Douglas Tottle is a Canadian trade-union activist whose 1987 bookFraud, Famine and Fascism may fairly be described as the bible of Holodomor denial; Tottle himself has been called “a sort of guru” to his fellow denialists. The argument set forth in his book is that the whole idea of the forced famine was an invention of the Nazis, designed to discredit Josef Stalin and his benign regime, and that this myth, this lie, was then taken up by Western capitalists, who have kept it alive ever since as just one more chapter in a long history of evil Western propaganda against the Soviet Union. “Both to undermine support of a socialist alternative at home, and to maintain a dominant position in international economic and political relationships,” Tottle wrote in his introduction, “all manner of lies and distortions are employed” by the Western powers that be “to cast the USSR in as negative a light as possible.” Tottle, who had no apparent training or experience in historical research, singled out Robert Conquest for criticism and ridicule, accusing him of producing “anti-communist propaganda,” charging him with an “unswerving anti-communist bias,” and sneering that his “career as an obsessive anti-Soviet historian has spanned two cold wars.”
Tottle’s book, just so you know, was put out by a Communist publishing house, Progress Publishers, and was praised by such reliable authorities as the Stalin Society (yes, there is such a thing) and the Communist Party of Sweden.
We noted yesterday that the timing of Jeff Coplon’s Village Voice article denying the Holodomor and smearing Conquest was less than fortuitous: only a couple of years later, the Iron Curtain came down, the archives were opened, and Conquest was proven right. Tottle’s timing was lousy, too. His book came out in December 1987, and almost simultaneously the head of the Ukrainian Communist party, Volodymyr Shcherbytskyi, publicly acknowledged the reality of the Holodomor. Being a good Communist soldier (and not an objective historian, as he’d presented himself), Tottle bowed to the party line and withdrew his book.
Nonetheless, the book remains available online, and continues to be cited as definitive by any number of apologists for the Soviet Union. Only last year, an official Russian government “news” site, Sputnik News (which has been described by Foreign Policy magazine, the Center for European Policy Analysis, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a Kremlin propaganda outlet), ran an article by Ekaterina Blinova entitled “Holodomor Hoax: The Anatomy of a Lie Invented by West’s Propaganda Machine.” (Blinova makes her point of view crystal clear when she writes of the “bold historical experiment kicked off by Communists” and suggests that Soviet Communism failed only because “it did not comply with the plans of the Western financial and political elite.”)
Among the readers who gave Blinova’s fantastical rewrite of history an enthusiastic thumbs-up in the comments section was Judy Whitehead, a professor of anthropology at University of Lethbridge. “Thanks for this,” she wrote. “The anti-Communist paranoia in the west fueled this hoax. Its mythical nature and its use by Nazi sympathizers should be better known throughout the world.” Whitehead, it turns out, is a fervent supporter of the so-called “antifascist resistance in Ukraine” – in other words, the anti-democratic Putin puppets who seek to deny Ukraine a free and independent future and return it to the status of a Kremlin satellite.
American journalist Liz Wahl, whose grandparents fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising was crushed by the Soviets, worked at the Russian TV network RT America for two years. Her job ended on March 5, 2014, when she quit live on-camera, denouncing her employers for serving up Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Her resignation made headlines; she was widely interviewed. “RT is not about the truth,” she told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “It’s about promoting a Putinist agenda. And I can tell you firsthand, it’s also about bashing America.”
Her action drew predictable condemnation from her ex-bosses at RT America, who called it “a self-promotional stunt.” But that wasn’t all. The far-left website Truthdig.com ran a bizarre attack on Wahl co-authored by fanatical Israel-basher Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Clinton family bagman, consiglieri, and all-around political operative Sidney Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, a freelancer for such unsavory outlets as Al Jazeera America and the anti-Israeli propaganda website Electronic Intifada.
In a staggeringly long article that read as if it had been dictated by Putin himself, Blumenthal and Khalek concocted a conspiracy scenario out of whole cloth, representing Wahl’s resignation not as an act of individual conscience but as a put-up job, orchestrated by a “cadre” of Putin-hating U.S. conservatives, chief among them journalist James Kirchick.
Kirchick had known Wahl for several months. In an interview with her posted at The Daily Beast shortly after her resignation, Kirchick wrote that he’d been aware of her growing ethical concerns about working for RT, and that he’d “encouraged her to follow her conscience in making a decision about her professional future.” Any decent human being who was even glancingly familiar with Kirchick’s record of courageous reporting from world trouble spots and of principled opposition to tyranny everywhere would have no trouble accepting his account at face value.
But Max Blumenthal, as he has already conclusively established, is far from the most decent of human beings. He’s made a career of slandering Israel and exculpating some of its most violent enemies. He’s also, as mentioned, the spawn of master manipulator and spinmeister Sidney (“Sid Vicious”) Blumenthal – the ultimate professional behind-the-scenes creep, the guy who gives pond scum a bad name, the man who was recently described by Reason editor Nick Gillespie as one of those “barely human” characters whose “rottenness ultimately overtakes and deforms whatever humanity they once might have possessed.” For Sidney’s scion, whose own oeuvre so far has demonstrated that he didn’t fall far from the tree, it’s only second nature, when confronted by an act of genuine moral principle on the part of an ideological opponent, to set about depicting it as a low scam, motivated by a lust for power, money, and/or attention. (To be fair, given Max’s family background, it’s fully possible that he’s incapable of believing there is such a thing as an act of genuine moral principle.)
Thus the argument, made at epic length by Blumenthal and Khalek, that Kirchick was behind Wahl’s on-air resignation – and that Kirchick, in turn, was acting as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, motivated not by principle but by an iniquitous desire to rekindle the Cold War. After all, look at Kirchick’s repellent connections: he “worked for part of 2011 out of Prague for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a media network funded by Congress (formerly backed by the CIA) that functions like the American answer to RT in Russian-aligned Eastern European countries.” (This is really all you need to know about Max Blumenthal: he’s the kind of guy who can equate Radio Free Europe with RT.)
But he and Khalek were just warming up. Kirchick, they pointed out, is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is linked to something called FPI, which has ties to something called ECI, among whose advisers is some guy who lobbies for the “U.S.-oriented” (horrors!) Republic of Georgia. Aha! See? Gotcha! Kirchick is opposed to Putin not on principle but because he’s on the Georgian payroll. Blumenthal and Khalek backed up their fairy tale with nasty quotes about Wahl from RT employees, who were risibly presented as reliable sources with “no particular affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin or his policies.”
Kirchick, by the way, wasn’t Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s only target. Also smeared was Rosie Gray, a writer for Buzzfeed, who’d committed the offense of writing a splendid, thoroughgoing exposéof RT entitled “How the Truth Is Made at Russia Today.” Like Kirchick, Gray – whose article on RT was as honest, fact-filled, and solidly reported as Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s was duplicitous and packed with innuendo – was also accused by them of being a Georgian tool.
Seth Mandel, writing in Commentary,summed up Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s piece quite aptly: “a textbook example of character assassination.” Indeed, their article made it crystal clear that Max has learned his father’s lessons well: namely, when you’re facing off against upstanding people who have the truth on their side, get to work misrepresenting the facts, inventing new ones, and throwing mud, confident that even the most outrageous lies, if repeated often enough, will convince at least some of your audience.
Although Blumenthal does, admittedly, devote more of his time to reviling Israel than to vilifying Putin’s enemies, the article he co-wrote with Khalek wasn’t his only effort in this genre. In a February 2014 piece, he faithfully echoed the Kremlin line that the Euromaidan revolution – which, it will be recalled, overthrew a despotic, Russia-friendly oligarch and replaced him with a democratic Western-leaning government – was engineered by fascists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Two months later, in a New York Times op-ed, Polish sociologist Slawomir Sierakowski gave Blumenthal’s vile charges the response they deserved:
True, such people were present at the square, but they were marginal figures, and slogans about ethnic purity never gained popularity. Yes, generally speaking, Ukraine has its skinheads and its anti-Semites and even serial killers, pedophiles and Satanists. They are not present in smaller or larger numbers than in any other country, even in the most mature European state.
None of which truths, needless to say, can be expected to deter Blumenthal in his efforts to serve Putin as loyally as his wily ol’ dad has served the Clintons.
Wahl, by the way, wasn’t the last RT reporter to resign for ethical reasons. Four months later, Sara Firth quit the network, admitting that she and her colleagues “work for Putin” and “are asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth.” And just a few days ago, Konstantin Goldenzweig, the Berlin correspondent of Russia’s state-run domestic news channel, NTV, was fired after criticizing Putin in an interview with a German TV station. Goldenzweig said afterward that he was ashamed of having spread “propaganda,” which, he said, included being forced to report Kremlin-invented “news” that had no basis in fact and that had been concocted to defame Ukraine and its leaders.
Funny how some people are capable of being ashamed – while others make a career out of never feeling any shame whatsoever.
We saw yesterday that the jig is just about up for NYU professor and Putin publicist Stephen F. Cohen. People who have Putin’s number are getting wise to Cohen’s campaign of propaganda – in response to which his fellow members of the Putin fan club have circled the wagons, defending Cohen and smearing his critics. Yesterday we took a look at Paul Craig Roberts, who, in an impressive low, slammed Radio Liberty – on whose website reporter Carl Schreck had examined the increasingly widespread concern about Cohen’s views – at the website of Pravda.
Another Putin apologist whom we’ve mentioned before, Robert Parry, also tore into Schreck, accusing him of relying “on vitriol rather than reason.” This was just plain dishonest: Schreck’s article, to repeat, was a piece of straightforward reportage, which quoted amply from both Cohen and his critics. As for Radio Liberty, Parry sought to discredit it by recalling a thirty-year-old minor controversy over its airing of commentaries by Ukrainian exiles some of whom had “praised Ukrainian nationalists who sided with the Nazis in World War II.” Parry sought to use this historical footnote from the Reagan Era to smear last year’s democratic Maidan Revolution as a largely neo-Nazi project and to depict the current, Western-oriented Ukrainian government as “coz[ying] up to modern-day neo-Nazis.” In Parry’s account, Cohen is only telling the plain and simple truth about Russia and Putin; any criticisms of Cohen’s views on the subject, however consistent those criticisms may be with the actual facts of the matter, are “ad hominem attacks”; Cohen, insists Parry, is the chief victim of “a new McCarthyism” in America that questions “the patriotism of anyone who doesn’t get in line” as the U.S. pursues a “new Cold War with Russia.”
All these claims, of course, are part of the standard pro-Putin line, one of the sharpest observers of which is no-nonsense American journalist James Kirchick – who noted wryly, in a savvy article published by the Tablet on May 13, that Russia is moving “from having fought real Fascists 70 years ago in Germany to imaginary ones today in Ukraine.” The Kremlin’s resuscitation of wartime anti-fascist rhetoric, Kirchick points out, “provides Russians with an easy framework in which to understand their current political predicament,” even though “if there’s any regime in Europe today that resembles a ‘fascist’ one, it is Russia.” Kirchick elaborates:
Like the Nazis, Russia has invaded a neighbor based on the principle of ethnic comradeship, is targeting a vulnerable domestic minority (homosexuals) with state-sanctioned bigotry, and officially labels any and all dissenters “national traitors.” As Moscow relives its glorious past, monopolizing the heroism of World War II and slandering its contemporary adversaries as latter-day Nazis, it inches closer and closer toward becoming the sort of fascist regime its forebears once fought against.
Precisely. And useful stooges such as Stephen F. Cohen, Paul Craig Roberts, and Robert Parry are defending its reprehensible actions every inch of the way.
It’s a pleasure to report that in recent weeks, awareness of Professor Stephen F. Cohen‘s role as an ardent Putin apologist seems to have risen, at least in certain circles. In an April 28 New York Times op-ed, Polish sociologist Slawomir Sierakowski slammed Cohen’s view that Ukraine is part of Russia’s sphere of influence, pointing out that Cohen
overlooks the question of whether the countries that fall within [that sphere] are there by choice or coercion. Ukraine is willing to be in the Western sphere of influence because it receives support for civil society, the economy and national defense — and Russia does nothing of the kind.
Also, added Sierakowski, “Cohen and others don’t just defend Russia; they attack the pro-democracy activists in Ukraine.”
A week later, at the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Carl Schreck weighed in, noting that “[e]ven respected Russia specialists who, like Cohen, advocate for a U.S.-Russian relationship based on realism say Cohen is essentially defending the Kremlin’s agenda in the West.” Schreck quoted Lynn Lubamersky, an associate professor of history at Boise State University, as calling Cohen “a mouthpiece for a mass murderer.”
Schreck also cited a recent debate with Garry Kasparov and Anne Applebaum – two of the sharpest and best-informed critics of Putin’s Russia alive today – at which Cohen had “accused the West of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin with NATO expansion, stoking potential war with Moscow, and failing to acknowledge its responsibility for what has happened in Ukraine in the last 15 months” – a line of argument, Schreck pointed out, that largely “dovetailed with a narrative pushed by the Kremlin, which portrays its seizure of Crimea as a response to Western meddling in Ukraine.” Denying in an interview with Schreck that he’s a fan of Putin, Cohen insisted that, on the contrary, he’s a “patriot of American national security,” while those who criticize him – including, apparently, Kasparov and Applebaum – are not.
A key point about Schreck’s piece is that he didn’t attack Cohen – not in the slightest. He reported on the plain fact that many people, including a number of Cohen’s fellow Russia experts, consider the guy a Putin apologist; also, Schreck interviewed Cohen, got his side of the story, and presented it at considerable length – and with apparent fairness. This is called proper journalistic conduct. But it was too much for economist Paul Craig Roberts, who savaged Schreck – and Radio Liberty – at the website of Pravda, itself an institution not widely known for its fealty to proper journalistic conduct.
As we’ve discussed previously, Roberts, a former Wall Street Journal editor and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, has become “a hard-core propagandist” for Putin, “serving up breathtaking, bald-faced claims that are almost always the very antithesis of the truth.” At the Pravda site, Roberts rechristened Radio Liberty as “Radio Gestapo Amerika” and accused it of attacking “distinguished Americans who are known and respected for their allegiance to the truth.” In addition to calling Schreck a “propagandist” for “Washington’s agendas,” Roberts took on Lubamersky, denying her charge that Putin is a mass murderer and adding that “[t]he mass murderers of our time are George W. Bush and Obama, and clearly Cohen is not a mouthpiece for them.”
Another Putin apologist whom we’ve mentioned before, Robert Parry, also tore into Schreck. We’ll look at him tomorrow.