Pravda On The Potomac-10 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In October 2009)

The Post's early October coverage of Russia was a spillover from September.  First, Sarah Marcus reported on the reaction, in Georgia, to the release of the Tagliavini Report covering last year's military conflict in South Ossetia.  Predictably enough,  state media controlled by Saakashvili  insisted that the report "confirms that Russia invaded Georgia."  Which led Marcus to conclude that:

"The friendly coverage is one reason the much-anticipated report to the European Union published on Wednesday is unlikely to hurt President Mikheil Saakashvili's political standing in Georgia, at least in the short term."

Warming up to cover the presidential election in Ukraine, Philip Pan wrote another piece on the state of Russia-Ukraine relations, focusing this time on growing tensions in Crimea where, according to Pan, only 40 percent of residents consider Ukraine as their motherland (a drop from 74 percent in 2006).

Princeton University's K. Anthony Appiah used the third anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya to lecture  the Russians on the virtues of freedom of speech.  At times, Appiah sounded almost like a rapper:

"But democracy is not functioning when citizens are denied basic information with which to judge the actions of their leaders…

But can we hold Russian citizens responsible for what their country does if they do not know what it is really doing?..

The freedom of journalists to report about life in their societies is critical, because without it, citizens lose their freedom, too…

The murder of journalists affects more than just journalists; and the undermining of Russian democracy is a problem for more than just Russia…"  

Unfortunately, Appiah didn't provide a tune.

Carrie Johnson reported on Deputy Attorney General David Ogden's visit to Thailand aimed at pressing the local authorities to extradite to the U.S. the Russian arms merchant, Viktor Bout (the "merchant of death"). 

Mary Beth Sheridan covered, on October 14, Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton's visit to Moscow and her unsuccessful attempt to secure Russia's advanced commitment to a set of specific sanctions on Iran — should international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program fail.  The next day, Sheridan teamed up with Pan to describe Russia's mini-parliamentary crisis (that coincided with Clinton's visit) when three opposition parties stormed out of the Duma in protest to the alleged mass fraud in the recently held local elections.  Having apparently realized that the subject was of little interest to Post's readers, Sheridan and Pan switched back to Clinton to cover her meeting with Russia's human rights activists where Clinton spoke passionately about the virtues of liberty.

Clinton's heroic effort to promote democracy in Russia has earned her a friendly pat on the back by the Post's editorial board.  An October 17 editorial warmly praised her for "speak[ing] firmly in defense of true democracy."  (True democracy?  I always thought that the Post was averse to adjectives defining democracy.  Or is this aversion confined to "sovereign democracy" only?). 

Pan's October 19 article described another heroic effort: that of the Hermitage Capital Management to force the Kremlin to investigate an alleged theft, by Russian officials, of $230 million in the form of fraudulent tax refunds.

The security expert Walter Pincus drew attention, on October 20, to a study calling for decreasing of the operational readiness of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.  According to the study that Pincus quoted:

"The high alert levels for U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces are more political statements carried over from the Cold War than military necessities for the 21st century…"

On October 26, Pan continued a sad tradition of reporting on assassinations of opposition figures in the North Caucasus, this time on the killing of the prominent Ingushetian businessman and human right activist, Maksharip Aushev.  Pan followed up on October 30 by painting a broader picture of growing violence in the restive region.

Needless to say, the Post's editors have immediately jumped into the ring.  They called the murder of Maksharip Aushev "state-sponsored" and openly accused the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, in organizing it.  The editorial went even further by suggesting that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condoned the murders:

"… Mr. Putin could put a stop to the state-sponsored murders if he chose to; he does not. This is not new, of course.  Past Kremlin rulers have used murder to shore up their authority."    

It's not clear how human rights activists in the North Caucasus could undermine Putin's "authority" as Prime Minister.  But, hey, logic isn't something you go shopping for at the Washington Post mall.

Stupidity (at the Post and elsewhere) comes in many shapes and sizes, but the record of the month belongs to Human Rights Watch's Minky Worden, who opined that political killings in the North Caucasus undermine the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi:

"Why worry now about the Sochi Games?  This year alone, several Russian rights activists and journalists have been killed within a few hundred miles of Sochi."

I like this "a few hundred miles."  Does Worden intimate that a secret weapon with a capacity to kill over the distance of "a few hundred miles" will be used against participants and guests of the Sochi Games?

The rest of Russia op-eds were provided by what I'd call a group of angry white men: Charles Krauthammer, Jackson Diehl, Fred Hiatt, Jim Hoagland, and Robert Kagan.  These gentlemen were enthusiastic supporters of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and continued occupation of Iraq — despite multiple warnings  that this will inevitably result in the increased influence of Iran.  Having witnessed exactly that to happen and having no decency to admit their mistakes, these angry white men are now desperately looking for a bogeyman to blame for all of the U.S. problems in the Middle East. 

And here is — ta-da! — the hobgoblin du jour: Russia.

Krauthammer is angry at the fact that "[i]n return for selling out Poland and the Czech Republic by unilaterally abrogating a missile-defense security arrangement", the Obama administration got nothing from Russia on Iran (which Krauthammer calls "the most serious security issue in the world."  H'm.  OK).  And he's angry with Hillary Clinton for her being too "accommodating" to Moscow.

Diehl is angry because he suddenly realized that "[n]one of the steps the West is considering to stop the Iranian nuclear program is likely to work" and that "Russia and China [have] an excuse to veto new sanctions" against Iran. 

Hiatt is angry at Russians because "they don't see things exactly as Americans" and because they stubbornly prefer following their own national interests instead of those of the U.S. 

Hoagland is angry with "transaction-oriented Putin" because despite what Hoagland calls Russia's "political irrelevance", Russia's cooperation is still necessary "on Afghanistan, Iran and the broader Middle East."  (Hoagland always finds a reason to be angry with Putin.  One could say that his anger often borders on infatuation with VVP). 

And Kagan is very angry with President Obama because Obama doesn't want to play hardball "with the mullahs."  And Kagan is very angry with Russia too.  What is the connection?  Good question.  But then, since when do the Post's authors have to explain their reasons for being angry with Russia?     

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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7 Responses to Pravda On The Potomac-10 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In October 2009)

  1. Hi Eugene
    As a kind of take off of AMC’s Mad Men, I wonder how well a Russian TV series of Angry Men would do?
    The best propaganda is the subtle kind, which isn’t so blatant. On the other hand, things have gotten a bit warped to the degree that the more blatant types of propaganda aren’t so always clear to many.

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    With a certain amount of shame, I have to admit that I didn’t watch the Mad Men series (as I don’t watch much of TV at all, with the exception of DWTS and NFL).
    You’re way better media expert that I, but I’m afraid that blatant propaganda still beats subtle hands-down. And it’s not only when it comes to such a “complicated” subject as Russia: just look at the domestic health-care discussion (“death panels” and such).
    Best Regards,

  3. Hi back Eugene
    With The Sopranos as one of a few exceptions, I’m not much into many of the contemporary TV shows (within the last twenty years) myself.
    The net has further influenced this aspect, much like how the advent of television took a portion out of radio’s audience.
    With the exception of its depiction of early 1960s NY, I haven’t really gotten into Mad Men.
    Gene Hackman as Jim Hoagland?
    On your propaganda point, I’m periodically taken aback by how some seemingly open-monded and intelligent folks can be duped by what’s clear BS. When presented with the other view, the more intelligent among them will grasp such a scenario.
    All things considered, I think that the subtle/seemingly objective, but nevertheless biased overview has a better chance at convincing, over the more subjective. Of course, there’re the extreme agendacrat types who will not budge.
    The approach of presenting a viewpoint as a direct reply to what those running opposite of it say differs from spouting one’s opinions with little if any consideration to the opposition to them.

  4. Does Biased News Have a “Time Bomb” Effect?
    Care of Anatoly Karlin, via his Sublime Oblivion site, the above linked piece relates to the conversation at this thread.
    Another “bias” pertains to what is and isn’t stressed as bias by some.
    The coverage of former Yugosalvia and the former USSR serve as pointed examples. From what I’ve seen, CNN’s Reliable Sources and Fox’s News Watch haven’t been so forthcoming on this matter – when compared to some other topics.
    Sparing the whataboutism about Russian language mass media, the same can be said of some of the English language media based in Russia.

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    I agree on your propaganda take. There are people who have an agenda — and who actually “make” anti-Russian propaganda. I’m afraid neither you nor I can convert them (unless we pay them more:).
    However, there are indeed people who are biased against Russia because of honest ignorance. I meet them regularly in my daily life, and there is always a hope to educate them (not convert, educate) — one at a time. Otherwise, what’s the point for me to write this blog?

  6. Bravo to you for doing so Eugene.
    I’ve experienced the same as what you’ve communicated.
    The more like minded among us can still learn from each other – in addition to having some disagreement.
    I’m also of the firm belief in constructively criticizing the more high profile of folks who’ve been given the opportunity, if not privilige, to express counter-“commentariot” views, at the more higher profile of venues.
    I stress the “constructively criticizing” in opposition to the not so intelligent grand stand taunting.
    For quality and objectivity sake, those at the higher levels of decision making shouldn’t be thinking/working counter to the views expressed in this note.

  7. Hi back Eugne & Co.
    Sorry to not have included this additional thought.
    It’s impossible for any of us to be knowledgeable on every subject.
    Such instances increase the likelihood of getting subconsciously duped.
    Think of a given subject where someone more familiar with the topic has added onto what wasn’t said in relation to what you were led to believe.
    As a topic, the former Communist bloc (let alone just Russia) is a vast field.

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