As the mystery of Alexander Litvinenko’s death by polonium 210 continues to unfold–and the shadowy world of spies, former agents, defectors and seedy characters revealed seems lifted from a twisted Le Carré plot–questions continue to arise about the poisoning of the former FSB agent and defector to Britain.
What we do know is that Litvinenko died in London on November 23. What we also know is that in the days after many in the British and US media rushed to judgment–reporting rumor and speculation as fact.
As one British journalist put it, four days after Litvinenko’s death: “As the case rolls on, and the media hysteria continues, more and more, I feel what the situation is exposing is not the evilness of the Kremlin but our own gullibility, the sloppiness of our media, the irresponsibility of our politicians, and the greed of our PR industry.” Take the British magazine The Spectator, whose end of November cover featured a caricature of Russia’s president and the headline, “The Long Arm of Putin.” The story didn’t even engage other hypotheses than that the Kremlin was responsible for the poisoning. In one typical paragraph, the author wrote, “poisoning a British citizen on British soil demonstrates a new level of chutzpah even for the Putin regime.”
In its editorial on November 25, the venerable Times of London demanded that “President Putin must prove by deeds that he is not linked to Mr. Litvinenko’s murder.”
In the United States, the Washington Times‘s Arnold Beichman trumpeted: “Meet today’s Murder Inc. Headquartered in the Kremlin.” Echoing the charge, the Times‘s Wesley Pruden wrote, “A hit job worthy of the KGB.” Pruden went on to assert that “nearly everybody assumes that the Russian government probably with the assent, if not the encouragement, of Vladimir Putin, ordered the hit and assigned the hit man.” The Wall Street Journal on November 26 announced that Russia is “the enemy of the United States,” arguing that “Alexander Litvinenko’s death is the latest in a series of killings, attempted murders, imprisonments and forced exiles whose victims just happened to be prominent opponents of Mr. Putin.” And last weekend, the New York Post‘s headline told the world that it was “Putin’s poison.”