- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
You may have seen via social media today that the Moscow Times is reporting that Vladimir Putin has hired Boyz II Men to play a concert in Moscow as part of a campaign to encourage Russians to procreate and raise the country’s flaggin birth rate. This is not true. More precisely, it may or may not be true but it hasn’t been "reported" by anyone.
Here at Passport, we love a good wacky Vladimir Putin story as much as the next guy (Okay, probably more than the next guy) but when people are just making things up about the Russian president, we have an obligation to call bullshit.
It all started when Moscow Times reporter Lena Smirnova decided to put a cheeky lede on her interview with the ’90s-era slow-jam masters, who have an upcoming concert in Moscow:
President Vladimir Putin‘s crusade to raise the country’s birth rate is set to get the support of three powerful voices on its behalf.
A baritone and two tenors, that is.
The stylish trio of Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B group of all time, is coming to Moscow on Feb. 6. The group will perform a selection of their classic and new romantic ballads, hopefully giving Russian men some inspiration ahead of St. Valentine’s Day.
Very clever! But it’s obvious from the context, and the fact that it’s never mentioned again, the Smirnova is in no way suggesting that Putin actually hired Boyz II Men for this purpose. Boyz II Men and many other groups frequently perform in the Russian capital without the president’s involvement.
But one blogger at MediaBistro read it a bit differently, writing:
While the Boyz claim to be very busy working on their Las Vegas hotel residency and their upcoming tour with New Kids on the Block and 98 Degrees (stay out of it, Nick Lachey!), they still managed to find time to headline a February show in Moscow’s Crocus City Hall which–according to The Moscow Times–will serve as part of Putin’s ongoing PR campaign urging Russians to have more kids so the country can be more “influential.”
No! The Moscow Times didn’t say that at all! A blogger for Britain’s Telegraph then got a hold of the story, writing that "The Times insists that the band will be lending their “powerful voices” to Putin’s fertility campaign". It was off to the races from there.
Vanity Fair cites both the Telegraph and the Moscow Times, writing that "the group will support Putin’s crusade just before Valentine’s Day by performing a February 6th concert of romantic ballads in the capital city" and comparing it to other Putin fertility schemes.
A blogger for the religion and spirituality magazine First Things takes a moralizing tone, writing:
"One assumes that the aim of the concert is to help childbearing seem more appealing among Russians who take their cues from popular culture. I doubt, though, that it will be even narrowly helpful…..If Putin really wants to raise Russia’s birthrate, then, he should start by battling corruption and fostering open, transparent markets. Boyz II Men can come second."
I would completely agree if this story were actually something more than "Boyz II Men is playing a concert in Russia and a reporter made a sex joke."
Guys, if we make up fictional Putin stories, it only diminishes the real ones.
(Thanks to my colleague Neha Paliwal for the tip.)