles on this subject included: 

In all these articles, Solovey is the main source of information. Of course, Stewart doesn’t introduce him as a blogger or a conspiracy theorist, but as a “professor at Moscow’s prestigious Institute of International Relations” in order to give the crazy “insights” some credibility.

Solovey is also responsible for providing Stewart with the most impressive headline: Vladimir Putin ‘in pain from cancer’ as Russian tyrant ‘wants to end history’. The article is based on Solovey’s claims that Putin allegedly has abdominal cancer, early Parkinson’s disease, and a schizoaffective disorder, that these diseases affect his behavior and decisions, and that he harbors apocalyptic plans.

As always, this captivating story lacks any evidence. However, most readers won’t check the credibility of the author’s sources – many people still trust the mainstream media and assume that editors wouldn’t shamelessly deceive them. Many of those who have read this absurd conspiracy theory will believe it simply because it was published in their favorite publication.

Such crazy articles make Western readers believe that Russia is ruled by a sick madman. As a result, Russia’s public image suffers and Russians who live abroad face more difficulties; on the other hand, it becomes easier for Western authorities to use the taxes of these same readers to support the Ukrainian army. All because one author needed a “sensational” headline and resorted to untrustworthy sources. 

Usually, Stewart writes about Putin and other famous Russian politicians. But he has no trouble using the tragedies of ordinary people as “hot news” either. 

At the end of 2023, journalist Anna Tsareva died at the age of 35. She was well known in the Russian media and worked on numerous major projects. Shortly before her death, she became the editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of the most popular Russian newspapers. Putin once said that he often reads this paper, although the opinions expressed by its authors aren’t always “loyal” to the authorities. 

Tsareva died suddenly of heart failure. This is a sad but unfortunately frequent result of heart disease – 80% of Russians who suffer from heart disease die from heart failure.

Tsareva’s predecessor, former editor-in-chief Vladimir Sungorkin, had died a year earlier. He was 68 years old, and had embarked on a challenging trip to the Far East to collect information for a book about the famous explorer Vladimir Arsenyev. On the way back, he suffered a stroke and doctors were unable to save him.

Both incidents are tragedies that unfortunately occur in Russia and throughout the world every day. But this didn’t stop Stewart from using them for his purposes. 

In his version of the story, Tsareva was the “editor of Vladimir Putin’s favorite propaganda newspaper,” and the deaths of the two journalists were part of “a list of dozens of untimely or mysterious deaths since the start of Putin’s war.” The master of sensationalist journalism was able to make a scandal and a conspiracy theory out of an illness, without providing any evidence of foul play or treating the memory of the journalists or the grief of their loved ones in a respectful manner. 

Nothing should ruin a good story.

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Stewart has penned many other absurd stories about Russia – from relating the theories of a politician who suffered an election defeat to exaggerating a Russian cosmonaut’s moderate discontent to make it sound like he had criticized the Russian government. Considering Stewart’s productivity, he will likely churn out hundreds more articles like that in the coming years.

He will continue to profit from fearmongering, tabloids will continue to publish his clickbait articles, and the public will continue to believe the manipulative headlines and embellished stories.

Over time, the narrative will change, Stewart’s content will become less popular, and most of his articles will fall into oblivion. But tabloid readers will still think of Russia as a dangerous and dark place and will share this image, thereby influencing public opinion. This in turn will shape the policy and promises of politicians.

The world is full of such unscrupulous journalists. Not all of them write about Russia and not all are as productive as Stewart. But all of them undermine people’s trust in the media, since a reader who discovers that he was lied to will henceforth treat all publications, even trustworthy ones, with suspicion. 

As long as such “Will Stewarts” exist, the only way to get reliable and truthful information is to do your own research.

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