By Michael Averko
Last week, The Moscow Times and the Carnegie Endowment's Andrew Kuchins combined for a bad joke, when the former uncritically cited the latter's "concern" about whether a Russian government funded think tank could be objective (see the second link in this commentary). Mr. Kuchins hails from an organization that became very partisan upon its receipt of a $500,000.00 valued donation from anti-Putin oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Another example of Moscow Times bias was evident in a December 7 article giving legitimacy to a crackpot claim about Russia's national emblem being "too Christian." In that piece, no mention was made of the very pronounced religious symbols found on the flags of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Israel and a host of other countries in Europe and Asia.
I gather that The Moscow Times is feeling some heat for having curtailed the extreme anti-Russian commentary of Pavel Felgenhauer and Yevgenia Albats. It's apparently asking way too much for that news source to have one Russocentric columnist (an endangered species).
This as TMT "liberal" columnists Yulia Latynina and Masha Gessen present themselves as heroic democrats confronting the "Putin regime." A popularly elected presidency consistently having an approval rating of well over 50%. I'm reluctant to categorize Ms. Latynina and Ms. Gessen as "liberal." In my view, they more closely resemble those Cold War era pro-Soviet Polish journalists, whose stated views were the minority of Poland's population. On the matter of "liberal," President Putin can be legitimately classified as one.
According to the Nixon Center's Paul Saunders, an announced plan for a pro-Russian think tank in America involved a clumsy effort on the part of a Berezovsky operative to embarrass the Kremlin. Relative to Mr. Saunders' remarks, the follow-up reply from the involved Kommersant (the newspaper owned by anti-Putin oligarch Boris Berezovsky) journalist wasn't convincing. Stumbling, bumbling buffoonery can't be exclusively attributed to the Russian government.
Actually, the idea for an American situated pro-Russian think tank goes back a few years. Awhile ago, I recall Edward Lozansky writing about this in The Russia Journal. I subscribed to that position right after the USSR broke up.
I participated in an open letter which was signed by a host of others including Dr. Lozansky and Gleb Pavlovsky some months back. Following Anders Aslund's provocative August paper calling for the ouster of the "Putin regime," there was a good deal of behind the scene chatter about my "side" getting better "organized." I often wonder about my "side."
My message now is primarily though not exclusively directed towards Dr. Pavlovsky, who seems to be the leading VIP involved with communicating Russia's image to the English language masses. Start taking into consideration the services of some talented others who you haven't touched base with. Is the sincere interest to improve the media flow being compromised for the benefit of what someone recently described (elsewhere) as "policy wonk groups"?
Feel free to put me in the hot seat and fire away. I can no longer sit quietly on the sidelines as sorties of mistakes and underhanded compromises are made. You'll be surprised on what I know relative to what you're likely unaware of. You could say that I was born into this undertaking. The ideal you're promoting requires knowledgeable individuals who are keenly aware of the misinformation process. Uncorrupted people with backbones looking to take on the "other side" in hard hitting but clean exchanges.
No disrespect to any of you out there, but I don't see anyone as being more on top of the permeating media biases and how to best counteract them. How many experts actually saw the ABC Nightline/Andrei Babitsky feature on Shamil Basayev (refer to Behind Tth ABC-Russian Government Dispute? Likewise with the heavily biased PBS shows - Foreign Exchange, Wide Angle and Charlie Rose. Not to be excluded from legitimate critique is the BBC (see Soviet Style Journalism In The "Free" Press and Personalizing News Issues To Underscore an Agenda.
Hiring someone from a source like CNN can likely go the route of employing a mercenary, otherwise not knowledgeable and loyal to the cause. There's something positive to be said about the mystically stated "Russian soul." You either have it or not. When effectively utilized, it's a very powerful tool in Russia's favor.
Julian Evans' negative articles about Russia Today (the just launched Russian government funded 24/7 worldwide English language television news network) are distressing to me for reasons not having to do with the author's non-sympathy towards faulty English language mass media coverage. In speaking with three reasonably well connected non-RT sources sympathetic to the network's existence, it's clear that there's a certain degree of raw truth in Mr. Evans' commentary.
Mr. Evans has quite a gig going for himself. He appeared at the most recent http://www.russiaprofile.org "Panel of Experts" shortly after having suggested (in one of his articles) that this site is a Russian government organ. Quite an amazing suggestion considering how RIA Novosti gave editing control of that site over to the people involved with The Moscow Times. Russia Profile's overall slant confirms this.
Mr. Evans wasn't the first to state such. This past October, I was flabbergasted when the editor of a prominent English language Russia watching site said that The Washington Post is a credible source and that the Russia Profile Panel of Experts is a little too Russocentric (I'll leave the editor's name out, noting that this was said in a series of e-mail exchanges made known at a site against his/her wishes). Yeah right! RP Panel of Experts Ethan Burger, Donald Jensen, Janusz Bugakski and now Mr. Evans really impress as being "Russocentric." Note how the mentioned editor had no criticism of The Washington Post, which is clearly far more biased against Russia than RP is biased for it (he/she also personally insulted a Russocentric analyst who I'm well acquainted with). Along with the earlier mentioned Moscow Times articles, that editor's comment says it all as to what's wrong with the English language mass media coverage of Russia.
Spare me the bs about being too confrontational. Mr. Evans and others thinking along his lines do likewise on a regular basis. My "side" should be permitted to act accordingly without any fear of becoming politically censored. The monopolization of some views over others and the sub-monopolization of the suppressed views are perfectly valid talking points.
Will Russia Today and the proposed pro-Russian think tank in America get contracted out like Russia Profile? How Russia Screws Itself. An appropriate title for sure.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst whose commentary has appeared in Eurasian Home, Johnson's Russia List, Intelligent.Ru, The Moscow Times, New York Times and Newsday.