Meta analysis example; a Reuters opinion piece

The sample piece, dated 4/24/2014,  is “The revolution in Putin’s head.”

1. DIscount the title. The purpose is to get you to read it.

2. “Former Kremlin operatives, serving officials, diplomats and dissidents that I recently spoke to in Moscow all agreed that Putin, who is a pragmatic leader, has been reborn as a true revolutionary who will challenge the West in the following ways.”

The phrase “all agreed”, indicates a sampling bias. Couldn’t the author find anyone to disagree? Even if you have to look a little bit, dissenters are valuable sources.

If you are reading this, you probably live in a country where politicians frequently redefine themselves. Are they constantly being reborn? That’s a heck of a lot of nativity.  “Reborn” refers to the Christian religious doctrine of “spiritual rebirth.” The writer is motivated by the desire to excite the reader’s interest, rather than inform. Good writing does both, but  the balance here is wrong.

3. This contains a  fallacious piece of logic: “Putin was drawn to the potential of ethnic nationalism in Crimea. He knew its power and he feared that if he did not tap into it, someone else would. ” It’s a defective syllogism:

a. “potential of ethnic nationism” OK.

b. “knew its power”   OK.

c. “feared that if he did not tap into it, someone else would.”  Not OK; it is not derived from the two “premises.”

Was the writer prescient?   “Putin will do all that he can to ensure that Ukraine’s elections on May 25th are seen as illegitimate.” Apparently, the writer was not prescient.

So the piece is a bucket of loose bolts, but there is some precious metal content that interests the scrap yard. There is a direct source quote, “Expect to see the spirit of the Maidan in the East”, which, in that time frame, I would have put in my “possibly useful” pile. But the gem is this:

“Putin has made domestic politics equally uncertain. An academic who was tapped to write a speech for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last year was — in an unconnected event — interrogated by the Public Security Bureau. “In the old days,” he said, “you knew where you were. Either you were in with the regime or you were interrogated. No one knows where they are any more.””

Confusion is much harder to fake than fact. This goes into my pile called “psychology of the inner circle”.  The inner circle  circled the wagons. It is compatible with the idea that the regime, anticipating absorption of Ukraine, armored itself against heightened internal tensions. The crackdown on social media adds to the picture.

The best part of the quote’s appearance is the lack of interpretation. It is left as a diamond in the rough. Now it’s in my pocket.