THE END OF THE EXILE?
The crackdown on Russian media is a familiar story. Certainly, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and particularly the Washington Post are quick to hurl charges of authoritarianism, autocracy, even Stalinism at the Kremlin and Putin whenever free speech in Russia is threatened. So why haven’t all those influential mainstream newspapers reported on the silencing of Moscow’s English-language alt-newspaper
The eXile was forced to shut down June 11 after a surprise on-site audit by the Russian authorities. There are different theories as to why those authorities moved against the paper at this time. Some believe the crackdown was connected to the newspaper’s regular columnist,
, a radical opposition leader, or to an ongoing clan war in the Kremlin that the paper had been reporting on. But the explanation is less important than the silence of the American media.
Launched in 1997, the tabloid rocked Moscow’s expat community with a mix of gonzo-style journalism, meticulous reporting, hard-hitting political analysis, quirky columns and sophomoric, often scatological humor. There was also a seriousness of purpose. Co-founders
, now a correspondent for Rolling Stone, and
scrutinized and exposed what they saw as inaccurate and ideologically slanted reporting by US correspondents in Moscow, especially their apologias for the misery caused by the US-backed shock-therapy reforms in the Boris Yeltsin years. The eXile‘s annual “Worst Foreign Correspondent in Moscow” contest was dreaded by many–and cheered by a few, including this magazine. (For an example of their keen press criticism, see Taibbi and Ames’s “The Journal‘s Russia Scandal” in the October 4, 1999, issue of The Nation.) The eXile was an equal-opportunity critic, contemptuous as well of US academics who took the same line.
Could the reason for the strange silence of the US press about The eXile‘s fate be that the Moscow paper relentlessly attacked many of these same outlets for adhering to Washington’s line after the end of the Soviet Union? The outcry in other countries is telling. For more than a week, The eXile‘s closing has been a prominent story in Germany’s Der Spiegel, in a leading Dutch magazine and paper, and in 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 he thinks the US mainstream media did not respond quickly. “It doesn’t fit their simple propaganda,” Ames told me. “Putin is an oppressor–except when he oppresses something that the American mainstream media doesn’t approve of either. Americans have proven that it’s not oppression or censorship they oppose–it’s opposition to America that they oppose. We’ve angered most of the Western press corps for eleven straight years by constantly calling them on their hypocrisy and idiocy, so the last thing they want to do is give us an honorable send-off, despite all their pieties about ‘supporting free speech that you disagree with.’ It’s censorship by silence, the most lethal of all, and it really sickens all of us to see it.”