We’ve seen in the last couple of days that beloved actor Ed Asner is a hard-line socialist – if not an out-and-out Communist – and a champion of the Castro regime in Cuba.
Castro isn’t the only guy Asner has stood up for. As Mark Tapson noted in a 2012 article, Asner is one of those celebrities who seem drawn to murderers (especially cop-killers):
Asner testified as a character witness for accused cop killer Kenneth Gay and has spoken out publicly on numerous occasions protesting the death sentence of the celebrity set’s favorite cop-killer, Mumia Abu Jamal. Asner was also a member of the International Committee to Free Geronimo Pratt of the vile Black Panther Party, arrested in 1970 for murdering a Los Angeles schoolteacher.
Asner also embraces the crudest kind of socialist economics. In 2012, he narrated Tax the Rich, a brief propaganda video for children created by the California Federation of Teachers. “You have to see this outrageous and amateurishly animated video,” wrote Tapson,
to believe just how blatant and exaggerated is its class warfare propaganda. It’s shot through with the Occupy movement’s language about the decent 99 percent versus the insanely greedy 1 percent. It asserts that the heartless rich (all white men, of course, as opposed to the diverse commoners) became wealthy through tax loopholes, tax cuts and tax evasion; they are blamed for causing the decline of public services and crashing the economy, for buying politicians and suppressing votes, and for controlling the media which then hypnotizes the people into believing there is no alternative to capitalism.
The video, intended for the brainwashing of young minds in the classrooms of California and written by a staffer who, as of 2011, earned $139,800 a year, occasioned the following criticism by political commentator Tucker Carlson: “There’s really no overstating how dumb this is. The idea that there are any California teachers currently in classrooms in charge of children who agree with that, is horrifying.”
Amusingly, however, in 2013, when asked by an interviewer for Russia Today whether he had any concerns about the discrepancy between the salaries of “top Hollywood actors” and those of, say, nurses and schoolteachers, Asner said: “Hollywood actors are at least putting out some semblance of beauty or style or acting. I think it’s unfair to list them as part of the one percent.” The rules, in short, apply to corporate executives and the like, but not to me and my fellow TV and movie stars.
As if all this weren’t enough, Asner is, in addition, an outspoken 9/11 Truther. In a video taped for a 2004 Truther conference in Toronto, he called into question the responsibility of Osama bin Laden and suggested that members of the U.S. government had been behind the atrocity. In the above-mentioned interview with Russia Today, he repeated his charge that the official story of 9/11 was a lie. In his opening remarks at a 2007 Truther “symposium,” he referred to the U.S. as a “so-called democracy” and to the atrocity itself as “so-called terrorism.” He narrated a Truther documentary, “Solving the Mystery of Building 7.” And in 2012, along with several other actors (among them Woody Harrelson and Martin Sheen), he called for a new investigation of 9/11 and announced his participation in a planned feature film entitled Confession of a 9/11 Conspirator (the title was later changed to September Morn), which, Asner promised, would show that “Al-Qaeda couldn’t have done it.” This project soon fell apart as a result of angry disputes, with participants telling different stories about what had happened.
This week, we’ve been pondering the transformation of former Czech president Václav Klaus from a “champion of liberty” (to quote the head of the Cato Institute) into an apologist for Vladimir Putin. Many of Klaus’s former admirers have been dismayed by his seemingly inexplicable metamorphosis. One person who’s perfectly happy, however, is Neil Clark, a British journalist who’s written for many of that country’s major newspapers and political journals, including The Guardian, The Express, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, and The Spectator. He’s also, not irrelevantly, a regular talking head on Russia Today.
In September of last year, The Spectator ran an admiring profile of Klaus by Clark, who called him “possibly the West’s last truly outspoken leader.” Forget the fact that Klaus’s star has dimmed in many quarters: Clark insisted that his outspokenness “doesn’t seem to have done him much harm in the popularity stakes.” As for Klaus’s current opinions, Clark liked what he heard: “Listen to Klaus in full flow on the absurdities of the EU and it’s hard to think why any sane individual — on left or right — would want their country to stay in it.”
But what about Ukraine? Klaus did mention to Clark his “reservations…about the Ukrainian crisis,” but Clark didn’t probe further. Instead, Clark readily agreed with Klaus that the discomfort some people in the West feel over Klaus’s Ukraine “reservations” is a “worrying trend,” a threat to Western freedom. This statement made no sense whatsoever, and Clark didn’t make any effort to explain what he meant.
“It’s hard not to wish him well,” Clark said in closing, calling Klaus a “conviction politician” – a “throwback to the days when our leaders did stand for something and weren’t afraid to speak their minds.” It didn’t seem to bother Clark at all that Klaus’s chief conviction, these days, is a slobbering loyalty to the thug of the Kremlin.
Which might be puzzling, if you didn’t know anything about Clark’s own politics. Not only is he a useful stooge; he seems to be doing his level best to become the #1 useful stooge of our time. In a November article for Russia Today’s website that read like something out of The Onion, he spoke up for what he called “the unpeople” – whom he defined as “human beings whose views don’t matter to Western Democrats.” Among those who fall into this category, he explained, are the following – and we quote:
* The millions of Syrians – perhaps a majority – who support their government, or at least regard it as preferable to the alternatives.
* Iranians who voted for Ahmadinejad in the 2009 Presidential election.
* Belarusians who support President Lukashenko.
* Libyans who did not support the violent NATO-backed “revolution” against Muammar Gaddafi.
* People who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe and who thought there were positive aspects of life under communism.
* Ukrainian citizens who did not support “EuroMaidan.”
* Venezuelans who voted for Chavez and Maduro.
* Russians who support United Russia or the Communist Party.
Get it? Supporters of tyranny and totalitarianism are today’s victims of intolerance. Clark explains:
A belief in democracy should mean respecting the idea that all peoples’ views are equal. However, that’s not the way it works in today’s so-called “democracy.” Today, those who have the wrong views (i.e. views which don’t align with the interests of Western elites) are treated as if they don’t exist.
That’s a pretty interesting conception of democracy – that it obliges one to equate democratic ideas with non-democratic ones, such as Communism, Nazism, Juche thought, Baathism, jihadism, you name it. Speaking of Juche thought, how did Clark manage to leave enthusiasts for the North Korean regime out of his list of those who’ve been cruelly disrespected by Western democrats? How about the folks who cheered ISIS’s terror attacks in Paris? Aren’t they victims, too?
Given his eagerness to defend supporters of the worst thugs on the planet, and his enthusiasm for the pro-Putin Václav Klaus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when Václav Havel died four years ago, Clark rushed into print with a repulsive attack on that hero of freedom:
Havel’s anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women’s rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.
Cristina Odone, replying to Clark in the Telegraph, put it perfectly: “Havel above all would have enjoyed the irony that Clark, with his maverick views and pleasure in the sound of his own voice, would have been among the first to be taken out and shot (or maybe locked up in a mental institution) by the Soviet regimes he’s now an apologist for.”
Or, at one reader commented succinctly at Clark’s vile blog: “You really are a buffoon.”
On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: Britain’s new Labour Party leader.
There’s a lot that can be said about Jeremy Corbyn, the politician from Islington whose recent ascent to the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party has sparked (to put it mildly) immense controversy. After his election to the top post on September 12, he proudly belted out “The Red Flag” – a dusty old Commie tune, long popular among politically active and revolutionary-minded workers, that Tony Blair and New Labour tried to shelve back in the 1990s because of its radical-left associations – but, attending a Battle of Britain memorial service shortly after his election, Corbyn famously refused to sing “God Save the Queen.” The Economist, in a commentary headlined “Backwards, comrades!”, called his rise to power “a grave misfortune” for Britain; Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice, wrote that if Corbyn were to become Prime Minister, it would represent “a direct threat to the security of our country, the security of our economy and the security of every family….The country would face economic chaos.”
That’s not all. He’s also a big Putin fan. An August 12 headline at the International Business Times website didn’t pull punches: “Is Jeremy Corbyn Putin’s latest ‘useful idiot’ in Europe?” Reporter Tom Porter noted that Corbyn, writing in March 2014, had “oppose[d] providing Ukraine with military support in the wake of the Maidan revolution, and echoe[d] Russian claims that it was Nato scheming that lay at the heart of the crisis.” In comments that might have been written by Putin himself, Corbyn complained that Ukraine had been “put under enormous pressure to come into the EU and Nato military orbit” and sought to paint the Maidan revolution as “far-right and racist.” Instead of acknowledging Putin’s own saber-rattling, Corbyn acted as if NATO was the aggressor: “Nato has sought to expand since the end of the Cold War. It has increased its military capability and expenditure. It operates way beyond its original 1948 area and its attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”
“To any viewers of Kremlin-owned news and propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT),” observed Porter dryly, “these views will be familiar.” Indeed, as Porter pointed out, “Corbyn has appeared as a guest on RT, and in a tweet urged followers to watch the station, arguing it provides a more ‘objective’ coverage of world affairs than Western media.” A few days before Porter’s column came out, Anne Applebaum, the brilliant historian of Soviet Communism and author of the sobering and meticulous Gulag: A History,said straight-out that Corbyn is a useful idiot, “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by Nato, rather than by the ‘separatists’ who have invaded eastern Ukraine and are paid, trained and organised by Russia itself.”
Journalist James Bloodworth agreed, describing Corbyn as “remarkably good at proffering apologetics for dictatorship and tyranny,” including that of Vladimir Putin. Writing in the Telegraph, also in August, political editor Michael Wilkinson and Russia correspondent Roland Oliphant quoted Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, who is “considered very close to the Russian foreign ministry,” as saying that “Russia would certainly be pleased to see [Corbyn] as the head of either major party.”
Indeed, after Corbyn’s election, this remarkable sentence appeared in the Huffington Post: “The Russian embassy has given Jeremy Corbyn its support amid the Conservative Party attacking the new Labour leader over being a threat to national security.” Does one laugh or cry?
On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: the grand poobah of auto racing.
He’s 83, he’s worth over $8 billion, and he’s the head of the Formula One Group, which manages Formula One racing. He’s also a fan – and buddy – of Vladimir Putin.
Speaking last fall to a reporter for a Russian newspaper, British tycoon Bernie Ecclestonecalled the Kremlin leader “a first-class person,” saying “I always supported him.” In the same interview, Ecclestone also made the bemusing statement that Putin “could control Europe or America; he is able to deal with it. But I think he is very busy. Let him finish what he’s doing and then we’ll see.”
That wasn’t the first time Ecclestone had praised Putin. “I’ve great admiration for him and his courage to say what he says,” Ecclestone said in a CNN interview in February of last year. He singled out for special approbation Putin’s hostility to gay people, his view that children should not be exposed to gays (or to any non-condemnatory mention of them), and his public warning to gay athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics last year that they should stay away from children while on Russian soil. “I completely agree with those sentiments,” Ecclestone told CNN, “and if you took a world census you’d find 90 per cent of the world agree with it as well.” Such views, he added, “may upset a few people but that’s how the world is. It’s how he sees [the world] and I think he’s completely right.”
As a member of Bernie Ecclestone’s pantheon of heroes, Putin is in interesting company. Among Ecclestone’s other idols (and chums) is Max Mosley, son of the notorious Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), founder of the British Union of Fascists and himself a close pal of Joseph Goebbels, at whose home in Berlin Mosley married his second wife, Diana Guinness, in 1936. (Among the wedding guests was Adolf Hitler himself.) Years ago, Ecclestone suggested that the younger Mosley – who started his career as a political associate of his dad’s and who for 16 years ran Formula One’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile – would make a great prime minister for Britain; auto exec Alan Curtis told the Conservatives in 2005 that if they could find a safe parliamentary seat for Mosley, Ecclestone would pour cash into the party. (Asked about this seven years later, Curtis affirmed: “Bernie would always support whatever Max did.”)
But Ecclestone’s enthusiasm for Mosley is small potatoes compared to his 2009 comments about Hitler. In an interview with the London Times, Ecclestone expressed admiration for the Führer’s leadership skills – his ability to “get things done,” which, in Ecclestone’s opinion, made him a considerably more effective politician than, say, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. “I prefer strong leaders,” he explained. Among those who called for Ecclestone’s resignation was World Jewish Congress (WJC) president Ronald Lauder – in response to which Ecclestone suggested that the WJC, rather than criticizing him, should have “sort[ed] the banks out” (his point, he explained, being that Jews “have a lot of influence” in that sector).
But back to Putin. Ecclestone first met him in February 2013 in Sochi, when Russia was preparing to host its first Grand Prix there. (The Kremlin now pays Formula One a $47 million yearly fee to hold a Grand Prix within its borders.) The two men forged a friendship, and Putin invited Ecclestone to attend the February 2014 Sochi Olympics as his personal guest. After Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014, apparently by Russian or pro-Russian troops, Ecclestone came under intense pressure to cancel the Sochi Grand Prix, which was scheduled for the following October. But he stood firm, saying: “I don’t see any problem with going. We are not involved in politics.”
In the end, Ecclestone professed to be so thrilled with the way the Sochi race turned out that in December he presented his Russian colleagues with the Race Promoters Trophy, which is given annually to the organizers of the year’s best Formula One Grand Prix. At the awards ceremony, Ecclestone showered Putin with even more accolades. “Ignore all this nonsense from America and Europe,” he advised Russia Today. “It would be very nice to have him running Europe. He knows what he’s doing. He is positive and in the end he will succeed because I think all these silly things like these sanctions are completely[,] utterly wrong.”
It’s only been a few days since we finished up our three-parter on the Rosenbergs, but we’ve got to return to them today because New York City’s City Council has done something truly remarkable. On Monday, September 29, which would have been Ethel Rosenberg’s 100th birthday, the City Council issued an official proclamation honoring her “life and memory,” praising her “bravery,” and describing her as having been “wrongfully” executed. The man behind this initiative was Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who represents the neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, and Woodside in Queens. At the same time, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also a Democrat, issued a separate proclamation, declaring September 29 the “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”
The putative reason for this official tribute to Ethel Rosenberg is that she was a pro-union activist who took part in a 1935 strike. But the real reason, which neither Dromm and Brewer sought to disguise in their remarks at a public ceremony outside City Hall, was to portray both Rosenbergs, in time-honored fashion, as innocent victims of American anti-communist hysteria.
When the Rosenbergs were executed, said Dromm, “it was a time of Jew-baiting, it was a time of McCarthyism, a time of anti-Communist hysteria.” These are familiar words. For certain people on the left, even all these decades later, it’s McCarthyism, not Stalinism, that was the real horror of the early postwar years. They still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless “hysteria.”
Then there’s Dromm’s reference to “Jew-baiting,” which is, of course, a total diversion. The Rosenbergs weren’t targeted because they were Jews; they were arrested, prosecuted, and executed because they were consciously betraying their country, and threatening its security, on behalf of a totalitarian enemy.
Fortunately, some savvy observers called Dromm and Brewer out on their reprehensible actions. “In these days of progressive ascendancy in New York,” wrote Seth Barron the other day in City Journal, “the Left is in charge, and thus responsible for the humdrum management of trash pickup and school curricula. But that stuff is boring when you’ve been raised on the mythos of class struggle and the glory of violent martyrdom. Today’s leftist leaders can’t help but be wistful for a time when their side was losing and their fight was noble. They cherish the ideals of their revolutionary forebears because it makes them feel like warriors for the oppressed.”
The editors of the New York Post were disgusted, too. The City Council, they charged, had “yet again proved itself one of New York’s biggest political embarrassments.” The City Hall ceremony, they aptly put it, was “the latest installment in the left’s decades-long drive to pretend Ethel and her husband Julius didn’t spy for Moscow.”
But Dromm and Brewer weren’t alone in celebrating the Rosenbergs – and condemning their executioners. At Raw Story, Katie Halper, a contributor to such outlets as The Nation, MSNBC, Jezebel, and Russia Today, rhapsodized over Julius and Ethel and confessed that Ethel’s farewell letter to her sons had made her “cry on live radio.” This is the famous letter in which Ethel lied to her kids, insisting that she and their father were innocent and perversely representing their devotion to Stalin as a commitment to “freedom.” The City Hall ceremony was attended by members of the Rosenberg family, including the traitors’ granddaughter Rachel and her seven-year-old daughter. “The execution left two children orphaned,” we were solemnly reminded at the ceremony. But it wasn’t the fault of America that those two boys grew up without parents; Julius and Ethel made the conscious choice to put their allegiance to a monstrous, bloodthirsty tyrant above their duty to their children.
Yesterday we started looking at Chris Hedges, a journalist and commentator who is a hero on the radical left – and, above all, a hero in his own mind. He routinely describes the U.S. as a totalitarian power, and routinely represents himself as a courageous truth-teller about that totalitarian power.
But that’s not all. When he’s not depicting the U.S. as a dictatorship, he’s celebrating the real tyrannies.Get a load of this, from last February:
We have a renaissance in Latin America taking place that is extremely exciting. Nations like Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador.…Venezuela has spearheaded Latin America’s emergence from literally centuries of subordination to the U.S. regarding media, economic policies, culture, and international relations. That alone is a killable offense in the eyes of Washington.
Like other critics of his persuasion – and other writers in The Nation‘s stable – Hedges has in recent years become a fixture on RT (Russia Today), the Kremlin-owned TV network, where he reliably bashes the U.S. and Israel (and what he describes as their lapdog mainstream news media) and stands up for assorted terrorists and tyrants. Appearing on RT last November, he describedfreedom of the press in the U.S. as a myth – quite a claim to be making on a TV network run by a government that orders hits on opposition journalists.
And this past January, rejecting the claim that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was an act of jihad, he argued that the atrocity had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, but was, rather, an understandable response by “the global dispossessed” to a life of “poverty, aimlessness, and despair” that is the fault of the wealthy and privileged people of the Western world.
Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons about Islam, Hedges insisted, were not brave free-speech acts carried out in defiance of acts of terrorism, but were inexcusable assaults on the poorest and most helpless people in France; the murdered cartoonists had been mocking the only thing that oppressed and brutalized Muslims have to cling to, namely their religion, and the Muslims had responded in the only way they had available to them. “When everybody is chanting ‘Je suis Charlie Hebdo,’” Hedges maintained, “what they’re really chanting is, you know, ‘We can’t stand dirty Arabs.’” (For good measure, he also called the killing of Osama bin Laden a “war crime.”)
But Hedges’s way-out-there views aren’t the worst thing about him. We’ll get around to that in our next installment.
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.
James Kirchick, writing in the DailyBeast last year, called him “perhaps the most infamous American apologist for the Russian government.” Eschewing the word “perhaps,” Jonathan Chait of New York magazine identified him as “[t]he most prominent intellectual apologist for Putin.” And Cathy Young of Slate called him “the Kremlin’s No. 1 American apologist.”
We’re talking – again – about Stephen F. Cohen, America’s highest-profile Russia “expert.” He’s vigorously rejected his critics’ characterizations of him, insisting: “I am the only American patriot.” He’s made a career of labeling those who don’t share his take on Russia as ignoramuses and/or liars, but these days he’s gotten into the habit of expressing righteous outrage at those lesser beings who now dare to put him down for his outrageously Putin-friendly views. To criticize him on such grounds, he says, is “scurrilous” and “defamatory.” His critics, he declares, are “neo-McCarthyites” who “are trying to stifle democratic debate by stigmatizing” him. And yet, himself using a McCarthyite term, he’s argued that it’s “un-American” for his critics to challenge his pro-Putin statements as robustly as they have; such intense criticism, he says, is “a form of censorship.”
Funny that a guy who defends Putin – who engages in real censorship, to the point of having his critics beaten up, imprisoned, tortured, and killed – should accuse other folks of censorship just because they don’t share his perverse admiration for this tyrant.
Funny, too, that a radical leftist who used to shill for the USSR should become an equally fervent apologist for Putin – a man who, despite his KGB history, is usually categorized as a right-wing nationalist. Or maybe not so funny? After all, the Kremlin is still the Kremlin. No, Moscow’s corridors of power may no longer be decorated with portraits of Marx and Engels and Lenin, but, hey, you can’t have everything.
Think of it this way: for Cohen, this whole business isn’t just about Russia. It’s also very much about America. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that, in the eyes of far-left types like Cohen, the fall of the Soviet Union wasn’t a blessing but a disaster – because it made America the world’s sole superpower. We’re talking here about people who, quite simply, don’t view America as a benign force in the world. They’re eager to see America contained, humbled, kept in check. And the simple fact is that an aggressive, autocratic, nationalistic Russia can do that just as well as an aggressive, autocratic, Communist USSR.
Indeed, to listen to Cohen, it’s America, not Putin’s Russia, that is the real aggressor in this match-up. Take the Magnitsky Act of 2012, which denies U.S. visas to Russian officials responsible for the 2009 death of human-rights lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The law passed both houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama. Human-rights groups around the world praised the law, as did pro-democracy activists in Russia; polls showed that most Russians supported it, too. But Cohen savaged the act, calling it “a very harsh Cold War law,” and even signed a statement denouncing it.
Or consider his take on NATO – a classic case of through-the-looking-glass thinking. Consistently, Cohen speaks of NATO as a brutal threat – not a defense against a brutal threat. Putin’s saber-rattling in Eastern Europe is understandable, Cohen argues, because “twenty years of NATO’s eastward expansion has caused Russia to feel cornered.” He ignores entirely the fact that if Russia were a genuinely free country with no belligerent international ambitions, it wouldn’t perceive NATO expansion as a threat; on the contrary, a truly free Russia could itself be a member of NATO.
But then again, just as in the Cold War days, the word “freedom” is barely in Cohen’s vocabulary. He actually told an RT interviewer that the U.S. has, in effect, said to NATO members in Eastern Europe that they “can punch Russia in the nose and hide behind NATO.” In other words, Cohen has the nerve to depict countries like Estonia and the Czech Republic – which for decades were subjugated and brutalized by Moscow – as anti-Russian aggressors. And he talks as if NATO had forced itself on these countries, rather than being invited and gratefully welcomed by them as a bulwark of their freedoms.
It’s bizarre: Cohen endlessly asserts Russia’s right to act in its own national interest, but he seems not to recognize the right of any former Soviet republic or satellite to its own national interest. If Poland or Ukraine or Latvia perceives Putin’s Russia as a threat to its freedom and sovereignty, why shouldn’t it be allowed to do whatever it feels is necessary in its own defense – including join NATO?
For a long time, Cohen’s routine answer to this question was simple and confident: Putin, he averred, doesn’t represent a threat to any of his neighbors. In speech after speech and interview after interview, Cohen contended it was “ridiculous” to think Putin would make a military move into Ukraine or Poland or the Baltics.
Then Putin invaded Ukraine.
Yet even that invasion didn’t silence Cohen. He continued to treat the liberation of the Eastern European and Baltic nations a quarter-century ago – and the aspiration of their citizens to become full members of the Free World – as offenses against Russia by an aggressive U.S. Clearly, the very concept of a “Free World,” or of its opposite, is off Cohen’s radar. For him, none of this is about freedom or tyranny – it’s about spheres of influence. Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union for most of the twentieth century; it’s been an independent country for just over a couple of decades; ipso facto, it’s a part of Russia’s proper sphere of influence.
Which, for Cohen, means that the Ukrainian people’s own desires are irrelevant. If most of them want to be closer to the West, which for them means freedom and peace and prosperity, than to Russia, which means the opposite of all those things – well, too bad for them. Ditto the Lithuanians, the Slovaks, and the rest. Because they were once part of the totalitarian Soviet empire, Russia has the right to an unquestioned “sphere of influence” over all of them – a right, even, to re-conquer them, if it wishes, and turn these now free and democratic nations back into exploited and terrorized subject states. Freedom be damned.
It’s a detestable way of thinking – a morally repellent legitimization of the Russification of the Soviet “republics” after 1917, and of Stalin’s Communization of Eastern Europe after World War II. But this is precisely the view of Putin’s Russia that Cohen now preaches in the media – and, presumably, to his students at New York University.
Which raises the question: how does NYU feel about the fact that a member of its faculty is a one-man PR outfit for a tyrant?
If Pat Buchanan is probably Vladimir Putin’s most prominent fan on the American right, the Russian strongman’s leading admirer on the American left may well be a gentleman named Stephen F. Cohen.
If you’re of a certain age and are in the habit of watching the Sunday morning political shows and perusing the op-ed page of the New York Times, you’ve likely been encountering Cohen for decades. He’s almost surely America’s most high-profile “Russia expert.” A professor at Princeton from 1968 to 1998, he’s now at NYU.
Back when there was a Soviet Union, of course, the proper label for a guy like Cohen was “Sovietologist.” In those days, like many other members of the breed, he was also more than a bit of a Sovietophile, meaning that he (a) had a soft spot – to put it mildly – for Bolshevism and (b) regarded the Cold War as being at least as much America’s fault as the USSR’s.
Yes, Cohen openly acknowledged the (shall we say) unfortunate aspects of Soviet rule; but instead of viewing them as inevitable consequences of Communist ideology, he blamed them on Stalin – the idea being that after Lenin got the Soviet experiment off to a promising start, Stalin made a wrong turn and wrecked everything. If not for him, who knows what utopia might have been achieved?
(Case in point: Cohen’s 1998 Times review of Gulag Archipelago. While accepting Solzhenitsyn’s criticisms of the Gulag, Cohen drew the line at his “indictment of the whole Bolshevik tradition,” which he called “one-sided.” Yes, Aleksandr, we’re all sorry you had to spend all those years in the Gulag as punishment for writing a letter, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to let you go around smearing Communism.)
Today, Cohen’s a fan of Vladimir Putin. In the last couple of years, in a blizzard of writings, talks, panel discussions, and the like – most notably a February 2014 Nation essay, “Distorting Russia,” and a lengthy March 2014 interview with Newsweek – Cohen has absolved Putin of blame for pretty much everything the guy has done.
The conflict in the Ukraine? “Putin didn’t bring this on,” Cohen insists. “He didn’t want it. It was the last thing he wanted.” The tanking Russian economy? Cohen actually puts a positive spin on it, claiming that “some of its indicators are better than US ones.” The 2006 murders of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow and Putin critic Aleksandr Litvinenko in London? Cohen says there’s not “a shred of evidence” to tie Putin to the killings, and calls the charges “exceptionally vilifying.” Pro-democracy Russian activists? Repeatedly, Cohen has sought to discredit them, saying that their “policies are rarely examined.” And he’s consistently pointed to Putin’s sky-high popularity, omitting to note that when a population is force-fed pro-regime propaganda and opposition voices are systematically silenced, poll numbers are hardly a fair measure of anything.
Ah, there’s nothing like a true believer.
Not only has Cohen roundly dismissed concerns about Putin’s saber-rattling, his imprisonment of critics, his demonization of gays, etc., etc.; he’s slandered those who do express concern about any of this stuff, calling them “shamefully unprofessional and politically inflammatory” and accusing them of lacking his own “expertise” and of failing to provide the “multifaceted analysis” that he presumably proffers. Putin’s critics, Cohen charges, refuse to give the Russian president credit for his good deeds: for example, just before the Sochi Olympics, he freed over a thousand prisoners, “including mothers of young children.” Cohen neglects to mention that many of those prisoners – mothers of young children included – had been jailed in the first place for criticizing Putin’s regime.
Among them, incidentally, was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, who was punished for his disapproval of Putin by being stripped of his billions and tossed into the slammer. Khodorkovsky’s jailhouse memoir, My Fellow Prisoners (2014), is an eloquent portrait of life inside a Putin prison. Has Cohen read the book? One strongly doubts it. For Cohen, Putin’s incarceration, torture, and (yes) murder of his opponents is a veritable non-issue. (You can’t make an omelet, after all, without breaking a few eggs.)
Also a non-issue for Cohen are Putin’s harsh new antigay laws. Indeed, instead of denouncing those laws, Cohen has assailed Western gays for going to Russia and making a fuss about them. Presumably Cohen, good lefty that he is, thinks that the Freedom Riders who traveled to the American South in the 1960s to fight for civil rights were courageous heroes; but Western gays fighting for the rights of gays in Russia? Mind your own business, he instructs them. “I don’t remember any Russians coming over here and telling American gays how to fight for their rights.” Reminded by a Newsweek interviewer that “things are dire for gay people in Russia,” Cohen shot back: “how is that our concern?…Why is it America’s job to go over there and sort out the gay problem when 85 percent of Russians think they should have no rights?”
Did Cohen feel this way about the rights of blacks in apartheid South Africa? Does he feel this way about Palestinians? One suspects not.
As for Pussy Riot, the pro-democracy punk protest group, Cohen actually told Newsweek that “[i]n 82 countries they would have been executed for what they did.” Later, confronted with facts that contradicted this statement, Cohen revised his remarks, saying that “Pussy Riot would have faced criminal charges in many countries and the death penalty in several of them.” The point, in any case, being what? That Putin is somehow less of a bad guy for murdering his critics because his counterparts in places like North Korea and Iran do the same thing?
Is it any surprise that an NYU professor who’s willing to imply that the brave young women of Pussy Riot deserve execution has been welcomed as a frequent guest on the Kremlin-owned “news” network, RT, and as a regular blogger at the Kremlin’s Voice of Russia website?