So Who’s The New Clown At The Economist’s Russia Desk?

I really did think it was getting better there under Joshu Yaffa, certainly it’s not typical of him to write such vitriolic but more importantly factually inaccurate articles. Let’s hope the world’s sleaziest magazine was getting one of their old-timers to file for him that day, instead of representing the start of a new descent into Lucasian raving.

As usual, I will ignore the emotive and hyperbolic language which starts from the get go with the title “Herod’s Law“. Though I would note from the outset that The Economist would never in a million years use similar terms to describe, say, the child victims of the US drone wars. That is because its main function is to serve as a mouthpiece of the Western ruling class.

So here is the list of its lapses in journalistic integrity:

(1) Citing only anti-Kremlin figures: Alexei Venediktov (of Echo of Moscow), an opposition deputy, and an organization headed by Kudrin. No honest attempt is made to question the (57% of) Russians who support the law.

(2) Extremely and almost certainly willfully misleading usage of statistics:

Over the past 20 years American families adopted 60,000 Russian children with 19 recorded deaths among them. Adoption in Russia is relatively rare. Even so, in the same period 1,500 adopted children died in Russian families.

Thanks to Charles Clover, the 1,500 figure very likely originated from a release by the Public Chamber of the RF that argued against the idea that foreign adoption is dangerous. But the Economist did not see it fit to give the full quote (my bold for emphasis):

According to data from Russian experts, in the past 20 years US citizens adopted nearly 60,000 Russian children; during this period, 19 children died by the fault of their adopted parents. In the same period, in the families of Russian citizen adopters, there died nearly 1,500 children.

See what they did there? Needless to say, the numbers of children dying by the “fault of their adopted parents” vs. the numbers who just died (by other murderers; by house fires, traffic accidents, medical complications, etc) are IN NO WAY COMPARABLE! And yet the Economist misleading treats them as the same.

In addition, it is subtly implied that per capita risk may be even greater than the impression generated by the absolute numbers. In reality as I already pointed out adoptions by Russians with the exception of two years have always exceeded foreign adoptions (of which Americans account for one third):

What’s more, the 19 recorded cases mentioned may well be – indeed, are quite likely to be – underestimates, because tracking mechanisms for Russian adoptees in the US are poorly developed (indeed, this was one of the main issues of contention between Russia and the US on adoptions).

(3) Internal contradictions: This is literally one of the most hilarious, keep-your-head-in-a-vise texts I’ve read this week:

Having acquired considerable wealth and freedom of movement, Mr Putin’s elite is growing increasingly tired of his rule. Whereas before he offered wealth and impunity in exchange for loyalty, he now demands that they take sides in the Magnitsky case, a sacrifice that could yet jeopardise their position in the West. Instead of uniting the elite behind him, this could turn more people against him.

So “more people” (57% of whom, BTW, support the Dima Yakovlev Law) are going to turn away from Putin… because his actions threaten the yachts and villas of “Putin’s elite” in the West??

The reaction would be just the opposite because that “elite” is loathed and despised, whereas Putin has overwhelming popular approval. Only a moment’s thought would reveal the absurdity of The Economist’s statement, however I suppose there is no time for reflection when there is a propaganda hit piece to be written.

(4) Edit – this is a new addition. This is the photograph the Economist uses to demonstrate this “Herod’s Law.”

It is captioned “One of the victims of a shameful law.” Thing is, however, that there is a WAITING LIST for adopting children under the age of 3 by Russian citizens. As such using this photo of a toddler to illustrate the piece together with the caption is nothing more than blatant and cynical emotional manipulation.


  1. “More people” obviously means means more people from the Patricians, not more people from the Plebs. Let’s face it, Plebs have never mattered a flying gerard in Russia.

  2. Dear Anatoly,

    Unless I am completely mistaken it seems to me that we are beginning to see some light amidst alll the fog of statistical information. The Ministry of Education and Science report of 2005 you referred to in your previous post says that 12 children “died by the fault of their adopters and guardians” in the period 1991 to 2005. Gelievna says that 92,000 orphans were adopted by Russians over the same period. I presume this is correct and it does seem to be roughly in line with other figures I have seen. The release by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation says that 19 children died by the fault of their adopted parents out of the 60,000 that have been adopted by parents in the US over the last twenty years.

    The two sets of figures do not seem to be wildly out of line with each other. In both the US and Russia the prospects of an adopted child dying because of the negligence or fault of their adopted parents is very small (12 out of 92,000 between 1991 and 2005 in Russia and 19 out of 60,000 between 1991 and 2011 in the US). If anything the figures suggest that a Russian adopted child is more likely to die due to neglect or worse by US parents than by Russian parents but the numbers in both cases are so low that I don’t think it’s right to draw that inference.

    Of course this is not a comparison of the total number of adopted Russian children who die in the US and Russia. There doesn’t seem to be a US figure with which to make that comparison. Frankly I would be astonished if the US keeps figures that makes such a comparison possible since I think it inconceivable that the US authorities differentiate Russian adopted children in its statistics from adopted children generally. I also suspect (though I do not know) that any figures the US has for the total premature deaths of adopted children are prepared and kept at state level rather than Federal level, which would make comparisons with Russian statistics which appear to be collected at Federal level more difficult still.

    Let us however concede what is surely the case, which is that the death rate of Russian adopted children who stay in Russia is higher than the death rate of Russian adopted children who go to the US. After all the death rate of Russian children generally is as we know higher than that of US children. It is still not 39 times higher because as you absolutely rightly say that ridiculous figure is obtained by comparing apples to oranges. What we can however say, unless I have read the figures completely wrongly, is that it seems that Russian parents of adopted children are no less solicitous (or more neglectful or abusive) of their adopted children than US parents.

    Incidentally viz a point made by someone who commented on your earlier post, it is not surprising that adopted children in Russia have a higher death rate – even a much higher death rate – than children generally given that they are more likely to have suffered from neglect or abuse by their biological parents with all the health and behavioural problems that causes and/or to suffer from an illness or a disability. The same will also be true of Russian children who have been adopted by US parents.

    • Dear Alex,

      A very good and comprehensive explanation. Just one small correction: The 12 for Russia figure is for 5 years, presumably 1999-2004. At least that was what was in the original report Найди меня, мама!
      Материалы в помощь журналисту

      In 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered preliminary statistics for the past 5 years on cases of death and incidences of ill treatment of orphans, adopted by Russians or taken into guardianship or a foster family, according to which:

      Out of 1220 children, 12 died by the fault of the adopters and guardians;

      So, as I understand it, 1220 actually did die (the problem is that the language was ambiguous hence my original mistake in the first post on this) of which 12 (1%) died specifically because of the fault of their adopters and guardians, which is more or less comparable to the 19 recorded cases of deaths in the US by the fault of their adopted parents for the entire 20 year period.

      As such Russia’s per capita / year figure for deaths by adopted parents may well be a bit higher but certainly nowhere close to an order of magnitude. However as you also correctly point out the overall numbers are extremely low in both cases to the point of being statistically insignificant.

      Your logic on overall death rates of course matched my own.

      Unfortunately, the typical Economist reader is going to read this and think that life for poor Russian children is literally 100x more dangerous than in the West and as such their latent loathing of Putin and let’s be honest Russia too will be reinforced yet one more time. This is a perfect example of when in fact this Press Complaints Commission (which you’ve previously drawn my attention to) can be brought, after all the piece seems to violate points (1) (a)-(c) of the PCC’s Editor’s Code of Practice.

      • Dear Anatoly,

        Thanks for the correction. You had already clarified the point about the 1,220 deaths in your response to the comment made on your previous post.

        I am going to write to the Economist about this issue. I will let you know how they respond.

  3. It strikes me that the disputed statistic is almost entirely irrelevant to the argument presented. What does it matter what the rate of wrongful death is for Russian orphans adopted by Russian parents? What is clear is that, while even a single child’s death is a tragedy, there is no evidence to suggest that American parents are more likely to abuse their adopted children than parents from other nations. No evidence.

    And if one’s concern were in fact the safety of adopted orphans, there are rational policies a government could pursue to safeguard them. A blanket ban on adoptions from a single country does not address the claimed problem.

    Regardless of what one thinks of the Magnitsky bill, this kind of ugly political posturing at the expense of children and would-be parents is indefensible. Whatever their differences, two great nations like Russia and the US can do much better than this.

    • Dear Momus,

      Have you read Anatoly’s previous post? He does not support the adoption ban and nor do I though I would not go so far as to say as you do that it is “indefensible”. At the end of the day Russia has the indisputable right to legislate for the welfare of its children and if it feels that it is unsafe to send them to the US because the US authorities deny the Russian authorities access to Russian children and to US court cases that affect Russian children whilst they are in the US (which is the point that is being made) then it is Russia’s right to prevent them going there. I may not agree with that decision but finger pointing and hyperbole are not helpful and should be avoided.

      I also cannot agree with you that “the disputed statistic is irrelevant to the argument presented”. We are not talking about “disputed statistics”. We are talking about misrepresented statistics and outright lies. There is an absolute public interest in exposing such misrepresentations and lies and the fact that those who purport to oppose and criticise the adoption ban such as the Economist make them is concerning in itself and suggests that they actually care for Russian children very little.

      • I agree that Russia’s government has every right to pass such a law. I don’t agree that their decision to exercise that right as they did in this case was defensible. Even as geopolitical hardball, it’s clumsy and ineffective. The government could pass its own, even tougher version of the Magnitsky bill if it needed to make a point. Orphans? Really?

        On this note, I would like to say that I understand how criticism coming from “outside the family” is intensely irritating. However, not every criticism represents a challenge to Russia’s sovereign rights. Most often it is simple disagreement, you know?

        As for whether the “disputed statistic” is a “misrepresentation” or “outright lie,” I can’t say as I cannot peer into the author’s soul. I haven’t even seen a definitive source for the statistic, either in the original article or here. I think it’s beside the point. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the project of pointing out journalistic malpractice and support those who commit themselves to it. Reading this blog, I do wish it were not so confined to journalistic malpractice “in the West,” but I understand that is the blog’s focus.

        Thanks for the comment.

        • As for whether the “disputed statistic” is a “misrepresentation” or “outright lie,” I can’t say as I cannot peer into the author’s soul. I haven’t even seen a definitive source for the statistic, either in the original article or here.

          Do you read Russian? This post has a translation of the following from the website of the Public Chamber of the RF:

          По данным российских экспертов, за прошедшие 20 лет граждане США усыновили около 60 тысяч российских, за эти годы по вине приемных родителей погибли 19 детей. За тот же период в семьях усыновителей, являющихся гражданами Российской Федерации, погибло почти 1,5 тысяч детей.

          I have bolded the crucial differences.

          The Economist “journalist” is comparing apples and oranges even though the most obvious source for his figures (ironically enough a Russian state body that is itself against the Dima Yakovlev Law) makes it absolutely clear that they are in fact apples and oranges.

    • It strikes me that the disputed statistic is almost entirely irrelevant to the argument presented. What does it matter what the rate of wrongful death is for Russian orphans adopted by Russian parents? What is clear is that, while even a single child’s death is a tragedy, there is no evidence to suggest that American parents are more likely to abuse their adopted children than parents from other nations. No evidence.

      (1) The Economist certainly seems to think it matters. So do quite a lot of other media outlets. They not only think it matters as regards the Dima Yakovlev Law but also of the Russian government’s and state’s general rottenness. Quite frankly this objection while a valid one should not be addressed to me.

      (2) Correct, there is no evidence. I have said as much in fact. In fact I made it clear that based on average child mortality rates it is quite certain that Russian orphans are at significantly higher risk of death than their American counterparts. That is because on average life in Russia *is* riskier and cheaper. That is not however equivalent to claiming fantastical differences on the order of 100x, especially when to do so the journalist quite blatantly and willfully compares numbers from different statistical categories (i.e. essentially homicide/manslaughter by US adopters vs. all deaths among Russian adopted children),

  4. Why do you think the Economist dislikes Putin’s Russia so much ?

    My take would be that Putin seems to be one of the few standouts against globalisation, multi-culti and the various UN sponsored idiocies which the Economist has swallowed in full.

    • The Anglosphere Foreign Policy Elite and Punditocracy are still sore that Putin nailed tax fraud Khodorkovsky before Kh could sell Yukos to them. The AFPE&P hate, hate with the wildest passion, the fact that the energy price windfall has flowed into the coffers of the Russian government instead of to them.

      The AFPE&P also hate that the Russian government no longer abjectly submit to them, the way their dear departed Boris Yeltsin did.

      Since The Economist and Financial Times (and the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, and the Times of London, and the Washington Post, and I could go on and on…) are the mouthpieces of the AFPE&P, the position on Russia of these media outlets reflects that of their owners.

  5. I will reply to both posts together, but I’ll take the second one first. I did not intend my post to suggest that I was arguing with you. I did not intend my post to suggest that I was charging you with any sympathy for the adoption ban. My point is simply that, in my view, whether the cited statistic has been misrepresented or not, the adoption ban is a mistake.

    As to the passage you quote, above, I believe it is ambiguous. It may be, as you say, that the passage is comparing homicides/manslaughters in the US to all deaths in the RF. Or it may be that the author is making a direct comparison in the second sentence to the first, but without repeating the clause you have bolded in the second sentence. This is imprecise language, to be sure, but I would have to see the source statistics to be certain what the author intended. I think the latter interpretation of the passage (i.e. a direct comparison is intended) is as supportable as your interpretation, but both are necessarily speculative based on the ambiguity of the language.

    But again, I don’t think it matters. I don’t believe either interpretation supports the adoption ban, and I do believe that the language is sufficiently ambiguous that a simple misinterpretation will suffice in the absence of any other evidence for journalistic malevolence.

    I will say that, without seeing the context or the source statistics, your interpretation makes the conjunction of these two sentences very odd. Can you tell me, why has the author put these two sentences together if not to draw a statistical comparison?

    • Fedia Kriukov says:

      There’s nothing ambiguous in the article. Anyone who reads it normally, rather than with the intent of quibbling over every word in order to defend the author, will come away with the same impression — that adopted children in Russia are in a lot more danger than in the US. Which is patently false.

      In any case, there are quite a few good reasons why foreign adoptions should be banned.

      There’s only one reason why they should be allowed, and that reason isn’t applicable in modern Russia. I.e. it’s okay to send children overseas if their life in the mother country will be short and unhappy. Whoever claims that such fate by necessity awaits orphans (even disabled ones) in modern Russia is basically a liar.

      So, why do you believe that foreign adoptions should be allowed?

      • Well, I believe children are better off if they have an opportunity to grow up in a home with loving parents who will care for them, rather than in institutions (of any nation).

        I agree that it would be best if Russian orphans could be adopted by Russians. Unfortunately, there are far more Russian orphans than there are prospective Russian adoptive parents. Thus, it strikes me that foreign adoption is a far better solution than the institutionalization of children.

        All that said, if Russian lawmakers disagreed with my position and passed laws to prohibit foreign adoption in favor of continued institutionalization of the hundreds of thousands of orphans who cannot hope to be adopted by Russian parents, then I would disagree but I would not consider the action indefensible.

        This measure to ban specifically American adoptions as political retaliation for passage of the Magnitsky Act is very different. It is indefensible.

        • Foreigners or their absence will now make surprisingly little practical difference because Russians and foreigners alike have little enthusiasm for adopting older children.

          A curious but not surprising fact is that the vast majority of potential adopters prefer younger children. For children under the age of 3 there is already a long waiting list of Russian citizens. The state orphanages are Soviet-era institutions that are living on borrowed time as the cohorts of the 90’s to mid-2000 start to reach adulthood.

          FTR, I am also very much against the association of this law with Magnitsky and targeting Americans in particular. I am agnostic about foreign adoptions in general. There are both pros and cons.

          • Fedia Kriukov says:

            If foreign adoptions were going to get banned anyway, then it’s a good idea to use the ban to also to insult Americans (and I think it’s clear now that the insult worked like charm — the butthurt screeching is deafening). However, if the reason for the ban was purely a response to American provocation, and not because it’s the right thing to do, whoever is responsible for this should be fired, including most of the Duma. The next steps will tell us what the real reason was.

            • I strongly agree. I’m sure the best foreign-policy minds that can be brought to bear are working on the American response.

              I know!!! Let’s change everything with “Russian” in its name to “Freedom”!! I hope you’re ready for freedom roulette and Freedom salad dressing, you spiteful savages!

          • Maybe cynical point that Americans prefer east European kids because they are white has some merit to it. Ukrainian kids win in this situation on the expense of Russians (as I heard Ukraine is actually easing adoption process)

        • Here’s what Lady Nicholson, Baroness of Winterbourne, has to say about the issue of international adoptions.

          “I am not a child psychiatrist nor a social worker nor a medical person but I am told by the experts that children are best brought up in their own environment, own culture, their own language, their own family. Maybe they do not have a mother or a father, but they will have cousins, grandparents and aunts. All the professionals engaged in child welfare or in child health or development will say unhesitatingly that children are best brought up in their own environment. I am absolutely sure there are some instances where there is no future for an abandoned baby. And therefore, if you get the right fit, the right people, the right altruism, the right couple then I am sure that wonderful things can happen to the child that would never otherwise have happened. But I am also told that this is perhaps a bit of a rarity and it is all too easy even with well meaning efforts for wrong things to happen.”

          I daresay she knows something of what she is talking about; she was Director of the Save the Children Fund for 11 years, is currently the co-Chair with the Prime Ministers of Romania and Moldova of the Children’s High Level Groups of those countries, co-Chair of the UK’s Children’s High Level Group and Executive Chairman of the Associatia Children’s High Level Group, as well as a longtime campaigner for the rights of orphans in Eastern Europe.

          Perhaps countries that were once reliable adoptive markets for Americans, such as China, also feel that Chinese babies are better off being brought up in their own culture. Perhaps that’s the reason China is also tightening adoption rules.

          That article is actually from 2007, although it indicates 2011 at the top. In May of 2007, China banned adoptions by foreigners who were (1) single parents, (2) obese, (3) gay, or (5) older than 50.

          Here’s another which contains even more specifics: adoptive parents must (1) consist of a man and a woman married not less than 2 years, 5 years if it is a second marriage, (2) not be younger than 30 or older than 50, (3) as previously mentioned, not be obese, and (4) have a net worth of not less than $80,000.00.


          Maybe there were outraged articles featuring crusaders losing their rag on China for its sickeningly discriminatory policy against nice fat American lesbians who make under $80,000.00. I didn’t see any. The fact remains that the Dima Yakovlev Law – targeting only Americans as it does – puts one hell of a lot less children out of reach of adoptive international parents. Other international adopters, still welcome. Fat and gay, no problem. And as I have said before, Americans who do not like it are free to lobby the U.S. government to repeal the Magnitsky Act; I’m sure it would go a long way toward healing the breach – because, lost in the arguments is the irrevocable fact that the Magnitsky Act was every bit as childish and unnecessary. It was plainly put in place as a malleable replacement for Jackson-Vanik, only because Jackson-Vanik is no longer allowed under WTO rules, and U.S. lawmakers showed ambitious intentions to add people to the list who had nothing whatever to do with Sergei Magnitsky or his death; rather, people who were “oppressing the political opposition” in Russia, or even judges who passed laws America does not like.

          • I would just add to that, one of the referenced articles on China’s adoption policy suggests that international adoptions are embarrassing for the government, and that a primary driver for increased adoptions within China was increasing affluence of Chinese couples, more of whom could now afford a larger family.

            The per-capita GDP of Russia doubled in the last 10 years, and is the highest among the BRICS countries. An increasing number of Russian couples, too, can afford larger families. The passing of the Dima Yakovlev Law was immediately followed by work on legislation to provide more incentives to adopt within Russia.

            All the numbers suggest adoption of Russian children by Americans was steadily declining on its own. Therefore it is difficult not to conclude that what bothers Americans more than thousands of poor orphans waiting for homes is being singled out for being American. Just as the Magnitsky Act singled out Russians for being Russian, since people of no other nation were included.

        • Because of the problems with adoptions in America (the kids who died) Russia has made the process of adoptions more difficult, introduced more screenings etc. which already dissuaded Americans from adopting in Russia. So a lot of kids lost out on American home, probably much more than those affected now by Yakovlev law, as the number of American adoptions has fallen so low anyway.
          What I hate about Yakovlev’s law is that it’s extremaly cynical and really makes Russia look bad. And that Americans that specifically want a Russian kid, because of connection to the country, will be unable to adopt one.
          There was anti-American adoption agenda in Russia for a while before any Magnitsky. I remember reading about the special outdoor “camps” where American adoptive parents send their unruly Russian children for weeks.

  6. Chrisius Maximus says:

    Comments like “something is unjust if the life of just one child suffers” are very disingenuous. Our societies make calculations in which an increase of death, including of children, is considered acceptable ALL THE TIME.Every time you increase the speed limit, you do this: society has said, in effect, that x thousand more deaths are worth getting to work slightly faster,

  7. Here in the beginning Viesti say that only 14 adopted children died in Russian families (tho the whole report is very biased)