American actor and musician Johnny Depp visited Russia last week as part of a European tour with the rock band Hollywood Vampires. The Russian media, including official government outlets, extensively covered Depp’s visit.
Some of the reports turned out to be fabrications -- in particular, the reports that he had a car accident in S. Petersburg and private dates with 40 Russian girls in Moscow, for which the girls had to pay $1,000 each. Both reports were false, yet they crossed the Atlantic to appear in the English language media.
In the article published this past March headlined “How Did an Itty-Bitty Piece of Russian Propaganda Wind Up in Slate?,” Slate Magazine looked into “how and why” the Russian media intentionally target popular Western personalities.
The article explained how Slate had become part of a Columbia Journalism Review study of 32 U.S. media outlets that unintentionally shared content produced by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA).
Apparently, Slate unintentionally shared an embedded IRA tweet ridiculing Johnny Depp, who had caused controversy by joking about assassinating President Donald Trump. The Slate story ran in June 2017, after Trump had been elected.
At this point it is impossible to say whether the latest fabrications concerning Depp are part of the IRA campaign. However, the fact that not only Russian tabloids, but official government media took part in the defamation campaign against Johnny Depp raises questions.
The car accident was fabricated by St. Petersburg’s popular Channel 5 TV. The report was based on an incident in which a van being used by the Hollywood Vampires, while exiting the hotel parking garage hit a wall without causing any damage to the vehicle or to its occupants. The incident was recorded and the video posted on Channel 5’s website. This “news” quickly spread through the Russian media, including some state-owned channels.
Later in the day, the St. Petersburg information agency Nevskie Novosti debunked the story about the car accident. Moreover, Johnny Depp was not even in the van that the Channel 5 TV video showed.
The second fabrication found even a broader coverage and caused a wave of speculation.
The “news” that Johnny Depp had private dates with 40 Russian girls who paid $1,000 each for a few minutes alone with the American star in Moscow originated with Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP.ru), Russia’s oldest and most popular newspaper.
“Johnny Depp is a pirate not only on screen, but in life also. For the dates with Russian fans, the capricious Hollywood star demanded a thousand bucks from each of them,” KP.ru said. The newspaper quoted one of Depp’s fans, a businesswoman named Anastasia Niyazgulova, as its source for this information.
Gazeta.ru, a Gazprom-owned media outlet, reported that Depp earned 62,000 rubles per date.
The tabloid newspaper Express Gazeta gave the same figure, adding that Depp’s earnings from the dates totaled “about two and a half million rubles.”
However, the KP.ru source, businesswoman Anastasia Niyazgulova, debunked the information. As quoted by the Ridus.ru news agency, Niyazgulova accused Kosomolskaya Pravda of “twisting” her words and taking them “out of context.”
In her interview with Ridus.ru, Niyazgulova said the meetings with were not private dates with Johnny Depp, but a regular meeting between fans of the Hollywood Vampires and members of the band, and that tickets were officially sold on the band’s website.
Apparently, the meetings were part of a standard “Ultimate Meet & Greet Package,” and this confused the Russian media and served as a basis for the fake news.
British fans of Johnny Deep who saw photos of him from Russia said they were concerned about his well-being, calling his appearance “pale and gaunt.”
Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Russian government, said Johnny Depp was “looking ill” because he was “exhausted” after meeting with 40 Russian girls.
One bit of news that appeared false but proved to be true was that during Johnny Depp’s concert in Moscow, women took off and threw their lingerie at the star, who then collected the items from the stage and tied them to his guitar.