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For war journalist Scott Anderson, the most confounding part of his recent assignment for GQ magazine to explore the root of terrorist acts in Russia a decade ago wasn't the suggestion of treachery and subterfuge he found.
It was the reception his story ultimately received in the United States.
His investigative piece, published in the September American edition of GQ, challenges the official line on a series of bombings that killed hundreds of people in 1999 in Russia. It profiles a former KGB agent who spoke in great detail and on the record, at no small risk to himself. But instead of trumpeting his reporting, GQ's corporate owners went to extraordinary lengths to try to ensure no Russians will ever see it...
Conde Nast owns Vanity Fair and GQ as well as other publications, including Russian versions of GQ, Glamour, Tatler and Vogue. On July 23, Jerry S. Birenz, one of the company’s top lawyers, sent an e-mail memo to more than a dozen corporate executives and GQ editors.
“Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ magazine containing Scott Anderson’s article ‘Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power’ should not be distributed in Russia,”
The bombings were officially blamed on Chechen terrorists but over the years lots of evidence has surfaced pointing to some involvement by the Russian security agencies. A number of people who investigated those bombings, including journalist/deputy Yuri Schekochikhin and his journalist colleague Anna Politkovskaya, have since been murdered, although no direct connection has ever been drawn between the two.
The evidence pointing to FSB involvement in those bombings was always intriguing. The most compelling revolved around a bomb found in the basement of a building in Ryazan that was found to have been placed there by the FSB, which later dismissed the incident as a “training exercise.” Anderson’s story pushes this theory forward with an interview of former KGB agent Mikhail Trepashkin, who investigated the case and claimed to have evidence of FSB involvement. However Trepashkin was arrested just days before he was scheduled to give evidence in a trial related to the bombings. He ended up being convicted of disclosing state secrets.
Scott Anderson is a pretty accomplished journalist and author. You can read some of his stuff here and here, and read a profile here. So why, after he spent months researching and writing an article on Russia entitled "Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power," would the magazine that commissioned the piece work so hard to bury it and prevent its distribution to Russia and the internet? That's exactly what has happened with GQ, as observers speculate that Anderson's questioning of the official story on the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow has caused the corporate brass to go running toward self-censorship to avoid risking their publishing business in a major market.
In our opinion, this kind of conduct by a media outlet poses just as much of a threat to the freedom of the press and freedom of speech as do death threats, government interference, or even shootings. We've seen self-censorship in action in Guatemala, in Central Asia, and various African countries, where a newspaper simply can't afford to publish certain information as it would result in a total advertising boycott, endless regulatory inspections, or crippling frivolous lawsuits. The fact that GQ has buried this article is a testament to how much control the Kremlin wields over the civil bureaucracy (such as taxes, fire safety, etc.) to use these offices as blunt weapons.
We're grateful to reader A.M. for bringing this NPR article about GQ's Russia experience to our attention. Please, please, please, can someone dig up the text of Anderson's article and get it on the internet? If not, you will have to wait until next week for me to do it when I get home. Excerpts from NPR after the cut.
The idea that information can be sequestered at a time when people can communicate instantly across oceans and continents may seem quaint. But in this instance, Conde Nast sought, against technology, logic and the thrust of its own article, to show deference in the presence of power.
Lawyers, executives and editors at Conde Nast and GQ did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week, and a spokesman ultimately declined on their behalf. But NPR has spoken to several people knowledgeable about the handling of Anderson's piece. No issues have been raised to date about the article's accuracy.
"The idea that information can be sequestered at a time when people can communicate instantly across oceans and continents may seem quaint. But in this instance, Conde Nast sought, against technology, logic and the thrust of its own article, to show deference in the presence of power."
According to a recent Freedom House count, 16 journalists have been killed since Putin came to power, with only one case solved. Probably the highest-profile death was that of Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta reporter who wrote articles on Chechnya and the book "Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy."
Originally posted by RoofMonkey
17 Sep 1999 - Apartment Building in Volgodonsk blows up, killing 17. Three days after it was announced in the Duma
Even if you put Condé Nast's actions in the most favorable light, as you do, it doesn't explain why they not only sought to keep the story out of Russia but also sought to bury it in the U.S.
Condé never wanted to publish it in Russia. There's already scads of articles about it in more prestigious publications that are better researched and make a better case. It merely wanted to keep things quiet that it published an article implicating Putin in a conspiracy that resulted in mass murder from Russian business and governmental leaders. In any case, the bigger the controversy, the better the chances that people abroad -- and most certainly, the Russian diaspora -- will look at this strange episode again.
So, instead of us using the internet to promote democracy for Russia, we should let Putin use it to extend his dictatorship to us, because - all we care about is making a buck, and he has a whole bunch of them.
So, what's the difference between the capitalism and the communism again? Which one censors the free press?
Gawker should probably buy a Geiger counter if it's planning on going out for sushi anytime soon.
But the growing fuss about the article will inevitably create a lot of negative publicity for Putin in the West. I bet that if Conde Nast didn't pull the plug on the article, few of us in the US or Western Europe would have even noticed it. After all, debating the causes of terrorism in Russia circa 1999 is not particularly relevant today; that GQ story was at least five years overdue. Today, however, thanks to accusations of self-censorship as well as Conde Nast's potential dependance on Russian advertising revenue, this story will travel very far.
This begs the question: was there any other way to discredit Putin more effectively than to ban an otherwise very obscure piece?
Google Video Link
Originally posted by kosmicjack
reply to post by UmbraSumus
I'm watching this now. The sheer number of official inconsistencies and back-peddling is unbelievable. I'm sure the local FSB investigators still watch their backs.
The main question I have so far is - If there has been this amount of coverage and debate of this incident in Russia, as portrayed in the video, then why bury a story 10 years later?
What is really going on here?