The crackdown on Russian media is afamiliar story. Certainly, the New York Times, the Wall StreetJournal and particularly the Washington Post are quick tohurl charges of authoritarianism, autocracy, even Stalinism at theKremlin and Putin whenever free speech in Russia is threatened. So whyhaven’t all those influential mainstream newspapers reported on thesilencing of Moscow’s English-language alt-newspaper The eXile?
The eXile was forced to shut down June 11 after a surpriseon-site audit by the Russian authorities. There are different theoriesas to why those authorities moved against the paper at this time. Somebelieve the crackdown was connected to the newspaper’s regularcolumnist, Eduard Limonov, a radical opposition leader, or to anongoing clan war in the Kremlin that the paper had been reporting on.But the explanation is less important than the silence of the Americanmedia.
Launched in 1997, the tabloid rocked Moscow’s expat community with a mixof gonzo-style journalism, meticulous reporting, hard-hitting politicalanalysis, quirky columns and sophomoric, often scatological humor. Therewas also a seriousness of purpose. Co-founders Matt Taibbi, now acorrespondent for Rolling Stone, and Mark Ames scrutinizedand exposed what they saw as inaccurate and ideologically slantedreporting by US correspondents in Moscow, especially their apologias forthe misery caused by the US-backed shock-therapy reforms in the BorisYeltsin years. The eXile‘s annual "Worst Foreign Correspondent inMoscow" contest was dreaded by many–and cheered by a few, includingthis magazine. (For an example of their keen press criticism, see Taibbiand Ames’s "The Journal‘s Russia Scandal" in the October 4, 1999,issue of The Nation.) The eXile was anequal-opportunity critic, contemptuous as well of US academics who tookthe same line.
Could the reason for the strange silence of the US press about TheeXile‘s fate be that the Moscow paper relentlessly attacked many ofthese same outlets for adhering to Washington’s line after the end ofthe Soviet Union? The outcry in other countries is telling. For morethan a week, The eXile‘s closing has been a prominent story inGermany’s Der Spiegel, in a leading Dutch magazine and paper, andin one of Hungary’s daily papers. It has even been reported in Russia’s"unfree" media.
I asked Ames, The eXile‘s chief editor in recent years, why hethinks the US mainstream media did not respond quickly. "It doesn’t fittheir simple propaganda," Ames told me. "Putin is an oppressor–exceptwhen he oppresses something that the American mainstream media doesn’tapprove of either. Americans have proven that it’s not oppression orcensorship they oppose–it’s opposition to America that they oppose.We’ve angered most of the Western press corps for eleven straight yearsby constantly calling them on their hypocrisy and idiocy, so the lastthing they want to do is give us an honorable send-off, despite alltheir pieties about ‘supporting free speech that you disagree with.’It’s censorship by silence, the most lethal of all, and it reallysickens all of us to see it."
The day we went to press, the Wall Street Journal finally ran astory about The eXile‘s closing. Meanwhile, abandoned by almostall of their fellow American journalists, the eXile editors havelaunched a fundraiser on their website in an effort to keepan online edition afloat.