This article was written by The Interpreter’s editorial staff and utilized the extensive research by independent journalist RobPulseNews of Ukraine: War Log.
The Russian media landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, and much of that change has occurred only in the last eight months. Domestically, Russian-language print and broadcast media outlets have been dramatically reorganized in order for the Kremlin to exert greater control over content. Avowed propagandists have replaced independent editors at state-operated news outlets, and the Putin government has cracked down on independently-owned media outlets. The strategy is clear — the Kremlin wants to either own the media outright or browbeat it into submission. Putin’s disinformation campaign about Ukraine, the United States, the Baltic countries, NATO and so on must operate unhindered.
While the Russian government also has its English-language media outlets, they are vulnerable in the sense that the Kremlin cannot directly control the message put out by the mainstream press. But there are those in the West who sympathize with Moscow’s positions. Variously billed as “anti-fascist” and “anti-imperialist” — even while Putin links up with neo-Nazi parties in Europe and invades and annexes European territory — they use their influence in the Western press to help shape the Western perception about Russia’s foreign and domestic policies.
Journalists who do cover Russia for mainstream outlets are used to being bombarded by abuse from dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of pro-Putin Twitter accounts, many of them bought-and-paid for by the Russian government. Natural fellow travelers and bullyboys of the Kremlin abound online as well, as do Russian state-media personalities who forecast or telegraph Moscow’s policy under the guise of “alternative” viewpoints. There are those who try to steer the conversation about Russia in one direction or the other by insinuating themselves into the debate and injecting empirical or interpretive doubt or confusion about major stories where none exists.
One person utilizing some of the aforementioned tactics is a man who goes by the name of Bryan MacDonald. Though that is not his original legal name as we’ll see (and his name is often spelled differently in his various media appearances), MacDonald is a new columnist for RT, formerly Russia Today, one of the most prominent Kremlin-funded mouthpieces, although he has been working for many months to influence more respectable Western outlets’ coverage of the crisis in Ukraine. To do so, MacDonald has resorted to means both subtle and not-so-subtle.
A closer look into MacDonald’s online activity raises more questions than answers. He hides his electronic paper trail by deleting most of his tweets, entire blogs, and many of his comments. He appears in the media under multiple spellings of his name, a phenomenon which makes it more difficult to investigate his true identity and his online behavior. His job title at RT, on Western media outlets, and on Twitter, continues to change. Moreover, his biography and professional curriculum vitae is suspect, as is his sudden rise to online fame as a pro-Moscow manipulator of international media coverage of the Euromaidan Revolution.
MacDonald also resorts to threats and intimidation against those whom he fails to influence, and he is especially sensitive to any inquiries about his resume or his role as a pro-Kremlin mouthpiece.
Bryan MacDonald on Twitter
MacDonald has been in regular contact with many Western journalists on Twitter and through other means — and with at least one Russian “diplomat” in London, Sergei Nalobin, who was scandalized almost two years ago for his role in helping to establish a Kremlin front lobby group in Britain known as Conservative Friends of Russia (now Westminster Russia Forum). Nalobin, the son of a former FSB operative who was once boss to Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian-turned-British spy who was irradiated in London in 2006, is reportedly a fixture in Conservative Party political circles. Nalobin attends cocktail parties and fundraisers, as The Guardian recently found in a story about Russian influence-peddling in Westminster. According to Sergey Cristo, a Russian emigre in Britain, Nalobin once suggested that there was a way in which Russian companies could donate to the Conservative Party — an act that is illegal under British electoral law.
MacDonald’s Twitter account has been observed by The Interpreter and other sources as having interacted with or having tagged Nalobin in multiple conversations. Searching for both Nalobin and MacDonald’s handles reveals that they have had interactions, often about the Russian news network RT, RT contributor Graham Phillips (who was detained several times by the Ukrainian government), and other topics. The two have interacted dozens of times, with most of the interactions coming between the first known interaction on May 18 and August 18, 2014. It’s not clear whether in some of the conversations some tweets have been deleted, since many of the conversations appears to be one sided. An example:
MacDonald mentions Nalobin dozens of times between May 18 and June 17, 2014, with a drop off in frequency after this point. On at least one occasion, MacDonald appears to be asking Nalobin for additional information. An example:
The Interpreter asked MacDonald about the nature of his contact with Nalobin. MacDonald’s response is below:
I asked Sergei to help me with a visa-related matter. He, kindly, did. We have never met. But I would like to meet him at some stage, seems like a nice man.
Sergei Nalobin, however, is a high-level political counselor at the Russian embassy in London. According to his LinkedIn page, between 2001 and 2004 Nalobin was an “attache-third secretary” tasked with “protocol and Logistic support, policy and legal analysis, diplomatic coverage and support for Russian companies, Russia-Haiti relations, delicate diplomatic missions, translation of the high-level intergovernmental negotiations etc.” He was also attache first secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 2001 and 2010. Since then his role at the embassy has been “plotting in favor of better bilateral relations between Russia and the UK” and since March 2013 he has served as Head of Bilateral and Political Affairs. This is not a person whom one might expect works on visa issues.
When asked a follow-up question about this, MacDonald said that he contacted Nalobin via Twitter:
A few months ago. I needed to know when my visa ban expired and he found out for me. He was very helpful. The Khabarovsk FMS [Russia’s Federal Migration Service — The Interpreter] kept telling me different information. I contacted him via Twitter. He gave me his email address and I wrote to him.
Deleting Tweets And Influencing or Intimidating Journalists
Researching MacDonald is sometimes frustrating as the electronic paper trail frequently disappears. MacDonald often deletes his tweets. In fact, using Twitter advanced search we learn that while his Twitter account was created on September 3, 2007, it appears that all of MacDonald’s tweets sent before March 5, 2014, have been deleted within the last few months.
But MacDonald certainly did tweet between those dates. In fact, he became very defensive in February, at the height of the Euromaidan protests, when The Interpreter’s managing editor James Miller made a generic comment about someone (not specifically MacDonald) deleting a tweet (the flight referenced in this exchange by MacDonald was rumored at the time to have carried ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of the country):
MacDonald’s tweets in the exchange above have been deleted.
By deleting tweets, it is harder for researchers to understand how MacDonald has been operating, and many of the clues about his identity have also been erased, which is why The Interpreter has been screen-capturing pictures of some of MacDonald’s more interesting tweets.
MacDonald’s online activities are erratic and strange. For instance, bloggers accused MacDonald of buying 21,000 Twitter followers, only some of whom he has since blocked — effectively deleting them — after the blog posts became widely discussed. In April of this year, he gained approximately 3,000 followers per day over the course of a week, and one analyst suggested that around 80% of these were fake.
Once challenged, MacDonald even admitted at one point that he believed his sudden influx of followers to be odd, but seemed to try and suggest that he had nothing to do with it.
Nevertheless, MacDonald’s surge in fake followers increased his Twitter profile and seeming real-world importance, which likely helped him secure more real followers.
An analysis of whom he interacts with on Twitter revealed that MacDonald spends much of his time engaging with journalists who shape the way the conflict in Ukraine is being reported, and even some politicians and business leaders who are influential in the geopolitical decision-making process:
Journalists and microbloggers who have been following the Ukraine crisis closely may recognize some or all of the accounts mentioned above, as most are highly influential. As the chart above shows, he has spent a tremendous amount of his time engaging with journalists — for instance, The Guardian’s Alex Luhn and Shaun Walker, BuzzFeed’s Max Seddon, Christopher Miller who just left Kyiv Post to join Mashable, prominent and respected freelancer David Patrikarakos, and the BBC’s Daniel Sanford, just to name a few correspondents who have reported from Ukraine’s front lines. Also notable on the list: UKIP’s Richard Waghorne. MacDonald can appear to be very cordial to these journalists and leaders: often helping to answer questions they may have asked or providing tips, translations, and additional context to tweets they have sent out. Sometimes the tweets which mention journalists are subtle pushback, or interject facts or topics not initially discussed. Just a few examples are below. The first example is a tactic often used by MacDonald — in situations when problems in Russia are discussed, MacDonald has been documented pointing out similar issues in the west (one might call these examples of false equivalence, a tactic often used, sometimes to its absurd limit, by many in the Russian state-controlled media):
Here MacDonald pushes back on BBC’s Daniel Sandford’s use of the phrase “pro-Russia gunmen”:
As Christopher Miller was reporting from Donetsk in May, MacDonald objected to Miller’s assertion that all of the separatist “Vostok Battalion” is made up of Russians. Note how MacDonald warns Miller that his tweet is “incendiary,” but then goes on to complement him.
Another example — this time MacDonald supports RT’s Anissa Naouai in a discussion about what to call the Russian-state journalists killed in Ukraine. Again, this is false equivalence, since the BBC has demonstrably more editorial independence than journalists working for Kremlin-controlled TV stations:
This exchange is interesting because not only does MacDonald agree with BBC Europe’s Patrick Jackson, he even softly criticizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He also admits that he has family in Russia.
There are many examples of this kind of interaction between MacDonald and influential reporters and public figures. This kind of behavior from MacDonald and others subtly steers the Western narrative about Ukraine in a more pro-Russian direction. Definitive statements are watered down, doubt is injected, small issues are nitpicked, false equivalency is raised.
But when journalists refuse to be directed, it is not unusual for MacDonald to resort to a different tactic: bullying or attempting to discredit journalists and activists to silence those who carry a different narrative than the one he is working to advance. Take, for example, this exchange where MacDonald bashes New York Times editor Robert Mackey, even throwing a jab at Vice News’s well-know journalist Simon Ostrovsky (note — RT’s Ivor Crotty is the other account in this conversation):
MacDonald has had several spats with Ukrainian, Russian, and Western journalists, and on one occasion called for the BBC to discipline a journalist for tweeting opinions that apparently differ from MacDonald’s:
On yet another occasion, MacDonald expressed dissatisfaction with a series of tweets by media expert Oksana Romaniuk. In the exchange, MacDonald threatened to send a complaint to her employer, Reporters Without Borders, for failing to tweet about a reporter who was reportedly killed in Ukraine.
MacDonald has even threatened to sue others who have tweeted articles critical of his work or methods — even if these were authored by third parties. In this example, MacDonald threatened to sue Andrea Chalupa for tweeting an article, written by a third party, alleging that MacDonald purchased Twitter followers:
Since MacDonald is a media personality and a former member of a prominent forum for journalists, his identity. expertise, and motivations are relevant to his work. But MacDonald has threaten to sue The Interpreter on several occasions for raising questions about his work and his identity. On one occasion, The Interpreter published an article about those working with the Russian news agency RT. MacDonald responded to the article on his blog (and sent The Interpreter an email with the same text). While several questions about his background were addressed, the email and blog post contained a threat to sue The Interpreter’s managing editor, James Miller, who lives near Boston:
If you libel me at any point in the future, I have both the financial means and the desire to take you to the cleaners and that is not an idle threat. I can ‘ship out to Boston’ any time.
(“Ship out to Boston” appears to be a reference to the Woody Guthrie/Dropkick Murphy’s song, but is that a thinly-veiled threat?)
MacDonald’s blog post has been deleted, but a screenshot can be seen here.
When MacDonald was sent questions for this article he did respond (in fact, he sent many emails) but many of them contained similar threats. In one email, for instance, MacDonald mentioned “contacts in Boston,” and in several he mentioned The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief, Michael Weiss, and Weiss’ planned attendance to a conference in the UK hosted by the Legatum Institute:
I will respond in kind and you can be sure of this. I have very good contacts in Boston. It is an Irish city after all.
So, YOU are the one choosing to go down this route. You, and only YOU. I can promise that you will reap a whirlwind. In fact, you will come to seriously regret this move. So will Michael.
Incidentally, I will be in the UK at the same time as Michael next week and I was already looking forward to meeting him and sharing my opinions 😉 I am even more-so now.
In another email in response to questions we sent him, MacDonald also mentioned Weiss’s upcoming trip. Note that Muay Thai is a martial art in Thailand:
You guys started this ‘conflict’ with me. I have been a step ahead of the pair of you all the time and this pathetic little attempt to shit-stir will be met with the same. I have nothing to hide, Miller, If I did, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to put myself out there. I take it that you are not very good at Chess.
I am, deadly, serious that I will sue if you publish any libellous information. I trust you are fully aware of the laws and the recent test case in the Dublin High Court which means I won’t even have to travel to the US to do it.
ps. Tell Michael I’m looking forward to seeing him next week. Amazing the Muay Thai event is on at the same time as Legetum stuff. I haven’t actually been in the UK for a year and a half so the timing is a stroke of luck.
Many of MacDonald’s emails to The Interpreter contain threats to press lawsuit. In this example MacDonald did not include responses to any specific questions — the only content of the email was a threat:
I look forward to this. One thing that even smells of libel and I’ll be buying a new car at your expense 😉 I do like the new Audi A8. Isn’t it nice?
Immediately after one of these exchanges in email, MacDonald tweeted out that he might try to hire international media lawyer Paul Tweed, which could be read as another threat:
Several of the media organizations contacted by The Interpreter told us that they were unwilling to talk about MacDonald on the record because he had threatened legal action in the past (one former colleague described him as “highly litigious”). This fits a pattern of the intimidation of journalists.
MacDonald’s Ever-Changing “Expertise” On RT
Then there is the question of MacDonald’s expertise and background.
Long before MacDonald was a contributor to RT he was a guest on the program. On December 22, 2013, “Bryan MacDonald” appears in an RT story called Austerity Isle: Emigration from Ireland skyrockets despite IMF bailout, a story which claims that young people are fleeing Ireland in large numbers despite (or, the article insinuated, because of) the International Monetary Fund bailout of Ireland. In the report, MacDonald is described simply as someone who “lives in Carlow.” RT’s entire story was widely panned in Ireland for its misrepresentations, and MacDonald’s segment in particular was heavily criticized by Independent.IE for his depiction of Carlow, which many felt was completely inaccurate.
MacDonald soon appeared as a guest on the KCLR’s Sue Nunn radio show on January 17, 2014 (interestingly, described as Bryan “McDonald” not “MacDonald”) to discuss the RT piece. He began by laughing off the video, dismissing it as “Angela’s Ashes,” presumably to mean it was a purposefully embellished tale of Irish poverty and suffering.
But when asked how he managed to be on “Russia Today,” MacDonald downplayed his connections to the outlet. First, he said that RT is only “to some extent” Russian state TV but is, according to him, “the most viewed news channel in the world.” Then he claimed that he was asked to be on the program because he knew Ivor Crotty, RT’s online editor, although later in the same program MacDonald says that the two never met in person (MacDonald reiterated that the two had never met in an email to The Interpreter, which makes the tweet below from August all the more curious).
Crotty is from the Carlow area, too, and MacDonald professed to know him through the “expat scene” — both men lived in Russia for three years. MacDonald also told KCLR that he knew Crotty through a mutual contact, Frank Connolly. MacDonald said that Crotty used to work for the Centre for Public Inquiry, a group founded to hold public figures in Ireland to high ethical standards. The Centre was quickly shuttered in April of 2006 after the Irish newspaper, the Sunday Independent said its executive director, Frank Connolly, was accused of using a fake passport to travel to Colombia. Frank Connolly is brother to Niall Connolly, one of the so-called “Colombia Three,” suspected members of the Irish Republican Army who fled Colombia to seek refuge in Ireland after they were accused of training FARC rebels. In light of that, Frank Connolly’s alleged use of a fake passport to travel to Colombia was a major scandal. MacDonald told KCLR that he knew Frank Connolly from working with him at Ireland on Sunday, another Sunday newspaper, between 2003 and 2005. In an emailed response to The Interpreter, MacDonald says this of his relationship with Connolly:
I have seen Frank (he worked at Ireland On Sunday with me) but I don’t think we ever spoke beyond ‘hello’. I think his connections [to the IRA and FARC] were his brother, you are a bit off there, Sherlock. Frank is an excellent journalist. His work on the Bertie Ahern stuff was amazing.
At the end of the segment Sue Nunn said that MacDonald would take take part in something called the “Russian-Irish Business Alliance” meeting in Dublin. He says he is working to drum up business between Ireland and Russia, in particular through his own horse racing business and his Internet startup named WeMeet.com (the purpose of the latter is never explained). However, WeMeet.com does not exist (it is currently a page parked by Go Daddy); we have not been able to find any record of MacDonald (under any of his aliases) having ever registered that website, either as a business or a domain, and thus far we have been unable to find any business registered to him. Furthermore, we have not been able to find the “Russian-Irish Business Alliance” either, although an organization known as the Ireland-Russia Business Association does exist. And while Nunn may have simply gotten the name wrong, it bears mention that the chairman of this actual organization is Constantin Gurdgiev (GTCost on Twitter, another account with whom MacDonald frequently interacts), was the other guest on MacDonald’s controversial “Austerity Isle” RT segment.
So while RT made MacDonald out to be just a man who “lives in Carlow,” it was clear he has connections to both the network — via another Irish journalist who formerly lived in Russia and had connections to the same suspected IRA operative — and to his fellow guest. None of this was disclosed by RT during or after the segment.
When asked by The Interpreter whether he had been paid by RT to take part in the segment, MacDonald said he had not.
MacDonald and Storyful
To many, the RT segment on Carlow would have been their first introduction to MacDonald, but to journalists who have been covering Russia, specifically its foreign policy, the spot set off many alarm bells. For months, as we’ve seen, MacDonald’s Twitter account had been engaging Western journalists, and MacDonald soon became especially well-known to users of the Irish news agency Storyful which has played several crucial roles in the media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.
Storyful might be described as a news agency’s news agency: its primary product is a paywalled resource for journalists and others who are trying to get to the bottom of a developing story, be it the Boston Marathon bombings or allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. Storyful focuses on the verification of citizen journalism, and it also provides a service where it verifies freelance photography and videography, often taken by citizen journalists themselves who happen to be covering a breaking news story, and licenses it to larger media companies. It is often a place where journalists learn about a news story before it becomes part of their coverage.
The Interpreter’s James Miller is a moderator and original member of Storyful’s Open Newsroom, a Google+ forum in which journalists share, analyze, and discuss headlines or user-generated content. MacDonald began a visible presence at Open Newsroom when he approached Storyful journalist Felim McMahon on Twitter and then joined the forum sometime between September and December of 2013.
It’s unclear why MacDonald was invited, what he told McMahon his expertise was, or even what he said to McMahon before he was invited into a moderated chatroom. Below is McMahon’s tweet where he invites MacDonald into the group, but it’s a response to something MacDonald and MacDonald’s tweets on this subject have subsequently been deleted (again, MacDonald has deleted a considerable number of his tweets).
We asked Storyful about MadDonald’s joining of Open Newsroom, and they replied that they knew MacDonald was a journalist who had worked for Irish publications in the past and had an interest and opinion on events in Russia and Ukraine:
“Our criteria for accepting people to the Open Newsroom is that they bring some level of proven interest in a topic and a desire to help verify real-time events. We do not require that they be journalists. We do not screen them for their opinions. We judge their value to the Newsroom by their willingness to share insight, context and critical analysis in a transparent manner. We simply ask that a level of respect for other participants is maintained.”
Open Newsroom has been a resounding success on many levels. By bringing together people who have not been pre-screened and do not necessarily come from the media establishment, the group has played a vital role in deciphering riddles that come about during complicated breaking news stories, perhaps most notably after the downing of MH17 in Ukraine and the chemical weapons attack in Syria. But being “open” has its drawbacks as well, since MacDonald has attempted to gain access to and influence many dozens of journalists through his posts on the chatroom and through his colleague, Graham Phillips, who became a member of the room because of the insistence of MacDonald.
One of the first times MacDonald posted a comment in the Open Newsroom, in fact, it was to defend RT’s Ivor Crotty in January 2014. Crotty had been made aware of specific false information in one of RT’s stories about Syria — an invented “massacre” the network had alleged anti-Assad rebels committed against civilians in the town of Adra — but took no action to remove the false pictures and claims until after The Interpreter debunked RT’s coverage of the incident. After this, MacDonald mostly refrained from commenting on the Syria crisis and stuck to scrutinizing others posts or making posts himself which largely highlighted violence against Ukrainian riot police.
On another occasion, MacDonald helped translate some wild claims reportedly made by a pro-Russian in Kiev:
In another post, Bryan MacDonald and RT’s Ivor Crotty make a claim that a video, taken by a Euromaidan protester, shows the flag of the Svoboda party, which MacDonald refers to as the “Nazi ULA flag.” The flag is in fact the national flag of Armenia. Storyful’s Felim McMahon is forced to point this out several times before Crotty finally apologizes. MacDonald then defends their decision to call this a Nazi or neo-Nazi flag, despite McMahon’s repeated attempts to correct both of them (below is the abbreviated conversation):
Interestingly, this isn’t the only time MacDonald misrepresented the nature of a flag in this conflict.
Later in the same thread, he attacked one of the Ukrainian activists who posted a comment:
MacDonald and Graham Phillips
MacDonald’s access to Storyful’s Open Newsroom is hugely significant because not only did it become the vehicle by which he began to interact with of members of the mainstream media, it also helped give rise to one of the Ukrainian crisis’s most famous (or infamous) correspondents — RT stringer Graham Phillips.
Phillips, who became a tragicomic story in himself when he wildly suggested that he had been shot at by Ukrainian soldiers in an incident which, as his own uploaded video showed, consisted of him walking into a proximity-alert trip wire, began monetizing his YouTube videos for syndication through Storyful to major Western media outlets worldwide. By mid-May 2014, Phillips had earned as much as $20,000 for his videography and freelance reporting, according to an interview he gave with Max Seddon of Buzzfeed.
According to statements by both Phillips and MacDonald, MacDonald gave advice and acted as a broker for Phillips (both mention this on their blogs, but Phillips’ blog is now set to private and MacDonald’s appears to have been deleted).
Storyful’s journalist Joe Galvin says that, to his knowledge, MacDonald did not act as a direct broker for Phillips. Galvin also says that they subjected Phillips’ work to the same rigors they subject the work of all producers of user-generated content (UGC) — they verified that it was real and accurate, rather than focusing on the politics or opinions of the citizen reporter. Galvin explains:
“Storyful approached Phillips in the same way we approach other people providing UGC – we discovered it, we verified it, and we approached him directly for licensing. This was prior to his work for RT. We did not buy his videos; we licensed some early on, but stopped licensing once we saw his pattern of behavior and he began to work for RT and Ruptly. We no longer license Phillips’ videos.
“We didn’t discuss the licensing of Phillips’ videos with MacDonald. MacDonald has said Phillips discussed Storyful with him – however, I can’t confirm.”
Regardless, MacDonald was instrumental in getting Phillips into Storyful’s Open Newsroom, and several videos recorded by Phillips were sold through Storyful to news agencies like Yahoo News. Initially, Phillips’ reporting appeared in respected Western outlets like Politico and even Newsweek, until his naked pro-Russian bias saw the outlets willing to publish him dwindle to one: RT.
From here, the Phillips’ relationship with MacDonald became more transparent. After Phillips was detained several days by Ukrainian authorities, shortly following his “trip-wire” incident, RT ran a segment about it featuring none other than one of his “friends” — Bryan MacDonald. In it, MacDonald alleged that Phillips was not a threat to the Ukrainian government but was a gentle and sincere person. For instance, MacDonald said, Phillips was not lying about being shot at by Ukrainian soldiers; he was simply too scared at the sound the trip-wire made that he genuinely believed he was being shot at.
Nowhere in the RT segment was it disclosed that MacDonald wasn’t just a “friend” of Phillips but also someone who had reportedly helped place his freelance work with various news agencies.
Despite calling Phillips a “friend” on RT, MacDonald told The Interpreter that the two have never met. That makes this exchange with Graham Phillips (@BritinUkraine) from March particularly interesting (note, it has been deleted, but it was sent after March 4th, so it was not deleted in bulk like all the tweets before March 4th):
At some point, after several disagreements with members of Storyful’s Open Newsroom (including members of The Interpreter), according to statements made by MacDonald and Storyful, MacDonald decided to delete all of his Open Newsroom comments and he quit the forum (the comments have since been reinstated and are visible here). Storyful’s Joe Galvin comments:
“Bryan joined Open Newsroom early on, primarily to discuss the situation in Ukraine, but subsequently decided to leave the community as he disagreed with Storyful’s approach on Ukraine. Much of this was voiced publicly on his Twitter account, so it may still be on the record there. He is no longer a member of Open Newsroom, though I believe some members of the team have been in informal contact with him on occasion via social media since his departure.”
With his ability to insinuate himself in the Western press decreasing, MacDonald began relying far more on RT to disseminate his views. He started a column at RT.com on July 2, which is heavily focused on Ukraine — or perhaps more specifically focused on discrediting the new Ukrainian government and Western media coverage of the crisis. MacDonald also writes essays opposed to fracking, long a bugbear of Russian foreign policy since European energy independence means weakening the Kremlin’s use of oil and gas as cudgels in its relationship with other countries.
Recently MacDonald filed a piece titled, “Ireland needed guns, but Scots only need a pen for independence,” which paints both Ireland’s and Scotland’s independence movements as, fundamentally, struggles against the West, not just against Britain. (The Russian Foreign Ministry, too, is quite keen on Scottish separatism as a way to further divide and vitiate Europe.)
Still, it is MacDonald’s contributions about Ukraine which continue to sell an uncomplicated Putinist bias about the crisis. On June 17, a group of Russian journalists were hit by mortar fire near the front lines of battle in the east. While there is no indication that the journalists were specifically targeted, MacDonald was brought on to RT to discuss the incident. He claimed that the Western media had not covered the violence — which is factually inaccurate. He also equated the BBC to Russian state media, since both are owned by governments; and never mind that only the latter refuse to challenge the government’s line on anything. MacDonald also claimed that most Western journalists are mostly confined to Kiev, are not on the front lines, don’t speak Russian, and are “being fed everything by ‘Euromaidan PR,’ an organization dedicated to being the press office of the Euromaidan revolution. This ignores the dozens of Western journalists who are, in fact, in the field reporting from the front lines, many of whom do speak Russian, and some of whom have actually been previously praised by MacDonald for their exposure of Ukrainian human rights abuses. MacDonald then finally ends his argument by criticizing The Interpreter.
On this RT segment he was identified as a journalist, though underneath his picture the caption read that he was a “former journalist.” In multiple conversations MacDonald had on Twitter before this broadcast, he emphatically denied that he was still a journalist. Here are a few snippets:
Yet even Storyful journalists reference MacDonald as a journalist:
On September 15, MacDonald was similarly introduced by RT as “a journalist and a writer covering European geopolitics.” On September 9, he appeared on RT to speak about the Dutch Safety Board’s report concerning the downing of civilian airliner MH17. MacDonald was exhibited after a rambling segment from a former pilot from Lufthansa where he says an air-to-air missile hit MH17 (experts have debunked this theory). Not only did he come on television in possession of a new job title — “media analyst” — but also in possession of a new name: Bryan “McDonald.” RT made no attempt to account for how one of its regular contributors had suddenly adopted a differently spelled surname. Nonetheless, Bryan “McDonald” criticized “citizen journalists,” whom he suggested must be working for “some organization,” for hiding under “nom de plumes” like “Brown M… I won’t get into it, I don’t want to give them attention.” This clearly was a reference to prominent war blogger Brown Moses, whose website Bellingcat had published new information about the downing of MH17 that week. Yet Brown Moses hardly hides behind a nom de plume: the blogger’s real identity, Eliot Higgins, has been known for quite some time, and he has been the subject of several media profiles — including a lengthy one in the New Yorker. Ironically, it is Bryan MacDonald/McDonald who appears to be hiding under pseudonyms. Though it’s unclear whether each of these incidents was intentional or accidental, the various spellings of his name have not been corrected and some of them have been online for months, complicated online searches for MacDonald.
What’s In a Name?
Finding information about “Bryan MacDonald” is not easy. Googling his name produces a confusing web of results, partially stemming from the multiple spellings of his name and partially owing to the fact that Bryan MacDonald has deleted thousands of tweets, and his entire blog. There is a Wikipedia entry, written by an anonymous author, which, after an in-depth investigation, turns out to be very revealing but at first glance only confuses the issue even more.
At the moment Bryan MacDonald’s Wikipedia entry says this:
Bryan MacDonald (born 1980) is an Irish playwright, theatre director, and journalist. Best known in Ireland for being the Dubliner’s Diary columnist in The Evening Herald and theatre critic of The Daily Mail, he has also contributed to RTÉ, The Dubliner and Vanity Fair. MacDonald was born in Kilkenny, Ireland.
In 2004, MacDonald joined the crew of the HBO western drama television series Deadwood as a writer for the first season. The series was created by David Milch and was set in a growing town in the American West. MacDonald wrote the episode “Mister Wu”. He returned as a writer for the second season in 2005 and scripted the episode “The Whores Can Come”.
Parts of this bio match what we know about the Bryan MacDonald in question from his blog posts (which have been deleted) and statements he’s made on Twitter, but other parts describe other people entirely and still others are possibly fabrications.
Working backwards, the Bryan we have been discussing is absolutely not the writer who contributed to Deadwood. That Bryan, who’s real name is Bryan Keith McDonald, has been interviewed and is an older American.
The Wikipedia entry matches some claims RT’s MacDonald has made about his background. In a criticism of The Interpreter published on his blog (which, like so much of MacDonald’s online presence, has been deleted but which can be seen here), “Bryan MacDonald” claims to have worked at the following locations, and in this order:
The Carlow Nationalist
The Meath Weekender
The Irish Independent
The Evening Herald
Ireland on Sunday
The Mail On Sunday
The Daily Mail
MacDonald also claims he was “active as a journalist from 1996-2007 and…was a member of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) from 1999-2005.” He has also apparently “contributed to RTE, Newstalk, and The Dubliner magazine.”
We were not able to verify that Bryan MacDonald has ever been an employee at these publications. However, “Bryan McDonald,” does appear to have written for several journalistic outlets as a freelancer. One of our investigators contacted Associated Newspapers, which operates several of the above publications, and found that a person with that exact name did indeed provide “copy, on a freelance basis, to Ireland on Sunday, the Irish Mail on Sunday largely between 2005 and 2007. This included some theatre reviews for the Irish Daily Mail.”
According to Associated Newspapers, McDonald never worked for the Daily Mail in Britain, and so this repeated claim is misleading since he wrote for the Irish Daily Mail.
In response to questions from The Interpreter MacDonald volunteered the following explanation of his journalism background (we have reformatted the response below):
– Carlow Nationalist 1995-1998. I did Sport. I was in high school at the start and needed a portfolio to get into journalism school.
– Meath Weekender 1998-1999. I did Sport and News.
– Evening Herald & Irish Independent 1999-2002. I did showbiz and features, wrote the Dubliner’s Diary column for a period.
-The Dubliner Magazine 2002-2003. I wrote (very long features), theatre stuff and social kind of things.
– Ireland On Sunday, which later became the Mail On Sunday and Daily Mail 2004-2007. I wrote politics, showbiz, I was theatre critic, I also wrote op-eds on anything from Samuel Beckett to Rugby. I would done a lot of showbiz stuff for the London edition also. My, initial, boss was Martin Clarke, who is now the editor MailOnline (the world’s most popular news-site in English). That was some education – he’s the best. Paul Drury, who was Irish editor, is also some operator. You’d learn more from him in a week than you would in school for 10 years.
I quite full time journalism in 2007, for 3 reasons. 1. Not enough money in it and a very uncertain future, in my view. Since I left about half of Dublin journalism positions have been cut, so I think I was right. 2. I was tired. I had been at it since I was a teenager. 3. I wanted to travel. I had the means to do so.
Again, this matches some of the details on the Wikipedia page for “Bryan MacDonald” which was launched in March 2007 by an account which has been deleted. It states that MacDonald was the ex-fiance of the Croatian actress Gorana Relic, the “former boyfriend of leading British model Rebecca Howard,” that he “advised the Croatian government on the Arts,” and that he was an Irish football star. While the footballer in question may be a different person, MacDonald did indeed have a relationship with Relic (as we’ll see later). Interestingly, there is no reference to MacDonald’s involvement in the HBO series Deadwood.
The Wikipedia page was vandalized almost immediately by at least one person in Ireland who claims that MacDonald self-authored it; that he was a failure in journalism; that his plays were awful and poorly received; that Rebecca Howard barely knows him; that and his name is really “Dirt MacDonald.”
One edit reads: “Bryan Wrote about this himself, as he has an acute case of a Narcissistic Adonnis complex.”
A later change simply states: “this man is crazy he is known in his home town of carlow as ‘dirt’ macdonald and is a complete loser don’t ever forget who you are brian!!!!!!”
The Deadwood reference was added later.
At least some of the changes made to Bryan MacDonald’s Wikipedia entry are reversed by someone with an IP address in the Russian town of Khabarovsk, a town in which RT’s MacDonald has lived. In fact, MacDonald’s Twitter handle, @27KHV, appears to reference the call letters for the airport in Khabarovsk. Also interesting, the Deadwood reference was not removed by this user.
The Interpreter asked MacDonald whether he had created or edited the Wikipedia page in question. He said no:
I don’t even know how to work Wikipedia – I am useless with computers. I have asked people who do, to take that down, numerous times… there was some ‘messing’ a few years ago with it. A friend of mine in Dublin, named Ray, did it for a joke.
We then asked MacDonald whether he was aware that the page had been edited by someone living in his former place of residence, Khabarovsk, Russia. His response:
No, I can honestly state that I don’t even know how to work Wikipedia and many friends of mine know that. They know because I have asked them to remove the page, which is erroneous, even basic stuff like my date of birth and place of birth is wrong. But you are hardly that stupid that you use Wikipedia as a source, are you? I kind of figured it out a decade ago when they alleged a popular Irish media personality, Pat Kenny, was a superhero who fought crime on the streets of Dublin. I don’t know who made these changes. There are a few candidates (Irish, Canadian and Russian) and I don’t want to be libelling anyone. One hopes you are as cautious as me. 😉 Also, bear in mind that Brian McDonald is an EXTREMELY common name in Ireland. There were two others in my primary school. My hunch is that info has been mixed up around a few of us.
The last part of this response, that the page is a combination of Bryan/Brian MacDonald/McDonald appears to be true. The question is how it got that way.
From what we have been able to establish, the Wikipedia page is really a hybrid of at least three, but possibly more, people — including the “Bryan MacDonald” in question — some or all of whom spell their names differently than the spelling used by Twitter handle @27KHV. Furthermore, whether the distortions were the design of RT’s columnist or not, one of the editors of the page has an IP address in Khabarovsk, Russia, a town we know MacDonald has lived in, and another was, according to MacDonald, a friend, which begs the question as to whether MacDonald knew about or made changes to the Wikipedia entry which left it full of disinformation, resulting in confusion for anyone trying to uncover information about the RT contributor. [1. 1) Here is what his Wikipedia page looked like when it was first created:
Bryan MacDonald (born, Kilkenny 1979) is an Irish playwright, theatre director and journalist. Best known in Ireland for being the Dubliners Diary columnist in The Evening Herald and Chief Theatre Critic of The Daily Mail, he has also contributed to RTE and The Dubliner and Vanity Fair. His debut play You and Me and World War Three opened at the King’s Head Theatre London, England in 2004 and was also performed at the Victory Gardens Theatre ,Chicago. His follow up Shake Hands With The Devil opens Summer 2007 at the same Chicago Theatre. Musically, together with his band The Floors, he released two albums in the early 00’s – Morphine Watch and Truths & Distortions. He is also the former fiancee of ex-Miss Croatia Gorana Relic and a former boyfriend of leading British model Rebecca Howard and has advised the Croatian government on the Arts. A former inter-county Gaelic Football player, he represented Carlow at minor and U-21 levels and won a Leinster Club Senior Football medal with O’Hanrahan’s in 2000.
The Gaelic Football player in question is probably not the MacDonald in question either, since the footballer Brian McDonald has been well-photographed. And there is no record that we could find of a Bryan MacDonald belonging to the band “The Floors.” The first page was created by Wiki user “Hackman2007” on March 5, 2007. The account has suspiciously been deleted and was only involved, it seems, with this page. It’s possible that some of these claims could have been put in so that the page would be relevant and not deleted.
On March 27th, someone from New South Whales, Australia, makes an interesting series of highly personal updates (the bold are the changes):
Bryan MacDonald (born, Kilkenny 1979) is a questionable Irish playwright, average theatre director and a would be journalist. Best known in Ireland for being the least read Dubliners Diary columnist in The ((Evening Herald)) and Chief Theatre Critic of ((Kilkenny State Primary School Playgroup)), he has also contributed to ((Radio Telefís Éireann|RTE)) and ((The Dubliner)) and ((Vanity Fair)), but all of his work was unceremoniously rejected. His debut play You and Me and World War Three opened at the ((King’s Head)) Theatre London, England in 2004 and was closed down halfway through the first act after the lead was struck by a hammer, thrown by the only audience member present. The police dropped the charges agabt (sic) the hurling critic, as they agreed the man acted within reason, given the appalling nature of the theatrical content. The play was also performed at the ((Victory Gardens)) Theatre ,Chicago, including the bit where the audience memeber stood up and threw the spanner. It was a raving success.His follow up ((Shake Hands With The Devils Hammer)) opens Summer 2007 at the same Chicago Theatre, now owned by a local community group, promoting works of the criminally bane. Musically, together with his band ((The Pelvic Floors)), he released two albums in the early 00’s – Morphine Watch and Truths & Distortions. The latter revealed some self realisations discovered in a brief but profound moment of introspection on his own life so far.
He is also the former fiancee of ex-Miss Croatia ((Gorana Relic)), who claims she never actually met him, but pestered her with hundreds of letters, including the letter containing the ring forged from Bryans Granny’s silverware, and the hammer retrieved from that fateful performance in London, and the vows he had written for both of them. He is also a self proclaimed former boyfriend of leading British model ((Rebecca Howard)) who also claims to have bumped into him once at a Soho curry shop after he splashed vomit on her shoes. Bryan has advised the Croatian government on the Arts, but they politely declined his offer. A former inter-county Gaelic Football player, he represented ((Carlow)) at minor and U-10’s level and won a Lebter Club Senior Football medal for most improved waterboy with ((O’Hanrahan’s)) in 2000.
Bryan Wrote about this himself, as he has an acute case of a Narcissistic Adonnis complex.
The text was changed back to the original in April by “Hackman2007.” Days later the page was then deleted by someone from Limerick, Ireland, but was restored again by an account which restores vandalized pages. Another IP address from Ireland adds this editorial note: “this man is crazy he is known in his home town of carlow as “dirt” macdonald and is a complete loser don’t ever forget who you are brian!!!!!!” Then someone with an Irish IP address removed the reference to Gorana Relic, the alleged former fiance. But everything becomes confused when the references to MacDonald being the writer for the HBO series Deadwood is added in May 2010.
But the next change is one of the most important ones. References to plays reportedly written by MacDonald, and references to his football playing, have been removed. What is left are the references to his journalism background, and Deadwood. The year of birth is also changed, from 1979 to 1980. These changes were made from an IP address in Khabarovsk, Russia, a place MacDonald used to live (more on this later). It is the only change ever made from that IP address. This change strips away some of the more personal information and permanently leaves the Wikipedia page in a state that is as hard to debunk as it is hard to verify.
There was more “dirt” vandalism of the page from an IP address in Ireland on July 28, 2013, though interestingly the damage was undone by an IP address on the same day coming from the same area.
The Instagram Trail
Using Wikipedia and tracing MacDonald’s claims may not net many results, but MacDonald’s propensity to post selfies has yielded a personal Instagram account that discloses more than it conceals. For starters, we learn Bryan MacDonald’s legal name is indeed Brian McDonald, based on none other than a photograph he took of his own passport:
The Interpreter asked MacDonald why his name was different on his passport than his public profiles. His response:
I changed the spelling of my name for professional reasons. It was in 1999. There was a very simple reason. I was hired by the Independent Group in Dublin and they had a very well known correspondent who was also called Brian McDonald. He was famous in Ireland and there would have been too much confusion. So my passport says – Brian McDonald, which is the Irish spelling. You are aware we have a dual language system
MacDonald’s Instagram’s account also shows that, from between 2003 and 2007, he did indeed know, and may have been romantically involved with, a Croatian actress, model, and porn star named Gorana Relic. (Recall that Bryan MacDonald’s Wikipedia page at one point referred to him as Relic’s former fiance). MacDonald confirmed for The Interpreter that he was engaged to Relic and lived with her in Dublin “over ten years ago,” but says he has not seen her since 2011.
Why is Goranna Relic interesting? For starters, in 2002 she flew to Libya to meet Colonel Muammar Qaddafi as part of a beauty pageant, and was considered a rising star by The Mirror in London when she was set to appear in an Irish horror film, Shrooms. In 2008, Gorana appeared in an episode of the HBO period drama “The Tudors” – but her name in that billing was listed as “Gorana McDonald, also known as Goranna McDonald.”
It also appears that Goranna/Gorana Relic/McDonald has disappeared from the world of acting or modeling. The British Equity Collecting Society, which helps collect royalties for members of the performing artists’ union Equity, has a website for actors who are owed back royalties but who cannot be reached by the union to collect them. Gorana McDonald is on the Society’s list. An investigator contacted the Society and it confirmed that she has not collected her checks for more than a year, although the specific period of time — and the amount owed — could not be confirmed for data-protection reasons.
We do know, however, that Relic/McDonald has put out an advertisement in London for a babysitting service. In the ad — which was posted just one month before Bryan MacDonald posted his “divorce cake” and which was last updated just three days after the cake picture was posted — the actress claimed that she was divorced, available for full or part time work, and was looking for 9-10 pounds per hour.
Why would someone with an acting career ask for such a low-paying job when she wasn’t even collecting her royalty checks?
Our efforts to reach out to Gorana Relic and our efforts to find someone in her modeling agency who knows how to contact her have all been unsuccessful.
MacDonald, World Traveler
Bryan MacDonald, the “former journalist,” has repeatedly been asked on social media how he makes a living, and his answers have always been elusive. However, MacDonald’s Instagram account proves that he has spent much of the last few years traveling the world. According to his photos on Instagram, since 2007 he has traveled to Korea, Moscow, Vladivostok, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Moldova (including the Russian-occupied region of Transnistria), Latvia, Vienna, Poland, Colombia, Mexico, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Croatia, Munich, Brussels, Prague, Bratislava, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, and Belfast. Since March 2012, he has regularly traveled between Ireland, London, South Korea, Poland, various cities in Russia and Ukraine, and Moldova.
He even claims to have traveled to North Korea:
When asked by The Interpreter about his trip to North Korea, MacDonald said that he was on “holidays. I was in the Russian Far East, there is a consulate in Khabarovsk [the Russian town where MacDonald lived — The Interpreter]. “
MacDonald has claimed that he has six employees in Lviv, in Ukraine, but has, until now, not established what those employees are doing, or how exactly they are employed:
He has posted to Twitter that he is looking to hire a journalist and/or a PR person in Dublin, suggesting that this might be someone who will travel to Ukraine. He said this person will work for an IT company, but again, we have been unable to find an IT company registered to any Bryan MacDonald, Bryan McDonald, or Brian McDonald, that might fit the company in question.
As we pointed out earlier, WeMeet.com, the company where MacDonald previously said he worked on LinkedIn (now this information is deleted) and on the Sue Nunn show, does not appear to exist. WeMeet.com does have a Google+ page and a single YouTube video, but that video was posted in October, 2013, and has very few views. However, according to who.is, the website is registered to a company in South Korea and it has been online since November 1999. Could this be tied to MacDonald’s travel to Korea?
When asked about his company in February, he told The Interpreter’s managing editor that he employs 47 people at a “tech company.” He also, apparently, has a “horse stud farm.”
In an interview before he appeared on RT, again conducted on the Sue Nunn Radio show (this time the guest was billed as “Bryan MacDonald;“ his subsequent appearance would have him as “Bryan McDonald”), he claimed that he actually runs language schools in Moscow and made no mention of operating a tech company or horse stud farm. There is no record that we have been able to find of MacDonald ever running a language school. When asked about this particular business on Twitter, he refused to answer and instead seemed perplexed as to the question: “[W]here did you get that information?” he asked his questioner.
The only job listed on Bryan MacDonald’s LinkedIn page is the seemingly non-existent WeMeet.com, and now even this information has been deleted.
When asked about his source of income, MacDonald wrote:
That’s none of your business, frankly. I have investments. I did well out of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland. Got out in 2006 before the shit hit the fan in 2007/08. Had a delightful time in Berlin afterwards.
He went on to explain WeMeet.com:
The company is now folded. I was a part owner. It was called WeMeet Pty. It was registered in Australia. Google’s ‘Wave’ innovation left it redundant.
MacDonald also claims to have been involved in “a start up Wind Energy project. The other directors are Irish and Australian.”
MacDonald promptly responded to questions when asked directly via email. There was one question, however, in which MacDonald’s answers were not forthcoming — the subject of Russian language schools in Moscow. As we’ve stated, during an interview on the Sue Nunn show, Nunn said that MacDonald ran language schools in Moscow, a statement MacDonald did not deny. Yet when he was asked about this on Twitter (see picture above) he was evasive and never answered the question. We asked MacDonald the name of Russian-language school in Moscow where he worked, and this was his entire reply:
I never worked in Moscow. Nor did i ever live there. I have never spent more than 2 days at a time in Moscow and have passed through it about five times.
Before The Interpreter could contact MacDonald for a follow-up question, MacDonald sent an additional email to us, reiterating his previous points and adding a few details:
I never worked in Moscow. Nor did i ever live there. I have never spent more than 2 days at a time in Moscow and have passed through it about five times. An Irish local radio host, in Kilkenny, said this in error and clarified it the next day on her show.
The radio show in question was likely the Sue Nunn show. On June 25, 2013, Nunn introduced MacDonald by saying “now you run language schools in Moscow?” MacDonald responded, “yeah, in Russia, yeah.” Perhaps by saying “in Russia” MacDonald was trying to correct her? Later in the segment (which can be heard here — the original is currently unavailable), Nunn asks MacDonald if he listens to the program in Moscow. He responds, “no, I listen to you when I’m home.” She retorts that he could listen in Moscow, and MacDonald says:
“I could. I’ll tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have time at that time of day because it would be around the lunch-hour time in Moscow, because it’s four hours ahead…”
We then asked MacDonald for further clarification. Since he said he worked at a Russian-language school in Russia, where was it located and which school was it? His response:
Khabarovsk. Name was Manhattan and later Pro-Consult. I was there from September 2010-November 2010. Then again at New Years for few days and again from April 2011-October 2011. Then again from December 2011-January 2013 (this was time I had passport stolen, at gunpoint – otherwise, trust me, it wouldn’t have been stolen). Then again from February 2013-April 2013. I ran them and also taught IELTS, which I found very fulfilling.
Why is this important? Maybe it’s not. Maybe MacDonald is who he says he is. But why has he repeatedly been reluctant to discuss his work at a language school in Russia, and why didn’t he correct Sue Nunn when she suggested that he lived in Moscow?
Who Is Bryan MacDonald?
When we asked MacDonald whether he works for the Russian government or a Russian state agency (besides his column at RT) MacDonald said no, and pointed to his visa issues as proof of this:
I was even visa banned from Russia due to violation not of my own making. I was mugged in Khabarovsk and over-stayed due to the Irish embassy being slow in issuing a replacement passport (distance). I couldn’t get it over-turned. I wish I could have. I even experienced a Russian court. The judge was decent – the FMS guys [Russia’s Federal Migration Service] weren’t.
After the email exchanges above, MacDonald “volunteered” an explanation about his journalism resume, and it was accompanied by the following statement:
Before 2010, I actually had a very negative opinion of Russia. Extremely so. This is because, like yourself, I was raised in a western culture and had a torrent of anti Russian propaganda served up to me. When I went there, I was taken aback. It wasn’t at all like I would have imagined it. I expected an even more backward version of Poland or Ukraine, the reality was totally different.
I would NEVER say Russia is perfect – it’s not. Much needs to be improved, and that is an understatement. I just feel cheated by the bullshit I was subjected to before I actually went there and want to help counter-act it. By telling the truth.
I have nothing to do with the Russian government in any way – and they have never approached me. My loyalty is to Ireland. A small, neutral country – with no stake in Russia. I also have nothing to do with Ireland’s government. However, I do have a few friends who are elected representatives. This is because of my previous career and there is nothing unusual about it.
I had a bit of time on my hands this year and decided to do a little journalism again. I don’t intend to continue. In fact, I probably would have stopped already – but I don’t want to give the likes of you the pleasure.
You guys started this. I wrote you a message on Twitter because you said something that was horseshite and I contested it. You were then abusive to me and blocked me. Time to have a look in the mirror, dude.
That’s it, James. Really.
This is a modest self-assessment. Regardless of who employs MacDonald, where he makes his money, or whether he has deeper contacts within the Russian government, MacDonald was at least partially responsible for the rise of Graham Phillips, a pro-Russian freelancer whose work first appeared in the Western press and who has gone on to become a key part of the Russian state-operated media coverage of the conflict in Ukraine. MacDonald became a contributor to an important forum, the Storyful Open Newsroom, established for journalists to discuss developing and often murky news stories. Through Twitter, MacDonald has regularly interacted with the most prominent Western journalists as far as the media’s coverage of Ukraine and Russia is concerned. Now MacDonald is writing a column and is a regular guest on RT, which, as MacDonald himself argues, has tremendous reach. MacDonald has done this while using an ever-changing and mysterious resume (is he “not a journalist,” a “former” journalist, or a journalist? What is his expertise? Does he have a business or personal stake in events in Ukraine?). And all along, MacDonald has consistently threatened those who ask these perfectly legitimate questions about his credibility, expertise, and motivations.
Regardless of the truth about MacDonald, he represents a curious case study in how pro-Russian propaganda and disinformation is being relayed in the digital age. MacDonald is an example of how a network of Twitter accounts, Russian state-operated media outlets, Russian academics, dissatisfied or disillusioned Westerners, and pro-Kremlin propagandists work together to distract and distort the ugly truth about what has become Russia today.