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June 12, 2008

Putin's Propaganda in the Times

In Russia, freedom of speech doesn't really exist. Dissidents are kept from public view and the press corps has been cowed by a spate of mysterious murders. The New York Times recently ran an article on the situation, which apparently now involves the eerily Soviet practice of airbrushing people from TV shows. To put it bluntly, this is some fucked up shit; and while it's hardly surprising, it's certainly worth calling attention to. What the Times did next is a bit odd, however.

Mikhail Delyagin

Critic Mikhail Delyagin was reduced to a pair of legs and a hand after Putin's censors got to work. Courtesy Hany Farid.

Several days later, the paper ran an editorial that referred back to the piece and condemned the Russian government for censorship—rightly so. Weirdly, though, the editorial also included a reference to a comment posted to the article:

"In the Web commentary after Mr. Levy’s article appeared online, quite a few Russians said a free press is unnecessary. One called the idea 'American propaganda.' "

"The Web commentary?" The web commentary (and since when is "web" capitalized?) is a source now? Surely, it occurred to someone at the Times that such comments could be the work of Russian officials seeding pro-government propaganda. There probably are people in Russia who are okay with censorship—but it doesn't exactly seem inconceivable that this comment was planted.

Furthermore, we think the editorial would've worked just fine without any mention of "Web commentary." Sure, a poll of Russian public opinion would have been nice (though perhaps unreliable), but censorship is deplorable in any circumstance.

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