Daily Archives: September 14, 2006

Monitoring the Media: Reviewing the Russian Genocide in Ukraine in the 1930s

Recently, La Russophobe warned readers to be wary of news reports on Russia written by partipants in the Kremlin’s all-expense-paid propaganda orgy called “The Valdai Club.” To illustrate the kind of things that can go wrong, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

On June 4, 1931, A. W. Kleifoth of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin wrote a memo to his superiors at the State Department in Washington DC regarding a meeting he had just had with Walter Duranty (pictured), the Pulitzer-prize-winning Russia correspondent for the New York Times. The two discussed the status of the upcoming Russian grain harvest and speculated about whether the famine conditions that were spreading through the USSR would worsen. Kleifoth states as follows regarding Duranty’s intention to report negative developments coming out of the Soviet Union in his paper: “in agreement with the New York Times and the Soviet authorities, his official despatches always reflect the official position of the Soviet regime and not his own.”

Duranty’s reporting on the Soviet Union was subsequently exposed and discredited. Most particularly aggrieved are members of the Ukrainian community, because Russians caused Ukrainians to bear the lion’s share of the burden for the Stalin famines, and millions perished. Duranty knew about this virtual genocide of the Ukrainian nation by Russia, but he did not publish a word about it. The Times itself has recognized this, but it hasn’t dealt at all with the aspect of the Kleiforth memo which indicates that the paper’s misreporting on the Soviet Union was a matter of editorial policy. Instead, the Times strategy has been to blame Duranty, and at the same time to rationalize his reporting by spewing the utterly false propaganda that the defects appeared only in hindsight. As noted in the link above, an e-mail sent to Insight magazine by Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications at the New York Times Co., explained: “‘The Times has not seen merit in trying to undo history'” by returning the Pulitzer. The e-mail insists: ‘The Times has reported often and thoroughly on the defects in Duranty’s journalism, as viewed through the lens of later events.'” In fact, Duranty’s comment in the memo makes it seem that the pro-Soviet reporting was more his editor’s notion than his own, something the editors would obviously love to sweep under the carpet; the publishers of the Times refused to be interviewed about the reporting when they were contacted by the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. Moreover, of course, the Times has not undertaken any review of its pro-Soviet editorial line at that time, of which we can hear the echo even in today’s Times editorials. In other words, Duranty’s misreporting served not only the interests of the USSR but the political agenda of the Times editors themselves.

Here are some examples of the boldfaced lies the Times told its readers under Duranty’s pen, lies which prevented the world from being aware of the problem in Ukraine and therefore cost lives:

“There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.”
–New York Times, Nov. 15, 1931, page 1

“Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”
–New York Times, August 23, 1933

“Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin’s program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding.”
–New York Times, December 9, 1932, page 6

“You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
–New York Times, May 14, 1933, page 18

“There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”
–New York Times, March 31, 1933, page 13

The Times editorial line throughout the Soviet era was that Russia was a nation full of brave and brilliant forward-thinkers leading the world to a socialist utopia. If there was dicatorship and human suffering along the way, this was due mostly to the harassment of the Soviet state by the ignorant outsiders who failed to understand it as well as the brilliant Times itself, and the rest of the blame was due to a “few bad apples” in the Soviet barrel as well as the need to “break a few eggs” (and skulls?) when forming a great social experiment. Given the chance, the Times harrangued, Russians would build a democratic socialist paradise the world would envy.

This line took the Times editors into very dangerous territory in 2000, when the Russian people freely elected a proud KGB spy as their president. This was something truly shocking for the Times, and placed it in a position to have its entire Cold War philosphy exposed as a fraud. Just as Putin was beginning his crackdown, including a barbaric assault on Chechnya, the Times experienced its massive scandal with reporter Jayson Blair being exposed for simply inventing front-page news stories out of whole cloth. To put it mildly, the editors weren’t prepared to take two black eyes. So they scrambled for a way out.

Their solution was this: Cast Putin as a “necessary transition” between the USSR and democracy. Blame capitalism for throwing Russia into economic tumult, and claim that Putin’s tough tactics were necessary to right the foundering ship of state. Report mostly good news about Russia, especially where the economy is concerned. Check out the NYT coverage during that time, you’ll see that is what transpired.

And now the editors are biding their time. How long does it take for a “transitional” figure to morph into a glorious democratic socialist? How long can you gloss over things like the abolition of elected governors, the obliteration of independent TV and providing aid and comfort to rogue entities like Iran, Venezuela, Hamas and Hezbollah? Long enough so that your pro-Soviet stance gets obscure enough that nobody can quite remember it?

We shall see.

FYI: To read more about how the New York Times misleads readers for ideological reasons, check out Michelle Malkin’s piece about their Wal-mart scandal.

LR on PP

Check out La Russophobe’s latest on Publius Pundit, exposing the Valdai Discussion Club. This piece provides a nice practical example of the issues dealt with in the post above regarding the reliability of traditional media reporting on Russia and the importance of having alternative sources of information such as Publius and this blog. Your comments about the infuence of the Valdai club and the Kremlin’s general offensive to control its image are welcome and important.

Stalin the Sex God

La Russophobe has already reported that Russians identified Vladimir Zhirinovksy as the sexiest man alive. Now comes news that their next new screen love god will be none other than Stalin himself. The Scotsman reports that Russia is about to release a new film about crazed dictator Joseph Stalin depicting the mass murderer as a red hot lover.

He has been worshipped, feared, and even denounced. But now the sexy side of Joseph Stalin is being exposed in a controversial Russian film.

The Soviet tyrant’s relationship with a woman 22 years his junior is to be turned into a steamy TV and film drama this autumn.

The production team admits it will provoke a storm of anger in Russia and reignite the debate over the portrayal of one of history’s most infamous dictators who sent millions to their deaths.

It comes a year after German filmmakers sparked a major row by depicting Hitler as warm and caring in the film Downfall.

Yevo Zhena, or ‘His Wife’, is being made as a £1.5m four-part blockbuster to be shown on the Rossiya TV Channel this autumn. There are also plans for a feature-film version to be sold internationally.

The drama focuses on Stalin’s relationship with his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, and depicts the feared ruler as a passionate lover who missed the climax of the Russian Revolution because he was in bed with Alliluyeva, then a teenager.

The two first met in 1908. He was 30 and she was eight when her father, Sergei Alliluyeva, offered Stalin shelter after he had escaped from prison. Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, had died a year earlier after four years of marriage.

Stalin and Alliluyeva married in 1919 and had an often stormy relationship until she mysteriously died in 1932.

The film shows them striking up a romantic attachment in early 1917, after he returned from exile in Siberia. One scene sees Stalin helping the nervous teenager undress, and in another he pulls her into a bath with him.

Even more controversially, the film claims that he missed the storming of the Winter Palace during the October Revolution because he was in bed with Alliluyeva. As they listen to the shooting outside, Stalin casually remarks that the Bolsheviks may or may not have taken power. Yevo Zhena is based on a book published in 2001, called The Only Women, which was based on new material from archives but which dramatised the gaps between what could be proved from research.

The film takes the scholars’ view of Alliluyeva’s death, saying that she committed suicide after a public row, and dismisses popular conspiracy theories suggesting Stalin murdered her or had her killed.

After Stalin insults her at a banquet, she is shown walking through the Kremlin alone, and then a shot is heard.

Mira Todorovskaya, the co-director, said: “Stalin was a devil and monster, but in our film you can’t see that. LR: You couldn’t see it in his propaganda either, see above right; indeed, what woman in her right mind could resist this charming he-man? See, the girls can’t keep their hands off!

“People will say that we have beautified Stalin and made him not as he was in real life. But I think my film will have opponents from both sides.”

Todorovskaya said she believed that Alliluyeva helped keep Stalin’s behaviour under control, calling her “his second conscience”.

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, who wrote a best-selling book on the Soviet tyrant, Stalin: Court Of The Red Tsar, and who is now researching a volume on Stalin’s early life to be published next April, said: “It’s not correct to say that he missed out on the Revolution. He didn’t help storm the buildings, but that’s because he didn’t have a military role. He was the editor of Pravda, which was a very important job because the paper was crucial in the days before radio and television.

“The producers are right to dismiss the conspiracy theories about Stalin killing her or having her killed. All the evidence points to her having committed suicide.

“Alliluyeva’s death did affect Stalin, although I disagree with the suggestion that she kept him in check or acted as a ‘conscience’. He was extremely brutal before she died. But losing her helped make him more paranoid and affected his views of families and spouses, such as imprisoning or torturing wives of suspects.”

Dr Andrei Rogatchevski, a lecturer in Russian culture at Glasgow University, said: “It will be very interesting and will spark a lot of debate. There are still some who are nostalgic for the kind of strong leadership which Stalin gave. They don’t want the gulags or terror back, but they believe that such a vast country can only be ruled by a strong man like Stalin. They won’t like Stalin being portrayed as missing the Revolution to be with his lover.

“Many others in Russia will not like to see a man who caused the death of millions being seen as loving and tender. As well as the terror, many still blame Stalin for the blunders at the beginning of the Second World War which cost millions of lives and allowed the Germans to advance into Russia.”

Three years after Stalin’s death, the ‘excesses’ of his rule were denounced by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who announced a policy of “De-Stalinisation.”

In the film, Stalin is played by award-winning Georgian actor Duta Skhirtladze, with Olga Budina starring as his young lover.

Budina recently played the part of Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II.

Anastasia’s fate has been the subject of even more debate than Alliluyeva, with many believing Anastasia survived the murder of the Imperial family in 1918 and managed to escape to the West.

Russian Cops, Worse than Criminals, Think Rubber Hoses are Just Dandy

The Moscow Times reports the shocking results of a Levada Center poll showing that a majority of Russian policeman feel it is appropriate police procedure to beat a confession out of a suspect. Maybe visas to Russia should be accompanied by a cyanide pill so that the hapless tourist who finds himself arrested can check out before the “interrogation” quite literally kicks in.

More than half of the nation’s police officers say it is sometimes acceptable to use force against detained suspects, while nearly two in 10 believe it is sometimes acceptable to plant drugs or weapons on suspects, a report from the independent Levada Center showed.

“The erosion of legal awareness among police officers is at its highest level,” said Lev Gudkov, a center researcher. “The notion of what’s lawful and what isn’t is warped.”

The center polled 641 policemen in 41 cities in December 2005 as part of a two-year project with Public Verdict, a group that monitors police abuse.

On Tuesday, the two groups presented their findings in a newly released book, “Index of Abuse by Law Enforcement Agencies.”

Police officers also tend to believe the media is responsible for sowing public discontent: Fifty-five percent say the media is the No. 1 reason for their poor image.

A spokesman at the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, declined to comment until he had seen the book.

The Levada Center report also showed that, over the two-year period, hostility toward the police was consistently high. Monthly updates showed that, at some points, as many as two-thirds of all Russians distrusted the police; at other points, that figure jumped to three-fourths.

While the level of trust in all authorities — the army, the courts, the security services and the police — rose briefly after President Vladimir Putin took power in early 2000, that trust ebbed as hopes for internal reforms sank.

About 1.2 percent of the population views a job in the police force as “prestigious,” while 2.5 percent considers it “attractive,” said Olga Gryaznova, a Levada Center researcher. Such public sentiment contributes to police officers’ negative image of the police and hinders improvement of relations between the police and the public, Gryaznova added.

Topping most Russians’ list of fears when it comes to the police is public humiliation, followed by violence, illegal detention, blackmail and illegal incrimination, among other concerns, the study showed.

A police colonel with more than 30 years of experience, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were fewer professionals working in the police force than there were in the 1980s.
The police colonel added that the Interior Ministry’s reform of the police force had not included educating street cops who interact directly with the general public.

Россия в раковине гайки (Russia in a nutshell)

One of the lead stories in the Moscow Times yesterday was captioned:

Alcohol Reform has Lethal Consequences

The country has seen a spike in the number of people who have died or suffered illnesses in the past six weeks from drinking disinfectants following a government campaign to purge stores of fake liquor.

That’s right. Russian launches an attempt to protect people from alcohol and more people are injured by it after the attempt than were harmed before it was made. That’s Russia in a nutshell. The campaign sharply increased the price of alcohol, driving more and more people to use the dangerous stuff. When asked about these fatalities, a government official is quoted as saying: “”These people are mostly from dysfunctional families, homeless or unemployed. Two or three [of the victims] are young people who drank the alcohol accidentally, but the rest have unhealthy lifestyles.” In other words, “good riddance.” About 40,000 people are estimated to die annually in Russia from alcohol poisoning; the country experiences a net annual population loss of nearly 1 million.

And that’s not the half of it. Because not only has that “campaign” increased the number of fatalities, it’s also resulted in the disappearance of many safe forms of alcohol from Russia’s shelves, including such things as French wine. And all this while Russians are screeching to high heaven about the evil influence of Georgian vino on Russian society.