From Russia with Love: How Old Fringe Claims about Bible "Mysteries" Became a Global Media Sensation
Most of you reading this will be aware that there are a number of British tabloids whose online editions produce what might generously be called clickbait about UFOS, ancient astronauts, and historical mysteries. We might less generously call the stories recycled garbage that barely rises above outright plagiarism of old material, which they pass off as new. Sites like The Express, The Mail Online, The Daily Star, and so on generate a lot traffic this way, but produce absolutely terrible journalism. Usually, though, their crappy material rarely makes much impact beyond other bottom-feeding websites, which piggyback on the stories for clicks. Today’s example, however, demonstrates clearly and depressingly how fringe pseudo-history goes through a laundering process as it moves from Russian sources to British clickbait websites to mainstream British papers and eventually American media.
A case in point comes from two stories this week that followed the same ass-to-mouth path, as old video offered on Amazon Prime became tabloid fodder and then featured MSN news. One story claimed that the true Son of God was Apollonius of Tyana rather than Jesus Christ. The other claimed that the Anunnaki were responsible for Noah’s Flood and were involved in the building of the Tower of Babel, the remains of which have supposedly been “newly” discovered in Iraq.
Both stories are actually descriptions of the 2016 (or 2017—different services give different dates) pseudo-historical documentary Bible Conspiracies, which has been available as an on-demand streaming video and through Hulu and Amazon Prime since 2017. Alongside Jesus conspiracies drawn from Holy Bloodline mythology, the film relates a number of standard ancient astronaut claims about the Bible, including space alien involvement with the Tower of Babel, nuclear weapons at Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. For whatever reason, the media have started mining it for cheap content. They did the same thing with old Atlantis documentaries back in January.
In each case, the stories originated with Sputnik, a Kremlin-backed Russian propaganda magazine that prominently features pseudoscience, pseudo-history, and ancient astronaut and UFO claims. The Russian government has promoted such material as part of an ongoing campaign to discredit trust in science, both in Russia and in the West, as Foreign Policy discussed in 2016.
As best I can tell, very few people watched the low-budget documentary before Sputnik wrote about it. The official trailer for the documentary had fewer than 1,000 YouTube views in two years.
What’s especially weird is that the Sputnik article was barely a coherent piece—just a few quotes and a couple of sentences, complete with an admission the claim was three years old. The British writers greatly enhanced and developed the germ of the story.
The British bottom-feeders repackaged the material for a larger audience, and split the documentary summary in two, focusing on Apollonius for some pieces and the Tower of Babel for others. The stories rose quickly into better-read publications like The Mirror and The Independent. (The Independent was the only paper I saw to acknowledge that a Kremlin propaganda outlet lay behind the story’s rapid spread across the internet.) MSN, a content partner of the Mirror, then delivered the Mirror article about the Tower of Babel to its readers, now impressed with the imprimatur of middlebrow American respectability. The situation with the Apollonius story was just as bad. From a repackaging of the material highlighted by Sputnik in the Daily Express, Fox News recycled the content but eliminated any indication of the source, with reporter Caleb Parke presenting a nearly verbatim copy of the British summary of the old documentary as original reporting. Shortly after, Newsweek published a story about the documentary, with the paper-thin justification that Fox News had covered the story, so it needed to be debunked.
Just to add insult to injury, Ashley Cowie wrote another very similar version of the articles for Ancient Origins, concluding that the documentary purposely used outrageous ideas to generate sales. That almost literally describes every cable and streaming documentary ever made, but it betrays little insight into why Cowie felt compelled to write his own clickbait article about a years-old failed documentary.
All of the British stories, as well as the Fox story, followed Sputnik and identified Bible Conspiracies as an “Amazon Prime documentary,” though it was not produced or endorsed by Amazon and is simply available for streaming there, as it is on Hulu and other services. This is a bit like identifying Black Panther as a “Netflix movie” just because it is available to stream on the service.
But the bigger question is this: Why are clickbait media companies surfing Sputnik--out of all the millions of sites online—for squibs to extrapolate into articles, and why do they consistently do the dirty work of laundering half-formed story ideas from a Russian propaganda website into full stories ripe for Western media consumption?
2/14/2019 11:43:27 am
"Shortly after, Newsweek published a story about the documentary, with the paper-thin justification that Fox News had covered the story, so it needed to be debunked."
2/14/2019 08:03:26 pm
Joe Scales is a Christian Fundamentalist
An Anonymous Nerd
2/14/2019 08:27:22 pm
There's no reasonable way to take Mr. Colavito's remark this way. It is very, very clear that he was trying to ("try" is the key word here -- see below) present Newsweek's point of view, not his own. It is also very clear that he was criticizing Newsweek's point of view, not praising it for debunking.
Appolonian Cool "Disco" Dan
2/14/2019 02:12:49 pm
Apollonius being the son of God is as reasonable as Jesus, also as reasonable as Joe Shit the Ragman because God doesn't exist.
2/14/2019 02:54:17 pm
It's obvious that the story of Apollonius is rip of Jesus Christ, but at least one Christian scholars has made a comparison between Acts of the Apostles and the story of Apollonius.
2/14/2019 07:55:50 pm
Life of Apollonius of Tyana was created at a time when the existence of the Gospels was widespread. Had the life of Apollonius existed BC it would have been of notable interest.
2/14/2019 03:26:32 pm
" We must always remember and never forget that RUSSIA IS THE ENEMY."
Aproprietary Cool "Disco" Dan
2/14/2019 04:02:35 pm
Funnily enough, it's right in line with the Cro-Magnon view of right wing radio talkshow and cable TV host Mark Levin who doen't accept the collusion nonsense but thinks and says we.must always remember and never forget that RUSSIA IS THE ENEMY.
2/15/2019 07:43:16 am
With low oil prices cratering its economy, a demographic nightmare, and levels of corruption that would make a Senegalese blush, Russia is a sinking ship. Russia as a people, nevertheless as a Nation, may well not exist in a conceivable future. Most likely Russia will become some sort of rump state surrounded by previously oppressed peoples; fortunately for the Russians, should they remain as a Nation-State, they are Russian,so they may not be completely obliterated.
2/14/2019 07:53:09 pm
The Bible is fringe itself
An Anonymous Nerd
2/14/2019 08:29:17 pm
Sure it is, at least sort of. Every conspiracy fantasy, whether it's reptilians or the "Deep State," could be said to qualify. Every episode of "Ancient Aliens" or "America Unearthed" too.
2/14/2019 09:30:13 pm
Oh no Jason, Putin is under ur bed, American liberals have this interesting relationship with Russia. Czar bad, troytsky and Lenin good, Putin bad. Americans with Russian ancestors are the worst with this. Russia has a gdp just north of Spain and falling fast. I’d say the federal reserve and the debt are bigger threats to our liberty than Russia. Honestly the Sjw and economic “diversity” advocates spreading their hate on Americans concern me more,
2/14/2019 09:36:27 pm
Russia has promoted conspiracy theories for more than a century. This is not exactly breaking news. The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were an imperial Russian hoax. The Soviets put out regular disinformation, including using UFO reports to hide military secrets. They also sponsored ancient astronaut research and used their propaganda organs to distribute it in the West. They arranged meetings between Western writers and Soviet ancient astronaut theorists. This stuff is all publicly known. Regardless of what Putin did or didn't do in 2016, it doesn't change the fact that the Russian governments in all their forms have pushed conspiracy theories for a century.
2/14/2019 09:59:24 pm
"Russia has promoted conspiracy theories for more than a century."
2/14/2019 11:06:15 pm
A significant proportion of fringe history material comes out of Russian sources. It's not like Senegal or Micronesia are working to deliver pseudo-history to Western media.
An Anonymous Nerd
2/14/2019 11:07:57 pm
["Russia has promoted conspiracy theories for more than a century."
2/14/2019 11:15:36 pm
Protocols of the Elders of Zion was partly plagiarised from Maurice Joly, partly inspired from a work by Alexander Dumas. French stuff.
2/15/2019 08:22:48 am
Conspiracy theories were promoted by the French, Austrian, and Prussian/German governments in the 18th and 19th centuries. Austria was responsible for a large number of the anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, for example. It shouldn't be controversial to recognize that various governments have used information warfare.
2/15/2019 09:51:08 am
"A significant proportion of fringe history material comes out of Russian sources."
2/18/2019 01:06:43 pm
The comparisons and confusion with Jesus was historically true, but hardly provable as he himself may have been a fictional construct. It is the truncated newsy blurbs that make it seem as if it is a sudden revelation. Heck, Simon Magus was perhaps Jesus' earliest rival and had his own followers and had to be opposed by the apostles. I recall an Emperor had statues of Jesu and Apollonius placed alongside each other as on equal footing.
2/18/2019 08:23:55 pm
2/19/2019 10:25:06 am
Good point about the US taking the lead in New Age fuzzy thinking. Maybe the History Channel and others will jump the shark by taking the formula too far. I note the Oak Island Bros not only turn up in Ancient Astronaut, Atlantis and Lost Gold shows but now they are taking the supposed "Curse" of Oak Island as a real thing and having the cast and crew jump at supposed ghosts and weird happenings. Can't wait for the psychics and New Age gurus to show up to banish the souls of long dead Templar guardians. Only then (and the final death of a Seeker) can the Secret finally be revealed.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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