The Corner


Putin, Journalists, and Us

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the G-20 meeting in Osaka, June 28, 2019 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Earlier this month, I had a post on the risks that journalists face, including murder. It touched on Ivan Golunov, who had just been arrested. He is a Russian journalist working for the Meduza news site, which is based in Latvia. Golunov investigates corruption — which puts him in considerable danger.

He was arrested on drug charges, an obvious frame job. He was also beaten up. But he was released from prison after an international outcry. Unfortunately, other journalists are not so lucky.

The body count of Russian journalists is high. (For the relevant Wikipedia entry, go here.) A few of the dead are famous, such as Anna Politkovskaya, killed in 2006 (on Putin’s birthday). Most of them are not famous. In any case, it takes real bravery to be a real journalist in Russia. They are constantly in the crosshairs.

Last summer, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of Open Russia, launched Justice for Journalists, whose purpose is to investigate violent crimes against journalists. I will have a piece about Khodorkovsky — imprisoned by Putin for ten years — in the next National Review.

President Trump likes to chuckle with Putin about journalists. Two years ago, Putin gestured at reporters and said to Trump, “Are these the ones who insulted you?” Then the two leaders chuckled.

It happened again today. Trump gestured to journalists and said, “Get rid of them. [Putin needs no encouragement in that department.] ‘Fake news’ is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.” Putin answered, in English, “We also have. It’s the same.” Then the two chuckled.

In March of this year, Putin signed legislation aimed at “fake news” and anything that “disrespects” the Russian state.

Trump has also done some chuckling with Rodrigo Duterte, the leader of the Philippines. Filipino journalists, too, are in the crosshairs. (“Just because you’re a journalist,” Duterte said in 2016, “you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”) When reporters tried to ask Duterte about human-rights abuses, he called them “spies,” which got a laugh out of Trump.

Every day, or every week, Trump calls journalists “the Enemy of the People” and accuses them of “fake news” and “treason” and so on. His supporters and explainers say he’s just blowin’ off steam, no big deal, the ordinary rough-and-tumble. I understand media-bashing, having done a lot of it myself, in my scribbling career.

But journalists in many parts of the world wind up dead. This is certainly true of Russia. The American president should bear this reality in mind, especially when abroad, and he should represent democratic, and American, values.


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