Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of Pussy Riot, have been detained in Sochi. Photo: Getty
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Two members of Pussy Riot arrested in Sochi

Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were released from prison less than two months ago, say they were arrested in Sochi with a group of activists and journalists.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

Pussy Riot was arrested in Sochi today. 

Yes, you read that right. Pussy Riot members and internationally known “prisoners of conscience” Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were released from prison less than two months ago, were just arrested in Sochi.

Tolokonnikova claims they were just strolling through town (with a group of activists and journalists), the police claim there was a theft at the hotel where they were staying. 

Pussy Riot had come down to Sochi to do a performance piece called “Putin Will Teach You How to Love the Motherland.” “The police didn’t know how to neutralize them, so they made up a theft in the hotel,” a local lawyer told me as he drove to the station to which the Pussy Rioters were being driven.

But Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are not your average hotel thieves. After their August 2012 show trial, these girls are media experts, live tweeting their arrest. 

Маша Алехина, я и еще одна участница Pussy Riot едем в отдел полиции Блиново за нахождение в Сочи. pic.twitter.com/bj8qpX7gMN

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“Masha Alyokhina, another member of Pussy Riot and I are being taken to the Blinovo [police] station for being in Sochi.”)

Такой олимпийский Сочи. Едем в АДЛЕРОВСКОЕ ОТДЕЛЕНИЕ. pic.twitter.com/PoafsAGTZO

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“This is Olympic Sochi. Going to the ADLER STATION.”) 

При задержании применяли силу.

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“They used force while arresting us.”)

 
 

Pyotr Verzilov, Nadia’s husband and the group’s informal manager, tweeted out their local lawyer’s number. Then he tweeted out the address of the police precinct to which the Pussy Rioters were being taken, adding, “See you at the station, journalist friends!”

Nadia tweeted out her cell phone number and even picked up the phone and talked, allowing this reporter to hear Alyokhina yelling at someone in the background.

Something tells me that heads are going to get bopped at the local police station. The local cops probably got the tip that Pussy Riot was in town and were told to make the problem go away. Panicking about messing up Putin’s Sochi party, they made the situation far worse, given the group’s brand recognition in the West and the number of foreign journalists swarming the place and bored of covering ski jumps.

What’s arguably even stupider is that they did the thing the Russian is state is great at doing: they remade heroes out of Pussy Riot, just as Nadia and Masha were busy mucking up their own image, going on junkets to authoritarian countries and shamelessly asking for money around the world. 

“How stupid do you have to be to arrest Pussy Riot in Sochi during the Olympics?” opposition leader Alexei Navalny tweeted. “There is no Ketchum in the world that can help you on this one.”

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com. New Republic Senior Editor Julia Ioffe will be writing dispatches from Russia for the duration of the Olympics. For the entire collection of her pieces, click here.

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The toxic new right-wing media will outlast Trump even if he’s impeached

Fox News and a network of smaller outlets have created an alternative version of reality. That ecosystem might prove more durable than the US president. 

An early end to Donald Trump’s presidency looks more feasible than at any time in the 117 days since his inauguration.

The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that FBI director James Comey – who was fired by Trump a week ago – wrote a memo recording the President’s request he “let go” an investigation into links between Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security advisor, and Russia.

Already there is talk of impeachment, not least because the crime Trump is accused of - obstructing justice - is the same one that ended Richard Nixon's presidency.

But with a Republican-controlled Congress the impeachment process would be long and fraught, and is only likely to succeed if public opinion, and particularly the opinion of the Republican voters, swings decisively against Trump.

In another era, the rolling coverage of the president's chaotic, incompetent and potentially corrupt administration might have pushed the needle far enough. But many of those Republican voters will make their decision about whether or not to stick with Trump based not on investigative reporting in the NYT or Washington Post, but based on reading a right-wing media ecosystem filled with distortions, distractions and fabrications.

That ecosystem – which spans new and (relatively) old media - will be going into overdrive to protect a president it helped elect, and who in turn has nourished it with praise and access.

On Monday, BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel took a forensic look at how a new breed of hyper-partisan right wing sites – what he calls the "Upside Down media" – tried to undermine and discredit claims that Trump disclosed sensitive security information to Russian officials.

The same tactics can already be seen just 24 hours later. Notorious conspiracist site Infowars talks of “saboteurs” and “turncoats” undermining the administration with leaks, mirroring an email from Trump’s campaign team sent late on Tuesday. Newsmax, another right-leaning sight with links to Trump, attacks the source of the story, asking in its web splash “Why did Comey wait so long?”. GatewayPundit, which published several false stories about Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, appears to have ignored the story altogether. 

As Warzel points out, these new sites work in concert with older media, in particular Rupert Murdoch’s ratings-topping cable news channel Fox News.

Fox initially underplayed the Comey memo’s significance, switching later to projecting the story as a media-led attack on Trump. At the time of publication, the Fox homepage led with a splash headlined: “THE SHOW MUST GO ON Lawmakers vow to focus on Trump agenda despite WH controversies.”

Fox acts as a source of validation for the newly established right-wing sites. Once Fox has covered a story, smaller sites can push further and faster, knowing that they aren't going too far from at least one outlet considered respectable and mainstream. If anything should make the UK value the impartiality rules, however imperfect, which govern its broadcast news, it’s Fox’s central role in enabling this toxic mix of misinformation.

These new media sites have another weapon, however. They understand and exploit the way internet platforms - in particular Facebook - are designed to maximise attention. They have found that playing on very human desires for stories that confirm our biases and trigger emotional responses is the best way to build audiences and win fans, and they have little compulsion abusing that knowledge.

This isn’t just a Trump or Fox-related phenomenon. It’s not even just a right-wing one. In both the US and the UK left-wing hyper-partisan sites with a tenuous relationship with the truth have sprung up. They have followed the same playbook, and in most cases the same advertising-based funding model, which has worked so well for the right. Emotive headlines, spun stories, outright fabrications and an insistence that “the corrupt mainstream media won’t report this” work just as well in generating clicks and shares for both ends of the political spectrum.

The main difference between the two political poles is that the right has benefited from an ideologically and temperamentally suited president, and a facilitator in Fox News. 

Of course the combined efforts of this new media and the Fox-led old may still fail. Trump’s recent transgressions appear so severe that they could break through to even his diehard supporters.

But if Trump does fall, the new right wing media ecosystem is unlikely to fall with him. 

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