In the last few weeks, the New York Times has devoted at least four articles to extolling the opulence of the"new" Russia –especially the orgy of conspicious consumption in today’s Moscow. It’s as if the NYT decided to morph into US Weekly covering the lifestyles of Russia’s rich and greedy. Each article exudes a kind of breathless excitement. "Moscow is renewing itself with a vigor and opulence seen in few other places on the planet….Few cities have sloughed off as much leaden history to reinvent themselves."
There’s the endless and excited recitation of the fact that Russia now has 53 billionaires (aka oligarchs) worth a total of $282 billion.
A recent article, "Not Down and Out in Moscow," devoted some several thousands of words to the city’s annual Millionaire Fair–designed to introduce wealthy Muscovites to foreign luxury brands (Gulfstream jets, diamond-encrusted car grilles, resembling interlinked chain bracelets, for Rolls-Royce Phantoms at $55,000 each) that they may not have encountered on their travel to popular watering holes like Cap Ferrat, Gstaad and Courchevel. This year’s show is estimated to generate about $745 million. (Did the two page coverage of this crass greed-fest have anything to do with the fact that the conference,as disclosed in the article, was sponsored by the International Herald Tribune, which is owned by the New York Times Company?)
Today’s (December 9th) New York Times outdoes itself as the lifestyle paper for the rich. "From Russia With Luxe" offers a guided tour to Moscow’s most obscenely expensive hotels and restaurants. Turandot, the Times tells us, is a lavishly recreated 18th century European gilt palace, complete with servers in period dress–expect a meal for two to cost you over $1000 a head; the new Ritz-Carlton has rooms starting at about $700 a night. Another article, "Rubles, A Girl’s Best Friend," features Russia’s new socialistas….many of whom are the oligarchettes–designer-outfitted wives of the billionaires who benefited from the looting of the country’s assets in the greatest firesale of the 20th century. All of this may be fascinating for the one percent of Russians and Americans who can afford to think about such trips or such social silliness.
Might it not be time for the Times to do a series about how Russia’s middle class, working class or poor are faring? Russia’s inequality has reached staggering heights –and while the Times loves to report about how the country is booming, the paper ignores the many people who still barely get by. The latest Russian government estimates show that as many as 5 million of its people are homeless. The Russian National Center for Living Standards reveals that about 23 million– or 16% of the population– live below the poverty level. (And independent surveys here and in Russia put that number far higher.) Roughly 33% of the country could not afford necessary medical care in 2007, according to the Center for the Study of Public Opinion. And with the scores of opeds and articles about Putin’s assault on democracy, maybe a few of them could have noted that inflation and poverty, according to a recent Russian independent poll, were problems most on voters’ minds in the runup to the December 2 parliamentary elections.
And with all the hyped coverage of the oil and gas boom fueling Russia’s economy, and its fantastically expensive nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and designer clothes stores, maybe one, just one, story about how in a country which controls more than a quarter of the world’s natural gas reserves, could report on how many people still use firewood to heat their homes? Here’s a plea for a few articles in 2008 about the lifestyles of the poor, the near poor, the middle class…others.. besides the richest of the rich?