Fair and Balanced?

There is nothing like a little war to challenge the journalistic ideals of fair and balanced reporting.  This much is certain:  the idea of being “fair and balanced” has nothing to do with loyalty.  In fact, it is easily argued that loyalty makes the ideal of fair and balanced reporting an impossibility.

It’s one thing to try to remain objective when the only things flying around the air are insults and denunciations traded between parties almost as if they were preludes to diplomacy.  But when bullets and bombs start whistling past a reporters ear, well, that will challenge your preconceptions about the depths of your journalistic independence.

Perhaps the best and most lasting advice given to a young broadcast/writer reporter headed for Russia were the words first coined by the late Whitman Bassow, Moscow Bureau Chief for ‘United Press International’ beginning in 1954 and later the founder of Newsweek magazine.  The man who took those words from Bassow, held on to them tightly during his tour of Russia, and then gifted them to me years later was Nicholas Daniloff, Moscow bureau chief for ‘US News and World Report’ until his arrest on spying charges by the KGB in 1986.

What were those all-important words?

First, a short introduction to Daniloff.  It would be worse than brash for me to call Mr Daniloff a “mentor” as this writer considers himself nothing in comparison to such a giant in the world of international reporting.  To the point, Daniloff was a man whom any side of an issue or conflict could trust to be honest, fair, and balanced.  That of course makes nobody happy!  Readers usually have a need to see things in print or on broadcast which buttress their preconceived opinions.

Nicholas Daniloff radiated everything which could be expected of a Moscow news correspondent:  fluent in Russian, of Russian descent, professional, painstakingly thorough to a fault, and with the hardy constitution necessary to survive life in Moscow during the Soviet period.  His favourite writing style was “first person” which enabled Daniloff to weave the reader into the story in such a vivid way that left audiences thinking they had traveled every step at his side.

Daniloff was American.  He was Russian too.  His great-grandfather, Alexandr Frolov (Александр Фролов), was an officer in the Tsar’s Imperial Guards and a prominent member of the Decembrist uprising (Восстáние декáбристов) in December 1825. Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Nicholas I’s assumption of the throne after his elder brother Constantine removed himself from succession. Because these events occurred in December, the rebels were called the Decembrists (Декабри́сты). In 1836 Frolov was sent to Siberia along with his wife and children where he remained imprisoned until being released shortly before his death.

150 years later in 1986, just weeks before his scheduled return to duty in the States, Nicholas Daniloff was arrested on spying charges and held in Moscow’s famous Lefortovo prison, the same prison which held his great-grandfather.  His eventual release came with a complete exoneration and apology from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.  KGB archives indicate that Daniloff had been arrested simply as retaliation for the expulsion of KGB operatives from Britain and the United States.

Lefortovo is no “Hilton Hotel” setting and one could almost give Daniloff a pass had he emerged embittered and angry towards Russia.  But that wasn’t his style.  He understood that loyalty is most often the enemy of fair and balanced.  So, his words to a younger reporter echoed what he had learned in international journalism.  One could say that in a Soviet prison the unraveling of “why” he had been falsely charged and arrested was due to his adherence to those timeless principles.

Ah, those words uttered so long ago!  Such a simple phrase, yet so profound. The ideal behind this phrase doesn’t just work in Russia.  Or Georgia.  These words form a universal principle, a standard, that works anywhere.

“To uncover the truth you must find the story within the story.”
(William Bassow, 1959; Nicholas Daniloff 1989)


Conpiracy theories about the conflict in Georgia

The problem with all the conspiracy theory nuts is that they seem to forget that the US has some fairly intelligent folks in the State Dept and Military who could readily access likely outcomes of any projected misadventures.  There are also select members from both parties in Congress who would be in the loop before an administration could start a war or similiar action. 

An example was the CIA’s coordination of the Bay of Pigs which began prior to the then upcoming general election.  Training in South America for the operation was funded by authority of a small group in Congress from the Foreign Service and Armed Services committees along with the House oversight committee on Intelligence.  Both candidates, Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy, the election winner, were fully briefed during the campaign period.

Any President today, regardless of party affiliation, who would do what conspiracy theorists claim, would be impeached and imprisoned.  Were the idea of Bush/Cheney taking matters into their own hands even remotely true, the Democrats would seize the opportunity to quickly to take down the current administration and in so doing permanently disable the McCain campaign. What the conspiracy theorists don’t seem to realize is that the opposition party controls both houses of Congress.  One misstep and it would be all over for Misters Bush and Cheney.




One can see Russian fingerprints all over this crime scene, but Georgia was much too easily provoked and shares blame.  It should be strongly suggested that observers look to the middle east and select a democracy which feels threatened by neighbors directly south of this region and who’ve had for quite some time many more “advisors” in Georgia than the thinly stretched Americans.

The bad news for the Ossetians:  They will be controlled by the Russians and since the 1800s Russia has been a noose around the neck of this proud and independently minded people.  Russia doesn’t give a darn about Ossetian dreams for self determination and will seek to redraw the map in Russia’s favour.  Self determination won’t be an option.

Both Russia and the USA have had inconsistent positions regarding independence movements, depending on their allies.  One of Bill Clinton’s worst decisions was to bomb Serbia as the USA chose the wrong side of that conflict and should have sided with Russia.

Russia on the other hand is just as guilty as the USA.  Russia argued for territorial integrity for Serbia but seeks to deny it to Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

Unfortunately for the Ossetians of both South and North, they’ve been dealt right into Russia’s hand.  All those passports handed out now makes them “Russian” and Holy Mother Russia will be their protector–forget about independence and their own culture and their own language, etc.  The Ossetians have been poured out of the frying pan directly into a searing hot fire.

For Solzhenitsyn the bells are silent

The Bells are Silent…for now:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Алекса́ндр Иса́евич Солжени́цын) has “passed from death unto life” at the age of 89, his mission on this earth having come to an end.  He will be buried on 6 August at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.  May God grant that his memory be eternal.

“Any ancient deeply rooted autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking,” and for one thousand years, Russia has belonged to such a category.”  A. I. Solzhenitzyn

 Danilov Monastery, Moscow. Solzhenitzyn was an ardent Orthodox believer and dreamed of a Russia which would return fully to it’s Orthodox roots.  Born 11 Dec. 1918, in Kislovodsk to a military father and Orthodox mother, Solzhenitsyn’s early years were spent on the move after his father died in a hunting accident and the family farm was confiscated and turned into a collective farm on which his mother was not welcome because her husband (Solzhenitzyn’s father) had served as an officer in the Imperial Army before the revolution.

During World War II he served as the commander of an artillery unit in the Red Army, was involved in major action at the front, and was twice decorated. In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, he was arrested for writing a derogatory comment in a letter to a friend about the conduct of the war by Josef Stalin, whom he called “the whiskered one”, “Khozyain” (“the master”) and “Balabos” (Odessa Yiddish for “the master”).

His first blockbuster book, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was published in edited form in 1962, with the explicit approval of Nikita Khrushchev, who defended it and declared, “There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil.”

Khrushchev however would not continue in power and the next line of Soviet leaders were intent on defending Stalinism so all of his writings were banned in the Soviet Union.  In the rest of the world however it was his books which made the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s labour camp system.  Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 but the Soviet Union banned him from traveling to accept the award and he was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 first to East Germany and soon to America.  In 1974 he traveled to Sweden to accept the Nobel prize 4 years after it had been awarded.

It was Solzhenitsyn’s novels and non-fiction works which exposed the secret history of the vast prison system that enslaved millions. Beginning with the 1962 short novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” Solzhenitsyn devoted himself to describing what he called the human “meat grinder” that had caught him along with millions of other Soviet citizens: capricious arrests, often for trifling and seemingly absurd reasons, followed by sentences to slave labor camps where cold, starvation and punishing work crushed inmates physically and spiritually.

His non-fiction “Gulag Archipelago” trilogy of the 1970s shocked readers by describing the savagery of the Soviet state under Stalin. It helped erase lingering sympathy for the Soviet Union among many leftist intellectuals, especially in Europe.

A permanent guest of Harvard University and the Hoover Institute, he lived first on the campus of Harvard and then in Vermont.  He appreciated life in the West and called his time in America “the most productive years of my life” yet he was not afraid to criticize Western culture for what he considered its weakness and decadence.  It is perhaps ironic that it was Harvard University which sheltered the Danilov Monastery bells for 78 years to prevent their destruction.  Harvard returned Solzhenitsyn to Russia, and later the bells to the same Monastery where he is to be buried.

In 1994 he returned to Russia from exile in the United States.  His entrance into Russia included a 56-day train trip across Russia to become reacquainted with his native land, and Solzhenitsyn later expressed annoyance that many Russians hadn’t read his books.

During the 1990s, his independent views, his devout Orthodoxy, his disdain for capitalism and disgust with the tycoons who bought Russian industries and resources cheaply following the Soviet collapse, were unfashionable. He faded from public view. Solzhenitzyn was neither a communist nor a capitalist and he criticized the nationalistic trends of Russian youth and during Vladimir Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency, Solzhenitsyn’s vision of Russia as a bastion of Orthodox Christianity, and as a place with a unique culture and destiny gained renewed prominence.

From then until his death, he lived with his wife in a dacha in Troitse-Lykovo (Троице-Лыково) in west Moscow between the dachas once occupied by Soviet leaders Mikhail Suslov and Konstantin Chernenko. The writer, however, deplored what he considered Russia’s spiritual decline, increasingly adopting Western materialistic values, but in the last years of his life he praised President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s revival.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent condolences after news of Solzhenitsyn’s death.  All 3 of Solzhenitzyn’s sons are US citizens and live in America. 

The lighthouse is dark, but tomorrow the bells will toll.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008.