[THS] Why GQ Doesn't Want Russians To Read Its Story
vignes at wanadoo.fr
Sat Sep 5 12:56:04 CEST 2009
Why 'GQ' Doesn't Want Russians To Read Its Story
By David Folkenflik
See also: Banned in Russia
September 04, 2009 "NPR" --- 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.
Scott Anderson, a veteran war correspondent, says he's disappointed GQ was
frightened of circulating his story. "If you're worried about repercussions and you
bow to them, you're basically surrendering to the other side."
It was the reception his story ultimately received in the United States.
"It was quite mysterious to me," Anderson says. "All of a sudden, it became clear that
they were going to run the article but they were going to try to bury it under a rock
as much as they possibly could."
Anderson, 50, is an accomplished reporter and novelist who has written previously for
Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair.
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
A Management Memo
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," Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine's Web site. No copies
of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any
country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the
piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized
in any way.
It wasn't just that there was no reference to Anderson's piece on the cover of this
month's GQ, which featured a picture of Michael Jackson, a reference to tennis star
Andy Roddick's wife and a ranking of obnoxious colleges and top drinking cities. At
this writing, I cannot find any reference to Anderson's piece on the Internet.
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.
A Taboo Topic
To understand why Conde Nast might have reacted the way it did, it's worth
remembering the subject of the report and the context in which it is now being
written. Back in September 1999, Chechen terrorists were blamed for the attacks.
The new prime minister, Vladimir Putin, emerged from the shadows and consolidated
power. A crackdown ensued and a second war was launched against Chechnya.
Putin took over from President Boris Yeltsin soon after the new year.
Chechen separatists have been known to commit deadly terrorist acts. Hundreds of
Russians were killed after the takeover of a school in Beslan, Russia, while more than
100 other people died at a Moscow theater after a siege by Russian forces seeking to
liberate it from Chechen gunmen.
But in today's Russia, says Nina Ognianova, the program director for Europe and
Central Asia at the Committee to Protect Journalists, the origin of the 1999 bombings
is a taboo topic. And she says Russian authorities often turn up the heat on reporters
who stray into unwelcome terrain.
"You can be sued for defamation but you don't even have to be sued. You can be
audited," Ognianova says. "Politicized audits are a big hurdle for publications that
dare to publish sensitive topics."
Those audits can focus on just about anything including fire codes that could
paralyze a publication for months and send advertisers fleeing. That's a consequential
result for media companies that see foreign publications as increasingly important
sources of revenue.
Journalists in Russia do fear retribution. Ognianova will be in Moscow on Sept. 15 to
release a CPJ report about 17 journalists who have been killed since 2000. There
have been convictions in only one case. One of the most prominent killings involved
an American citizen of Russian descent who was editor of Forbes' Russian-language
magazine. And other critics have been silenced as well most notably Alexander
Litvinenko, another former KGB agent who claimed the Russian security services were
tied to the terror attacks of 1999. Litvinenko died in England after being poisoned
with radioactive polonium.
But Conde Nast's Birenz did not raise security issues in his memo. And Anderson says
he was not told of any safety matters by the company, just concerns of lawyers.
"If you're worried about repercussions and you bow to them, you're basically
surrendering to the other side," Anderson says.
Jane Kirtley, an attorney who is a professor of media ethics and law at the University
of Minnesota's journalism school, says Conde Nast's position makes no sense as a
matter of pragmatism or principle.
"On one level, the smart thing is to stay in business and to stay in Russia, of course,"
Kirtley says. "But these stories will get out, they will get read in Russia. They're being
somewhat naive to believe that by limiting this to their American edition that
somehow they're preventing this from being read."
More important, she argues, is Conde Nast's failure to live up to its professional
obligations. "It goes with the territory of a news organization to speak for those who
can't speak and to bear the consequences," she says.
'It's Really Kind Of Sad'
Anderson had never hidden his subject from editors at GQ when they approached
him to write something about Russia. His ensuing six-page story centered on Mikhail
Trepashkin a former KGB agent who had investigated the bombings. Trepashkin
spoke at length about the inconsistencies in the case and about possible links
between the bombings and to the security agency that Putin once headed.
Trepashkin himself has ties to a controversial Russian billionaire and recently spent
several years in jail before being released. But Amnesty International said he had
been treated unjustly and said the charges against him appeared to be politically
"Here's a guy who spent four years in prison on a trumped-up, really rather silly
charge (that) was a direct result of the investigative effort he's made on these
bombings," Anderson says. "Now he's out he's certainly kind of walking around
with a bullseye on his back and yet is still willing to tell the story."
"I think it's really kind of sad," Anderson says. "Here now is finally an outlet for this
story to be told, and you do everything possible to throw a tarp over it."
GQ editors were also told not to promote the story, but in an act of quiet defiance,
the magazine sought publicity for Anderson's article from a few news outlets,
including NPR's All Things Considered.
Anderson was also asked to refuse to syndicate the article to any publications that
appear in Russia once the rights revert back to him. He says he acknowledged the
request, but told GQ he would refuse to honor it.
Banned in russia
By Gabriel Snyder, 12:32 PM on Fri Sep 4 2009, 11,278 views
In an act of publishing cowardice, Condé Nast has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Russians from reading a GQ article criticizing Vladimir Putin. As a public service, we're running it here and ask for your help in translating it.
[Second Update: Here's a convincing example of the power of crowdsourcing. A few hours later and we have a good chunk of the first half of the story translated. We've posted what we've received so far from volunteer translators. To fill in the gaps, I ran some of the original story through Google Translate and the garbled Russian it kicked out is in red text. We'd be very grateful for someone to do an actual translation. Please email me if you have some time tonight or tomorrow. Same goes for the pages where we have no text. Thank you to everyone who has pitched in.]
The article, "Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power" by veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson, quotes a former KGB official on the record and at length implicating Russia's shadow leader in a string of Moscow apartment bombings that killed hundreds in 1999 and were officially blamed on Chechen terrorists. The wave of fear created by the attacks played a critical role in launching Putin to power.
NPR's David Folkenflik's jaw-dropping report explains the extreme measures Condé Nast lawyers have taken to bury the magazine piece:
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," Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine's Web site. No copies of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized in any way.
It wasn't just that there was no reference to Anderson's piece on the cover of this month's GQ, which featured a picture of Michael Jackson, a reference to tennis star Andy Roddick's wife and a ranking of obnoxious colleges and top drinking cities. At this writing, I cannot find any reference to Anderson's piece on the Internet.
We are working to get a Russian translation of the story posted here. Russian-speaking readers have already helped us get through the bulk of it, but the more eyes the better. If you'd like to help out, please email me directly. We've also included a scan of the complete story is included. You can click any of the images of the original pages to see larger, legible versions.
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