|Thu., Sep. 12, 2013|
|NYT Takes Unfair Hit for Putin Op-ed|
|By Kevin McCauley|
The New York Times has received "plenty of criticism" for running today's op-ed piece by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, according to its public editor Margaret Sullivan.
Putin knocked President Obama’s desire to hit Syria for its use of chemical weapons and chided the U.S. commander-in-chief’s Sept. 10 characterization of American "exceptionalism."
The NYT should receive kudos, rather than brickbats. In publishing Putin’s piece, the paper stood tall in promoting the free flow of ideas that are the hallmark of freedom of speech.
Putin's piece has triggered a lively debate, attracting more than 2,900 comments on the Times' website. It’s the day’s No. 1 emailed article. That's what happens in a robust democracy.
The press freedom here stands in stark contrast to the state of affairs in Putin's homeland. Some argue that President Obama wouldn’t get a chance to publish his views in the Moscow press.
That's Russia’s loss. Millions of Americans wouldn't want to live in such a restrictive environment. Would you?
The Times says it usually doesn’t publish op-eds from heads of state, but editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal found Putin's op-ed "fascinating and detailed."
Some critics are upset that the Times gave some valuable editorial real estate to Putin, who has adopted a downright ornery stance to the U.S.
In the op-ed, Putin acknowledged the up and down relationship between the U.S. and Russia relations, writing that the former allies against Nazism "stood against each other during the cold war."
His key point: there is "insufficient communications" between the two societies. That's a dangerous state of affairs for the world’s sole superpowers.
The Times gave Putin a platform to speak directly to the American people.
Perhaps, Team Obama will respond to Putin’s criticisms in tomorrow's edition of the Old Gray Lady.
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|Ronald N. Levy (Sep. 16, 2013):|
America will win either way if President Obama offers an op-ed piece of equal length to Moscow newspapers.
If they DO print it, we have succeeded in getting through to the Russian public thanks in part to the Times running Putin's piece.
If they DON'T run it, America can point out in the Times and elsewhere how contrary to Putin's assertion, we are indeed exceptional as can be seen from our free press: we took Putin's piece but Russian papers didn't take Obama's.
I'll bet the same PR firm that counseled Russia would be willing to counsel Obama, perhaps even at a lower fee.
It's a beautiful piece of work with a quality level like that of great lawyers who argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hill and Knowlton used to have (and may still have) writers who can do that well as may other firms but perhaps no one in PR turns out better writing.
Flaherty and other PR firm leaders are entirely correct in not disclosing how much of the piece if any was done by the PR firm. My experience is that the Russian information people are exceptionally bright (in Washtington Russia has a whole building the size of an embassy devoted entirely to information and staffed by the super-bright) and totally willing to listen but Russia's communications are in the end from them, not outsiders.
Two points in Putin's article seem clearly wrong.
1. He says "the law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not" so since the Security Council has not sanctioned
action, we should not act to prevent Syria's use of poison gas.
The flaw in this reasoning is that the law also condemns the use of poison gas, and condones a country's right of self-defense. Beyond question, President Putin woud not deny that a country has a right of self-defense.
Poison gas has been used in the subway systems of New York, London and I think Tokyo. A theater-full of people in Moscow was hit by gas the government had to use, and many innocent people died, as a result of an attempted theater takeover in Russia by criminals. We (and Russia as well) sure as hell have a right to oppose poison gas and criminal poison gassers. There's no law against self-defense and we don't have to wait until attacked to defend ourselves against the use by a despot of poison gas. That's the law: a right of self-defense.
2. Putin says "it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional," and he ends "God created us equal."
We Americans know and Putin knows that God created some of us exceptionally bright as both Putin and Obama are. We may be equal in God's love for us but not in health, wealth, natural resources and many other distiguishing criteria including political freedom.
It's well known Russia jailed Khodorkovsky and others for political
positions, and many countries do that but we are exceptional because we do not. We are also exceptional in strength and just as there's a moral imperative for people with money to use some of it for public benefit, there's a moral imperative for countries with power to use some of the power for public protection and self-protection.
Russians are also exceptional and their leaders are exceptionaly bright. So we can hope that Putin's view of moral imperatives and Obama's view will lead them to--well within the law that is still the law--get rid of Syria's poison gas without America having to do this alone.
Many families of Russians who were gassed to death would agree. Gassing to death shouldn't happen. We have a right to try preventing it.
Putin says our anti-poison-gas effort could destabilize the Middle East and North Africa but Syria having poison gas could destabilize it more--and send oil-rich countries to the world's great universities and corporations to hire scientists who can produce poison gas.
If Syria has freedom to use poison gas, can we doubt that a dozen other Middle East countries will also want poison gas? If Putin headed Saudi Arabia, and Syria was willing to use poison gas, would
Putin not want Saudi Arabia to also have poison gas?
|arthursolomon (Sep. 16, 2013):|
I reread the piece again to make sure I read it correctly the first time. I didn't know that the Times gives away free propaganda ad space to totalitarian governments in the form of an op-ed without labeling it “advertisement.” Putin should ask Ketchum to pay him for letting Ketchum work on his NY Times article because, while it won't change Washington or American citizens' thinking, it definitely will help Ketchum in its quest for new business. Joe brings up an important point: American PR firms have always represented evil as long as the checks cleared. Some time ago when I raised the question of American PR firms taking on any client that pays the retainer, I was told, "We should act like lawyers." After a meeting with a prospective controversial client, I said that I’m going to refuse to work on that account. “But that will make me look bad,” said a colleague. Someone told me that a prominent PR firm, no longer in business, when asked how they could represent Germany during the lead-up to WW2 replied, "We only represent their tourist business." I wonder how the account people who touted Nazi Germany really felt about working on that account. I’ll wager they didn’t bring it up at social functions. Yes, the Times should have run the Putin propaganda piece but next to an Obama or Kerry piece giving a U.S. reply. No wonder PR have such a low image among the media and the public. We made it happen.
|Joe Honick (Sep. 16, 2013):|
I should add the kudo to you guys for revealing the Ketcham deal as Bill Huey has done. No one I know in good old public places had any idea of it. Reminded me a little of when Bushies spent upwards of $2 billion on private PR to help 'market' the Iraqi affair....even fewer folks realize DoD handed out a recent contract of more than $625 million to a marketing outfit to promote recruitment and retention in the military. I guess without a draft, they have to sell pretty hard.
|Joe Honick (Sep. 13, 2013):|
I thoroughly agree we should have this access but lack much fondness for the idea of how much of it was generated by American PR. It is not the first time those we considered opponents have had the opportunity to address the American public. IN the 30's leading up to WWII, Mussolini was featured in a couple of media, TIME gave ample space to Hitler as he proclaimed his desires for peace and the rights of all nations. and we know how all that turned out. But I would not have tried to forbid such coverage but would have checked to see who among our PR firms were helping to get this kind of editorial coverage. One of the great things about the free press is that it gives us a good chance to check the words of big people with their eventual deeds.
|Larry Tenney (Sep. 13, 2013):|
The Putin ghosted piece may well serve Obama's interests.
|Bill Huey (Sep. 13, 2013):|
But only O'Dwyer's told us who really wrote it. The Times "public" editor was remiss in not supplying that little detail. Instead she said only, "The Times editorial department was approached Wednesday by an American public relations firm that represents Mr. Putin, offering the piece." That's not really sourcing, in my book. In fact, it's only a little better than, "persons familiar with the matter," which I loathe every time I read it.
And I agree that the Times should have published the piece. That Putin can't pass up a chance to screw us. It will be his undoing someday.
|arthursolomon (Sep. 13, 2013):|
Kevin, Because I feel that no one's perfect, the highest marks I give to anyone's opinion is 99%. But in this case, you are 1000% correct. Putin should have his say, and the Times should provide equal space for Obama or Kerry.