Politics is soaked with raw human emotions. Even otherwise perfectly intelligent people often lose their minds over political events or political personas.
Yet, there is something utterly irrational in the way that the American media treat Vladimir Putin, the former president and current prime-minister of Russia. Their tireless effort to interpret each of Putin’s actions or words in the most negative fashion borders on obsession.
Take the Washington Post’s May 8 editorial. Titled "Mr. Medvedev’s Rule" and formally devoted to the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s new president, the editorial is just another rant about Putin with its perpetual accusations of violating "the letter and the spirit" of the Russian constitution and — but of course! — of "the assassination of a Putin critic in London."
(Two recent publications on the subject of Litvinenko’s death are worth mentioning. Edward Epstein of the New York Sun has suggested that instead of being murdered, Litvinenko, a member of a gang of smugglers of radioactive materials, had died after accidental exposure to Polonium-210. Following Epstein’s lead, The Independent’s Mary Dejevsky inquires into the role the British MI6 may have played in the affair. But I assume that Washington Post’s editors don’t read newspapers.)
The negativity of the American media toward Putin reflects, first and foremost, their patent inability to understand, mush less predict, the complex events taking part in post-Soviet Russia. It’s also an honest acknowledgment of just how little influence the United State has retained over once-weak and obedient Russia.
In an attempt to explain to themselves and to their sponsors of what went "wrong" with Russia, the media came up with a convenient excuse: Putin. It’s his "authoritarian drift" that made the country "unpredictable."
(This isn’t a joke. This actually is one of the conclusions of the Council of Foreign Relation’s report, published in March of 2006, under the title "Russia’s Wrong Direction." Ironically, one of the report’s authors, Michael McFaul, has relentlessly taught us, over time, that "unpredictability" is a salient feature of "mature democracies").
Needless to say, no serious studies analyzing Putin’s policies and political views ("Putin has no ideology") have been conducted, unless you count as one a discussion on whether or not Putin has a soul or which letters can be read in his eyes. It’s little wonder therefore that after 8 years of his presidency, the question "Who is Mr. Putin?" is still being asked (replacing the perennial "Who lost Russia?").
Adding to the obsession is a fascination — perhaps, even hidden admiration — with Putin himself. Openly politically incorrect, articulate, opinionated, masterful of minute detail on any topic, Putin is such a stark contrast to anemic American politicians unable to pronounce a foreign name or remember the difference between Shiite and Sunni.
This doesn’t bode well for Medvedev. The problems his administration is facing are gargantuan and cannot be reduced to a couple of simple sound bites. Besides, as a person, he seems to be at least as sophisticated as Putin. This may turn out to be too much to swallow for the American media, which prefers sailing through the safe water of contemplating whether Medvedev is "Putin’s puppet" or "his own man."
It’s thus inevitable that the question "Who is Mr. Medvedev?" will become a fixed feature of Washington Post’s editorials. It’s also only a question of time that every traffic accident in Moscow will be interpreted as Medvedev’s drive to smash the "opposition."
Welcome to the world of American journalism. We’re on for a rough ride, so please, fasten your seat-belts.