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FreeMediaOnline.org Logo and Link to Home Page After Bush Leaves Russia, Voice of Russia Analyst Questions President's Intellect

by Ted Lipien

FreeMediaOnline.org Dublin, CA, July 20, 2006 -- A somewhat unusual commentary on the Voice of Russia English-language web site, which has now been removed, claims that President Bush's presumed "narrow intellectual horizons" and "disastrous judgment" have had "cataclysmic" policy consequences. The analyst, David Brian, who is a regular Voice of Russia contributor, offers few of his own comments. Instead he quotes at length from the July 16 Jonathan Chait's column in The Los Angeles Times: "Is Bush Still Too Dumb to Be President?." Voice of Russia did not identify Chait by name as the author of the original commentary. Their analyst indicated, however, that he was citing a Los Angeles Times article. [ link to Voice of Russia Home English page...| link to July 16 Chait's column in LAT...]

The title of the Voice of Russia commentary, "George W. Bush Has Intuition (Maybe)," and its tone leave little doubt that the analyst shares the same views about President Bush's intellect as The Los Angeles Times columnist. Voice of Russia is Moscow's state-financed international broadcaster with programs in multiple languages, including English.

Its commentary questioning President Bush's intellect is significant in several ways. It was published shortly after Bush's visit to Russia to attend the G-8 summit. Such a commentary would almost certainly not have been broadcast by Voice of Russia a few years ago when President Bush and President Putin had a much closer relationship prior to the war in Iraq and the decline of democracy in Russia.

Under normal circumstances, the anti-Bush commentary could have been viewed as an example of unusual journalistic freedom at a state-financed Russian broadcaster, except that state-run Russian media do not dare as a rule to question President Putin's personal abilities. State broadcasters worldwide, but especially in semi-autocratic countries like Russia, usually refrain from such direct personal attacks on a foreign head of state unless they feel that their government sponsors would not be displeased.

It was not unusual that the Voice of Russia analyst used comments from the American media to question President Bush's intellect. This technique was widely employed by Soviet propagandists, except that during the Cold War the Soviet media quoted from articles from little known left-wing Western publications. President Bush's unpopularity with many prominent American political commentators and journalists makes it now easy to use strong criticism of him personally and his administration taken from the mainstream American media. The Los Angeles Times column was so strongly critical of President Bush that the Voice of Russia commentator did not have to contribute much of his own thinking on the subject.

It was somewhat unusual, however, that the entire 450 word commentary on the Voice of Russia consisted of not much more than a word-for-word repeat of Jonathan Chait's observations in an American newspaper. But this may have been done on purpose to provide an excuse of deniability while at the same time making the point to the worldwide Voice of Russia audience that President Bush may be intellectually weak, incompetent, and dangerous. There is no doubt that many Americans who disagree with Bush's policies are convinced this is true. Others have different or more nuanced opinions. Some of the readers let The Los Angeles Times know that they were bothered by the highly derogatory nature of Jonathan Chait's comments, while other applauded them. Some agreed but with reservations. [link...] This was not mentioned in the Voice of Russia commentary.

President Bush received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1968, and also received a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. Johathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic, an opinion journal that supports almost all policies that President Bush opposes.

Despite its highly critical nature, the Voice of Russia commentary is not a shining example of the exercise of free speech. Had it been so, the analyst would not have to hide behind the words of an American commentator writing for an American newspaper. It was a word-for-word repetition of somebody else's opinions. There was no attempt to draw obvious comparisons to President Putin's handling of the Kursk submarine disaster or the war in Chechnya. State-run media in Russia do not offer similar attacks on President Putin's judgment, even though the few remaining independent newspapers and Internet sites in Russia are full of criticism of the Russian leader and the Soviet-era tactics increasingly used by his government to limit political and media freedom.

There are many honest journalists still working for the state-controlled media in Russia since many of them do not have other options for making a living in their profession. In fact, Voice of Russia reporters have been more objective in their international news reporting than many of the other government-run media outlets in Russia.

Russia now is not the Soviet Union, but overall the media environment there begins to resemble the situation described in an old Soviet-era joke. In an argument with a Soviet citizen about democracy, an American visitor to the Soviet Union proudly declared that he can go to any public place in America and shout that President Nixon is a crook, and he would not be arrested. The Soviet citizen replied that there is also full democracy in the Soviet Union. He can also go on the Red Square and shout that President Nixon is a crook.

President Putin is not Stalin and not even Brezhnev. Not even the democratic opposition in Russia sees a full return to the repression of the Soviet times. But independent journalists and pro-democracy activists warn , among other things, of the reappearance of at least some of the elements of the Cold War-style propaganda. Kremlin-originated propaganda themes create artificial enemies, both domestic and foreign, to justify restrictions on media freedom and concentration of power and control over Russia's natural resources within the Putin camp - policies which in the long-run are against Russia's national interest as a country aspiring to be democratic, prosperous and free. Some of the Kremlin advisors are once again singling out the United States as Russia's strategic enemy. [link to Paul Goble's Window on Eurasia, July 18, 2006 "The West" As an Idea is Anti-European and Anti-Russian, Kremlin Advisor Says | Window on Eurasia, July 19, 2006 Moscow's 'Sovereign Democracy' Becoming Ever Less So, Analyst Says | Window on Eurasia, July 20, 2006 A New Cult of 'No Personality' Said Emerging in Russia | ]

While democracy is being diminished in Russia, U.S. support for pro-democracy programs in Russia and the rest of Eurasia is rapidly declining. Inexplicably, the Bush Administration's FY2007 budget proposal calls for the elimination of all Voice of America (VOA) Russian-language radio broadcasts. This decision was made while the Russian authorities have been continuing their campaign to stop independent stations from using VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) news programs.

In addition to eliminating VOA Russian-language radio programming, the bipartisan U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, acting on orders from the White House Office of Management and Budget, is also planning to reduce most of VOA English-language radio broadcasts, including English-language programs to Russia. These programs regularly include opinions of outside U.S. commentators highly critical of President Bush but balance them with opposing viewpoints and analysis of American policitcs. Perhaps Voice of America programs, if allowed to continue by the U.S. Congress despite the Administration's decision, could explain to Russian audiences the nuances of American politics and democracy. [link to BBG February 6, 2006 announcement | link to FreeMediaOnline.org analysis | link to FreeMediaOnline.org July 13, 2006 press release ]

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Russian summary:

Необычный комментарий, который, однако, уже удалён с сайта, появился в английской версии Интернет-страницы радиостанции «Голос России». В нем утверждалось, что предполагаемый «узкий интеллектуальный горизонт» и «гибельные суждения» Президента Буша, имеют катастрофические политические последствия. Интернет-страница FreeMediaOnline.org сообщает, что комментарий был опубликован через несколько дней после посещения Бушем России во время встречи «Большой восьмёрки».

FreeMediaOnline.org сообщает, что публикация таких откровенных нападок на главу иностранного государства российской правительственной радиостанцией очень необычна и может указывать на ухудшение отношений между Москвой и Вашингтоном в результате войны в Ираке и сворачивания демократии в России при Президенте Путине. Это может также быть признаком повышения внешнеполитической активности Москвы, благодаря доходам от высоких цен на энергоносители.

Аналитик Дэвид Брайен (David Brian), который регулярно выступает на радио «Голос России», цитирует выдержки из колонки Джонатана Чэйта (Jonathan Chait) от 16 июля в газете «Лос Анджелес Таймс» (Los Angeles Times): «Является ли Буш слишком глупым, чтобы быть президентом?». Далее Брайен комментирует: «Джордж Буш (возможно) обладает интуицией».

Голос России [http: // www.vor.ru/English/new/] не назвал Чэйта по имени как автора оригинального комментария. Аналитик радиостанции указал, однако, что он цитировал статью в «Лос Анджелес Таймс». Цитирование статей левых публицистов, опубликованных в западной прессе, было обычным явлением в Советских средствах массовой информации во времена холодной войны. Комментарий «Голоса России» мог бы в нормальных обстоятельствах рассматриваться как пример необычной журналистской свободы. Однако, более храбрым для управляемых государством российских СМИ, был бы комментарий, подвергающий сомнению личные способности Президента Путина.

Как заголовок комментария на «Голосе России» «Джордж Буш (возможно) обладает интуицией», так и тон комментария указывает на то, что аналитик разделяет те же самые представления об интеллекте Президента Буша, что и комментатор «Лос Анджелес Таймс» Джонатан Чэйт. Согласно FreeMediaOnline.org комментарий на «Голосе России» почти дословно повторял колонку Джонатана Чэйта.

Президент Буш получил степень бакалавра истории в Йельском Университете в 1968 году, и степень магистра в области менеджмента в Гарвардской школе бизнеса в 1975 году.

Радиостанция «Голос России» финансируется государством и имеет программы на многих иностранных языках, в том числе и на английском.