Two days ago the Web and airwaves were filled with breathless reports of a leaked phone call, lasting about eleven minutes and posted on YouTube, between two officials, in which one reported a conversation with a certain Ukrainian doctor named “Olga.” She allegedly had told him that, based on the bullets found in and around the bodies of slain protesters and policemen in Kiev at the apex of the recent violent showdown, it appeared that the snipers had been hired by the rebels, not the government or military, since the bullets that killed victims on both sides matched.
Some, such as Russia-funded TV network RT, swallowed the claim whole from the start—and others joined in when the phone call was confirmed as real. (RT’s editor in chief, in attacking anchor Liz Wahl after she quit, even demanded to know why the US media was ignoring this firm evidence of the protesters hiring the snipers.) For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to matter to them that the fact that the phone conversation took place did not mean that the reported chat with the doctor had been interpreted and relayed accurately.
So the headlines, from partisans and quasi-journalists, rang out about this purportedly strong evidence, even proof, that the protesters had hired the snipers, apparently to shoot a few dozen of their own to draw international outrage and sympathy.
A few of us raised questions from the start about this single-sourced “evidence.” And who was this Olga? Could she be found and interviewed?
The evidence was weak from the start: secondhand, hearsay. Even though there was no way to judge the veracity and potential bias of the officials—and even if the official was trying to speak truthfully there was no way to know if he’d misinterpreted the doctor’s remarks—the conspiracy fans, pro-Putin agitators and faux journos promoted it widely.
Of course, it turns out the doctor, who we learn is quite famous in that country—Olga Bogomolets—denies suggesting any such thing. Here’s just one account of it, near the close of an excellent profile of her.
In another interview, with the Telegraph, she could have been referring to the "journalists” when she said, “I think you can only say something like this on the basis of fact. It’s not correct and its not good to do this. It should be based on fact.”
Might she have said one thing to that official in the leaked call and is changing her story now? It’s possible, of course. I would certainly not declare, "New Statement By Doctor Proves Protestors Did Not Hire Snipers." But in any case, citing her as the only source for “evidence” that snipers backed protesters is ludicrous.
Valid charges that the protestors included many right-wingers--no one denies this--hardly proves that the snipers were linked to them, yet this is offered as more firm "evidence" of this.
Dr. Bogomolets, by the way, is so well-known and respected that she has been offered key positions in the new government there--which she has turned down because she is suspicious of whether the new regime will make good on promises for reform. She's also called for a full investigation of the sniper shootings, though her suspicions seem to run in the direction of outsiders brought in by the former regime or the Russians. In any case, unlike so many others, she wants to wait for the full facts before making a firm declaration.
Read Next: The Editors: Time for Realism and Common Sense on Ukraine.