In an odd exchange during the private meeting that preceded their joint news
conference on Thursday, a defensive Putin reportedly expressed his belief that
Bush fired CBS News anchor Dan Rather. 'Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather,'
says a senior Administration official. 'It was like something out of 1984.'
Something I don’t understand. If the meeting was private then this Putin’s phrase is nothing but a paraphrase heard by ‘a senior Administration official’ or bad translation. I’m absolutely sure that Putin could not be that stupid as to believe in Bush’s ability to fire journalists. I’d sooner believe that Bush speaks perfect German. No matter what people say about Putin, he is known as a man of great learning with incredible memory and pedantic love to details, statistics and exact definitions. It comes without doubt – he couldn’t believe that Bush fired Dan Rather. So what could possibly happen there at the “private” meeting? Putin could say: “А вы уволили Дэна Ратера” In this context “вы” means “you, Americans” not “you, President Bush”. There’s a very old Soviet joke. An American is criticizing the Soviet Union and the Communist Party and a Russian at last adduces a counter-argument: “А вы негров линчуете!” (But you lynch black people!) Here the Russian didn’t mean that his opponent personally lynched anyone. He meant that his opponent is a citizen of the country where black people are lynched. Putin could mean the same – in America journalists are also fired. At the press conference Bush said:
“People do get fired in the American press. They don't get fired by government,Now in Russia journalists don’t get fired by government either! Never ever a single journalist was fired by government. Never ever Putin fired any journalist himself. Never ever did he say openly: “I don’t like this or that journalist” or “I want him get fired”. I understand that he didn’t need to do it directly. He could tell his aide to settle the release of someone. Then the aide could make a phone call to the owner of the newspaper. Then the owner of the newspaper calls the editor. It all seems like idle talk to me. When you read “The Nation” magazine or Chris Floyd’s columns you get an impression that Bush used the very same scheme to fire Dan Rather.
however. They get fired by their editors or they get fired by their producers,
or they get fired by the owners of a particular outlet or network.”
Do I believe that the media is really free in Russia? No, I don’t, but I also don’t believe that Putin hates and suppresses free press. As far as I can see he doesn’t give a damn about the stuff Russian newspapers write or what radio stations broadcast. And at the same time he always reacts angrily when he sees (or thinks he sees) some sleazy oligarch using money, stolen from the state, to buy TV journalists at state-run networks (ORT and RTR). He also hates pro-terrorist (or what he regards as pro-terrorist) reports. If there’s no oligarch behind, networks can be as free to criticize Putin as they like. But networks don’t want to. I’ll write about their reasons next time.