For Russia, No News Is Good News

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Russia seems to be losing its status as a major newsmaker in the U.S. media.  Take, for instance, the influential Washington Post.  Since the beginning of June, the newspaper has published only three Russia-related articles: covering the murder of the former army colonel Yuri Budanov, an anti-hero of the second Chechen war; the 20th anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s election as president of Russia; and a Russian-American theater project.  Compare that to June 2010: the famous spy scandal had just erupted, and in a couple of days, the Post responded with seven exciting “spy” stories (coming atop of 17 articles and editorials published earlier in the month on different topics).  A whopping 19 followed in the first two weeks of July.  Almost each of these articles featured the Mata-Hari-of-Manhattan, Anna Chapman, a woman “with a head for business…and a body for sin,” as the Post described her at the time.  

It's possible to argue, of course, that, perhaps, there are no more “unauthorized foreign agents” of Russian origin left in the U.S.  But the enigmatic Ms. Chapman is still alive and well in Russia, beautiful and…eh…enigmatic as ever – hosting her own TV show and planning a career in politics.  Yet for whatever reason, her image does not inspire American journalists anymore.

Or consider forest fires in Russia that in late July 2010 replaced the spy scandal as the news du jour.    Kremlin critics both in Russia and the U.S. immediately put the blame for the crisis on the shoulders of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  Somewhat paradoxically, though, the very same people interpreted Putin's behavior during the crisis as a sure sign of his intension to run for presidency in 2012.  This summer, forest fires are ravaging Russia in full force again, but the U.S. media do not find this event newsworthy.  Is it because the ongoing severe fires in Arizona make it brazenly clear that natural disasters, be it in Russia or the United States, can’t be accounted for by the malice of a single official, even as supposedly evil as Putin? Or is it because American journalists have collected so many rock-solid signs of Putin’s desire to return to presidency that they simply do not need pictures of him extinguishing fires?      

U.S. officials do not pay much attention to Russia, either.  In his farewell public address, the outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates assaulted the governments of NATO countries for insufficient – and still decreasing — defense spending.  NATO military operations in Afghanistan and Libya were invoked in this context, but a military threat from Russia was not.  Nor was Russia even mentioned during the Senate confirmation hearings of Leon Panetta, who has been nominated to succeed Gates as the Pentagon chief.

It may already sound as a cliché, but the reset in U.S.-Russian relations did change the tone of the dialogue between the two countries.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to constantly portrait Russia as perennially hostile to U.S. interests and values.  True, the negative image of Russia in the U.S. is not a consequence of “bad” news; instead, this image is being purposefully and relentlessly created in the media by numerous anti-Russian interests.  Yet, the principal objective of the media is to sell “news,” and lacking major conflicts between Moscow and Washington – and major “disasters” (both natural and man-made) in Russia, which American journalists are so good in describing – there is not much left to cover.  After all, how many articles per month can a major American newspaper publish about Mikhail Khodorkovsky?   

In all fairness, it has been difficult to create “bad news” out of Russia's recent moves.  Moscow’s decision not to veto the United Nation Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya has shifted the responsibility for the situation there to the capitals where it truly belongs: Paris, London, and Washington.  Otherwise, Russia would have been inevitably blamed for all civilian deaths that occurred had Gaddafi troops attacked Benghazi in the absence of a no-fly zone.

Moscow also wisely refrained from harsh rhetoric following NATO’s refusal to accept its proposals on joint missile defense in Europe during the Russian-NATO Council meeting in Brussels on Jun. 9.  While Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov explicitly expressed Russia’s disappointment with NATO’s unwillingness to properly address its strategic concerns, he nevertheless insisted that the both sides “trust each other” and that future negotiation “might turn out to be successful."

Of course, don't harbor any illusions: Russia’s thoughtful and flexible foreign policy – and any liberalization of its domestic one – will not automatically create a positive image of the country in the West.  But the number of “horror” stories will inevitably go down, even if at the price of reduced coverage.

How do they say it: no news is good news?  It certainly is for 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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9 Responses to For Russia, No News Is Good News

  1. Hi Eugene,
    Keeping in mind that it’s that time of the year when some are perhaps taking it a bit more easy than usual (like academia after a semester).
    Your closing point is well premised. On the other hand, there will still be some coverage, with a certain bias factor remaining evident.
    There’re ways to improve upon the existing status quo at the more high profile of media/PR options, that have been created (in part) with the idea of providing greater insight to the Russian position on a number of issues. This is especially evident with matters where history is typically referenced.
    Look forward to the commentariat takes on the quoted Medvedev statement of his not running against Putin for the presidency – should the latter choose to run. One immediate knee jerk reply will undoubtedly spin M’s comment as highlighting how Russia lacks the ability to have greater political diversity. (It wouldn’t surprise me if such commentary is already out and about. I’ve been busy with some other particulars.)

  2. Eugene says:

    Thanks Mike,
    Your point on summer slow-down is well taken, but I also agree with your second point: we need provide more “positive” coverage of Russia, rather than trying to criticize the “negative.” After all, people who write lies about Russia do this for money; there is no way to explain them they are wrong.
    You got it! All knives are out lambasting Medvedev for being week. Not surprisingly, Russian “liberals” lead the pack.

  3. You’re welcome Eugene.
    An ongoing situation concerns the circumstances when negative portrayals of Russia/Russians are commonly unopposed – even by people who’re Russia friendly.
    Russian studies is a vast field where a great source for some issues isn’t always the best option in other instances. There continues to be a seemingly crony like situation, which (frankly) doesn’t appear completely interested in doing the right thing.
    I can give a clinic to support these general comments. As for coming across as “pompous,” consider the ongoing status quo pertaining to the decision-making on who is and isn’t featured in a number of instances.
    I’m ready to successfully backup my points with greater clarity in a high profile situation.

  4. Виктор Кривчун says:

    Здравствуйте, Евгений! Надеюсь Вам будет интересны комментарии некоторых читателей Ваших статей на сайте, которые я, извините, привожу здесь без купюр: Sonich24:Сносно
    22/06/2011, 17:57
    Лев Задов:Как там говорится: отсутствие новостей – хорошие новости? Для России это совершенно верно.
    22/06/2011, 17:59
    На спмом деле что-то затевается нехорошее. Может даже идёт подготовка к организации конца света.
    vokv:Россия, похоже, теряет свой статус крупного информационного повода для СМИ США.
    22/06/2011, 18:01
    И на том спасибо.
    yzverg:(без заголовка)
    22/06/2011, 19:18
    “В хорошей империи нет новостей…”, – поет БГ водной из песен. Так и должно быть. Становимся нормальными. Новости = проблемы.
    colobok90:Глубоко нас.ать, что в юсе пишут о нас
    22/06/2011, 19:55
    Мы им не друзья, все что о нас могут писать враги, является пропагандой.
    Ответить | Всего сообщений в ветке: 1. Раскрыть ветку
    rusland uber alles:опоздали лет на 15
    22/06/2011, 19:57
    90-е прошли.
    13goose:Нет повода для сми США
    22/06/2011, 23:10
    Принцип работы любых сми: Поиск бриллианта в куче дерьма или же поиск дерьма в куче бриллиантов. В принципе это одно и то же, главное что назвать дерьмом, а что бриллиантом. Чем больше куча дерьма, тем большее количество бриллиантов можно откопать, ну и наоборот.
    Вот и вся причина. У вас,братья американцы, столько собственного дерьма, что вас перестало интересовать наше говно. Хотя свое всегда лучше пахнет, но его столько, что далеко ходить не хочется. В общем на лицо полная деградация американских сми, ой нет американского общества,или еще чего… . В ОБЩЕМ НАХРЕН САМ ЗАПУТАЛСЯ!

  5. Eugene says:

    Здравствуйте, Виктор!
    Спасибо большое за подборку комментариев. Я вообще-то за ними слежу: у меня есть возможность видеть, кто приходит на мой блог, и мне сразу становится понятно, когда InoSMI перевеводит мои статьи. Комментарии читать жутко интересно, поскольку для меня очень важно понимать, что россияне думают о вещах, о которых я пишу. А выражения всякие меня абсолютно не волнуют: я и сам, если надо, могу выразиться “с выражением.”
    Всего вам доброго,

  6. Poppy says:

    Dear Eugene,
    I’ve read this note with great interest.
    What still escapes me is why ‘No bad news about Russia’ is good for her?
    I believe it’s USofA who is the main beneficiary?
    Yours, Poppy

  7. Eugene says:

    In a sentence: because investors read newspapers. And, yes, investing in Russia is good for American business.

  8. Lois White Buffalo says:

    Hello Eugene,
    I found your piece evocative. Yes, there is the old saying also;
    “Still waters run deep”. Reminds me of Russia soul and the scenery of RFE.
    Nice work.
    Lois DuPey
    aka Lizaveta Ivanova

  9. Artists are very important people! These are the people who support the good spirit in our heads! Without it, many would be unable to work!

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